Interview with Al Atkins

By Andy Thunders

Thank you Al for this opportunity, it’s an honor, how are you these days?

A/   I’m good thanks Andy…

Tell me about your upbringing, what made you decide to become a singer in a rock band?

A/  Well I actually started out as a drummer age 15 and played with various local musicians just starting out like myself…at the age 17 one band I was with started to take off, but I didn’t think the vocalist was up to scratch and could hold us back, so I suggested that I could sing better and dump him, so we did…so now we were a 3 piece called ‘The Reaction’ mainly playing songs by ‘The Who’. We carried on for around a year until we met up with two other experienced musicians who were a drummer and guitarist from a band called ‘Hell Katz’ who suggested I should take over as frontman and they team up with us…..We called ourselves ‘The Bitta Sweet’ and hit the road playing alongside artists like Rod Stewart, Long John Baldry, Elton John, Cat Stevens and David Bowie to name a few…

Who are some of your influences?

A/ There were a lot but mainly ‘Cream’, ‘The Yardbirds’, ‘The Who’ and later Deep Purple and Black Sabbath…

What bands where you in prior to the first lineup of Judas Priest? 

A/ As I said earlier ”The Reaction’ ,’The Bitta Sweet’,  ‘Sugar Stack’ and ‘Jug Blues Band’….

Now, the original band you called Judas Priest, after the Bob Dylan song, had no members people recognize today, who was in the band and what did you guys play? 

A/ The line up was Bruno Stapenhill (bass), John Partridge (drums) Ernie Chataway (guitar ) and myself  (vocals).

If I recall, KK Downing actually auditioned for the original band, and you turned him down the first time? What was the reason? 

A/ He just wasn’t good enough at that time…Ernie was a wizard on guitar and also played keyboards.

The original line up disbanded, and you met Ian Hill, and KK was also involved, and you decided to revamp Judas Priest. Tell me about this period, was it hard to get a gig? Were you playing what they termed heavy metal at this point? 

A/  The original band started out in late 1969, and it was tough to get work at first but we joined an agency run by a guy called Alan Eade, who put us some gigs together. He also put us in the studio’s and asked me to write and record more commercial songs, and I wrote 2 ,one called ‘Good Time Woman’ and the other was ‘We’ll Stay Together’ which got interest from a few record companies. We did a showcase gig at The George Hotel ,Walsall and got signed to ‘Immediate Records’ London and we threw a champagne party at Alan’s house…… But soon the bubble burst, when not long after we signed they went bust…….Alan put us on a tour of Scotland but our drummer said he couldn’t make it, so I borrowed his kit and played them myself and also sang over the coming weeks so you could say  was the original drummer too….lol.   On returning from Scotland we sacked our drummer, and Bruno had an offer to play with another band in Denmark which he took and we split up….

I went looking for another band down at some local rehearsal rooms and walked in on these three, young long-haired rockers and one was Kenny who I had auditioned the year before the other two were drummer John Ellis and bass player Ian Hill. I asked what the band were called and if they needed  a vocalist and  they said  yes we are looking for a singer and we are called ‘Freight’ , well I liked the sound they were making even if Kenny was a bit overkeen on his Wah pedal but hated the name so I suggested using my old bands name Judas Priest and they agreed…We started out playing the local pubs and clubs and playing covers like Spanish Castle Magic by Jimmy Hendrix, and pretty soon I started to write all the songs and we were classed has a progressive rock band. Over the next three years and three drummers later we were playing much bigger venues and opening for bands like Status Quo, Spirit, Thin Lizzy, Slade and Budgie to name a few and working for IMA Agency in Birmingham run by Norman Hood and Tony Iommi. The bigger we got the more overheads we got so we was still earning very little money and playing so many gigs, over 150 gigs in ’72 alone so without the financial backing I needed I left in May 1973.

You were also the only member with a family, did this cause your decision to leave the band? 

A/  Yes it was one of the main reasons I left…i  put my family first and got a proper job, has my Dad used to say…GET A PROPER JOB SON !!!

You wrote some songs lyrically on their first two albums, were you upset by that, or was it a mutual agreement as you got writing credits? 

A/ No , i wrote 99% of songs like Winter, Never Satisfied, Caviar and Meths on their debut album ‘Rocka Rolla’ ….Victim of Changes and Dreamer Deceiver were co-written on ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’ their second.   I’m happy to get the credits for my part……

Are you friendly with Rob? I know Ian’s played on your albums, and KK produced one, are you still part of the Judas Priest family so to speak? 

