Few pop star of today come up through the ranks because everything is so instant. You win a reality show and you’re famous…for a short while, but generally soon forgotten, but the real pop stars had to work their craft for years with relatively little success until one day….
Shakin’ Stevens, or Michael Barratt as he was born, was one of those artists. He is the youngest of 11 siblings born over a 20 year span. His first job was a milkman working around the Cardiff area of Wales. He formed his first band in 1965 originally called The Olympics, then The Cossacks and then The Denims. There was an existing 50s rock ‘n’ roll style outfit called The Backbeats who, in 1968, ten years after their formation, invited Shaky to become their lead singer and changed their name to the Sunsets. In 1969 they landed a chance to support the Rolling Stones and signed to Parlophone records. They soon amended their name to Shakin’ Stevens & The Sunsets. They spent the entire 70s decade touring relentlessly but chart success eluded them.
In 1980, he went solo and signed to Epic records but his first couple of singles, Hey Mae and Shooting Gallery, both failed to chart. Next came Hot Dog, an old Buck Owens song which gave him his first UK hit reaching number 24. This was followed by Marie Marie, an old Blasters song which fared five places better. In 1981 ex-Pinkertons ‘Assort’ Colours bassist and now producer Stuart Colman found the right song and catapulted him to commercial success when This Ole House went to number one. Later the same year Green Door topped the chart and the following year had his third number one with Oh Julie. He continued to have a stack of hits throughout the 80s and Shaky holds the record for the most appearances on Top Of The Pops for a solo singer in that decade.
Shaky almost had his fourth number one at Christmas 1982 with Blue Christmas but it was unable to dislodge Renee and Renato’s sentimental Save Your Love. In 1983 Scottish songwriter, and former member of the Headboys, Bob Heatlie, who had written Japanese Boy for Aneka, said, “I wrote a song for Elkie Brooks called Cry Just A Little Bit. However, it was played to Shaky’s next producer, Christopher Neil, who thought it would be ideal for him.” It was, and it went to number three. Shaky had further Top five hits with A Rockin’ Good Way – a duet with fellow Welsh star Bonnie Tyler, A Love Worth Waiting For and Teardrops.
“I’d always wanted to have a big Christmas hit, because if and when it all ends, it’s something that would go on forever you know! The grandchildren and all that sort of stuff,” commented Bob. “Merry Christmas Everyone was written and a demo made in my garage studio in Edinburgh. I’ll never forget that. It was in the summer of 1984, and with no ventilation in the studio, I was sweating like a pig! It was quite weird; there I was wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, shaking sleigh bells, and singing about snow falling. Everything was in place ready for Christmas 1984 when the Band Aid release was announced. So Shaky decided that it should be held back and indeed it was, until the following year and became a Christmas classic.” The video was shot in Lapland Shaky remembered, “We were halfway up a mountain but unfortunately it wasn’t snowing, so we had to bring in some snow machines. And I remember lunch was cold salad, which was a bit bizarre!”
Although Bob never actually got to work with Dave Edmunds, he said, “The production he did was exactly copied note for note from my demo. As Shaky always says about demos, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, just try and get more from the desk, sound-wise’. Bob continues writing and in 2004 was working with Tina Arena, but now mainly writes music for TV animation.
Shaky, like Cliff Richard, was becoming a Christmas chart regular when Merry Christmas Everyone returned to the chart in 1986 and again with What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For (1987), True Love (1988), The Best Christmas Of Them All (1990) and I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1991). In 1993 he took a break from recording but continued touring, playing to festival audiences of up to 200,000 people and is still massive in Denmark where he still plays a regular annual festival. Shaky has now been ranked as the 18th highest selling artist in the UK. In 2004 he was back in the studio recording new material.
In July 2010 Shaky was rushed to hospital after he collapsed at his home in Windsor. He had suffered a massive heart attack and endured a triple heart bypass operation. After two months he made a full recovery and in 2011 was back on the road with a new ten-piece band celebrating on his 30th anniversary tour.