Shakin' Stevens, also known as "Shaky" (born Michael Barratt, 4 March 1948 in Cardiff, Wales) is a platinum-selling Welsh rock and roll singer and songwriter who holds the distinction of being the UK's biggest-selling singles artist of the 1980s. His recording and performing career began in the late 1960s, although it was not until 1980 that he saw commercial success in his native land. In the UK alone, Stevens has charted 33 Top 40 hit singles.
Biography[edit source | edit]Edit
Early days[edit source | edit]Edit
Michael Barratt, who would adopt the stage name Shakin' Stevens, was the youngest of 11 children born in Ely, a suburb on the outskirts of Cardiff in South Wales to English parents Jack and May Barratt. His father was a First World War veteran who by 1948 was working in the building trade. The oldest of his siblings were born in the later part of the 1920s, and by the time of his birth some of them were already married and had children of their own. Jack Barratt died in 1972 at the age of 75, while May survived until 1984 and the age of 79.
Stevens married his wife Carole on 7 October 1967 and they have three children. At the time of their marriage, his official occupation was a milkman, and they lived in a flat which formed part of an office block in inner-city Cardiff. The office block was demolished several years later.
As a teenager in the mid-1960s Stevens formed his first amateur rock and roll band with school friends and became its vocalist and frontman. Originally named The Olympics, then The Cossacks, the short-lived band finally renamed as The Denims and performed gigs in the local Cardiff and South Wales area.
In the late 1960s Stevens was associated with the Young Communist League (YCL), the youth wing of the Communist Party of Great Britain - playing at YCL events. At the time the YCL was associated with several leading music industry figures, including Pete Townshend.
It is often said - incorrectly - that he was the first artist to appear 50 times on Top of the Pops, in fact, according to the website http://www.cliffrichardsongs.com/clifftv.htm, Cliff Richard had reached the distinction in March 1979 before Stevens made his first appearance on the show.
The Sunsets[edit source | edit]EditMain article: Shakin' Stevens and the SunsetsShakin' Stevens in 1976
He began his professional performing career during 1968, fronting Shakin' Stevens and the Sunsets, created and managed by South Wales rock and roll promoter and impresario Paul 'Legs' Barrett (no relation). The Sunsets were a 1950s-influenced rock'n'roll outfit from Penarth, South Glamorgan that had evolved from a band, previously called The Backbeats since 1958, who invited Stevens to join them after he had been an avid fan of the band for several years and occasionally hopped on stage to do a guest vocal.
An early break for Stevens and the band presented itself when they were given a support slot for The Rolling Stones in December 1969. Despite landing a recording contract with Parlophone Records the following year and releasing a Dave Edmunds-produced album, the optimistically and prematurely titled A Legend, the band found success hard to come by, at least in their native Great Britain, though they had several hit singles in other countries. The band toured Germany and the Netherlands in between regular UK dates.
"Elvis!" and a hit record[edit source | edit]Edit
In 1977, after seven years of constant touring and recording, Shaky had been spotted during a London Sunsets gig by Jack Good who personally invited him to attend a London audition for his planned new West End "Elvis!" musical. Three actors were to portray Elvis's life during the course of the show and Shaky landed one of the lead roles, playing Elvis in his prime charting, army and movie star years, with young actor Tim Whitnall covering the earlier formative years and veteran 1960s singer P J Proby taking over the part for Elvis's 'Las Vegas' years.
The rest of the Sunsets waited in South Wales, doing occasional performances with drummer Robert 'Rockin Louis' Llewellyn taking the frontman duties, but fully expecting Stevens to return to the band and recommence touring after the show's planned short six-month run. However, the expectations were overtaken by subsequent events. The media-wise Jack Good made sure that both the audition process and the early months of the show were widely and regularly covered by the British daily press and TV shows. The photogenic Shakin' Stevens came to such prominence that almost overnight all age groups of the UK population knew who he was.
During the "Elvis!" show's highly successful and then twice-extended two-year run Shaky made regular TV appearances, firstly on Good's revived British ITV show Oh Boy and later on his follow-up 30-week-long series Let's Rock that was syndicated in thirty two countries including the United States. This led almost inevitably to his first major chart success with a cleverly reworked version of a Buck Owens song "Hot Dog", which Owens would re-record using Stevens's arrangement, which had been created by pedal steel guitar player B.J. Cole.
The 1980s and 1990s[edit source | edit]Edit
In late 1979, Shaky signed what was to be his most successful management deal with Freya Miller, who immediately advised Stevens to sever his association with The Sunsets and continue developing a more lucrative solo career. Under Miller's deft hand, in 1981, Stevens 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. His 1984 hit "Teardrops", which reached #5 in the UK, featured Hank B. Marvin on guitar and Stevens has often featured famous musicians such as Albert Lee, Roger Taylor, Bonnie Tyler and more recently Tony Joe White on his recordings.
