Shakin’ Stevens’ latest release is All You Need Is Greed (Image: Andy Fallon)
With his hair still jet black, and turned-up collar, Shakin’ Stevens looks as cool now at 75 as he did in his Eighties heyday. The Cardiff-born singer, the UK’s biggest-selling singles artist of that decade, is even trying on his denim jacket just for the Daily Express.
“I haven’t put this on for decades,” he smiles.
“It’s the same one I wore on my first appearance on Top Of The Pops when I did This Ole House. It’s shrunk a bit and it’s seriously ripped up, but I can still get into it.”
Forty-two years after that first number one – three more chart toppers and 33 top 40 hits followed, including festive favourite Merry Christmas Everyone – Shaky is celebrating the release of his new single, a rootsy, spiky observation on global inequality called All You Need Is Greed.
The song was unveiled as a world exclusive by Ken Bruce’s temporary replacement Gary Davies on his Radio 2 mid-morning show yesterday, ahead of its UK release today. The catchy track is a precursor to Shaky’s equally opinionated and blues-tinged album Re-Set, released next month.
But the man who has sold more singles than Wham!, Britney Spears, and Lady Gaga in a career spanning seven decades, insists he’s not trying to ruffle feathers.
“I’m not pointing the finger. I’m not judging. I’m just observing,” he says. “Although I do believe that lyrics are very important, if you haven’t got a tune to go with them, then you’ve had it.”
Born Michael Barratt, the youngest of 13 siblings, Shaky bootlegged his stage name from an old schoolfriend’s nickname and, after leaving school, worked as a milkman and an upholsterer whilst trying to break through with his rock ’n’ roll band Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets.
Performing live in 1982 (Image: Getty)
Despite a support slot with The Rolling Stones in 1969 and a 1970 record contract with Parlophone Records, mainstream British recognition eluded him until Elvis Presley’s death in 1977, when pop impresario Jack Good – who managed Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele and Marty Wilde – spotted Shaky at a Sunsets gig and invited him to audition for one of the title roles in the hastily devised West End musical Elvis!
“It’s fair to say that, had Elvis Presley’s life continued, then my life might have taken a different path,” admits Shaky, who stayed in the stage role for 19 months, before parting company with the Sunsets.
His solo career then exploded in 1981 with This Ole House, swiftly followed by his other chart-toppers Green Door, Oh Julie and his number one album Shaky. He reckons he appeared on Top of the Pops more than 60 times in all.
“They were crazy times,” he remembers. “I was quite wild on stage in those days, much wilder than people think. I used to really go for it! When I was in the Elvis! musical at The Astoria, I used to walk across the back of all the seats during the show, and when I was touring with the Sunsets, we all used to go crazy.
“The sax player would throw his sax in the air and keep pretending to play it until he caught it, and I used to run across the bar during shows.
“Whenever we arrived at the venue, I used to ask the managers, ‘Where can I climb tonight?’. I used to love climbing up the lighting rigging, although one night I fell off and broke my ankle.”
Prior to his solo success, Shaky struck up a friendship with The Rolling Stones, supporting them at a December 1969 gig at London’s Saville Theatre, a night he remembers fondly. “I turned up for the soundcheck and they knew I loved rock ’n’ roll and blues, and they were playing their version of Great Balls Of Fire, especially for me, which was a lovely gesture.
“They were very down-to-earth, lovely guys and I remember going out for a drink at The Ivy afterwards, where the price of a glass of red wine was extortionate.
“Ronnie Wood saw how much the wine cost and said, ‘I’m not paying these bloody prices, let’s go to the pub round the corner.’”
A decade later, another unlikely fan emerged in the orange-haired form of anarchic Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten. “He was being interviewed on some TV show and said at the end of the chat, ‘Right, I’ve done this interview, I’m effing off to see Shakin’ Stevens’.
“He was a big fan which I have to say was a big shock for me, although I know that quite a few punk bands were fans too.”
Compared to his octogenarian countryman Tom Jones, who regularly performed amidst a flurry of underwear flung on stage by fanatical female devotees, Shaky’s followers were generally less frenzied.
“People used to travel from all over the world to see me perform, places like Poland and Germany. The last time I toured we had people from Brazil who hired a car and went from city to city to watch me.”
He says the strangest fan interaction was at a hometown gig in Cardiff. In his dressing room was a single bed, and a table with a full bottle of wine on it. After the show, he noticed some of the wine had been drunk. “I thought, ‘I didn’t drink any of that. How strange is that?’,” he remembers.
“My wife Sue, who is also my manager, was with me. She had to speak to some TV people, so she left me alone in the dressing room.
“Then all of a sudden, this female head appeared from under the bed and said expectantly, ‘Shaky!’, at which point Sue walked back in and said, ‘Oi, what the hell do you think you’re doing in here? Get out now!’”
Jacket still fits on Zoom call with Daily Express (Image: )
The woman beneath the bed scarpered but later made two further attempts to get back into Shaky’s dressing room… in disguise.
“Once she was wearing a mac and the other time wearing a woolly hat,” the singer remembers.
“But the tour manager intercepted her en route and she never made it back to Shaky.” Unlike this mystery groupie, one person who did manage to get up close and personal with Shaky was Good Morning Britain host Richard Madeley. On his 1980s music show, Calendar Goes Pop, he ended up wrestling the pop star live on TV.
“I was a guest on the programme with Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi from Status Quo,” Shaky recalls. “Richard kept calling me just Shakin’ and I kept correcting him, saying, ‘It’s Shaky’. Then he kept getting the style of my music wrong. He hadn’t done his research.
“Then he said, ‘Let’s not finish this with an argument’. Rick and Francis were watching all this unfold in amazement and then I sort of leapt on him.
“We wrestled for a bit on the sofa, and I ended up breaking his watch, but we buried the hatchet 25 years later when I appeared on the Richard & Judy Show.”
Although his wrestling days are over, Shaky is still in remarkably rude health, 13 years after his second wife Sue Davies saved his life by giving him CPR when he suffered a heart attack in bed.
“It’s pretty amazing to have a supporter like Sue who believes in me so much,” says Shaky.
Hit single Merry Christmas Everyone, 1985, (Image: )
Today he leads a healthy lifestyle. “I haven’t drunk or smoked since 2004. I’ve kicked all of that out of the window, and I feel so much better for it.
“Over the years I’ve had a trainer and a nutritionist. I also lift weights now, once a week. And I try to keep as far away from stress as possible.”
He is also very cautious about his most valuable asset. “I’m delighted that I can still belt out the songs, but I’m careful with my voice. I exercise my vocal cords, and I’m much more careful about how I handle myself on stage now.”
Just before Christmas last year, he supported Status Quo in concert. His perennial favourite Merry Christmas Everyone “went down a storm”.
“I’ll be touring again this year and I can’t wait,” Shaky promises. “Whenever I step foot on that stage, I give my all, and I think the crowd can sense that. I can feel that warmth reflected back to me.
“And there’s no ego with me. I’m just a down-to-earth, ordinary guy who wants to connect with my audience, whether that’s with the old hits or with my new songs.”
But will the famous denim jacket be making a return? More to the point, will it be paired with jeans to create his trademark double-denim outfit?
“I’m not sure,” he says. “It’s been fun wearing them today, but I don’t think you’ll see me in those jeans on stage again.
“But then again, never say never. Maybe just one more time.”
All You Need Is Greed is out now. Re-Set is released on April 28. Visit shakinstevens.com for more details