Shakin’ Stevens has come a long way since he and his band the Sunsets chugged the length of the UK in a clapped-out van, performing gigs, and sleeping on people’s floors or in the van. ‘We couldn’t afford hotels – we would plonk ourselves wherever we could. Five guys waking up in a van is not a pretty sight!’
We stroll along the River Taff in Cardiff and he’s not hard to recognise – despite it being 32 years since his first hit. His clean-cut looks betray little of his Sixties’ rock’n’roll lifestyle, before he became a household name (and no – there’s no sign of surgery!). ‘It’s in the genes,’ he insists, but he clearly looks after himself.
‘I love being out in the fresh air and walking,’ he says, as we follow the river towpath towards Cardiff Bay. ‘I don’t smoke anymore and I drink very little – a glass of wine or two but that’s it.’ Perhaps that’s partly why he’s still going strong. In 2011 he showed there was still a keen public appetite for Shaky with shows in Denmark and Germany, and a tour and string of festivals in the UK. But things have changed since the days of sliding along on his knees. ‘Lots of people see old footage from Top of the Pops on YouTube and think that’s what I do, but it isn’t like that at all now.’
Different indeed. His 2011 tour featured a ten-piece band and, in addition to new material, Green Door played with a double bass, mandolin and acoustic guitar, plus three gospel backing singers. The landscape Shaky grew up in has changed a lot too. Towering over the River Taff is the imposing Millennium Stadium, while Cardiff Bay has been transformed from an industrial hub to a tourist centre.
Shaky was raised in Ely, west of Cardiff, the youngest of countless children. ‘I’ve been researching my family history and have found a 14th sibling,’ he says. Little wonder his childhood was spent indulging in simple, not costly, pleasures. ‘We used to swim in a nearby stream for hours and when it got cold, we’d build a fire.’ Holidays were caravanning in Porthcawl. ‘I loved it. Us kids would run up and down the sand dunes and from caravan to caravan.’
Born into a family with a strong work ethic, his parents urged him to find a ‘proper job’, but Shaky had the courage of his convictions, taking day jobs to fund his evening gigs. ‘The press often has me down as a milkman, but I also worked as an upholsterer in Bridgend. I loved the attention to detail – working with tacks in your mouth, music on the radio, and taking a whole day to make a chair.’
He may have had 33 top 40 UK singles, but Shaky takes nothing for granted. He gestures down the river as we stroll. ‘I played at Sophia Gardens once. A week later the roof fell in.’ He smiles his cheeky smile. I’ve a feeling Shaky will be around for a while.
Find out more about Shaky at www.shakinstevens.com