Saturday, August 22, 2020

Interview with Al Atkins (Founder of Judas Priest) by David Kiss and Didac Metallian.

The good thing about being an independent medium is that you don't have pressure from the music industry, or the record labels, or anyone else, that simply translates into freedom of expression.

Being able to write about relatively new or more alternative groups is beautiful in itself, but the best thing is to interview musicians that you have been following in this or that way, or who thanks to them who were in the beginning were the cornerstone of creating a band to mark the world of Heavy Metal and I have the honor of doing it to Al Atkins.

Maybe you don't know who he is, but lovers of the Heavy metal genre do. This man, a singer to be more exact, formed with bassist Ian Hill and guitarist K.K. Downing the group called Judas Priest, due to financial problems in those years (since he was a fairly young father) he had to support a family, he left the band and his good friend Ian Hill invited his girlfriend's brother who sang very well, it turned out to be Rob Halford, which would eventually change the annals of Heavy Metal.

I got in touch directly with Allan, he quickly answered me, my surprise was capital, he answered me at the moment, my immense happiness! Judas Priest and that it was exciting to be able to do a personal interview with him.

So I told the director of Bathoryzine Didac, the very nervous bastard sent me a series of questions that together with mine we are going to ask Al.

- Hi Al, thanks for attending

A/ Hello David.

-What do you usually do on a daily basis, your daily routine?

A/  , Well i start by taking my dogs out on an early morning walk but a lot of things I used to do like recording have ceased because of this covid shit.. I like reading and writing poetry ,playing drums and guitar.....and drinking beer. I used to do a lot of running marathons but alas old age has caught up with me and my joints..

-My interviews usually talk about the beginnings of the artist, going through his career a bit, anecdotes etc ... Is that okay?

A/ Sure!!.

-You are from Birmingham, your youth I imagine must have been influenced by the styles of rock ´n roll, blues music, do you remember that time?

A/ I have been influenced by lots of bands the 60's it was The Who ,The Yardbirds and Cream..Later it was Led Zep and Black Sabbath to name just a few.

-You like to play the drums! (Laughs)

A/ Yes I started out has a drummer/vocalist in the early 60's and it helped us out once when our first drummer of Judas Priest couldn't make a tour of Scotland in 1970 so I took his kit and played and sang myself...

-I imagine that being a singer is more vocational, right?

A/ Yes I would say so...

-Forms various rock / blues bands …

A/ Again through the 60's I formed or joined various bands .'The Bitta Sweet' was one of the more successful early bands and we played alongside some great artists like Long John Baldrey who's backing band included Elton John on keyboards and Rod Stewart on backing vocals..we also opened David Bowie, Cat Stevens and Robert Plant was great to meet all these top artists of the time.....later I fronted a great little blues/rock band called 'Jug Blues Band', our last gig together was at The Civic Hall ,Wolverhampton with Slade and Spooky Tooth...

-Your childhood friend Bruno bassist had always accompanied you in bands and in your own musical evolution ..

A/ Yes bass player Bruno (Brian Stapenhill) and myself started out together and played in all these early bands  …..we played on and off for  around ten years together.

-A boy K.K.Downing  enters the auditions for your new project. , but he didn't measure up! (Laughs) …

A/ After 'The Jug Blues Band' split up in '69 Bruno and myself started to put together a new band together with John Partridge on drums and Johnny Perry on  guitar..after a few months rehearsing we received tragic news that Johnny had taken his life. After his funeral we decided to carry on with the band just for Johnny and started to audition new guitarists...One kid that came was K.K Downing but although he looked the part he didn't quite hit the spot...

-Choose a guitarist from Earth pre Black Sabbath! (more laughter) …

A/ Yes! We eventually chose anther young 17 year old  from Birmingham name Ernie Chataway who was a brilliant player for his age and he could also play keyboards too..We didn't have a name for the band and Ernie mentioned he had jammed with a band called Earth and the had changed their name to Black Sabbath which we all liked so decided to also come up with a similar double barrel name...

  - In those days someone comes up with the name Judas Priest, who?

    • It was Bruno who came up with the name Judas Priest..he had been listening to a Bob Dylan album called John Wesley Harding and a song called 'The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest'..we all agreed it was a great name! one that people would remember! ..We quickly joined an agency called 'Ace Management' , ran by a nice bloke called Alan Eade who started to book us out to play , also go into the studio's to record some demo's that I had written...Alan said lean towards more commercial songs and I wrote two called 'Good Time Woman' "We'll Stay Together"  we had interest from a few record companies who wanted to see us play live.  The problem was our live set sounded nothing like these demo songs and when they saw us Decca Records said we were like animals and turned us down ...hahaha.

