An Interview with Shakin’ Stevens
Throughout history, the human race has always had an affinity with an underdog story. David and Goliath. Rocky and Carl Weathers. Leicester City football club in 2016. And in the early 60s in the sleepy suburb of Ely, Cardiff, an underdog story of monumental proportions was starting to form.
At the time Michael Barratt was in his early teens, singing in school, and working in the wood yard on a Saturday. From the age of fifteen, he was forming bands, performing in pubs, clubs and church halls, eventually even getting them a gig at the famous 2i’s. Starting from nowhere, and with “just pure determination” as he puts it, Shaky soon became an unrelenting force in British music, being the most successful acts of the 80s, and the most successful charting Welsh artist of all time.
“I’m a great believer that you only get what you put in – and I put it in everything I could,” says a defiant Shaky on a brisk January morning – and he still shows no sign of slowing down, with a brand new European and UK spring tour on the horizon.
“When I started we were travelling in vans, at that time we couldn’t afford B&Bs, so after the gig the band would all climb in the back of the van with our fish and chips and then wake up in the morning – six sweaty musicians, all the gear around us, and you’d think ‘oh god,’ he laughs. “Then we’d go have a shave, a wash down and onto to the next gig. So it’s perseverance – I was determined to get there in the end. It took me a long time to get there, but here I am.”
“It was mums and dads that were the fans”
Here he is indeed, and his new tour: ‘Greatest Hits – and More!’ sees him travel across 18 cities in the UK, as well as all over mainland Europe.
“There will be hits,” he says excitedly. “Some I haven’t sung for a long time. Songs from my record collection and of course newer tracks from the Echoes Of Our Times album.” Shaky has an abundance of 33 hits, with 15 UK Top 10 singles that he tells me have been “brought up to date, but still recognisable”, but it’s the ‘more’ part that I’m particularly interested in.
“Well we tried out some classic hit songs in Sri Lanka – and they worked, so people will be hearing some songs ‘live’ for the first time in a long time, but I think if you say what you’re going to do you sort of ruin the surprise,” he says warily.
I suggest that it’s quite an achievement that after 40 years of being a recording artist, people are still coming out to see him live. How does that make you feel?
“Fantastic! It’s really good that they’re still coming and even better that as my music moves on they move on with me. [Back in the day] it was mums and dads that were the fans, and then they introduced the kids to the Saturday TV shows and Top Of The Pops, then they bought their kids to the gigs. On the last tour I met a couple of people backstage who were not kids anymore! They were in their 30s and 40s and telling me they’re still coming because they love it – and they’re the core of my audience. The added bonus is that they also want more of the new material, which they have really taken to.”
Shaky hasn’t just been busy touring either, but he’s also had strong success with most recent album Echoes Of Our Times (released in late 2016), his highest charting album since 1984. A personal, story-driven record based on Shaky’s ancestors, it received critical acclaim for its bold change in style. The denim and white boots went long ago, it’s all about the music, whether it be hits or the newer tracks, and in the Echoes Of Our Times album, it was a rootsy and gritty guitar sound that felt like an homage to the dirty Americana of late Johnny Cash records.
“A move forward”
“People must have been able to relate to the stories and enjoyed the different style on the album. It also let me explore more musically and lyrically which I enjoyed.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, he’s already working on a follow up to Echoes Of Our Times which will “keep on with the rootsy style,” Shaky says. “It suits and it’s a move forward for me. We recorded songs at the same times as ‘Echoes’ so we’ve got stuff there to look at that could fit in. There definitely won’t be a photograph of me on the front cover, we’re not going to go back to that.” With that he chuckles, seemingly more interested in his current musical outgoings than rehashing his old material and style. “I’ve got a lot, lot more to give yet.”
“But at the moment the attention is all being directed to the European and UK tour which starts in a few weeks’ time. Leading up to it I’ve been doing lots and lots of interviews.” His list of promo seems endless, with TV and radio appearances in the UK as well as Poland, The Netherlands and Germany. The Shaky name is just as prominent in mainland Europe as it on home soil.
“It’s been really full on. Like I said, it’s what you put in, so you’ve got to go out and spread the word.”
Constantly hungry, and determined to push himself as far as possible, Shaky may not be the Rockyesque underdog he once was, but he’s still rolling with the punches better than anyone from suburban Ely could have predicted. And for that, he deserves all the credit he can get.
See shakinstevens.com for details.
images: Graham Flack