History & BiographyTo this day debate rages over the band’s monicker. Were the lucky bastards blessed by beautiful maids cleaning for them or were they influenced by the beautiful girls in the 1971 movie Pretty Maids All In A Row? Dark horse: could it be both?
Pretty Maids was founded as a covers’ band playing Thin Lizzy, Rainbow and other cover versions called Pretty Pretty Panick in 1981, but slowly transitioned to originals when singer Ronnie Atkins joined in 1982. Initially Ken Hammer was joined by Attica bassist John Darrow and drummer Phil Moorhead with Pete Collins and Alan Owen arriving alongside the kindergarten teacher Atkins. It should be obvious that the boys used pseudonyms. Demo 1982 featured two songs, City Light and Shelly The Maid, which would appear on the later demo and also the group’s debut EP. The 1983 demo was a full-length and called Heavy Metal. The band’s classic line-up issued a 1983 self-titled EP. This was the band at its most melodic, most heavy and most memorable. Fantasy was a ballad for the ages, while Bad Boys crashed the metallic barriers. The 12” was an early production job for Tommy Hansen who would later work with Jorn, Fate, Helloween, TNT and more. This record, with a maiden and a flying V on the cover, was issued by Bullet Records of England. Par Records of USA and Finger Print of Sweden licensed the record for those territories. The cover was changed. The band toured UK with label-mates Le Griffe. Pretty Maids also opened for Black Sabbath in Denmark. No word whether the Sabs were disappointed when they actually met the maids. The band was managed by Bernard Doe the editor of Metal Forces now. That magazine would give the band extra coverage. Pretty Maids obtained a major deal with Epic records, which first signed the band and second re-released the EP with the newer and less sexy and more paranormal cover. The band’s debut full-length arrived in late 1984 and featured a Thin Lizzy cover. The song Night Danger was heard in the Demons movie. The intro to the album and song Back to Back was later utilized in a Crossbone Gundam game. The band used Carmina Burana to kick off its debut full-length, a piece that was used by fellow Danes Maltese Falcon as an intro to its concert. Pete Collins was replaced by Rick Hanson, but Collins would return shortly thereafter. Delong, later a taxi driver, was the album’s bassist. Petty Maids toured the UK with Saxon an affair that went badly. Ostensibly because Pretty Maids was doing better than Saxon on stage they were both badly treated by the headliner and spat on by the front row of Saxon fans. This turned the band off the UK. The band recorded a demo and issued an EP before 1987’s Love Games EP. It was a promotional advance for the coming album though and shared cover artwork with its bigger brother. Angel Schleifer of Sinner was a member for a brief period in 1987. Future World was out in April and had a successful single and video called Future World. The rest of the album betrayed a commercialism influenced by a major label and a desire to break in the USA. It was also recorded in the USA. The album sold 100,000 copies in West Germany alone. The band had wanted the album to be called Yellow Rain, but was barred from doing so by the record company in order to not offend the Americans. Yellow Rain referred to the American military’s use of agent orange on civilians in Vietnam. The group played at the Monsters Of Rock festival in Germany with Deep Purple headlining. While the show in Nuremberg went well, the band was barred from climbing the stage the next night at Pforzheim, Germany as the organizer feared the show would go overtime. The next album was called Jump The Gun in Europe, but renamed Lethal Heroes in the USA. Ricky Marx was introduced on this album. Roger Glover of Deep Purple produced it. Glover and Deep Purple’s Paice were musical guests on the album. Paice had stepped in as drummer Moorhead was injured in a car accident. The album is reportedly Atkin’s least favourite partly because it is over-produced and partly because it was a flop perhaps. The inference here is also that it had cost the band and label half a million American dollars. The band shed three members at this junction. Owen left during the album’s mixing. That same year brought a strange release called In Santa’s Claws, which featured two studio tracks and three live songs recorded in Denmark at the Roskilde festival. Jackson was on bass and Michael Fast was on the stool for Sin-Decade. This one featured a cover version of a pop didley by John Sykes and sung by Thin Lizzy’s Lynott called Please Don’t Leave Me. This track re-appeared on the covers’ CD Offside, which the band issued in 1992 and has been a band favourite. The band further did not do itself any favours when it toured as openers for Johnny Crash. Sin-Decade found favour in Japan. The group was practically ignored by the American office of its label. Hard rock was not in vogue and European hard rock even less. Pretty Maids appeared at the Pinkpop festival as openers for Van Halen in 1995.
Unusually, the band’s transition to an independent record company, in this case Massacre Records, came through a live record issued in 1995. This album was recorded at the Tivoli fun fair in Copenhagen, Denmark. Alive At Least featured tracks recorded in Japan and Germany. Owen had departed from the band now. Ken Hammer suffered a blood clot in his heart in December 2003, but improved. The group’s management went bankrupt in 2003 leading to legal entanglements for the band. The group switched to Frontiers Records. Wake up To The Real World of 2006 featured a cover version of Deep Purple’s Perfect Strangers. The band performed at Progpower Scandinavia Festival at Vega in Copenhagen on September 26th 2009. Activities took a backseat at this time. The band claimed pandemonium was a return to its earliest days.
Pretty Maids lost bassist Kenn Jackson after 19 years in the band in 2010. No replacement was immediately announced. The man had joined the band for the Sin-Decade album of 1992. Hal Patino of King Diamond fame was the band’s live bassist for a mere year in 2010 and 2011. He left and would focus on the King Diamond cover band Them. Rene Shades was announced as the band’s temporary bassist next. His first gig was at Tivoli in Copenhagen. It Comes Alive was packaged with a DVD. Louder Than Ever featured several new songs, but featured re-recorded tunes from the 1995 to 2006 period mostly. Maid In Japan commemorated the band’s thirtieth anniversary. The group made it to the USA when it played ProgPower in September 2012.
Frontiers Music would release the self-titled debut album from the project Nordic Union on January 29th 2016. Nordic Union was the handiwork of Frontiers’ president Serafino Perugino for singer Ronnie Atkins and Swedish songwriter and producer Erik Martensson of Eclipse and W.E.T. Pretty Maids was to shoot a DVD in Zlin, Czech Republic in 2018 playing the entire Future World album of 1987. The band had aimed to the same in 2017. A DVD was then due in the autumn of 2018. The band was also aiming for a new album in 2019, but singer Ronnie Atkins sustained a hit to his head and was hospitalized in Switzerland. All plans were postponed. The band cancelled three shows at the tail-end of its tour. Allan Sorensen was heard on Undress Your Madness and the subsequent live record and departed. Sorensen’s first show was opening for Kiss in Denmark. Allan Tscihicaja returned to the fold.
The news of the singer’s lung cancer in autumn of 2019 cancelled the band’s touring plans. Atkins was a cigarette smoker. Frontiers Music signed singer Ronnie Atkins to a solo deal in late 2020. His One Shot album was due in the spring of 2021. The man was fighting stage 4 cancer, but announced he was cancer free in early 2020. The cancer had returned in late 2020. In the meantime, Atkins and Hammer had a falling out.
Ronnie Atkins was a guest backing vocalist on several Blind Guardian albums, like Imaginations From The Other Side, in the ‘90s. He was also a singer with Avantasia on more recent albums and tours. Atkins was working on his solo record in 2020. Pretty Maids’ early promise was never fulfilled as the band shed members and lost some of its heaviness, but there is no denying that the hard rock band has remained steadfast in the face of trends and changes in the scene. Find Lizzy was a Thin Lizzy covers’ band. Atkins and Hammer were speaking again as of 2023 and considering concerts for 2024. The band was booked for several festivals in 2024. These were Time To Rock in Sweden and Jailbreak and Copenhell in Denmark.
PRETTY MAIDS - Same - BULLET
This album definitively symbolizes the Euro heavy metal scene of the 1981 to 1983 period. Built upon the young Danish band’s demo songs the writing is rather basic and the production merely adequate. Having said that, the self-titled debut mini-LP is explosive and beautiful, heavy and melodic, and original yet an amalgamation of everything the sextet of Ronnie Atkins, guitarists Ken Hammer and Pete Collins, bassist John Darrow, drummer Phil Moorheed and keyboardist Alan Owen had internalized in their earlier days. With two demos to its name and a background as a Thin Lizzy and Rainbow cover band this is Pretty Maids at its formative stage laying down driving riffs atop of hard rocking material from the late '70s and early '80s.
The album starts with City Light - although one is liable to write City Lights given the infectious chorus of the track - which is a melodic and catchy, yet torrential scandal. How so? Pretty Maids should have broken big. The band, here, is like a raw nerve strung on a six-string axe. This is an excellent start and one that gets it right. Fantasy is next and, it would not be an exaggeration to say, it is one of the best metal ballads ever. The guitars are phenomenal, as are the drum beats and the effects. Shelly The Maid is next (she was also depicted on my version’s cover, although a later version chose to de-sexualize the EP) and is quite Thin Lizzy-esque. The song is nice, hard and a perfect listen for a finger and hand exercise.
Off to side two and here come the Bad Boys. This is another one of the Maidens’ heavier tracks - after a cool intro - that is ripe for head banging. It is almost venturing into the realm of thrash and speed. Children Of Tomorrow is a narrative story put to heartfelt and emotional music. Wait for even more exceptionally simple and classy soloing and a touch of keyboards. The album appropriately ends with Nowhere To Run because there is nowhere to go now, but back to Side One. This is likely the album’s most chaotic song and simultaneously my least favourite.
Pretty Maids’ debut is a fantastic journey for heavy metal fans and one that is almost equalled by the band’s 1985 full-length, Red, Hot And Heavy. Between this EP and that album, the band suffered a couple of comings and goings, although neither lacks in quality or showmanship. - Ali “The Metallian”
PRETTY MAIDS - RED, HOT AND HEAVY - CBS
Think about Thin Lizzy, and how Pretty Maids members were in a cover band of Lynott and co., Def Leppard during its heavy period and the emergence of Metallica and Anthrax and that is the sound of Pretty Maids. In other words, the sound that these guys delivered takes the band’s hard and heavy influences, modernises and amplifies it with newer and heavier delivery in a way that the music does not sound like any of the aforementioned acts necessarily, but becomes an amalgamation of inspirations instead.
