Rock star Shakin’ Stevens is on his biggest ever UK tour, Echoes of Our Times, reflecting his love of blues, roots and classic rock. Here, the Times catches up with him ahead of his concert at the Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall
What can people expect in your new tour?
We’re going to do all the tracks on the album and there will be a few of the old hits, too, but I will do them slightly differently. You will know the songs, but it will be with new arrangements, or a new way of performing them.
So we can’t expect an evening of double denim and white dancing shoes, then?
I wouldn’t want to do that because that was a long time ago. Every artist needs to be allowed to move on and develop in their own way and at their own pace.
My stage performance has changed over the years, and it would be boring if artists didn’t move on in their careers.
Hopefully, there will be a lot of familiar faces with the fans who have been there since the early days, but I’m also looking forward to seeing people who have never been to one of my concerts before.
How have you put the band together?
There are nine in total, including two female singers, a guitarist, drummer, piano player and trumpeter, but we’ve also got mandolin, banjo and slide guitar players. They’re all very talented and I’ve worked with most of them over quite a long time. We all get on really well together, so I know we’re all going to get out on that stage every night and have a great time.
You’ve been on an almost Who Do You Think You Are? style journey to write Echoes of Our Times. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
You get to a stage in your life and realise you don’t know what went on with your family. We started researching before we started recording the album, and that just led us to go down a rootsy feel. There were a lot of sad stories, hence the darkness of the album, but it has been such a fantastic experience. Nobody used to talk, that’s what I’ve really discovered.
‘There were a lot of sad stories, hence the darkness of the album’
I’ve found out so much about my family history, things that I never would have known. There are such amazing stories about people going down the mines, women and children, and it is just times that are very hard to imagine now.
What else did you discover about your family’s history?
Well, I didn’t even know my grandmother was in the Salvation Army until I started the search – and I’ve discovered I’ve still got family members in it now.
Money raised through three charity gigs that I recently performed in has been for the Salvation Army, and I’m very glad we did that. It’s a charity that does such a fantastic job.
It’s taken years and years to build this information, and to be able to translate it into
an album has been great.
The album has proved very popular and won a lot of prime-time radio airplay. Did you expect this?
I enjoyed great success in the 80s, but I had such a strong image from that time that it has been difficult to break through and present my music in its current form. Surprisingly, the album that has seemed to have been the easiest to put together has been the best tool to break that cycle – perhaps because it is so personal.
This is very much my ‘move on’ album. As you grow up and grow older, you change and want something different.
How have the critics reacted to it?
When it was first revealed to the media, our publicist made a point of not saying who it was as we wanted to get the reaction first without anyone having any preconceived ideas. The reaction was, and still is, fantastic, because people just didn’t expect this sound to come from the Shakin’ Stevens they remember. It has also kick-started a lot more ideas, so we will be working on them in the near future.
What do you listen to when you want to relax?
I like radio, we listen to quite a mixture of stations. Radio 2, Radio 4, 6 Music, but then I love to listen to my records, too. I like listening to songs and albums I haven’t heard before – basically anything that takes my fancy. I like a story and a lyric together – mostly rootsy-type stuff.
If Shaky was bursting on to the scene for the first time in 2017, who would he be?
I would definitely be more rootsy like this. If you look at Johnny Cash, in the early days he had this really strong beat, but he moved on and his music was much darker towards the end, but that suited him.
It’s all about growing up and the fact that I absolutely love the music I’m doing now. I liked it back in the early days, but I feel that this is well and truly the real me with the new album and the music I’m working on now.
Have you performed in Tunbridge Wells before?
Yes, and it’s a beautiful town and a place I always look forward to visiting. We’ve had some great nights performing here, and we’re really looking forward to bringing our new music to the audience at the Assembly Hall.
Tickets for the Echoes of Our Times Tour are priced from £24 from www.ticketmaster.co.uk