But Immediate Records, London loved us and wanted to sign us …..Robert Plant had just returned from his first Led Zep tour of USA and was at these auditions watching too. We held a champage party at Alans house to celebrate.

-You have a record problem, and I imagine that the pressure vanishes the group …

A/We did some touring and on returning Alan Eade said the record company had folded so we were back to the drawing board...Bruno had an offer from another band with a tour of Denmark and he decided to take it so that was the end of Judas Priest mark one.

--But your influences at that time are Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, etc. I imagine that in the late 60s that kind of hard rock should fly to any kid! (laughs) …

A/ It was a great time for any young kid yes, so many bands emmerging at this time also one of my favorites Deep Purple.

-You know Ian Hill, I think he's with K.K. in a band without a singer …

A/ After we split up I worked with a band called 'Bakerloo Blues Line' for a while but got sacked by Black Sabbaths manager Jim Simpson and so decided to form my own band again.  I went to a local rehearsal studio's called Holy Joe's and one band I listened to was called 'Frieght', bloody awful name but a good young heavy band and featured KK Downing (guitar) who's playing had improved in such a short time , Ian 'Skull' Hill on bass and John Ellis (drums), I asked if they wanted a singer and they said yes so we all went up the pub and discussed it .

-But your forces to regain the name of Judas Priest!

A/ I didn't like the name 'Frieght' and suggested we use my old bands name 'Judas Priest' and we all agreed. MK 11 was born.

-The band is having comings and goings, but you forge a certain reputation as a local band in your hometown …

A/  We got through 4 drummers in four years...but the main three of us KK ,Ian and myself remained strong. We started out playing local gigs but moved swiftly to the larger venues opening for top bands of the time like Status Quo. Slade, Spirit, Gary Moore, Budgie and Thin Lizzy to name just a few...We played over 150 gigs in 1972 alone and I was now writing most of the songs in our set list too like Winter, Caviar and Meths, Never Satisfied and Whiskey Woman ...these songs would feature on JP's first albums,Whiskey Woman evolving into Victim of Changes.

-And even Tommy Iommi is interested in you, was it Ernie who introduced you?

- A/ No! it was our manager at the time Dave Corke who got us into this Birmingham Agency called I.M.A  and ran by Tony and Norman Hood...

-When you are a father, you have a great responsibility in life, but being a musician without a more or less decent salary, was the trigger for you to leave Judas Priest for good?

A/ Yes, I was four years older than the rest of the band and married with a small child to support and without that income from a record company or earnings from gigs which wasn't enough to feed a family I decided to leave and get a normal 9 to 5 . One of my last gigs was at Liverpool Town Hall with Budgie and I realized we had come a long way in a short time starting at 'The Cavern' there a few years earlier..

-What did you think of Rob Halford at first? Did you intuit at that time that he would be one of the great singers of a hard rock pre-scene, over time he would be called heavy metal? Was it presvisible?

A/ The first time I saw JP live with Rob at the helm it seemed a little strange I must admit...Rob was singing my songs but with a high vocal range and I didn't like it at first but he had great stage presence and so did KK now.....Rob's voice grew on me and has he matured into the 80's it became incredible...Glenn also made a massive difference being added to the line up, great guitarist and songwriter.  I don't know where the term 'Heavy Metal' came from but it summed up Judas Priest completely ..

-A short time later you form Lion and tour with The Stranglers, but also with the mythical Sex Pistols !! (laughs) I imagine it must be crazy to play with musicians with so little professional background (laughs) ... it counts! Bill!

A/  'LION' was a monster of a band with Bruno and myself back together again ,Harry 'H' Tonks on guitar and Pete Boot from Budgie on drums...The Stranglers were a very good band actually comment on Sex Pistols...'LION' split up at the wrong time only in the late 70's the NWOBHM kicked off and we would have fitted in with that movement completely well.


-You return to disappear another time of the music business …

A/  When 'LION' split up around '78 I decided to take a break from playing live and started to concentrate more on my songwriting. I also helped produce young up and coming bands from Birmingham in the studio's, I also did band management for a while too so I kept very busy.  I later split with my wife and bought my own house and built a recording studio to record all the songs that I had been writing over the years and I eventually recorded my first solo album 'Judgement Day' for SPM Worldwide Records in Berlin ..

-You recorded a series of records, what did you think of the arrangement of the song "Whiskey Woman" that later became called "Victim of Changes"? You record the song as it was written at the time, on one of your albums with Dave Holland.

A/ Judas Priest did a fantastic job on my old song 'Whiskey Woman' and created an magnificent song in 'Victim of Changes'... When Dave Holland left JP I asked him to play drums on an album I was working on which contained all the songs I had written and JP had recorded on their debut Gull Record albums and he said yes.  The album also featured Paul May on guitar and It got signed to Neat Metal Records who in my opinion did a great job but I hated the album cover. Neat Metal Records eventually sold up to Universal Records UK along with my album and I thought yes I am now with a big record company but they shelved it when Dave got sent to prison. ''Such is Life''.

