I’m still Shakin’, rocking & rolling

Shakin' Stevens
Shakin' Stevens
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TWO things seem to bother Shakey... he did more than open The Green Door and secondly he didn’t just leave milk outside of them, he tells us ahead of a return to Sheffield.

WHEN a heart attack hit Shakin’ Stevens at home in Windsor last year plenty thought he might soon be knocking on heaven’s door, let alone a green one.

“I’m a lot better than I was,” he says now with a full-scale tour in his sights, but he’s taking things steady.

“It was kicked off when I was lifting too many heavy things in the garden really and a lot of them, 25 bags of rubble and stuff.

“You get to a certain age you’ve got to watch what you’re doing, basically. That wasn’t a sensible thing I did so I was in intensive care and very ill.

“But I’m on the mend and since then I’ve done 19 dates at the beginning of the year and I’m doing these 26 at the end, the second phase of the 30th anniversary.”

That anniversary marking his first UK hit, Hot Dog. But the legendary Welsh rock ‘n’ roller is also out to dispel the myth that he’s got merely a handful of – what some would suggest are – novelty songs in his locker.

Although best known as the man with the denim jacket and ‘that move’ who dominated the ‘80s single chart with the likes of This Ole House, Green Door, Oh Julie – curiously later covered by Barry Manilow – You Drive Me Crazy, A Love Worth Waiting For and Merry Christmas Everyone, Shakey actually holds records for the number of tracks he has released, and he has plans for more.

And it’s not all cheesy rock ‘n’ roll. In fact, the man who pulled the largest ever Saturday main stage opening audience at Glastonbury in 2008, refused to play Green Door for 15 years as he tried to show he wasn’t a one-trick pony.

On the tour that takes his 10-piece band to Sheffield’s O2 Academy on December 6, it’ll be restored to the setlist, but with a dramatic makeover.

“We brought it back and I sing it differently, we put a mandolin on it, acoustic guitars and stand-up double bass. It sounds really good, really cool.

“We do some of the hits. We’ll be doing some album tracks and new songs and some surprises. We’re going to put some different tracks in for the diehards, although I haven’t been to Sheffield for quite a long time. You’ve got a lot of talent up there; Richard Hawley and Pulp, it’s amazing.”

And where once Sheffield was thought of as the ‘birth town’ of Human League and Def Leppard, Shakey last year released a box-set of 147 tracks to confirm he too has other tricks up his sleeve.

“Because a record’s been to number one it doesn’t mean to say it sounds better than a number two or 14 or 25. They happen to have gone to number one and what happened then is the record company would stick them on compilations so the radio stations would play them.

“I want to record lots of stuff and plan to have a new album out in the middle of the new year. Rock ‘n’ roll can basically sound like that period from the ‘50s or it can be quite an open word for a mixture of music. I would say mine’s a mixture, some blues stuff, RnB, Cajun, country, all kinds.

“I’ve got lots of accolades and trophies and I think I’ve made my mark but I want to add more, I still want to record and have got a lot to record. If they’re hits they’re hits, if they’re not they’re not.”

It is 30 years since Shakey enjoyed his first taste of solo success having emerged from his band Shakin’ Stevens & The Sunsets.

He seemed to relish being different at a time when the New Romantics were style kings.

Before then it was a juggling act trying to peddle his musical wares on the road and earning a living wage, including a spell as a milkman.

“It was very difficult because when I was gigging it was late at night and very hard to get up in the morning so I didn’t really keep a job down.

“A lot of people talk about the milk round but I’ve had loads of jobs; in a warehouse, I worked on the buildings, and as an upholsterer. I liked that because the radio was on.

“But my first love was performing on stage. I really believe I was sent here to perform because I started to sing at a very early age, at junior school, and then went into bands.

“We did the church halls and schools. I remember pushing my equipment down to the school in this little truck with two handles on the side and then back up the hill. When we got older we got a van and did valley clubs and colleges.

“We’ve slept in the van and woken up with chips everywhere.”

These days his eldest kid is performing and writing and Shakey - born Michael Barratt, the youngest of 11 children raised in a Cardiff suburb - seems proud rather than likely to stand in his way in favour of a more stable career.

“He was playing some of the tracks to us last night. With the music business you need a bit of luck and the right people to make it all work. It took me long enough; some others fall into it and off they go.”

Shakey tasted a bit of both, actually beginning his playing and recording career in the late ‘60s but not finding the mainstream commercial radar until the ‘80s. When he did he was consistent, registering 33 top 40 singles.

Just don’t expect all of them when he plays Sheffield, warns the artist who appeared 50 times on Top Of The Pops.

“It’s not a hits package show,” Shakey concurs. “Those who come to see me know how it is now. People coming for the first time are a bit surprised. If they’re expecting YouTube or Top Of The Pops it’s not going to be like that.

“I’m happy, though, because it’s a healthier way to perform. I don’t want to stand there just singing the hits from starts to finish, there’s more to me than that. I like the hits but you’ve got to introduce other strings to your bow, you can’t stick in a time warp.”