No. 3 Shakin’ Stevens
The singer grew up in Wales and, although he still loves to rock’n’roll, he tells Nicola Smith he’s as much about green spaces as ‘Green Door’
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, before sleeping on people’s floors or in the back of the van. ‘We couldn’t afford hotels – we would plonk ourselves wherever we could. And five guys waking up in a van in the morning is not a pretty sight!’
We stroll along the River Taff in Cardiff and he’s not hard to recognise – despite it being 31 years since his first hit. His clean-cut looks betray little of his rock’n’roll lifestyle in the Sixties, 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 is still going strong. When we meet he has just returned from shows in Denmark and Germany, and is preparing for a string of UK festivals and a 29-date UK tour kicking off in November. There is clearly still a keen public appetite for Shaky, but he has moved on since the days of sliding along on his knees (although it’s hard to resist asking for a demo). ‘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. He is touring with a ten-piece band and, in addition to new material, ‘Green Door’ is played with a double bass, mandolin and acoustic guitar, and he has three gospel backing singers. ‘One teaches music – she makes me warm up my voice properly with “la la” exercises,’ says Shaky. ‘It works.’
A lot has changed, not least the very landscape in which Shaky grew up. 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, a few miles west of Cardiff, and was the youngest of, literally, countless children. ‘I’ve been researching my family history and have just found a 14th sibling,’ he says. Little wonder that his childhood was spent indulging in simple pleasures, not costly ones. ‘We used to swim in a nearby stream for hours and when it got cold, we’d build a fire.’ Holidays were spent in a caravan in Porthcawl. ‘I used to love it. The whole family would go, and 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 help fund his evening gigs. ‘The press often has me down as a milkman because it makes a good story, but I also worked as an upholsterer in Bridgend, which was fantastic. 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.’
As we meander along the riverside, I’m struck by Shaky’s lack of airs and graces, as his recollection of playing Glastonbury in 2008 reveals. ‘I checked the stage in the morning and there was no one there. I thought, “Oh my God”. But when I checked just before I took to the stage at midday, there were all these people. It was absolutely fantastic. They were very warm towards me.’
He may have had 33 top 40 UK singles, but Shaky takes nothing for granted. He gestures down the river. ‘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.
By Nicola Smith, Do Not Disturb (In-hotel Magazine)