|Also known as||Michael Barratt
4 March 1948 |
|Genres||Rock and roll|
|Associated acts||The Sunsets|
Michael Barratt, known by the stage name of "Shakin' Stevens" (born 4 March 1948), is a platinum-selling Welsh rock and roll singer and songwriter who was 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.
Life and career
Michael Barratt, who would later adopt the stage name "Shakin' Stevens", was the youngest of 11 children born in Ely, a council estate in Cardiff, Wales, to Jack and May Barratt. His father was a First World War veteran who by 1948 was working in the building trade, having previously worked as a coal miner. 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, aged 75, while May lived until 1984, dying at age 79.
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 through playing at YCL events. At the time the YCL was associated with several leading music industry figures, including Pete Townshend.
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. He is a lifelong supporter of his local football team Cardiff City F.C.
Barratt began his professional performing career—and adopted the stage name he still uses—during 1968, fronting Shakin' Stevens and the Sunsets, created and managed by South Wales rock and roll promoter and impresario Paul "Legs" Barrett, who was no relation to him. The Sunsets were a 1950s-influenced rock'n'roll outfit from Penarth, South Glamorgan that had evolved from a band, previously called The Backbeats from 1958, who invited Stevens to join them after he had been an avid fan of the band for several years and occasionally went on stage with them as a guest vocalist.
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
In 1977, after seven years of constant touring and recording, "Shaky", as he was also being called by this time, 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 the arrangement created by pedal steel guitar player B.J. Cole.
1980s and 1990s
In late 1979, Stevens 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 No. 5 in the UK, featured Hank B. Marvin on guitar, and since then, 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 on 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 that related to unpaid royalties from the Legend album, which had been rereleased 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.
Stevens hit a low point in January 2002 when he was 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 No. 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 No. 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 at Lulworth 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. In 2013 Stevens participated in the family history programme Coming Home and discovered information about World War I's impact on his family. Stevens has a new album planned for release in 2014.
- Caroline Sullivan (22 December 2005). "Shakin' Stevens, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
- Heatley, Michael (2005). Shaky – The Biography of Shakin' Stevens. Michael O'Mara Books Ltd. p. 240pages. ISBN 1-84317-177-5.
- Stevens' bio, Imeem.com; accessed 2 October 2014.
- Cardiff City F.C. profile, the-football-club.com; accessed 2 October 2014.
- The Sunsets Biog
- Elvis lead roles, fumbleontheweb.com; accessed 2 October 2014.
- "Record Collector | Shakin' Stevens – Shakin' All Over Again". Recordcollectormag.com. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
- BBC – Drink driving conviction
- "Shakin' Stevens at Glastonbury 2008", guardian.co.uk; accessed 2 October 2014.
- The Sunsets homepage
- "Shakin' Stevens faces assault charge". Belfasttelegraph.co.uk. 10 December 2009. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
- "Shakin' Stevens guilty of assault". Belfasttelegraph.co.uk. 12 January 2010. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
- "BBC News – Shakin' Stevens wins Ballymena assault appeal". Bbc.co.uk. 25 May 2011. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
- Stevens collapses at home
- "Shakin Stevens: How I nearly died from a heart attack". The Daily Record. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
- "BBC One – Coming Home – Episode guide". Retrieved 8 January 2014.
- 2011 Tour, warwickcourier.co.uk; accessed 2 October 2014.
- Official Site
- Shakin' Stevens biography from BBC Wales
- "Elvis!", the Musical – Musicians involved
- CBS Executive talking about Shakin'Stevens 1980 Australian Tour