Thin Lizzy though, whose 1983 record Thunder And Lightning, was then new and considered the band’s heaviest release, is a particular reference. Having said that, this was the era of innovation, excitement, big hair and hot chicks on album covers. And Pretty Maids of Denmark delivers on the promise.
The songs are written mostly by Ken Hammer (pseudonyms abound), but a couple see co-writing credit from singer Ronnie Atkins As if the act has not been mentioned enough in thai review already there is a Thin Lizzy cover version here too.
The signature start of Pretty Maids’ debut full-length of 1984 is owing to Fortuna off Carmina Burana by German composer Carl Orff. The unmistakable intro goes with a distinctive cover artwork of a woman trying to keep the lid on the band. She is doing her best to contain the power of the pretty maids shackled and boxed in.
The first track is called Back To Back and is characterised by back to back heavy and fast riffs made in metal heaven. It is a ferocious speed metaller that is filled with anger and harm; that came to kill and not to charm. The sound of metal screams in the air. The style is almost that of Savatage’s Power Of The Night for those who know the latter band and not know the sextet. This is a classic. The song begins with a growl by Ronnie - who could have been Chris Boltendahl’s little brother - and the proceedings are so good that even the presence of a keyboardist cannot put a damper on this one. A fast, heavy metallic juggernaut, the action-packed song breaks, transitions and has a tapping solo that rips and rips off a John Sykes technique heard on Cold Sweat while the galloping riff is inspired by Holy War again of Thin Lizzy. The riff sounds like a lash and that break is killer. When it speaks to silence filling the place, it is clearly not referring to the band or its music. The title track is up next. The beginning is reminiscent of Presence’s You Want My Love Baby, which stems from 1984 too. It has a heavy gargantuan riff building up and up culminating in a mid-paced explosion. Waitin’ For The Time is a melodic and heavy song that serves to remind fans that ‘g’ costs extra. It has an AOR vibe and is a song of love and yearning. There are mechanical drums, strong harmonies and a capable scream. Cold Killer combines a cold atmosphere to begin with some superstition. Lyrically there is a bit of Electric Eye and a little bit of How Many Tears in this track about a nuclear satellite demonstrating that the Scandinacians were not just singing about maids and passion, but were socially conscious as well. This takes us to Battle Of Pride, which as the title suggests, does not let up. The band takes up the missiles again and comes down against war. The end of the track is Thin Lizzy sped up. There is a suitably heavy and excruciating riff, moshing drums and chugging screeching solo. This is why this album smokes. Song after cool metal song. There is even more danger with the next track, Night Danger, which is a speedy belter complete with a sinister laughter that leads to intrepid riffing in a speed metaller that catches its breath during the refrain….”diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeee” You better watch out! The drum sound is flat, but one should make allowances as it is 1984 after all. Still, the drums are represented well in the mix. There is even more ‘night’ in the next song, which is called A Place In The Night. It remains a fine track, but it is more commercial and not as successful as the other tracks here on the record. It maintains a heavy backbone, but overall has a commercial intention. It is worth remarking that Pretty Maids was never going to be mainstream. The music could be whatever the musicians decide it to be, but Atkins’ vocals are more like a lion than a pop singer. The grandiose intro Queen Of Dreams - this could be interpreted as ‘night’ related too - is also a hard and heavy tune with a good mainstream tinge. It has an infectious melody that makes one think it may be an older composition as it is reminiscent of the group’s self-titled EP material. The layer of backing keyboards could have been tossed however. The album ends with Little Darling, a Thin Lizzy single from 1973. It is a waste of time and a blemish on an otherwise almost perfect record. Still, Pretty Maids has made the Thin Lizzy song ballsier and picked up the pace, which is not a difficult feat given that the original had bluesy guitar and a brass section. The band earnt itself a ‘g’ here because while Ironically it is pronounced ‘darlin’ in the song, the title is correctly spelt ‘Darling!’
Pretty Maids’ demo was reviewed very early on in Metal Forces magazine whose editor would pick up management of the Danes. It gave the band a leg up, but the band would go commercial thereafter, which ironically is the kiss of death for most bands in metal.
The band lost a member after this record, and several others one album later, and was never the same. There was the song Future World, but not much else for me, which is such a surprise for Pretty Maids had until here delivered an EP and a LP chock full of very respectable songs. Oh, there was some chart action in Germany later and the group survived and remained, but it was never quite as good. The six were the kings of heavy metal riffing and hard rock chorus here and this album was exceptional. The silly keyboards aside, it is not often that an album title speaks truthfully to its content, but Red, Hot And Heavy does. - Ali “The Metallian”