“Long before the Stray Cats, Matchbox, Polecats, Jets and all the now well known Rockabilly bands, there was Shakin’ Stevens and The Sunsets. Their music was Rockabilly.” – Paul Barrett, 1981.
The late 60’s and early 70’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival occurred at a time when Woodstock was happening, and Elvis had already made a television and stage comeback, and The Beatles were in the process of producing the music for their final two albums. Legendary 50’s rockers like Bill Haley & His Comets and Gene Vincent were enjoying a career resurgence across the touring circuit. The Teddy Boys and the Greasers were out in fashioned-force spearheading such revival campaigns, and an effective air of nostalgia bathed in the live atmosphere of British rock giants such as The Who and Led Zeppelin – both including in their sets some mighty fine executions of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Blues classics combined from yesteryear. The Rolling Stones, post-Altamont Free Concert, had also given an opportunity to a hard-working ‘Oldies’ Rock band from Wales to support them on their next tour. This ‘support’ band was a flaming ball of energy, not only in the focused passion of its lead singer’s performances, but also within the band as a whole force of guitar posturing and piano ‘banging’ – sometimes the lead singer might take time out from dancin’ and struttin’ to assist with such machismo techniques that looked like they were honed directly from the entertainment circuit of 1950’s Holiday camps. However, entertainment was a prominent mainstay of this band’s stage act especially when it came to them delivering their much-loved fascination with any musical force or composition that was born out of that bygone era. Shakin’ Stevens and The Sunsets were a great ‘covers’ band and delivered the music with an authentic take on phrasing, instrumentation and raucous execution.
Let’s begin by taking a look at what made the band so popular in Europe before the British Isles took note of their passionate appreciation for the golden days of Rock ‘n’ Roll. At the time of the following performance in Sweden the band had already released their first two albums and a single…
Born in Ely, Cardiff, South Wales in 1948, Michael Barratt was heavily influenced by a local band named ‘The Backbeats’ who had been formed in the late 1950’s and were fronted by Robert Llewellyn (‘Rockin’ Louie’). Barratt’s musical endeavours took him to performing with a band consisting of some of his former school friends calling themselves ‘The Olympics’ and subsequently became known as ‘The Cossacks’ and eventually ‘The Denims’. Thereafter, Michael Barratt formed a new band called ‘The Rebels’. In 1968, apparently at the request of manager, Paul “Legs” Barrett (no relation to him) he adopted the new stage name of ‘Shakin’ Stevens’ whilst fronting his new band, ‘The Sunsets’ who originated from South Glamorgan. However, in contrast to that, during a segment filmed for BBC1’s The One Show in 2016, Mr. Stevens states that his name change occurred due to a school days’ pal spontaneously shouting out the name whilst holding a cricket bat like a guitar during a game in the street! Nevertheless, Shakin’ Stevens’ new backing band, ‘The Sunsets’ had evolved from members of ‘The Backbeats’ and through the years went through several lineup changes. A very amusing and informative read about The Sunsets’ early years written by the band’s original bass player, Steve Prior can be found at the following book link entitled: “A Shakey Start”. Furthermore, an early consistent incarnation of the band featured Carl Petersen (guitar), Steve Percy (bass), Rockin’ Louie (drums), Paul Dolan (Saxophone) and Trevor Hawkins (piano). The band began to tour between Cardiff and London and following the gig supporting The Rolling Stones at the Saville Theatre, Radio 1 DJ John Peel offered them the opportunity to record several tracks for his Dandelion label. But, at the band’s request, the recording project was kept unreleased and put to rest almost immediately. Later in 1970, local singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer, Dave Edmunds of ‘Love Sculpture’ liked what he heard and saw of Shakin’ Stevens and The Sunsets and offered them a recording session at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth and the prospect of a record deal with Parlophone. During the sessions, controversies surrounding the recording and production of the first album arose: Producer Edmunds remembering Rockin’ Louie from his ‘Backbeats’ days insisted that the drummer perform lead vocal on some of the tracks (much to the chagrin of Shakin’ Stevens) including a song that was to become the band’s first single, “Spirit of Woodstock” and its ‘B’ side, “Down On The Farm”. Another song recorded at the sessions was Smiley Lewis’ “I Hear You Knocking”, but it was Dave Edmunds’ decision to record his own version of the song, which became a big hit single for him, that consequently kept The Sunsets’ version tucked away on their first album, the title of which was called “A Legend”:
“A LEGEND” album –
Cast Iron Arm, Leroy, Flying Saucers, Please Mr. Mayor, Lights Out, I’ll Try, Down Yonder We Go Balling, Hawkins Mood.
Down On The Farm, Lonesome Train, I Believe What You Say, The Train Kept A Rollin’, Spirit of Woodstock, I Hear You Knocking, Thirty Days, Schooldays.
Perhaps the titling of the album was somewhat premature in reference to future Pop-Rock sensation, Shakin’ Stevens (or ‘Shaky’ has he came to be known), therefore maybe the title was down to Dave Edmunds’ realisation that The Sunsets were born from the ‘legend’ of ‘The Backbeats’ in the 1950’s and Rockin’ Louie was prime evidence of this along with the band being a major influence on a very young Michael Barratt. Nevertheless, the album didn’t fare too well in the record-buying market albeit both sides of the single culled from it did receive considerable air-time.
