By VennerRoad, 15th Feb 2017
Old rockers may die but they never fade away. Al Atkins is nearly seventy, but he’ll be around for a good few years yet.
It isn’t every day I get the chance to interview the founder of one of the most important rock bands of my generation, but through his management, Al kindly took time out of his busy schedule to give me a potted history and to talk about his latest release: Reloaded.
Alexander Baron: Thanks for agreeing to talk to me. This is probably not a good way to start, but I had never heard of Al Atkins. The first artist I got into was Elton John but by the late 60s, early 70s I was into UFO big time, Rush and Thin Lizzy - all of whom I saw in concert - and quite a few others including Al Stewart. Around 1980 I was talking to a workmate who rated Judas Priest; I’d heard a bit of them but thought Rob Halford was the first vocalist. Can you explain, was there one band or two bands with the same name?
Al Atkins: Hello, let’s start at the beginning...I first formed Judas Priest in 1969 but this line up only lasted a year, and in 1970 I reformed again with Ian Hill (bass), KK Downing (guitar), John Ellis (drums) and myself (vocals). We were a hard working band, and drummers fell by the wayside, Ellis ending up with a mental breakdown was replaced by Alan Moore, and he left after a year (in ’72 we played over 150 gigs) and he was replaced by Chris Campbell. We then joined an agency in Birmingham which was run by Norman Hood and Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) and they started to push us into larger venues and we were a great opening act for bands like Slade, Status Quo, Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, Spirit and Budgie to name a few. I was the only one married with a child to support and we still hadn’t signed to a record company. We earned little money, so I left for a 9 to 5 job in May 1973. I was replaced by another local lad name Rob Halford. The rest is history.
AB: You have 9 years on me, but I have long been hoping to retire. Leaving aside others, why do you keep going? I sit in front of a computer all day but when you strip away the glamour, the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle is no easy road, as Martin Turner said.
AA: Well it is what I started out doing in the first place - the love of the music - like many people in the music industry I have had one hell of a roller coaster ride with more downs than ups, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I must admit though I keep thinking about retiring now having not played many live gigs over the last few years because of hearing loss and a few aches and pains, but I still love writing and recording having done 6 solo albums, one Holy Rage album and three Atkins May Project albums to date and also written a book in between. I also do a lot of guest spots now, the last was a song called Ana raising money for a cancer project.
AB: When is Reloaded actually due out, and who are the personnel?
AA: Reloaded is out now and it looks back at some of my favourite songs that I have written or co-written over the last 4 decades and features a host of name guests on board including Ian Hill, ‘Judas Priest’ (bass), Stu Marshall, ‘Death Dealer’ (guitar), John McCoy, ‘Gillan’ (bass), Tsuyoshi Ikedo, ‘Unveil Raize’ (guitar), Chris Johnson, ‘Holy Rage’ (guitar) Paul May (guitar), Roy Z Ramires, Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford (guitar), and last but not least Rob Allen (drums).
AB: For me, the most interesting track on Reloaded is Mind Conception, which is in two parts. I gather it is also a solo composition. Can you explain that, who plays lead, and is this the first time it has been heard, etc?
AA: Mind Conception was written by me in 1970 and was Judas Priest’s first demo that we cut but it never saw the light of day. I actually thought the basis of the song was pretty good so decided to record it again, so 46 years later we brought it back to life and recorded it like as if it was written yesterday, and it sounds awesome, if I may say. I sold the demo disc just last year to a collector in Canada, and we agreed that I used just a sample of the original recording which was more like a guitar jam from KK Downing in the studios.
AB: What are your plans for 2017, I take it retirement doesn’t come into it?
AA: I have been offered some festivals to play and will just do selected gigs but not tour. I have been retiring for the last ten years now, but love my music so much that i want to carry doing this has long as I can.
AB: Al Atkins, thank you very much.
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