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Sixty Seconds with Shakin’ Stevens

The Welsh singer, 71, on why Elvis was an inspiration, giving Culture Club their big break and why he’ll sleep when he’s dead

Can I call you Shaky?

Yes! Lots of people call me Shaky in conversation and also when I’m on stage and performing and things, then on the records and posters I’m Shakin’ Stevens. But my family call me by my real name, which is Mike.

You’re on tour at the moment. What can people expect?

It’s greatest hits and more, with an exclamation mark. There are tracks from my recent album, Echoes Of Our Times, and of course the big hits like This Ol’ House, as well as songs I haven’t sung for such a long time. It’s an eight-piece band and we’ve tried it out on the audiences in Europe where I haven’t been for a long time and the reaction has been absolutely overwhelming — it’s amazing.

Which of your 1980s hits do you enjoy performing most?

Well, This Ol’ House, Marie Marie and You Drive Me Crazy all go down very well — I could go on and on. So do my new songs from Echoes Of Our Times. We’re having a party!

Dance inspiration: Elvis Presley PICTURES: REX/GETTY

What’s the demographic of your audiences these days?

It ranges from 25 to 50 but there are younger people coming too, and a little bit older, so it’s a really good age mix. In the early days it was the parents and they brought their children because they’d watch me on Top Of The Pops and kids’ shows at the weekend. We still see people from the fan club and one guy said recently, ‘I came to see you with my parents when I was younger and I’m now 46 and still enjoying it!’ That’s fantastic. I don’t jump around like I did, though.

Where did you learn your dance moves?

In the very early days we were quite wild — the sax player would toss up his tenor sax in the air, catch it and start blowing, and if he dropped it one night there’d be no sax the next night. It came from that, as well as starring in Elvis! The Musical in the West End in the late 1970s. I was putting across the feel of Elvis and nobody else was doing it like me at that particular time so I stood out. Lots of celebrities came to see the musical, including David Bowie and Carl Perkins, who came backstage, which was a great thrill.

Do you ever watch yourself on Top Of The Pops?

Yeah, I do, and I think, ‘Oops, why did I do that?!’ I’m never embarrassed, though. I did nearly 60 appearances on Top Of The Pops — there was one I couldn’t do so Culture Club stepped in instead, which gave them their big break. Boy George was very grateful and loves telling that story.

Who have you been most star-struck by?

In the early days we played with the likes of Deep Purple, Rod Argent and The Zombies, Georgie Fame, Free. I played with the Stones as well as Arthur Crudup, who was a prolific blues writer and was the first to sing That’s All Right Mama. I met Jerry Lee Lewis too — the list goes on.

Is having a classic Christmas hit like winning the Lottery?

It is for the writer, Bob Heatlie, yes! I didn’t actually write Merry Christmas Everyone. Bob sent it down to me about 1984 and we put all the decorations up and recorded it. Then we heard Band Aid was coming out — we couldn’t compete with that so we released in 1985. Bob looks forward to Christmas every year!

Big break: Culture Club’s Boy George

You’re the most successful Welsh artist of all time. How does Tom Jones feel about that?

Yes, how unusual! I think I’ve had more No.1s than any other Welsh artist. That’s not bad, is it? We’re still friends, though!

Your European tour is 32 dates – your stamina is obviously still going strong.

We eat well, do our exercises and go to the gym once a week — not to be like Charles Atlas or anything, just to keep generally fit and healthy. I’ve seen people on the road with big tummies because they eat too much and it will catch up with you.

Did having a heart attack nine years ago change your attitude to life?

Yes, definitely. It was an issue I’d had for a while because my heart used to race. I went to bed one night not thinking anything of it and basically I fell asleep and didn’t wake up. I was with my partner, Sue, and she rang the hospital nearby and while they were on their way they were on the phone telling her to pump hard on my chest. She said, ‘I’ve broken his ribs!’ And they said, ‘Don’t worry, just keep pumping!’ But I’m fighting fit now.

And no plans to retire?

I don’t want to — I have more to give. We’re going to follow up Echoes Of Our Times with another album. And now we’ve started to break the territories of the early days like Germany again, I’ll keep it going. Sleep when you’re dead!

Shakin’ Stevens is touring the UK this month, shakinstevens.com