Al Atkins and the ‘Holy Rage’: Interview
Written by Alison “MetalBabe” Cohen
Al Atkins founded Judas Priest in 1969, along with original bass player Bruno Stapenhill. Atkins was in Judas Priest until 1973, when he left after three years of touring with no record deal. He was replaced by Rob Halford.
During his time in Judas Priest, Atkins co-wrote many classic Priest songs that were used on the first two albums including: “Victim of Changes,” “Winter,” “Never Satisfied,” “Dreamer Deceiver” and “Caviar and Meths.”
Since playing with Priest, Atkins has released five solo CD’s, including latest release “Demon Deceiver.” He is currently recording a new CD with his band, the ‘Holy Rage’, which includes band members Chris Johnson, Scott Dallow and Mick Hales. Also, he recently wrote and released an autobiography about his life in Judas Priest titled “Dawn of the Metal Gods.”
Metal Babe Mayhem (MBM): You recently released your 5th solo album, latest release “Demon Deceiver.” Can you tell us about it?
Al Atkins: Yes. I had fun recording this album and had various musicians helping me out, like Simon Lees on guitar, (Budgie) who is a brilliant guitarist and once was voted ‘guitarist of the year’ by Guitar Magazine. Brian “AM I EVIL” Tatler (Diamond Head) also appears on one song. The album was distributed in Europe for a while by a Swedish Record Company, but then I handed it over to Peter Purnell of Angel Air Records in the UK, who have now put it out worldwide. Also, I have added two bonus tracks by my new band the ‘Holy Rage’, and one of these songs features a cameo guitar piece by the Irish gypsy Bernie Torme (Ex-Gillan/ Ozzy) who now plays for GMT.
MBM: If you had to choose one of your favorite songs off “Demon Deceiver” what would it be and why?
Al: “Cradle to the Grave” is one of my favorites. It was the first song I wrote on the album, and it was the one that convinced everyone who heard it to join me in the album project.
MBM: If you had to describe your music to someone, what would you tell them?
Al: My music is hard to categorize. It depends on my mood when I am writing the song. At the moment, with my new live band the ‘Holy Rage’, I would describe my music as classic British metal. It’s the heaviest band I have been in since Judas Priest. But, to me, it’s all rock and roll at the end of the day.
MBM: Your most recent release prior to “Demon Deceiver,” was “Victim of Changes” in 1998. What have you been up to since its release?
Al: All sorts of things… Like touring the East Coast of the USA with ex-Iron Maiden guitarist Dennis Stratton, to recording “Demon Deceiver,” writing my new book ‘Dawn of the Metal Gods,’ and forming my new band the ‘Holy Rage.’ Also, the ‘Holy Rage’ have been busy playing in Hollywood alongside some great artists and bands like Skid Row and Graham Bonnet.
MBM: What type of relationship do you have with the current members of Judas Priest? Are you in contact with any of them?
Al: I speak to bass player Ian Hill when he is in the UK, and he was good enough to pen the foreword notes to my new book. The last time I met up with the entire band was about three years ago when I went backstage at one of their concerts in Birmingham, UK.
MBM: Speaking of your book, your autobiography ‘Dawn of the Metal Gods: My Life in Judas Priest and Heavy Metal’ was recently released. What inspired you to write an autobiography at this time?
Al: During an interview on a Liverpool radio station about four years ago I was talking about the old days with Judas Priest and the interviewer said that I should write a book about it. That got me thinking that nobody else had ever done it so I decided to give it a go. I started to write things down on bits of paper. Facts, times, dates… I never dreamt it could get so difficult. Four years later I brought in author Neil Daniels to help out and finish it with me. And now, it is finally out with German Publishers Iron Pages.
MBM: I haven’t had the chance to read your book yet. What can you tell us about it?
