The Welsh Elvis spoke to the Ocelot about the rocky road to success, musical influences and touring the new album…
How do you address Shakin’ Stevens? This occured to me in a flash in the dead few seconds before I dialled his number and he picked up… It’s the sort of thing a professional would have found out ahead of time. I briefly considered asking if I was speaking to ‘The Welsh Elvis’ but lost my nerve.
“Err what do I call you?” I asked weakly, before adding “Hello”.
“It’s Shakey – I’m afraid,” he replies – sounding slightly apologetic. His real name’s Michael Barratt – Shakey’s much cooler.
The fact is, Shakin’s got every right to insist upon a stage name – he’s a frigging Platinum selling artist – from an era when you had to sell a huge number of records to earn a slot on Top Of The Pops.
And when I was 10, he was the epitome of cool – a shot of Rock n’ Roll electricity in a market dominated by po-faced foundation-wearing big-hair wearing humanoids.
“I stood out like a sore thumb at that time I have to say – but I must have clicked for some people because it was This Ole House that really took off for me and went global.”
And to this I can attest – my mate Rotatin’ Richard Andrews and myself, Boppin’ Ben Fitzgerald, had his dance moves locked down tight at the St Mary’s Primary School disco.
For those who were not around for the birth of Rock n’ Roll, Shakey was there to re-invent and repackage it for a new generation. And although it may fade away, double denim, brylcreemed hair and hip gyration will always have a bookmark in the lexicon of cool.
When Shaky shot to fame he was already a seasoned circuit professional – having cut the cloth since forming his first groups in the mid 60s – The Olympics, The Cossacks and The Denims in quick succession.
“I always wanted to sing and perform – I was brought up in a big family. I’m the youngest of 13 so there was always a lot going on at home. But I did have to work hard to achieve the success that I eventually found.”
The former milkman and upholsterer got off to a false start, signing to Parlophone Records in the late 60s where Michael adopted the stage name Shakin’ Stevens – inspired by his old school friend Steven Vanderwalker – and fronted Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets.
“It was our first step up – and we even opened for The Rolling Stones in 1969 when they came to Cardiff. It was an amazing experience and great to meet the Stones at that time.”
But success was elusive – with their album never really taking off in the UK, despite seeing some success in mainland Europe.
“We spent seven years on the road – where I really learned my trade. In fact at the time it was the only way to learn how to do it. But my first big break came when I was spotted during a London gig and invited to audition for a new West End musical, Elvis! Where I became one of three actors to take on the role. It was that break really that allowed me to find real fame with my first hit This Ole House and the rest followed from there.”
A slew of hits followed, with 10 more songs reaching the top five including three number one hits – Green Door, Oh Julie and Merry Christmas Everyone.
Since then, Shaky has become part of the musical furniture – with Merry Christmas Everyone popping by every December like a good friend.
And as well as dipping in and out of the album charts with greatest hits albums he also cemented his place in rock n’ roll history by opening the second day of Glastonbury in 2008.
Shakin’ Stevens will be kicking off his Greatest Hits and More tour at Salisbury City Hall on Friday March 1 2019 – the first of 18 dates. Audiences will be treated to reworkings of his songbook of 33 hit singles.
And he will also be showcasing tracks from his 12th studio album Echoes Of Our Times – which sees Shaky shakin’ off rock n’ roll to embrace a range of other musical genres.
“From country rock to Cajun, classic rock to Latin and blues to Americana I’ve had the pleasure of rediscovering the jewels from my repertoire that are so well liked. Of course there’ll be hits and some songs that I haven’t performed live on stage for a decade or two… so some surprises.”
For tickets log on to www.eventim.co.uk