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Classic album

Shakin’ Stevens took rockabilly-lite to the top of the pop charts in the early 80s, but his first album with The Sunsets is one of the most explosive UK rock’n’roll albums ever. Vintage Rock revisits a lost and rare classic with the help of those who were there…



Rockin’ Louie II, aka Shakin’ Stevens, aka Michael Barratt fronted The Sunsets in the 70s and helped keep the British rock’n’roll flame alive on A Legend
Courtesy of Rick Smith

Shakin’ Stevens’ 80s hit-making juggernaut left no space for reflection on the earliest part of his career when he was cutting earthier, rootsier rock’n’roll. It meant the memory of his work with The Sunsets and their almost heroic part in keeping the British rock’n’roll flame alive fell off the radar.

Yet, given a fairer wind, their debut album A Legend could have sparked a full-scale rock’n’roll revival several years ahead of the event. When the album came out in 1970, some might have tagged it a retro blast from the past. But as far as these tough rockers from South Wales were concerned, “proper” rock’n’roll had never died. To them, this was no nostalgia trip, which is probably why the album holds up well today. Many current artists tackling classic rock’n’roll are too reverential, the strain to reproduce the correct sound leading to a tepid pastiche. The Sunsets were authentic enough, though they often used an electric bass, but the key to A Legend is the way they just attacked the music, confident in their familiarity with songs which had been part of their live sets for years.

The other thing about A Legend is that, though The Sunsets were Shaky’s band, they’re not like faded wallpaper in the background. When Shaky went solo, the spotlight was always on him: at this earlier stage, the older guys playing behind him were just as crucial to the sound, none more so than drummer and occasional vocalist Rockin’ Louie. In fact, for all the later comparisons with Elvis, Shaky’s first idol was Louie himself who, from the early 60s, had been frontman of The Backbeats, a rock’n’roll outfit from Penarth with a big following in the Cardiff area.

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