Al Atkins is a British Heavy Metal singer who comes from the epicenter of hard rock - Birmingham, England. The lower middle class industrial city is responsible for churning out rock classic musicians such as: Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, K.K. Downing, Dave Ball, Carl Palmer, Tony Iommi, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne and many others. Al started out as a drummer, but soon after his band realized that with his vocal talent, he needed to be showcased out in front. In the late 60's, the iconic Heavy Metal rock band Judas Priest was formed. Al was at the vocal helm as its founding member. They developed their unique sound and for 4 years, they grew into a force to be reckoned with. During Al's tenure, they shared the stage with many top acts such as: Cat Stevens, Long John Baldry, David Bowie and many others. As sometimes things happen, life gets in the way of best-laid plans. Al entered the world of husband and father and left the band. After taking care of responsibilities, Al returned to the musical world that he loved. He has been active since then creating over 6 solo CDs and many other killer band projects. Al has just released a new album called "Reloaded" and once again the music rips through the airwaves like a Birmingham machine shop with a big military contract. I recently asked Al a few questions about the new CD and his career.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your new CD album release "Reloaded". Was it a tough decision on what songs to "reload" when your catalog is full of great songs?
A.A. - Thanks, not really, I wanted the album to be hard and heavy so it was easy to sort out the songs that I needed for ‘Reloaded’, sorry no slow songs on here.
R.V.B. - You have a lot of talented special guests on the new album. Did you decide to use these guests as a historic fit on some songs as well as a stylistic fit on others?
A.A - Yes, with a couple of early Judas Priest songs like ‘Winter’ and ‘Never Satisfied’, I asked bass player Ian Hill if he would help out which I am very grateful. Ian and myself have remained good friends over all these years and he has always said if I want him for anything just ask, so this time I did and this was a very historic fit….Also German vocalist Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear) had said prior to the album that we should do a duet sometime and he was a perfect fit too on ‘Victim of Changes’ awesome vocals! Another friend of mine is bass player John McCoy (ex Gillan) and I wanted him on the track ‘Coming Thick and Fast’ which features a dirty big bass riff and he fitted perfect so yes very stylistic and historic too..
R.V.B. - When you started revisiting these songs, did you approach it as keep them semi-true to the original recording or did you feel that there were going to be changes because it was inevitable?
R.V.B. - Were there any surprises that you weren't expecting in the final result?
A.A. - Not really, I think everything went to plan, Paul May my guitarist from Atkins /May/ Project was full on with the mixing and producing of the album with me at his side shouting the odd instruction, my ears are not what they used to be after all these years so I am happy to let someone else produce it now and Paul did a brilliant job.
R.V.B. - You come from an area that is synonymous for great singers and hard British rock... Birmingham. What was it about Birmingham that brought out this type of creativity?
A.A. - I think it was the break to get out of the industrial area and the life that we lived in. Everyone in Britain wanted to be in a band in the 60’s music boom headed by the Stones and the Beatles... in The Black Country and Birmingham probably more so. It was a case of working in a factory, foundry or music. Lots of us came from working class families, so we ended up fighting for survival which I think showed up in our style of music, (you would never see us playing acoustic guitars, sitting beneath palm trees in flowery shirts). Late 60’s, early 70’s, it created bands/artists like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Slade, Trapeze, Robert Plant, John Bonham and Phil Lynott to name a few, all from Birmingham or the Black Country.
R.V.B. - What were some of your very early influences and why did you decide to start singing?
A.A. - I actually first started out drumming and singing in a band called the Bitta Sweet, in the early 60’s. We were influenced by The Who, The Yardbirds and Cream. We played on what they called the Plaza circuit, which were three or four ballrooms which featured top artists. My band said I wasn’t a bad singer but my drumming was crap so we bought in another drummer. I now moved to the front of the stage. We opened up for some cool artists like Cat Stevens, David Bowie and Long John Baldry and we rubbed shoulders with Rod Stewart and Elton John. In the late 60’s bands were getting heavier and louder, and around ‘68 Black Sabbath were formed and in ‘69 I formed the first Judas Priest.
R.V.B. - Where was your first gig and how did it go? Any other memorable early gigs?
A.A. - I don’t honestly remember my first gig, but it had to have been in some dingy little pub somewhere. As long as you survived the gig it must have gone down well. I remember one early gig where a fight broke out and the first thing I saw was a wooden stool flying across the room... and then chaos. There were beer glasses and stools being thrown everywhere. The owner of the pub was shouting at us to just play on "Yeah right" we were out of there. LOL.
R.V.B. - When you formed Judas Priest, did you guys mix in covers at first or did you start concentrating on your own songs right from the start?
A.A. - We did some covers in the first JP in 69/70 but made them our own... songs by Spirit and Quicksilver Messenger Service come to mind. In Judas Priest Mk 11, with Ian and KK, we wrote and played mostly our own songs. A few of those made the first two albums with Rob taking my place, songs like "Winter", "Never Satisfied", "Caviar", "Meths" and "Victim of Changes".
A.A. - There were so many, like opening for Thin Lizzy and getting to meet some of my hero’s like Phil Lynott and Gary Moore now both sadly taken away from us. Also meeting Tony Iommi for the first time when he took us under his wing in his agency IMA. We worked really hard for little money but meeting some of these guys made up for it.
R.V.B. - You have approximately 6 solo albums under your belt as well as other projects like Atkins/May. Did you change up the musicians to experiment with new sounds? Did you try to keep the albums fresh and different from each other or just build upon each previous release?
A.A. - I think playing with new musicians keeps things fresh. Like hiring Simon Lees, (ex Budgie) for my ‘Demon Deceiver’ album. His playing is outstanding... just listen to his guitar playing on the old JP song "Dreamer Deceiver" is awesome. I also used Brian Tatler, (Diamond Head) on another song, and it’s just great working with these top class players. After my solo albums, I formed ‘Holy Rage’ and started touring again for the next 4 years. We only recorded the one self titled album though, before we split. I then teamed up with guitarist Paul May and recorded 3 more Atkins/May/Project albums, which I think is some of my best work to date. Paul is a top class writer, producer and guitar player. It was great working alongside him. My new one ‘Reloaded’, again features a host of players from around the world like guitarists Stu Marshall, Tsuyoshi Ikedo, Chris Johnson. Roy Z Ramires and Paul May.
R.V.B. - What are you proud about the accomplishments in your career up to this point?
A.A. - I’m proud to have survived 5 decades of music. Meeting and playing with some fantastic artists... and people over this time. Maybe this year I will retire but I’ve been saying the for the last ten years…
R.V.B. - Any touring plans or live performances to support the new album in the future?
A.A. - Not as yet but I have been asked to play a few festivals this year so I am looking at a couple of selected gigs.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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