It’s hard to believe Welsh rock ‘n’ roller Shakin’ Stevens is celebrating 50 years in show business this year. As one of the UK’s biggest-selling artists of the 1980s, the singer-songwriter is still recording, and he completed a 33-date UK tour, The Echoes of Our Time, in 2017.
Now aged 70, Shaky has his musical roots planted firmly in the nostalgic rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s. He has had 33 top 40 hit singles, including platinum and gold discs, since forming his first band in 1968.
Born Michael Barratt in March 1948 in Ely, Cardiff, he was the youngest of 11 children. His father, Jack, was a World War I veteran who worked in the building trade – he was also a coal miner.
His mother, May, looked after the children. Some of Shaky’s older siblings were born in the 1920s and had their own children by the time he was born. He was always interested in making music and formed amateur bands while still at school.
On leaving school, he became a milkman, but he still played music in his spare time. His big break came in 1968, when he formed Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets (his first professional band) with musicians who had formerly played as The Backbeats.
He became known as Shakin’ Stevens after Welsh rock and roll promoter Paul Barrett created and managed the band. They had a large following in Wales and a reputation for playing lively gigs – perhaps the reason why rock legends the Rolling Stones booked them to play a one-off support slot for them in December 1969, at the Stones’ Christmas bash.
Shaky and the Sunsets had toured around Europe and were particularly big in Germany and Holland when they won their first recording contract with Parlophone in 1970, releasing their debut album, A Legend. Although it didn’t enjoy chart success, this was the start of what did indeed become a legendary career for the Welsh milkman.
Although his early records with the Sunsets weren’t commercial hits, they continued to tour. However, the band’s demise came in 1977, when Shaky successfully auditioned for the lead role in Jack Good’s musical, Elvis. Starring as the Army-era Elvis Presley for six months, he had to put his career with the Sunsets on hold.
When the musical extended its run for a further two years, it was the end for the Sunsets and Shaky embarked on his solo career afterwards. He has released an incredible 69 singles, 20 studio albums, 21 compilation albums and 37 music videos.
Some of his biggest hits were in the 1980s. He charted in Australia, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Switzerland and Poland. This Ole House was his first mega-hit in 1981, achieving gold status and basking in the number one spot in the UK, Australia, Ireland and Sweden.
This was followed by two further number one hits, both of which went gold, in the same year – You Drive Me Crazy and Green Door. In 1982, he had another massive hit with Oh Julie, which was number one in six countries, including the UK – it went platinum.
You Drive Me Crazy
Shaky’s gold-selling single, You Drive Me Crazy, was a love song. He is singing to a lover, telling her, “When you’re in my arms, I can feel your magic charms, you drive me crazy.”
It was written by Ronnie Harwood, an Ivor Novello Award-winning songwriter, singer and guitarist, who had previously worked with the likes of Bill Haley, Paul Nicholas and Screaming Lord Sutch.
Some people found the lyrics a little schmaltzy – in the post-punk/New Romantic era, lyrics such as, “When I’m looking in those big blue eyes, I start a-floating round in paradise,” and, “Heaven must have sent you down,” weren’t exactly trendy!
Shaky’s legion of fans across the world lapped it up – it was number one in Australia and Ireland and made the top 10 across Europe and in New Zealand.
What’s Shaky up to now?
Shaky released his latest studio album, Echoes of Our Times, on 16th September 2016. Following his extensive UK tour last year, he celebrated his 70th birthday on 4th March.
More recently, he has been visiting local schools in Cardiff to help teach pupils CPR – a heart attack in July 2010 almost claimed his life. His quick-thinking partner performed the necessary CPR procedure, and this saved his life, after he suffered a cardiac arrest at the age of 69 at his Buckinghamshire home.
He raised £1,000 at a concert in April 2017 to buy a defibrillator and said he wanted to put something back into the community where he grew up. In an interview, he likened himself to “a skittle”, explaining, “If I get knocked down, I get back up.”
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