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Al Atkins

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Al Atkins from 2007

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at

Many people may not know that you were the founding member and original lead singer for Judas Priest. Can you catch the readers up a bit on that history?
Judas Priest was actually formed in 1969 and KK Downing came to the auditions for the guitarist’s job but didn’t get it. The guy who got it was name Ernie Chataway and the full line up was Ernie (guitar) Bruno Stapenhill (bass) John Partridge (drums) and myself (vocals). We signed a four-year record deal with Immediate Records, which was owned by Andrew Loog Oldham, (the guy who discovered The Rolling Stones) but not long after we signed with them they went bust and towards the end of 1970 we split up.

I decided to carry on regardless and formed Judas Priest again, this time with KK Downing (guitar) Ian Hill (bass) and John Ellis (drums). Apart from a few drummer changes, this line up lasted until May 1973. We were a great opening band and played along side Garry Moore, Supertramp, Magnum, Status Quo, Slade, Budgie, Family, Spirit and Thin Lizzy to name a few, but a record deal never came our way and we made very little money. I was the only one married with a child and thinking the band would never make the big time I decided to leave them because I needed a regular income so I left to get a 9 to 5 job.

Some time later KK and Ian knocked on my door asking if they could use the Judas Priest name and also use the songs that I wrote because they had found another vocalist to take my place, and I said, “yes, of course.” The name of the vocalist was Rob Halford. This line up carried on touring for another year before independent label Gull Records gave them a four-year deal but only if they added another guitarist to give them a bigger sound. They did and his name was Glen Tipton.
MSJ: What have you done since those early days of Priest?
From about 1974 to 1978 I sang with another four-piece band from the U.K called LION which featured the original Priest bass player Bruno and drummer Pete Boot from Budgie and we had a massive following, but when the punk explosion came along we just didn’t fit in with this music. We played alongside The Sex Pistols and other punk bands and I hated this sort of racket that used shock tactics like spitting and swearing and I decided to throw the towel in again. I sometimes wished we had carried on because after the punk era died the NWOBHM scene came along with bands like Saxon, Venom, and Diamond Head kicked off and LION would have fit in with them just perfectly.

During the 80’s I concentrated more on my writing skills and just jamming now and then but 1989 I recorded my first solo album Judgement Day for a German independent label. 1991 saw me record my second one titled Dreams of Avalon.

1996 Priest's old label Gull asked me to record a CD for them so I put together Heavy Thoughts.

1998 I recorded my 4th solo offering titled Victim of Changes with Dave Holland on drums.

I later started to concentrate on playing to live audiences which I had started to enjoy again after all these years and even teamed up with guitarist Dennis Stratton ex (Iron Maiden), (Praying Mantis) for a while and toured the east coast of America.

2006 I put together my 5th CD titled Demon Deceiver with a lot of help from various musicians who I had met over the years and it has now just been released.
MSJ: Do you still stay in touch with Priest?
Not as much as I used to but I speak with Ian now and then and I met up with them backstage at The NEC Birmingham when they played last year.
MSJ: What do you think of their music after you left the band?
The first albums they recorded the music was not much different from when I was in the band and they even used some of my songs e.g. “Never Satisfied,” “Winter,” “Caviar and Meths,” “Dreamer Deceiver” and “Victim of Changes,” but Glenn's contribution was paying off because not only was he a great guitarist but a very good songwriter too and this was already showing with songs like “The Ripper.” I think over the years their music has got louder and heavier and their twin guitar sounds are awesome. My favourite song has to be “Painkiller.”
MSJ: The other guys in your band have some serious credentials and credits, too. Can you share some of that with us?
On my new album appears guitarist Brian Tattler (Diamond Head) South African guitarist Mike de Jager, Johnny Lokke from Kansas and Budgie guitarist Simon Lees who was once voted guitarist of the year by Guitar Magazine also on drums was Mick (the anvil) Hales from UK band Dante Fox Simon Lees wrote the opening track “Demon Deceiver” and plays some wicked guitar passages.
MSJ: Are there still musicians out there you’d like to play with, but haven’t had the chance?
I’ve played with some serious musicians over the years but one guitarist I would have liked to perform with is Michael Schenker.
MSJ: Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It’s been said by the major labels that it’s essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales – would you agree?
Yes, I think computers have some good points but also have a lot of bad ones and downloading is of the latter. Some lesser known artists struggle to make any money at all and downloading doesn’t help them if they have a product to sell and they mainly play just for the love of their music. The bigger artist can afford to loose some sales but it doesn’t help the music industry at all.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans taping and trading live shows?
It’s been going on for years and again the big artists now in the U.K have almost put a stop to a lot of this happening by searching fans and banning video recorders in their live shows.
MSJ: How would you describe your music?
It’s a bit Led Zep, some Judas Priest and a lot of rock and roll - classic British Rock.
MSJ: What kind of touring plans do you have?
We start gigging again in March, playing at some famous local venues but serious touring in Europe doesn’t start until around May/June. We would like to play over there now but Finland is below 30 degrees and Sweden has ten foot snow drifts. Okay I’m a wimp - but I’m getting f***ing old.
MSJ: What else is on your agenda for the near (and maybe not so near) future?
Touring in the States again is something I want to do. I just love America and have not long come back from visiting New York again. I now have two promoters out there so that is on the top of my agenda for the near future.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?
like the last Slayer album Christ Illusion and I think that was the last one I bought. I also like listening to the Seven Witches featuring my old buddy Jack Frost on guitar and my band have just added one of their songs "Metal Tyrant" to our set list.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
I haven’t been to one since the Judas Priest concert last year (I tell a lie, my wife dragged me off to see George Michael – honest! Actually he was really good.

The Priest concert was a brilliant two-hour set with The Scorpions opening for them and they played some songs off their last album Angel of Retribution and some old classics too and it was cool to meet up with them backstage later to say hello.
MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you’d like to get out there?
Yes, to all young budding players, keep up the faith and no matter what the music industry throws at you, don't give up without a fight and don’t join a tribute band. Keep writing your own songs and above all enjoy the ride!…
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