Whole lot of shakin’ going on

HE’S the biggest-selling singles artist of the Eighties, had one of the biggest crowds ever in Glastonbury’s history and counts the likes of Elbow among his celebrity fans. Entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE talks to Shakin’ Stevens.

WITH his health worries behind him, Stevens can’t wait to hit the road to celebrate 30 years since his first UK hit.

The 62-year-old was due here last year. The tour was postponed after he was rushed to hospital, reportedly collapsing at his Windsor home in July from exhaustion brought on by the stress of working on a new album.

“You know, the stresses of life and the music business and I like walking and stuff like that. I was in the garden helping out and I overdid carrying too many heavy things. I ended up in intensive care but I’m much better.

“As time goes on there’re certain things you can’t do that you could and you’ve just gotta be careful; I certainly worked that one out,” he laughs, “And a few other things.”

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Fans can expect old favourites, rock, country blues, songs from his new album and a few surprises.

“I haven’t been to Ipswich for quite a while, in fact I haven’t been on tour for quite a while in the UK so I’m really looking forward to it,” said Cardiff-born Shaky. “We’re coming here to have a party.”

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Starting life as a rock ‘n’ roll singer, Michael Barratt as he was known then played with several bands around South Wales, eventually forming Shakin’ Stevens And The Sunsets.

He came by the name in his teens when a mate suddenly announced “Ladies and gentlemen, Shakin’ Stevens And The Sunsets” while messing about in the street. Shaky thought it was wacky and adopted it much later as his stage name.

Fame didn’t come overnight.

He and the Sunsets recorded several albums and singles for various labels before calling it quits in 1977. Despite good reviews, Stevens’ solo efforts failed to have a significant impact on the charts.

Then came the 80s where, despite the dominance of New Wave, Electronic and the New Romantics, his music struck a chord with those weaned on Smash Hits as well as rock appreciating adults.

Hot Dog was lifted from Take One, his first album released on the Epic label, reaching 24 in the charts.

“It was a hell of a long time having my first UK hit. It was recorded by a guy called Corky Jones, better known as the late Buck Owens. When he heard my version he started doing it, so that was a fantastic compliment.

“Not a lot of people know,“ he laughs, “is after Hot Dog I had a flop, then I had Marie Marie which introduced me to the European market. After that I had a flop, then I had This Ole House which introduced me to the international market.”

It was the latter - originally penned by singer/songwriter Stuart Hamblen after finding the dead body of an old prospector in a tumbledown shack - which really put him on the road to chart-topping stardom.

“I hadn’t heard it before,” Shaky remembers. “I was going through some records and tapes and there it [the recording by the US band NRBQ] was.”

His audiences grew and throughout the 80s and 90s he had 39 hit singles, 37 of them consecutive; with four number ones, three number twos, 12 top five hits, 15 top tens, 25 top 20s, 30 top 30s and 32 top 40 hits.

This success was mirrored across Europe and world-wide; earning him a stack of Gold, Platinum and Double Platinum discs as well as awards.

He remains the UK’s 16tth highest selling artist in the history of the charts and has spent 460 weeks in the UK charts alone – nearly nine years. He shares with The Beatles (60s) and Elton John (70s) the distinction of being the most successful UK singles chart performer of a decade.

Shaky’s albums and tours continue to draw fans to this day. His 147-track ultimate collection, The Epic Masters, had to be immediately re- pressed after selling out its limited run within a week in 2009.

“My early records were never on CD because they came out before they were popular; so there was about three or four of my albums still on vinyl and the fans were saying ‘well can we have them on CD’.

“We felt it was something that had to be done and I was very pleased the record company asked me to be involved. It was great fun looking back at the musicians I’ve been lucky enough to play with throughout my career; it brought back tremendous memories.”

It’s not just the songs - some of which he admits to liking better than others without giving away his preferences - he enjoyed revisiting but the different styles. There’s everything from rhythm and blues to country blues and cajun.

He may not be a fan of every song he’s recorded over his amazing career; but he boasts a celebrity fan base including Peter Kay, look for Shaky in the video to Is the way to Amarillo; Matt Lucas and David Walliams, who wanted him to be in the first series of Little Britain; and bands such as Super Furry Animals.

“I was actually invited to [comedian] Rob Brydon’s birthday. That was a hoot and I knew somebody was going to ask me to get up and sing so he got up as well,” chuckles Shaky.

“There was a kind of a band there so we just had some fun. We sang the Little Richard song Tutti Frutti. That was great he’s a very talented guy.”

A very different affair to him performing on the Pyramid stage at 2008’s Glastonbury no doubt, drawing the biggest crowd and best reaction for an opening artist at the time.

“It was brilliant; I think I surprised a lot of people by doing it. I was to open on the weekend and you know these people when they go to these festivals they take their sleeping bags and tents and wigwams and things and don’t go to bed till two or three in the morning.

“I’m on at midday and I’m thinking to myself ‘whoops, hope they wake up because I can’t see anybody out there,” he laughs.

“As time went on and it was quarter to 12 it started filling up and by the time I went on at a minute to there was thousands and thousands of people there.” ?

Shakin’ Stevens will be at the Corn Exchange, Ipswich, on February 11.

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