A/  I haven’t seen Rob in years, but I am mainly good friends with Ian who I meet up with when he’s not touring or recording….it was good of him to play on my last album ‘Reloaded’ and a first because he has never played on anybody else’s albums outside of Priest..

When you left Judas Priest, you a started another band, who was in that, and what did you guys play? 

A/   My next band was called ‘Lion’ and featured my old mate on bass Bruno, Harry Tonks guitar, Jim Perry drums and myself vocals….we wanted to play just weekends have fun and hold down our jobs…we were playing a mix of music like Jazz, latin Amercan and rock and I was playing more percussion instruments up front like tambourine, cowbells and conga drums….we were very much a musicians band (big mistake) lesson one, entertain the audience not musicians…we played with the ‘Heavy Metal Kids’ at B’ham Town Hall around 1974 and died with the audience and from then on decided to go back to playing basic rock…Jim the drummer left and we bought in Pete Boot from Budgie, out went my conga’s and in came some larger PA speakers and amps and sound engineer Big Mick Hughes…it was a band I thought should have made it big time, and we did auditions for Virgin Records and EMI but nothing is certain in this business. We rode the storm through the Punk Explosion and finally split up around ’78..  if we had carried on we would have hit the NWOBHM scene and most certainly have made it….Big Mick our sound engineer joined up with a young band from USA called Metallica and is still with them today…..

You have had a solo career, toured, released many albums, some of Which are rare due to various things including Gull Records, tell me about the bands you were in in the late 70s through the 80s, what was that like? 

A/ The 80’s was a rocky road for me in my music career, and I decided to stop playing live and tried something different. I first went into management and looked after a couple of  bands for a while and then went into the studio’s, producing young bands from around Birmingham and then built my own studio’s, and started writing music again. I sent some of my demo’s to various record labels and publishers and one from Berlin said they wanted all my songs, but wanted me to sing them too, so I signed my first solo deal for the German market….another deal soon followed from another German label and I ended up recording six solo albums. I hit the road again after my solo recording career and my first gigs were in the USA with a great bunch of musicians which included guitarist Dennis Stratton from Iron Maiden and on returning to UK I decided to form another band and ‘Holy Rage’ was born and we toured for about 5 years, we recorded jut the one self titled album.

You also released reloaded recently, and a had the Atkins/May project. Tell me about the experience making these albums, and the material. 

A/  My hearing loss became an issue with me and I gave up touring again to save what hearing I had left and one day I met up with my old guitarist Paul May who asked me to sing on an album of songs he had written and we called ourselves ‘AMP’ ,   Atkins/ May/Project.   This first album titled Serpents Kiss took off and our label asked us to do another and then another…… At this time I thought it would be a good idea to record another solo album and go back through my catalogue of old songs but re record them using various guest musicians and I titled it ”Reloaded”….Ian Hill from ‘Judas Priest’ came and put some bass down along with John McCoy from ‘Gillan’, guitarists Stu Marshall from Australia , Tsuyoshi Ikedo from Japan , Roy Z. Ramires USA , Chris Johnson, Paul May UK and vocalist Ralf Scheepers all helped in putting it  all together…….it was a worldwide metal gathering and great fun recording it and I think it’s my best to date….

Have you kept a loyal following? 

A/ I have my own loyal fans and friends from all around the world and am very grateful for that.

Does it ever bother you that Judas priest got big after you left? 

A/ Not at all I felt very proud in a way that I had planted the acorn and watch the mighty oak grow…They deserve everything coming to them for being such a hard working bunch of musicians….

What would you say is your favourite record by the band? 

A/  ‘Sad wings of Destiny’ but ‘Painkiller’ comes close.

How do you feel about the Ripper Era of Judas Priest? 

A/  I thought he did a great job , I met him just the once backstage at one of their gigs and he seemed like a nice guy…it’s very hard to replace a singer like Rob or anyone else with such a big stage presence .

Are you currently working on any music at the moment? 

A/ Paul and myself have been asked to record a fourth ‘AMP’ album and i’m doing a side project that I can’t talk about at the moment…

What advice would you give to young bands starting out? 

A/  Keep at it and who knows where you will go….but most of all love what you do and enjoy the ride.

Anything else you’d like to say to your fans? 

A/  Yes ,thank you all who bought my albums ,without your backing  I wouldn’t be able to record again and thanks for staying with me over these long years…and keep the flag flying for metal music for many more years…  Thanks Andy.

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