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Shakin' Stevens at Birmingham Town Hall

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by Andy Coleman (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in Birmingham. I like Classic Rock, 70s pop music, football and interviewing celebrities. Follow me on Twitter: @andycoleman9
Pop veteran showcases his most personal album to date
Shakin' Stevens is known as a rock & roll star who rose to prominence portraying Elvis Presley in a stage musical and went on to become the UK's best selling singles artist of the 1980s.

Now aged 69, Shaky - real name Michael Barratt - has released Echoes Of Our Times, his most personal album to date, which he is showcasing on his biggest ever British tour. The 33 dates include a show at Birmingham Town Hall on May 26.

Shakin' Stevens, Echoes of our Times, Birmingham Town Hall
On stage: Shakin' Stevens (pic: Graham Flack)

The album sees blues, roots, Americana and classic rock take centre stage as Shaky explores his mysterious and intriguing family history. During the tour he has been performing all ten tracks, alongside hits like This Ole House and Green Door.

Echoes Of Our Times grew from Cardiff-born Shaky's realisation that he knew little about the background of his family - the stories of his ancestors' loves and lives lost, and their struggles to survive. His research revealed tales of poverty and strife in Cornish copper mines, bravery and loss in war, philanthropic preachers and stoic Salvationists, children suffering and family secrets and feuds.

Shakin' Stevens, Echoes of our Times, Birmingham Town Hall
Looking back: Shakin' Stevens studied his family tree (pic: Graham Flack)

These newly discovered stories became the inspiration for many of the songs on the album.

"I have never before written songs that are so personal,'' says Shaky who starred in the stage musical Elvis! before having 33 top 40 UK hits in the 1980s. ''Some of the tracks directly relate to stories and situations about my family past, while others are more of a social comment relating to the world that my ancestors, and we, live in."

For example, the album's third single, Down in the Hole, was sparked by the discovery that Shaky's paternal forebears originated from Cornwall where men, women and children worked in the dangerous copper mines of Gwennap. When the mines started closing in the 1870s Shaky's surviving ancestors travelled overseas in search of work. Many stayed in their adopted countries, never to return home.

The video for the single (below) features a selection of 19th century photographs taken in the copper mines as described in the song's lyrics.

The album gave Shaky the opportunity to experiment and use instruments that he had previously used on stage but never before on a recording. Each story set the scene for the music and dictated which instruments were used. Down in the Hole features harmonica, Dobro guitar and harmonium, creating elements of folk, rock and swampy blues. In contrast, keeping the harmonica and adding banjo, flute and military snare, gave a sound that was reminiscent of the past, helping to paint a picture for the title track.

Behind Those Secrets and Lies demanded a dark and mysterious feel so a cello and bottleneck guitar, coupled with acoustic guitar in a minor key, were used for a haunting backdrop to guide the listener through the sadness of the lyrics.

Meanwhile, the anthemic rock of Last Man Alive, with its rousing mix of guitars, brass and piano, provides a welcome lift to close the album.

Shakin' Stevens, Echoes of our Times, Birmingham Town Hall
Reflection: Shaky's most personal album (pic: Graham Flack)

Shaky concludes: "I would say that, in retrospect, in finding the origins of my family I have gone back to the roots of my music."

Shakin' Stevens' 2017 Echoes Of Our Times tour remaining dates:

April 28: The Hexagon, Reading;
April 29: Regent Theatre, Ipswich;
April 30: Assembly Theatre, Tunbridge Wells;
May 2: Shepherds Bush Empire, London;
May 4: Venue Cymru, Llandudno;
May 5: The Opera House, Blackpool;
May 6: Baths Hall, Scunthorpe;
May 7: Theatre Royal, Norwich;
May 9: Queens Theatre Hall, Barnstaple;
May 10: Hall For Cornwall, Truro;
May 11: The Pavilion, Plymouth;
May 12: Babbacombe Theatre, Torquay;
May 14: Guildhall, Portsmouth;
May 15: Alban Arena, St Albans;
May 16: City Hall, Salisbury;
May 18: The Barbican, York;
May 19: Parr Hall, Warrington;
Sun 21: Grand Theatre, Leeds;
May 22: Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow;
May 23: Eden Court, Inverness;
May 26: Town Hall, Birmingham;
May 27: Corn Exchange, Cambridge;
May 28: Whiterock Theatre, Hastings.

Shakin' Stevens, Birmingham Town Hall, Echoes of our Time
Venue: Birmingham Town Hall
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Why? New songs from pop veteran
When: May 26, 2017
Phone: 0121 780 3333
Where: Birmingham Town Hall and touring
Cost: 38 - 25.50
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