Chart successes also included his album Shaky reaching number 1 in the UK Albums Chart. In the mid-1980s, Stevens reunited with former producer Dave Edmunds to record an album Lipstick, Powder and Paint, and the Christmas smash "Merry Christmas Everyone", which was a number 1 hit in 1985. Its original planned release was put back by a year to avoid clashing with the runaway success of Band Aid's charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?", to which he did not contribute, having been out of the country touring at the time of recording. Despite Stevens's chart domination over the previous few years, he was not invited to perform at Live Aid on 13 July 1985.
In a Record Collector magazine feature, writer Kris Griffiths wrote: "This was Shaky at the very zenith of his powers and, perhaps, the breaking-point of marketing overload from which there is only decline. Such concentrated commercial success and ubiquity came with a price."  The hits continued but chart placings declined throughout the later 1980s and early 1990s. It was in the 1990s that Stevens took a lengthy break from recording and was stung by a court ruling, relating to unpaid royalties from the Legend album which had been re-released to some commercial success, requiring a substantial payout to former band members of the Sunsets. In 1999, Stevens returned to performing live and undertook tours all that year and the following year.
2000–present[edit source | edit]Edit
Stevens hit a low point in January 2002 when he was very publicly convicted of a drink-driving charge and banned from driving for two years, but in 2004 things started to look up again when he had a further platinum CD / DVD album in Denmark and a gold album in South Africa.
In 2005, he returned once again to the charts in the United Kingdom, with his greatest hits album The Collection, which reached the UK top 5. That year, he also appeared in the video to Tony Christie's and Peter Kay's #1 hit single "Is This the Way to Amarillo", alongside many other UK stars, including Ronnie Corbett, Jim Bowen and Michael Parkinson. Stevens was the winner on the reality television show, Hit Me Baby One More Time. This was quickly followed by a re-release of his cover and his own biggest hit sung in the show, ("Trouble" covering Pink's version) / "This Ole House"), which reached #20 on the UK Singles Chart in June 2005, his 33rd Top 40 hit in the United Kingdom.
In May 2007, Stevens released a new album entitled Now Listen with the album being released first in Denmark. In December 2007, Stevens re-entered the UK charts with a re-issue of "Merry Christmas Everyone" twenty two years after its original launch, reaching a UK chart position of 22. "Merry Christmas Everyone" has re-entered the UK chart every year since on downloads.
In April 2008, it was announced that Shakin' Stevens would be performing at 2008's Glastonbury Festival as the opening act on the Pyramid stage on Saturday 28 June, which he did, opening the day at 11am to a capacity crowd - several hours before the BBC started to film the day's performers for broadcast, although Stevens' performance still received media attention.
Chris Evans featured a special Shaky Week on his Radio 2 show during early March 2008 to celebrate Stevens's 60th birthday and later in 2008, Shaky embarked on a string of major concerts in the UK and Europe that started atLulworth Castle on 4 July. On 24 August 2008, Stevens performed at a major concert in Poland featuring many European pop stars of the 1980s, including Kim Wilde and Limahl. The concert formed a part of the Sopot International Song Festival 2008 and was presented live on the Polish television channel TVN. To wind up 2008, Stevens followed his European tour with a short tour of Ireland and an appearance at London's O2 Arena, supported by a ten-piece band.
Stevens's original band The Sunsets have continued to perform regularly over the years without him and still tour annually in the UK, Europe and Australia with a show of authentic vintage rock and roll. In recent years the band has been fronted by Shaky's younger nephew, Levi Barrett.
On 10 December 2009, Stevens appeared in court in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, charged with assaulting photographer Hugo McNiece at the Tullyglass Hotel in Ballymena on 3 December. In January 2010 he was convicted of the assault and criminal damage in the case. He was fined a total of £300 and ordered to pay McNeice £479 to compensate for the damage to his camera lens. His conviction was overturned on appeal at Ballymena County Court in May 2011.
In July 2010, Stevens was rushed to hospital after he collapsed at his home in Windsor. This resulted from exhaustion brought on by the stress of working on a new album. It was later revealed that Stevens suffered a heart attack, which caused him to be hospitalised for two months after strenuous work gardening in his home, in Windsor.
Stevens fully recovered and, in 2011, he embarked on the early part of his 30th Anniversary Tour, followed by a further 26 dates in the second leg later in the year. Stevens was backed by a 10-piece band on the Anniversary Tour in the UK and Europe. Stevens has a new album planned for release in 2014.