Shakin’ Stevens & The Sunsets - First Gear, BBC Radio 1
Lead Vocals - Shakin' Stevens
Back-up Vocals - Paul Barrett
Lead Guitar - Robert "Carl" Peterson
Bass - Steve Percy
Drums / Vocals - Rockin' Louie*
Tenor Sax - Paul "Duane The Fink" Dolan
Piano - Trevor "The Hawk" Hawkins
Tracks: Yakety Yak, I'll Try, Leroy, Forty Days, Cast Iron Arm, Lights Out, Train Kept A Rollin', Down Yonder We Go Ballin' (lead vocals by Rockin' Louie), Hawkins Mood (instrumental)
These tracks were recorded for the BBC's infamous Radio One sessions, a special Rock 'n' Roll program called "First Gear", which ran for two hours each Saturday for a couple of weeks only to give John Peel a break from his normal "Top Gear" evening show. Johnny Moran was the presenter of the show which was produced by John Walters and went out on Saturdays between 3pm and 5pm from August 8th until August 29th 1970. Other artists in session on this short series included: Marty Wilde, Bert Weedon, Billy J.Kramer and Fleetwood Mac with their Buddy Holly covers.
Shakin' Stevens and the original line-up of the Sunsets recorded their session at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios in North London on 15th June 1970, and they were broadcast over two weekends on 15th and 22nd August. The BBC have long confirmed that the session was still in their archive, but to date have yet to release it. It’s about time they did so officially, together with the other stuff he did for them like the Stuart Colman sessions for It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll in ’76, ’77 and ’79.
For now we have to do with this, and although it might not be from the master tapes, it’s still very listenable, with just a bit of snap, crackle and pop. You really get a feel for what a dynamic band they were. The sax and piano are prominent in the mix and they generate excitement throughout. Numbers like Yakety Yak and Leeroy explode and must sounded great blasting out of the airways nearly forty years ago.
The sound quality dips at the beginning of Conway’s I’ll Try, but it can’t detract from Shaky’s brilliant delivery. Hearing this in hindsight it’s no surprise that Shaky was to become a massive star a decade later. He oozes sex and drools over the words, a master craftsman even this early in his career.
When Mac Rebennack wrote Lights Out, this type pof treatment must have been everything he hoped for – just what the doctor ordered if you see what I mean. Shaky’s vocals and Trefor Hawkins’ pumpin’piano give Jerry Byrne's original a run for it’s money. Carl Peterson’s guitar is either restrained or low in the mix for most of the set, but the shackles are off for the thunderous version of The Train Kept A Rollin’. It’s probably the best and wildest thing here, a version that the Burnette boys would have been proud of. An absolutely priceless piece of rock ‘n’ roll history that deserves a wider audience. These songs were recorded at the time for the Legend album, but this live glimpse is essential. As the man once said - Baby That Is Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Although the youTube clip that follows is slightly later than this bootleg, it shows how great Shaky and the Sunsets were. 9 minutes of breathless, no-frills rock 'n' roll. The second clip comes from Let's Rock and although the Sunsets are no longer with him, it's worth a look to see Shaky's stage manner. Check out the mic action on Billy Fury's Don't Knock Upon My Door.