SHAKIN’ Stevens has a reputation of being a rock ’n’ roll throwback, but as I discovered, that isn’t really the case.
And with his latest album, which is definitely not a rock ’n’ roll record, garnering excellent reviews, he deserves to be given credit for being a serious artist.
The album, entitled Echoes Of Our Times came about when Shaky – born Michael Barratt – was researching into his origins, as he explains.
In 2013 Stevens participated in the family history programme Coming Home and discovered information about the effects of the First World War on his family
“Basically, you come to a time in your life and you wonder what your background was,” says the 69-year-old singer who was born in Cardiff.
“We started researching and found that I had Cornish connections.
Rock ’n’ roll for me is an umbrella, and under that is the blues, R’n’B, country and certain other genres.Shakin’ Stevens
“My father and his two brothers all went off to fight in World War One and all returned, and they had loads of stories.
“We had preachers as well. One of my ancestors was a Salvation Army officer and I’ve still got family in the Salvation Army today.”
That then led to the album, as Shaky’s research led to him writing the songs.
“Yes, the stories were just too good to ignore and the album has become very close to me. It was a very satisfying and personal process.
“I’m very pleased with it and people can relate to it all over the place as the copper and tin miners that are featured in some of the songs went around the world.”
The album has a different feel to the rest of Shaky’s output as he has veered away from the rock ’n’ roll revivalism that made him one of the best known acts in the first half of the 1980s, when he was riding high in the charts with hits such as This Ole House, Green Door and Oh Julie.
“Well, rock ’n’ roll for me is an umbrella, and under that is the blues, R’n’B, country and certain other genres,” he reflects. “I guess the overall feel is a rootsy and a bit dark.”
But the reception to Echoes Of Our Times, which was released late last year, has been very positive.
“Yes, it has,” he says. “I’ve been pulling in a new audience with it and that’s really healthy.
“It’s been featured in different publications including blues magazines and country magazines and overall they have been very complimentary and there’s been a fantastic reaction.”
The record also became Shaky’s first to reach the UK top 40 since The Collection, which went gold in 1985.
The cover is a bit different too, as there is no picture of the Welsh singer.
“No, I didn’t want to be on the cover, it was all about the music,” he explains. “It’s a big change for me and it was about time it happened.”
During April and May, Shaky is undertaking a nationwide tour and the new album will be heavily featured.
“Yes, it’s very important to me, this album, so we’re gonna do all the album and of course most of the hits.
“However,” Shaky says, “we’re going to do them slightly differently and there’ll be some songs that I haven’t sung before live.
“It’s all going to be slightly different from the norm.”
There are certainly plenty of hits to choose from, ranging from Hot Dog and Marie Marie in 1980 to final top 20 bow, I Might, lifted from the album There Are Two Kinds Of Music...Rock ‘N’ Roll, which was released in 1990.
In between Shaky scored four Number One singles reached Number Two three times, with You Drive Me Crazy, The Shakin’ Stevens EP and A Love Worth Waiting For. In total he had 33 UK Top 40 hits and spent more weeks in the UK singles chart than any other artist.
What about the festive hit, Merry Christmas Everyone? He laughs. “Well, I normally do it if it’s November or December, but to do it in April or May seems a bit strange.”
I mention that Roy Wood performs his Christmas chart-topper whatever the month.
He laughs louder. “Oh, well I might think about it then.”
Despite the change in style, Shaky is keen to get out on tour.
“I’m looking forward to it immensely,” he says. “I’m in the process of thinking about the backdrops at the moment.”
He will be bringing a sizeable band with him.
“Yes, there’s nine of us,” he says. “Two female singers, two guitars, drums, piano, squeeze box and two brass players.
“I can’t wait to get out there.”
Shakin’ Stevens will be appearing at York Barbican on Thursday May 18 and Leeds Grand Theatre on Sunday May 21. Tickets are available from the box office and all the usual agencies. For further details visit www.shakinstevens.com