When Shakin’ Stevens’ record label first took his new album to the press, people were asking: ‘It’s great, but who is it?
The album in question, Echoes Of Our Times, is a blend of blues, roots and Americana that’s a long way from the pop-rock of Shaky’s ’80s heyday.
It’s also his first album in a decade.
‘It is a departure for me, for sure.
‘When the album was sent off to the press people, they said: “Lovely album, but who is it?” They were told, and they said: “Oh? But we still like it.”
‘So that was good news,’ he notes with a dry chuckle.
Much of the album draws on Stevens’ own family history, hence the album’s title.
‘There’s lots of stories in there – stories of my family
‘We started in the studio going down a rootsy route, if you like, but we found all of these other stories and thought they were very strong, so why don’t we incorporate these into the lyrics of the album? Like Down In The Hole, about mining, where my ancestors were from in Gwenapp, down in Cornwall.
‘Or Echoes Of Our Times – my father fought in the First World War, and he went out with two of his brothers, and he came back, which was unheard of really. On my mother’s side, her brother was a gunner, he was killed. For To Spread The Word, there were Methodist preachers in the family. Then Fire In The Blood is about my grandmother Florence who was born in the 1860s and was in the Salvation Army.
It was all unfolding so we thought let’s use it, and a lot of people have been able to relate to itShakin’ Stevens
‘I didn’t really know about any of this, it was never talked about when I was growing up, it was all hush, hush, hush. You were just seen and not heard.’
Shaky was the youngest of 13 children, but as he says: ‘I came on the back end of it, it was a large family, but those were the times. We lived in a very modest terraced house – Leslie and myself slept with my mum and dad in their room, there was a small box room - there were five in there, and there were sisters in the back.’
Using online tools for tracing family history, and talking to relatives, Shaky uncovered family stories he never had any idea about.
‘It was all unfolding so we thought let’s use it, and a lot of people have been able to relate to it, because of the stories and the people and being in the same situation.
‘Like the song Behind Those Secrets and Lies, for example, there was a feud in the family, and they didn’t like to talk about things, it was strange really, but those were the times I guess.
‘It was hard work, but we managed to cover quite a lot of ground. I’m sure there’s more to do – there always will be.’
During the 1980s, the Cardiff-born singer was a huge star – he scored 33 top 40 hits, including four number ones – This Ole House, Green Door, Oh Julie, and Merry Christmas Everyone.
And some of those hits are being revived for the current tour, but perhaps not quite as people remember them.
‘Yes, we do the big hits, but they get revamped. We did Green Door with a double stand-up bass, a snare, piano and mandolin and I sang it differently, and people who heard it said they liked the first release, but we like this one better.
‘I think people like it when you put a new twist on them, it’s great. It’s nice to bring stuff out to the new generation.
‘I’m going to do all the tracks on the album, and I can’t wait. We’re going to do some hits, but in a moved on-type way – there’s not going to be any rap or anything like that, or any (he mimics a drum machine) dum-dum-de-dum – not that I’m knocking that.
‘There’ll be some album tracks and tracks I haven’t sung before, it’s quite a big band so I’m really looking forward to it.’
If you get the impression Shaky’s not one for idle nostalgia, you wouldn’t be wrong. You won’t catch him cashing in on the ’80s shows that do the rounds.
‘I don’t go for the nostalgic festivals and stuff like that. Having said that I did a few in Germany in the early ’90s, but that was only for a short time. I try and keep away from that.
‘A lot of the bands who have had big success in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, etc, if that’s what they want to do that’s great, but I didn’t want to continue down that route. Deep down I felt I had a lot more to give – music-wise and story-wise. It’s more healthy if you can move on in your career, otherwise you’re just known for that time, and I wouldn’t be happy with that.’
The success of the new album and the praise it’s received he re-energised the 69-year-old, and he says his fans won’t have to wait so long for a follow-up.
‘We’ll have to wait and see which way we’ll go with the next album – there definitely will be another album, there’s no doubt about that, but whether it will be like this, I don’t know yet.’
But it’s singing live that’s got him most excited for now.
‘I like the writing aspect and the recording, but it’s nice to get out there and perform, because that’s how I started – singing in front of the public, and it’s in your blood.
‘It’s good to see the people enjoying it as well, it’s that chemistry.’
* Shakin’ Stevens is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Sunday, May 14. Doors 7pm. Tickets from £25.50 to £39.25. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk