Released: 2010, Iron Pages
There will always be premature and unnecessary books on the ‘popular’ Hard Rock and Heavy Metal artists to capitalize on current success. As time marches on I expect we will see more and more legitimate biographies and autobiographies of metal artists, especially those who begun their careers in the 60’s or 70’s. I classify Al Atkins autobiography as one of the latter. The timing is great and the stories need to be told as Atkins was the original vocalist of Judas Priest.
When I heard about this book I must admit I was a bit skeptical. I didn’t know enough about Atkins and the fact that he never actually sang on a Priest album, made me wonder if there was a component of ‘sour-grapes’. Alternately I wondered if there was even enough material to write about to warrant a book. I knew that Atkins had been plugging away for more decades, so I figured it would be a good read. I was wrong, it was a GREAT read!
The book itself is as stated the autobiography of Al Atkins, the British Heavy Metal musician. It clocks in at 225 pages on glossy paper with dozens and dozens of photos, lists, and so on. It comes with several very comprehensive appendices, listing gigs, early line-up’s and cataloging his own solo career among other things. Neil, Ian Hill and Al all add their own introductions and forewards. Scattered throughout the text are side-bars with comments from ex-lawyers, mangers, roadies and so on, adding additional perspective.
Like most bio’s, the book follows Al’s life chronologically from his birth in England in 1947 to his recent gigs with his current band Holy Rage in 2008. The key attraction for many readers will be the third chapter covering 1969 to 1973 the era when he basically founded the band. It is very interesting. For those of you who felt that the Atkins fronted version ‘didn’t count’ because they never recorded, will be very surprised to learn the truth. I had no idea that the band had played almost 200 gigs as Judas Priest before he left the band. They also recorded a couple of demos with Al on vocals. I’ll bet those are worth a fortune today! Atkins was instrumental in bringing many of the current members together as well. After reading this book, I could say with confidence that without Atkins there would be no Judas Priest.
Those 60 pages of Chapter Three really only scratch the surface of this great book. It goes on to describe the life of this good-hearted and hard-working, long-suffering, working-class bloke who has flirted with fame most of his career. Atkins also details his, at times, confusing solo career and how (and why) things have happened. Atkins comes across as charming, never unhappy by the way things turned out for him. He enjoys his successes, doesn’t dwell on the failures. He doesn’t elaborate on the hard times nor does he glorify the problems he has had with booze and drugs, unlike some bands who revel in the stories of debauchery.
The thing that struck me most, and perhaps the most pleasant surprise is his affection and fondness for music. I have read the autobiographies of several bands and musicians who almost never mention music! Atkins is always mentioning great bands he likes or great songs, past and present with an enthusiasm that really shines through. The book is constantly littered with references to songs or concerts. Not in the sense that he is name-dropping the fact that he saw some famous bands early in their career (Sabbath, Zepplin etc), but the simple fact they were great gigs in some crappy pub and he remembers them fondly. He really is a rocker and music fan at heart.
Above and beyond reading Atkins’ life story, I learned an incredible amount about rock music, early British music history, of course early Judas Priest. If you are like myself and had doubts as to the validity of this book, cast them aside and grab Dawn Of The Metal Gods.