Shakin' Stevens

Exclusive interview with Shakin’ Stevens

by Karen Shaw

At the tender age of 13, I would wake up to him every morning and kiss him goodnight. He was my denim-clad Welsh Adonis. I was going to marry him when I turned 18, not that he was aware, in fact, he never knew I existed but his poster that I had ripped out of an old Blue Jeans annual is now folded up in a memory box under my bed. I thought he was better than…dare I say it? Elvis.

Who’d have guessed? Shaky’s half Yorkshire

In the UK alone Shaky has charted over 33 Top 40 hit singles which include his classics, This Ole House, Green Door, Oh Julie, and everyone’s favourite yuletide hit, Merry Christmas Everyone.

The Platinum-selling entertainer will be exciting his audiences with his 33 date UK tour as he performs new tracks from his latest album Echoes Of Our Times. A surprising record on which blues, roots, Americana and classic rock take centre stage as Shaky explores his mysterious and intriguing family history.

I caught up with my teenage crush to chat about his latest venture and if I’m honest, just so I could well, talk to him!

“Bore dar,” (which is ‘good morning’ in Welsh) Shaky.

“Bore dar, I haven’t heard that in a while.”

My usual introduction is to ask what the weather’s like. Unfortunately, this is a question he’s unable to answer. “I’m not sure, I haven’t got a window,” is his reply.

Which leads me on to ask him what he’s done that is so bad that he’s deprived of a window. He explains that he’s talking to me from his studio.

I then go on to thank him for enabling me to win a free holiday to Blue Dolphin Holiday Camp in 1982. Dressed in double denim while miming and bopping to one of Shaky’s hit songs, This Ole House, I managed to secure first position and won a free holiday to return.

After congratulating me, he swears he would never wear double denim again and if he was to try it he’d shock a lot of people.

His latest tour Echoes Of Our Time shares the same name as his recent album and is far cry away from the Shaky of yester-year. They’ll be no shaking of hips going on in this show, just the shaking of his tambourine, and that’s when he’s not playing his banjo…

“The tour will include all the songs from my recent album, along with some of my older hits which I’ve updated a bit. They’ll be songs I haven’t sung before and I’ve also got a few surprises up my sleeve.”

Shakin' StevensWhen I ask him if he prefers playing the banjo to bopping nowadays, he laughs; “Well I have a little bop on stage, but in the early days I was a bit wild. But as time goes on I believe you’ve got to present yourself in a different way. I did a new twist on Green Door recently with a mandolin and double bass and sung it differently. It was really well received. Many of my fans who bought it the first time around said they preferred the new version.

“And er, I’ve always liked ‘rootsy’ music,” then the phone goes quiet. He giggles. “Shaky, you still there?” I ask. “Oh yes, sorry Karen, I’m being told off.” His partner, Sue, who is also his manager, is scolding him. “I’m not supposed to say ‘and er, and er, and er’ between my sentences otherwise I get a slap on the hand!”

Well, you’re never going to get a window at this rate if you don’t behave…

His latest album and tour Echoes Of Our Times grew from Shaky’s realisation that he knew so very little about the background of his family – the stories of his ancestors’ loves and lives lost, and their struggles to survive. So I wondered what impact it had on him discovering his past and how it had affected his future.

“They didn’t talk a lot in those days, everything was hush, hush. I got to a time in my life that I wanted to research my family. I remember there being family feuds going on. Our family never spoke to my dad’s side of the family despite them living nearby. After researching his family tree, it became apparent that unbeknown to him his dad had been married previously and had fathered a son which is reflected in his new song Behind Those Secrets And Lies where he exposes his thoughts and feelings on unearthing his family’s secret.

So intrigued by his family’s background, Shaky visited Cornwall to literally follow in his grandfather’s footsteps down a Cornish mine. “It was really deep, but it gave me an idea. All the electricity was turned off, it was pitch black, then they lit a candle and you could imagine how horrific it must have been.”

One of my personal favourites from his latest album is Train of Time. I wondered if it reflected
Shaky’s own feelings, as he’s getting older, is he becoming more aware of time running out?

“It does go pretty quick, especially when you look back and you wonder where all the time has gone. It’s quite easy to waste time. When you’re growing up you don’t consider time, you tend to put your age up rather than down. Life’s a lot different to when I was growing up, we had to go out and work.”

I find northern audiences down to earth, that’s the only way to be. There’s no airs or graces. I can’t stand that!

When I tell him I began working at 14 in the local kebab shop in Keighley, he laughs. “Oh, not so far away from Bradford then. Did you know my dad was born in Bradford?”

Who’d have guessed? Shaky’s half Yorkshire.

“My grandfather worked in the Cornish mines and when the work stopped, the family moved around the country looking for jobs and my dad was born in Bradford!”

So, how Yorkshire is ‘our Shaky’? I ask him the defining question: Do you prefer Yorkshire puddings or Welsh cakes (a bit like a flat scone). He plays it safe. “Both really, but we have Yorkshire puddings every Sunday with our dinner.”

That makes him ‘proper Yorkshire’ in my book.

One of the places Shaky is looking forward to performing in is Blackpool. Unfortunately he won’t be wearing a ‘Kiss Me Quick, Squeeze Me Slow’ hat. “I love Blackpool. It’s a gorgeous
theatre, there is always such a good atmosphere there.”

He agrees wholeheartedly with my comment, “well, you can’t beat a northern audience.”

“I find northern audiences down to earth, that’s the only way to be. There’s no airs or graces. I can’t stand that!

As the interview draws to a close I bid him a fond farewell in his native tongue…

“Nos da, Shaky”.

“Nos da, Karen. It’s been great talking to you, I’ve really enjoyed it!”

It’s only when I put the phone down I realise that I’ve just wished him goodnight in Welsh, not goodbye…however, if we were to rewind back over 30 years I could envisage myself saying ‘Fi ddim’, which translates as “I do”…

Northern Tour Dates

Sat 15 The Sands, Carlisle
Sun 16 The Lowry, Salford
Fri 5 The Opera House, Blackpool
Thurs 18, The Barbican, York
Fri 19 Parr Hall, Warrington
Sun 21 Grand Theatre, Leeds