The Very Noble, Very Loyal and Most Faithful City of Villena lies in the province of Alicante in Spain; It’s a lovely place, but especially nice when thousands of it’s like-minded folk (like-minded to me and Mrs Strickmann, let’s be clear) converge on it’s sports centre for a night of unbridled heavy metal madness…

After a tiring day of said metal madness, and beer, and travel – why are British Airways so keen to start every holiday you take as unpleasantly as possible? – it’s a bit of a relief when the top billing of the first night of the town’s Leyendas Del Rock festival steps up to the plate. You’ll all be aware of KK Downing‘s comeback by now, and you’ll all have opinions on the music his band has created and whether they should be creating it under a banner that contains the word ‘Priest’. These are all conversation already exhausted. The bottom line, is – are they any good live?

Of course they are. Pleasingly, Downing doesn’t try to hog the limelight, which means KKP actually looks and sounds like a ‘real’ band in the live arena. The set list is designed to please as many as possible – although almost all the songs I personally hoped they’d play are signally missing from the setlist, so obviously my wishes weren’t taken into consideration  – and the crowd enthusiastically laps everything up accordingly. Actually, ‘laps up’ probably doesn’t convey just how much some portions of the crowd enjoy the set; Scenes of mayhem can be witnessed breaking out throughout the crowd – especially when the band break out an old Judas Priest classic, but personally I have to say it’s new track Sermons of The Sinner that stands out as the song of the evening.

It’s well documented that KKP vocalist Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens lacks a little star quality n’stage presence, but quite frankly, when you can sing like this man can, who really cares? His vocal on SotS is absolutely, frighteningly good, hitting all the notes with power and clarity; It’s a masterclass in heavy metal vocalisation that you can only sit back and wallow in. And when Downing chimes in on the solo well, let’s just say a few Spanish eyes were moistening up…

In fact Owens’ performance was only dampened by the middle aged man behind us who seemed ‘hell bent’ on proving to anyone who cared how easy it is to hit those high notes – SPOILER: He proved it’s impossible – So we shift positions via the bar during Burn In Hell – pure headbanging goodness – taking time to ponder just how good the band sounds tonight. Veteran bassist Tony Newton adds a bit of vim and vigour out front, bouncing around like a man who can’t quite believe he’s landed the gig of his dreams this late on in his career, and Sean Elg powers everything in fine, Travisesque style behind the kit. Downing’s six string counterpart AJ Mills is a more aggressive player than Glenn Tipton, but the pair mesh well with KK more than ready to give Mills his head come solo time. They even throw in some synchronised headbanging during Beyond The Realms of Death to keep old purists like me happy… and Mills, just quietly, handles the old material just as well as Richie Faulkner and Andy Sneap.

That’s not meant as an inflammatory statement, by the way, just an observation of fact.

The second half of the set is more Priestcentric – the crowd singing along with the harmony leads on Hell Patrol is a glorious sight and sound –  but no material from Screaming For Vengeance or Defenders of the Faith is a bit of an oversight I’m sure will be remedied as the band tweaks the live show moving forward. Still, that’s a minor quibble when faced with the fact that great new material like Brothers Of The Road needs to be squeezed in somewhere, and underlines the fact that this is very much a new, real band rather than just an exercise in nostalgia.

I don’t mind admitting I was a bit nervous about how this gig would go, but I really needn’t have bothered. It was a triumph.