-My favorite formation of Judas Priest has always been Hill / Halford / Tipton / Holland / Donwing, this comes to Dave had a serious problem, which seems to be that later it was not true, in the end he came to live in Spain, away from outside noise , Did you get to have a fluid contact with him? I imagine as a friend, partner, or even acquaintance of Dave, you personally must have been out of place with it?

A/ To be honest I couldn't believe what happened to Dave ? we go back a long way back to his time in 'Trapeze' .  My new album with him on drums was selling really well and so we decided to stick together and had big plans for more recordings . Dave had an offer from a large record company to record an album with all top musicians he had played and recorded with over the years like Glenn Hughes and Rob Halford and he asked me to be on it too so I was well up for that....We also had another deal  offered us to work together again and we met with various people in London. He rang me one morning to say if the press gets on to me say no comment and put the phone down on them...i asked him what was happening and he told me someone was trying to get money from him by making false accusations about him....? I never saw him again and lost contact. I heard he was going to write a book about his life in Judas Priest while banged up in jail and he later moved to Northern Spain on his release but sadly died of cancer..

-John McCoy I think he collaborated with you, I loved him as a bassist at the time of the Ian Gillan Band ... can you tell me about him?

A/ A lovely geezer and a great bass player..we nearly played together live when he was bassist for Bernie Torme when offered a USA tour some years back but it never came off and I eventually went with Dennis Stratton from Iron Maiden...some years later I asked him to play bass on my 'Reloaded' album and he said man.

Holy Rage, it was your new band ... but it only lasted a year, right?

A/ No it was much longer than that, we started out has the 'AL ATKINS BAND' and lasted about a year and then called ourselves 'The Holy Rage' and recorded just the one self titled album , we played all over opening for some top bands like Diamond Head, Saxon and Skid Row and even played in Hollywood .USA. We lasted for about 5 years altogether..

-But Paul May appears, with him your musical project is solidified, to this day you have recorded a series of very Heavys albums, Judas Priest line, are they your source of inspiration?

A/ Paul and myself go back 30 years and the only time we didn't play together was in my 'Holy Rage' band...

-Tell me about this project with May, because it has a continuity in which you had not previously found in other formations?

A/  We met about 30 years back when I went to watch his band playing live...a lot of people I know in the music business said how good he was and they were right and I asked him to play guitar on some songs I was recording and we just bonded together.  He has played on all six of my solo albums and when 'Holy Rage' split up he asked if I would sing on a project he was putting together and I said sure...i ended up singing all the songs on the album and we decided to call ourselves 'The Atkins May Project' or 'AMP' for short..we signed a one off record deal with our debut album called 'The Serpents Kiss' and it just took off with big sales which was enough for our record company to ask us to record another,  then another and so it was a good move. Paul has always wanted to form his own record company along with owning his own studio's so we thought it would be a good idea this time to launch our latest offering 'The Final Cut' on his new label 'Dog Ruff Records' it's been a really great success so far, we are now looking for a distributor to push it on across the world...

 -Regular collaborator on your albums, the only original member left of Judas Priest, can you tell me about him? As a person? As a musician...

A/ I can only speak highly of Ian, such a down to earth and freindly guy.   We have remained friends over all these years and he played bass on my 'Reloaded' album which I was honoured because he has never played with anyone else outside of Judas Priest...he also wrote the forward notes in my book about the early years of JP called ''Dawn of the Metal Gods'' so what can I say...TOP MAN.

-Here we end our interview, we always like to end them with a series of questions more in line with the personal tastes of the musician.

-First album you bought in a store and age?

A/ The Beatles..'Please Please Me' 1963....i would have been 16.

-First concert that you attended as an audience? Age?

A/The Ronettes ..Plaza Ballroom...age 16.

-Concert that you will never forget in your life …

A/  ''CREAM''....amazing band for their time mixing Blues/Jazz/Pop and Rock together.

-You never get tired of listening …

A/'Quatermass' album.

-What hobbies do you have?

A/Metal Detecting....i like archeoligy and collecting medieval and roman coins and artefacts.

-Your worst memory of Judas Priest?

A/ Johnny Perry commiting suicide just before we had kicked off.

-And the best?

-A/.Playing alongside Thin Lizzy...great band!!.

-Something to say to our readers at
A/ Stay safe everyone these are strange times that we are living in and keep it metal....thanks David.

-Thanks Al for attending


1 comment:

  1. lo comparti un monton de veces aunque algunos se dediquen a bloquear...que pena de era.