As the band dusted themselves off following a further debacle concerning a breach of contract with the release of Dave Edmunds’ ‘I Hear You Knocking’ which resulted in them being struck off the Parlophone register of recording artists, it was back to the business of live performance. Furthermore, the live circuit brought with it a lineup change as the entertaining stage antics of George Chick replaced Steve Percy on bass guitar and Mike ‘Ace’ Skudder replaced Trevor Hawkins on piano. After recording a version of Fats Domino’s “All By Myself” for a compilation album entitled “Battle of the Bands”, the producer of the session, Donny Marchand, was in a position to get the band a contract with CBS Records and the next recording session was underway by the summer of 1971…
Halfway through the recordings of the second album, guitarist Carl Petersen left the band and guitar supremo, Mickey Gee took up the position of completing the ‘licks’ and solos for the rest of the album. “I’m No J.D.” was released in October, 1971 and considerably outsold their debut album. Unfortunately, the CBS Records label cut all ties with the band shortly after the second album’s release…
“I’M NO J.D.” album –
That Is Rock And Roll, Right String Baby, I Fell Apart, Super Star, Sea Cruise, Little Queenie.
Come Along With Me, Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer, I’m Not A Juvenile Delinquent, Honey Don’t, Girl Please Stay, Sea Of Heartbreak.
Despite guitarist Mickey Gee playing a few gigs after the release of “I’m No J.D.”, his first tenure with Shakin’ Stevens was somewhat short-lived as Willie Blackmore took over for the recording of the band’s third album, “Rockin’ and Shakin'” in 1972. Subsequently, this album failed to sell, but fortunately didn’t prevent the band from receiving recognition as a popular live act which in turn garnered them the “Top British Rock And Roll Group (Of The Old School)” in the New Musical Express Poll that same year…
“ROCKIN’ AND SHAKIN’” album –
Roll Over Beethoven, White Lightning, One Night With You, Hi Heel Sneakers, Tallahassie Lassie, Yakety Yak.
Maybelline, Hearts Made Of Stone, Good Rockin’ Tonight, At The Hop, Walk On The Water, Rip It Up (Saturday Night Rock).
By 1973, Ian Lawrence had become the new guitar player and Tony Britnall the new Sax player, and the band had been thrown a lifeline by a Dutch production company called Tulip who had booked them for several European tours. Furthermore, Dureco became the band’s new recording label and their first releases included a re-recording of their first single, “Spirit of Woodstock”. In 1974 the album, “Shakin’ Stevens & Sunsets” was released and the band were riding high on their successful reputation in the Netherlands and across Europe via concert and television exposure…
“SHAKIN’ STEVENS & SUNSETS” album –
The Spirit Of Woodstock, It Came Out Of The Sky, Blue Moon Of Kentucky, Big River Boogie, Me And Bobby McGee, Tallahassee Lassie, Honey Honey.
That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, Buzz Buzz Buzz, Don’t Jive Me No More, Train Kept A Rollin’, Return Of The Superstar, Holy Moley, Riot In Cell Block Number Nine.
In early ’74, Mike Lloyd Jones and Malcolm Priest had replaced Ian Lawrence and George Chick on lead guitar and bass guitar, respectively. Also, Sax player, Tony Britnall had left the band. Soon after, Shaky recorded a version of Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town” backed by Dureco musicians (albeit credited as ‘The Sunsets’) and this became a successful hit single in the Dutch Top 20. In 1975, the band’s manager, Paul Barrett outlined an idea for a Concept album which presented an exploration of the gangsters of the 1930’s in relation to the ‘outlaw’ music recorded by Rock ‘n’ Roll artists and bands of the 1950’s. “Manhattan Melodrama” was the title of the album and was taken from the film of the same name which John Dillinger had watched before his demise. The record was not very successful and was also met with both the band and manager’s disapproval of the way the production as a whole had been marketed by the Dureco label…
“MANHATTAN MELODRAMA” album –
Manhattan Melodrama, Alan Freed, California Cowboy, Lady Lizard, Punk, Outlaw Man.
I Told You So, Longer Stronger Love, Like A Teenager, Holy Roller, No Other Baby, Get Back John.
In 1976, the band switched to the Dynamite label who produced the tracks for the “Frantic” EP. Subsequently, their recording of “Jungle Rock” was released as a single in the UK. The band’s Dutch releases at this time came in the form of several vinyl formats: the 7″ single “You Mostest Girl”, the EP “Sexy Ways” and the 10″ album, “Come on Memphis”. Later that year, the band were offered a recording session with Track Records and this heralded the return of Ian Lawrence playing steel guitar and George Chick (replacing Mal Priest on bass). Thereafter, in 1977, Track Records made the decision to promote Shakin’ Stevens as a solo artist which brought forth the eventual disbanding of The Sunsets as a group. However, new horizons lay ahead for both solo artist and band…
“COME ON MEMPHIS” 10″ Mini-album –
Honey Hush, My Buckets Got A Hole In It, Evil Hearted Ada, Wine Wine Wine, Blue Swingin’ Mama, Oakie Boogie.
Reet Petite, Baby Blue, Rock Around With Ollie Vee, You Mostest Girl, Sexy Ways, Rockabilly Earthquake.
SHAKIN’ STEVENS & THE SUNSETS SINGLE RELEASES:
NETHERLANDS EXTENDED PLAYS RELEASED IN 1975 AND 1976 RESPECTIVELY:
Early 1980’s reissues by MFP, Hallmark and Pickwick of first 3 albums + C.J.S. Records reissue of “Manhattan Melodrama”:
* COMING SOON TO ‘COSMIC DWELLINGS’ – “SHAKY: AS LONG AS THERE’S A MOON ABOVE” *