Al Atkins interview about Judas Priest and his latest album Serpent’s Kiss
Al Atkins formed Judas Priest back in 1969. We talked about the early years of the band. He is still very active and has a brand new album out called Serpent’s Kiss.
“69′ saw me form ‘Judas Priest’ , i was now 22 years old and had always been more interested in the heavier side of music than the pop shit which was being churned out at this time in the UK”
It’s a great pleasure Al to talk about your music! Let’s start with you childhood. Where were you born and what were some of your influences?
I was born in a town called West Bromwich which is just a few miles outside the city of Birmingham and is part of several other towns which make up what people call ‘The Black Country’ because of it’s huge industrial past. It’s actually become quite a famous small town now because of it’s links with the rock artists that were born here ,i.e… Robert Plant (Led Zep) ,Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) and of course members of Judas Priest…….
Tell me in what bands were you as a teenager? Any releases from then?
One of my first bands in the 60’s was called ‘The Bitta Sweet’ but unfortunately no recordings were made but we played on the same bill has some famous up and coming artists at this time like David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens and Elton John to name a few so it was a good learning start for me…..
Around 1969 you started your new band called Judas Priest. You played blues rock. That outfit lasted for about a year and then you joined with Freight, who were power trio at the times. How did this happened?
69′ saw me form ‘Judas Priest’ , i was now 22 years old and had always been more interested in the heavier side of music than the pop shit which was being churned out at this time in the UK…..our first guitarist 18 year old Johnny Perry committed suicide and so i set up an audition for his replacement….one kid that came along was K.K Downing but although he looked the part with his trademark blonde hair he didn’t get the job….the guy that we gave the guitarist job to was from the City and name Ernie Chataway.We played a mixture of music at the time like covers by Steppenwolf, Quatermass, Quicksilver Messenger Service, prog rock , blues to heavy rock…John Partridge(drums) and Bruno Stapenhill (bass) made up the rest of this four piece band. We signed a three year contract with London based ‘Immediate Records’,but not long after they went bust and with one lot of bad luck after another we decided to called it a day.
1970 , Undeterred i decided to try again with a new line up and went along to some rehearsal rooms called ‘Holy Joes’ and this is where i met up with K.K again who i must admit had come on a lot with his guitar skills, Ian Hill was on bass guitar and John Ellis on drums. They were a power trio called ‘Freight’ and the name i didn’t like so i asked them if they needed a vocalist and if their answer was yes would they change their name to ‘Judas Priest’ , they all agreed and this would be a long road to the beginnings of the mighty Priest…..
You recorded a demo in 1971, which attracted the attention of Tony Iommi’s management. What can you tell me about this demo. Where did you record it and what do you remember from studio sessions?
We recorded our first demo songs that i had written called ‘Mind Conception’ and ‘Holy is the Man’ at Zella Studio’s in Birmingham, the sound engineer was Johnny Haines who was famous for his early Black Sabbath Demo’s which are now fetching a fortune …We never listened to Johnny’s advice and tried to record them live in the studio which sounded shit with loads of overspill, i was a little stoned and had a cold which didn’t help either… anyway Dave Corke our manager put them on a disc and eventually they came to the attention of a Mr Tony Iommi who set up a meeting with us. ..Black Sabbath were now doing really well in the USA and Tony had opened up this music agency in Birmingham called I.M.A (International Music Agency) to help other local rock/ metal bands. He signed us up to his agency along with other acts like ‘The Flying Hat Band’ (what a crap name) which featured guitarist Glenn Tipton and ‘Hiroshima’ which featured vocalist Robert Halford.
What can you tell me about concerts from back then. Any stories you would like to share with us?
Tony’s agency started getting us more high profile gigs and one week we were playing at the Quaintway’s Club with ‘Status Quo’ and the next at the Masonic with ‘Black Sabbath’….we played alongside ‘Slade’ three times and ‘ Budgie’ about six, the last one with them was at Liverpool Town Hall. ..one of my favourite gigs was with Thin Lizzy at Stafford Hall….Phil and myself had a spliff backstage and i was out my tree but Phil was his usual brilliant self on stage and you couldn’t even tell he was stoned? Other bands we played alongside were Spirit (USA), Magnum,Gary Moore, and Curved Air to name a few….Fantastic memories of playing the ‘Hippodrome’ in our own city with prog band Family, these venues in the 70’s were as big as you got back then….so many gigs with so many top artists and laying down the foundation of what was to come later for the band?
You left the band in 1973. Can you tell me something about the background of you leaving the band?
Well the bigger we got the more overheads we gained, bigger pa’s, more road crew, fuel and hotel costs and we still hadn’t got that elusive record deal we so wanted which would have given us more financial backing. In 72 we played over 150 gigs but never hardly earned a penny and i was the only one married with a baby daughter to feed….a few cracks started to appear in the band over my finance problems and although our agency bailed me out a few times i decided to leave and get a steady 9 to 5 job…..
Rocka Rolla which was released after you left has so many of your songs, how do you feel about that?
A few weeks after i left them K.K and Ian came to my house and asked if they could have the name ‘Judas Priest’ and all my songs only they had found another local vocalist name Robert Halford , his band ‘Hiroshima’ had opened up for us at one time, i gave them to them and wished them all the best for the future. A year later David Howells at Gull Records, London offered them a life line with a four year contract but only if they added a second guitarist to add more power like a similar band he had on his books’ Wishbone Ash’, in stepped Glenn Tipton.
Rocka Rolla was released has their debut album with three of my songs i had written with them so i was well pleased to have helped in any way……Their second and one of my favourite albums by them ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’ also featured two of my co written songs’ Dreamer Deceiver’ and ‘Victim of Changes’………. i was so happy to have been a part of one of the biggest Metal bands on the planet, i just wished they would put me down on their website has a past member…………….
Let’s move on to your latest stuff. You have a brand new album out called Serpent’s Kiss’. You joined with guitarist Paul May. Would you like to present us your new album. What can you tell me about recording it and what can you say about the songs on it?
I met guitarist Paul May about 20 years ago and asked him to help me with some demos i was recording and we just became good friends and he later played on my first four solo albums. Some time later Paul became a born again Christian and we sort of drifted apart and i formed ‘Holy Rage’ and started touring again over here in the UK and in the USA. I bumped into him last year and he asked me to listen to an album he had been working on and i was totally blown away when he asked me to sing the vocals on it. The album is called ‘Serpents Kiss’ and sorts of harks back to the old NWOBHM Priest and Maiden years, the opening track The Shallowing and the finale ‘Theatre of Fools’ are very prog rock so the album twists and turns, the song ‘Fight’ is a short in your face rocker and we also did a cover of ‘Kiss’ track ‘Cold Gin’ , we have had some fantastic reviews so far and our record company want us to record a follow up so it’s all good news.
What are some of your future plans?
I have so much in the pipe line so to speak….my first task this year is singing on a metal opera by USA guitarist and composer Andy Digelsomina called ‘Lyraka 2’ which also features vocalists Liz Vandal (Uli John Roth) Rob Diaz, Graham Bonnet, Mark Boals(Ywangi Malmsteen) and Veronica Freeman (Benidictum). Paul and myself will also be putting together a new live band A.M.P (Atkins /May /Project) for some future Summer festivals and will start writing the follow up album to ‘Serpents Kiss’.
Thank you, Al! Would you like to send a message to your fans and to It’s Psychedelic Baby readers?
Keep the flag flying and the fires burning for metal music and don’t let the bastards grind you down…) Cheers Klemen. ‘hope to catch you all on the road soon’. AL Atkins.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
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