Al: It’s about growing up in the industrial area of my home town of West Bromwich, just outside of Birmingham, and the music scene that was going on at the time. Hanging around Coffee Bars with people like Robert Plant and the new bands evolving, like Black Sabbath and my band Judas Priest… There are some funny moments in there too, and it brings you right up to date with what’s happening in the music scene now.
MBM: What were your biggest challenges during the writing process?
Al: It was finding all the old members and road crew and getting their side of the stories to match up with what I could remember from those early days. It was amazing to see what they had achieved since I had last seen them. Like my old roadie Keith Evans, who went on to be Angus Young’s (AC/DC) personal guitar technician, and Priest’s old manager Dave “Corky” Corke who went on to work with The Clash, and took Dexies Midnight Runners to the top of the singles and album charts in the UK. Also, another roadie Mick Hughes, went on to be a sound engineer for Metallica and is still with them now. But the hardest thing was putting it all together so it made sense. That’s when I called in Neil Daniels to help out.
MBM: Getting back to Judas Priest, what type of relationship do you have with Rob Halford? What is the story behind Halford and the song “Victim of Changes?”
Al: None. Before I left Judas Priest I had written a song called “Whiskey Woman” about an alcoholic fallen woman. When Rob took my place, he too brought one of his songs in about another fallen woman, called “Red Light Lady.” The band decided to put the two songs together and re-title it “Victim of Changes” classic.
MBM: Former Priest drummer Dave Holland also performed on your “Victim of Changes” CD. Are you still in contact with him?
Al: I haven’t seen Dave Holland for a very long time. He has been in prison for the last eight years………. I think he is out now, and I hope he contacts me. He is still a friend, and was a very good musician.
MBM: Since Judas Priest, you have release five solo CD’s. As a solo artist, what has been your biggest challenge? And how were you able to overcome it?
Al: Every album is a big challenge because you have to come up with a good batch of new songs that you hope people are going to like enough to buy the album. Luckily for me, I work better when I’m under pressure.
MBM: I see you are doing a ton of upcoming radio promotions and will be playing a couple festivals this summer as well. Can you tell us more about your future plans?
Al: The band is going to be in the studio recording a new album, so this time around it will not be a solo album. We were rehearsing last night on a new song I have just written, called “Waste Away,” which may be featured on the new album. We have two new promoters now, and they are both trying to put tours together for Europe next year. So keep your fingers crossed. I am also busy putting together a competition to find another young Judas Priest type band from the Black Country, which is just on the outskirts of Birmingham, where I formed the first Judas Priest. The competition will be held at a new 70 million pound arts centre and has the backing of Total Rock Radio. The winner will also play at the centre with the ‘Holy Rage’ on November 14th.
MBM: The competition sounds really exciting! I heard somewhere that you may be touring the U.S. later this year. I wish I could have seen that show in Hollywood! Is there any truth to these rumours?
Al: We were to play in October with German band Holy Moses but the tour got cancelled. So we have now lost patience with the USA promoters because this is the third time over the last year this has happened. We are now looking for another promoter to replace them.
MBM: If you could pick the bands that you could tour with, who would you choose?
Al: Black Label Society and Skid Row would be awesome. But, my old friend Brian Tatlers, (Diamond Head) who we have already played with, would be good fun.
MBM: Out of all the shows you have played, is there one that stands out as a favorite? If so, please explain.
Al: I have played so many over the years. But one that always springs to mind was with Judas Priest, when we played with Thin Lizzy at the Borough Hall at Stafford in 1972. Phil Lynnot was a truly gifted player and a really nice guy. It was a tragedy that he died so young. (We had a great gig and shared a nice joint later.)
MBM: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
Al: The ‘HOLY RAGE’ hope to see you all on the road soon and keep the flag flying for rock/metal music. (Thanks Alison for the interview.) AL ATKINS.
MBM: My metal flag is definitely flying Al, and I hope to see you on the road as well. Metal Babe Mayhem would like to thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with our readers. We also wish you a HUGE success with “Demon Deceiver.”