The Illegal Eagles have been attracting an ever-growing following as they pay homage to music legends The Eagles.
However, they are much more than another tribute act, as Steve Penny discovered when he interrupted the band’s soundcheck to speak with guitarist Keith Atack ahead of their dates at Potters, Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich Fans of 1970s pop music may well spot a familiar face when the Illegal Eagles hit stages across East Anglia this year.
Keith Atack has been with the band since their early days almost 20 years ago.
But it was as a member of teen-pop group Child that he first found fame, hitting the charts in 1978 and 1979, including a top 10 version of 50s classic It’s Only Make Believe.
And that is an appropriate title for his current guise, as part of the six-man line-up, which faithfully recreates the sound, soulful lead vocals, sweet harmonies and atmosphere that remains the hallmark of American music giants The Eagles.
The Illegal Eagles came about after founder Phil Aldridge had an idea in 1996 to bring together a team of talented musicians to perform Eagles songs.
Among those to respond was Keith and he said: “When we started, tribute bands were still in their infancy, so there was no telling how long it would last.
“It was just a pleasure to play some great music in tribute to a great band and getting out there to play a superb body of music.
“I never thought I’d be still doing this 20 years later but I’ve got a good relationship with Phil as we’ve been in different bands together and The Illegal Eagles are almost a family.”
Keith insists The Illegal Eagles offer far more than just a soundalike gig.
“It’s a complete show. We approach it the same way as The Eagles do. A lot of the guys have been Eagles fans and seen them several times.
“There are so many different avenues – acoustic, country and rock – and we divide it into sections. You need a proper structure to get through it all.
“Even then we can barely scratch the surface of their incredible catalogue but it gives us plenty to go at.
“People are paying £20-plus or whatever and come to see us often so we change things around, while still playing the classics that everyone expects.”
But The Illegal Eagles are not just impersonators, they are all talented musicians in their own right and it is their collective sound that is the tribute, faithfully recreating the sound, soulful lead vocals, sweet harmonies and atmosphere that remains the hallmark of The Eagles.
“We each have our own strengths and it’s a group tribute to The Eagles, rather than us each impersonating a particular band member,” said Keith.
“Lead singers Greg, Al and Gareth divide up the songs to suit their particular sound.
“I play slide guitar, so tend to get the Joe Walsh type of tunes.
“Al is more Don Fender style, while Greg has a country sound.”
The Illegal Eagles have been endorsed by the Official Eagles Fan Club and Keith added: “Joe Walsh was in the country last year and someone was interviewing him about the tribute scene.
“He thought our name was cool and was quite gracious about the way we are keeping The Eagles music alive over here.
“We try to get as close to the original sound as we can and our priority is getting it to sound authentic.”
The death of Glenn Frey earlier this year was a blow to fans of The Eagles and Keith said: “We do a section with some of the songs that meant a lot to him. We just could not do the show without paying homage to him. It’s really lovely.”
Despite The Eagles not having had a UK top 20 album for 22 years, the popularity of their classy copy cats has not waned.
“We’re growing all the time and it’s still getting bigger, said Keith.
“We keep thinking it has peaked but then it builds some more; this year more than ever with 100 dates. We put on our own show at the Royal Albert Hall in 2003 and that was the biggest night in the band’s career. It was a tremendous buzz.
“We’ve also played the Indigo stage at the O2 Arena and our recent tours have included Russia, Singapore, Dubai and Barbados.”
But for now it’s back to Blighty with the dates including Potters at Great Yarmouth on May 15; Regent Theatre at Ipswich, June 23; and The Apex at Bury St Edmunds, September 17Life has changed a great deal since Keith Atack’s early days in the music business.
He played the legendary Marquee Club in London at the tender age of 15, seven years after forming his first group in his native Yorkshire with twin brother Tim.
That band evolved into Child, and with it came nationwide acclaim as appearances on Top of the Pop saw them mobbed by teenage girls.
“Child seems weird now,” said Keith. “It was a long time ago. It was a huge part of my life and a lot of people, especially women, coming to the shows today remember that and ask for photos. It was a completely different life back then.”
He has not heard of any tribute acts to Child and insisted there was no chance of them reforming.
“Graham Bilbrough (lead singer) got married recently and we all got together and played Only Make Believe on the stage for the guests, It was good fun but nothing more will come of that.”
After Child split, Keith enjoyed a star-studded career, working with acts including Barry Manilow, Bonnie Tyler, Rick Astley, Shakin’ Stevens, Robson & Jerome and David Cassidy.
“I’m just incredibly lucky to still be out there performing,” said Keith, whose own family is steeped in entertainment talent.
As well as twin bother Tim in Child, Keith’s father was a renowned pianist, his ex-wife is actress/comedienne Kate Robbins who in turn is related to Sir Paul McCartney, and one of their daughters, Emily, is an actress who appears in the latest Dad’s Army film and was in Inbetweeners, as well as dating One Direction singer Harry Styles.
“My dad, Roy, was a jazz pianist. He doesn’t play any more but will be 90 soon,” said Keith.
“He was a great influence and was very good, playing big band and jazz piano.
“My first memory is of his friends all turning up at our house in their dinner jackets on their way to perform.
“We’re all very proud of Emily. She is a fabulous singer but isn’t considering a pop career. She would happily sing if a role in a film demanded it though.”
Keith’s son George is a TV researcher in Manchester and another daughter, Martha, works for a PR company.
“But my youngest daughter, Nancy, is the biggest diva of the lot, even though she is only two,” said Keith.