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Live review: Shakin’ Stevens

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The Derngate, Northampton
March 2nd

Openers J. Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls hail from Surrey, but you would never guess. They wed a distinctly American sound to some huge bluesy riffs and manage to sound both retro and contemporary. Cloaked in black, like disgraced preachers, they dispense a 30 minute masterclass in good time rock’n’roll. Vocalist Jason Lee Barratt is the quintessential frontman who, along with the Hoodoo Skulls, play the perfect soundtrack for a Saturday night. Closing with a blistering cover of ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ is a thing of genius, and they should definitely be on your watch list.

Tonight perennial rock’n’roller Shakin’ Stevens brings his ‘Greatest Hits and More’ tour to Northampton. It’s hard to remember a time when Shaky wasn’t around, and his brand of rock n’ roll is the kind of music that’s made for everyone. It effortlessly straddles genres and generations. The tension that’s been building since doors opened is finally released when Shaky takes to the stage and by second track ‘Turning Away’ all but the infirm are grooving. With a voice that’s aged like fine wine ‘Give Me Your Heart Tonight’ and ‘It’s Raining’ are sung with the same conviction as they were decades ago. A nice cover of James Ray’s ‘(Got My Mind) Set on You’ follows along with a spirited ‘You Drive Me Crazy’. Shaky’s latest LP Echoes of Our Times was quite a risk, but it certainly paid off and the bluesy ‘Suffer Little Children’ from that record provides a nice change of pace yet sits easily with the more rocky material. ‘A Love Worth Waiting For’ and ‘Cry Just a Little Bit’ take us to the interval in the best possible style, and ensures the first half of the show ends on a peak.

Two tracks from that latest album open the second half: the title track, then ‘Down into Muddy Waters’ – both of which blend Cornish folk with Americana. This theme is continued with a nice cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival standard ‘Have You Ever Felt the Rain’. Ably backed by a seven-piece band who provide a suitably beefy sound, Shaky proceeds to blast through his greatest hits: ‘A Letter to You’, ‘Marie, Marie’ and ‘Oh, Julie’ all to get the audience on their feet and evidence what a well loved performer Shaky is. Two female backing vocalists provide a nice foil to Shaky’s oak-aged voice as the set is closed with ‘Lipstick, Powder and Paint’ and ‘Green Door’.

Of Course it wouldn’t be a Shakin’ Stevens show without ‘This Ole House’, which is the first of two encores, and then new track ‘Fire Down Below’ which draws a nice symmetry between the past and present. While Shaky doesn’t have the stage moves of yore he still moves well for a man approaching his 71st birthday. And while his current show is devoid of flashy leaps and splits it has the benefit of bringing the songs to the fore. And with songs this good it’s exactly where they should be.

Peter Dennis

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