Shakin Stevens: Echoes of our times

Living Magazines exclusively caught up with the platinum-selling singer from Cardiff

He was the heart-throb of the 80s and his name still brings a smile to those who used to dance away to his hits. Michael Barrett, or Shakin’ Stevens as he’s known to millions, was born in Ely, Cardiff.

“Things are very different now. We used to play cricket in the streets on Marcross Road where I was born. Everything seemed bigger back then. There was a large area of scrubland that we’d play on with our home-made bikes that we’d have made from old bike frames.

“On Saturdays, we used to go to the Empire Pool in town and dive off the top boards. We were invincible – we’d make mock gold medals and award them to each other and then go to Astey’s café afterwards.

“Then on hot summer days, we would head up to the Drope and swim in the River Ely to cool off. We’d dry ourselves off by lighting a fire and watching the sun go down. On the way home, we’d stop off at a farm house that was up one of the lanes and ask for a glass of water because we were always thirsty.”

Shaky’s trip down memory lane serves to remind him of the role his childhood played in his career later in life.

“I went to the New Theatre once to watch Morecambe and Wise. I also went to watch Emile Ford which was great, especially when I ended up covering his song What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? years later.

“My mum was wonderful – she had 11 children and all 13 of us lived in a tiny 3 bedroomed house. My school, Hywel Dda, was a good school. I was there a few weeks back and found out that the place had been burnt down which was very sad.”

Shaky’s journey into music started at a young age.

“I’d always wanted to sing and I’d stay behind in school after all the other kids had gone home to work on it. I got myself into a few schools shows. After leaving school, I was in a band called Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets. We’d play at the New Moon Club and there was another one called the Kayak Club during the 1960s.”

Shaky’s career blossomed in the early 1980s after going solo. He scored his first UK chart-topping number 1 with ‘This Ole House’ and would follow up with ten more songs reaching the top five, including three number 1 hits with ‘Green Door’, ‘Oh Julie’, and ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, while ‘You Drive Me Crazy’ and ‘A Love Worth Waiting For’ reached number 2 in 1981 and 1984 respectively. But it’s his new album that Shaky wants to talk about.

“The new album is called Echoes of Our Times and people who have already listened to it don’t recognise the fact that it’s me. It’s quite a bluesy album, a style myself and my band have been doing for quite a while. Not too long ago, we decided to get ourselves into a studio and get some of it down and this album is the result of that.

“The story behind is was actually inspired by my family. I had got to a point in my life where I realised that I knew nothing about my ancestors. Within families, you’re always going to get those secrets that no one is allowed to talk about. We had them in ours and the songs on the album reflect that. The song Down In The Hole is about my grandfather who used to be a copper miner. I saw the photos of the hole that he’d go down in from the age of 10 – there was no health and safety in those days and he’d literally be lowered down this huge hole on a piece of rope. Conditions were horrific.

“I also found out that my grandmother, who used to play the squeezebox and banjo, used to help out with the Salvation Army. There’s a song about her on the album too. We’ve used some of the instruments she played on the album.

“It’s a very personal album for me. Time goes so fast and we need to stop abusing the planet we live in.”

It seems that Shaky has never gone away.