ROCK / Shaky rattles and rock's rollin' again

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The Independent Culture
I HAVE seen the future of rock'n'roll and his name is Shakin' Stevens. Christened Michael Barrett, Shaky was born in South Wales at around the same time as the National Health Service, and he looks in much better shape. On stage at the Dominion, he straddles the generation gap like a Brylcreemed colossus. His commercial heyday may have passed - in the Eighties he spent longer in the British singles charts than any other performer - but his uniquely benign brand of showmanship still delights young and old, and Shaky flags still flutter proudly in the air conditioning.

His band are excellent - a much tougher rockabilly experience than might be expected. The guitarist has that real, deep Scotty Moore twang, and the keyboard player has a top hand that just won't quit. Lean and serene at the centre of it all, Shaky occasionally demonstrates that lightning flash of the arms beloved of Elvis impersonators, but he brings to it a grace that is all his own. The set is largely composed of established favourites from his recent evocatively titled compilation album Shaky - The Epic Years (Epic), with the odd extra Ricky Nelson number thrown in.

It's a rare sight, so many people genuinely enjoying themselves. The true loyalists have a different, absurdly complicated hand routine for every song. This is a practical means of participation as well as a comfy one, since the bomber-jacketed bully boys of security stamp down hard on anyone endeavouring to stand up and dance. Until, that is, Shaky gives the signal - by launching into one of his lesser-known standards, 'Turning Away' - at which point the crowd rises as one to rush the stage. Engulfed by a tidal wave of grans, kids, mums and dads, the bouncers are powerless to resist. Shaky goes off and comes back, and everyone dances into the night. Respect, as the saying goes, due.

Another Welsh wonder returns at the Royal Albert Hall, but the atmosphere there is not so warm. Shirley Bassey's audience is a slightly uneasy mix of a loyal and lively gay constituency and an uptight Rotary-Club-dinner crowd. The tension is not diminished by the opening stand- up comic, whose ill-considered Chinese takeaway routine prompts someone to give voice to their sense of offence, and so splits the crowd down the middle, putting paid to any nascent sense of community.

This poses no problem for Shirley, who is no stranger to feelings of alienation. The tight- as-a-drum quality of her voice and the pent-up, hand-twirling drama of her interpretations have always reflected a sense of being an outsider. When fans bring her flowers between songs, it feels as if she's earned them. She begins with 'Goldfinger', and goes on from there. It's not just strength through kitsch. Her familiarity with the material does not seem to diminish the passion she brings to it, particularly towards the end of each song. There might be something of the riding- school pony breaking into a trot at the sight of the stables about this, were she not moving at a constant gallop.

As a voice, Shirley Bassey only really has one gear, but what a gear it is] Though, strangely, it is now, with soft-rock landmarks such as George Harrison's 'Something' or Foreigner's 'I Wanna Know What Love Is', that she scales the greatest heights of emotion, rather than with traditional show-stoppers such as 'Without You' or 'I Who Have Nothing'. Her more playful, uptempo numbers are the most entertaining. During 'Kiss Me Honey Honey' she summons admirers from the front row with an imperious wiggle of the hips, and company directors turn Olympic sprinter in the race for her lips. She also fakes a magnificent tantrum with her orchestra leader, throwing an unfavoured piece of music to the floor with a curt 'That's a phase of my life I've left behind.'

Surprisingly, there is not one costume change - unless you count the unboxing of a huge and suspiciously real-looking fur cape at the end. Perhaps Shirley feels that various pop whippersnappers have stolen her thunder in this respect. She may well be right, but she can rest assured that none of them will ever match her for star quality.

Patrons of the last night of the Acid Jazz label's 'Funky Nation' tour at Camden's Jazz Cafe are invited to 'show their groove allegiance'. They do this by wearing those panelled leather jackets that always look too small, and by cultivating intricate sideburns. Corduroy, the first of the night's two bands, are much the better. Their music is reminiscent of the chase accompaniments from The Rockford Files, and they play it really well. Even the revelation that half of them used to be in heinous fashion-criminals Boys Wonder cannot dim their allure. The headliners, Mother Earth, mostly look like Grateful Dead roadies. They play a similar blend of guitar and Hammond organ with considerable aplomb, but give too much prominence to a singer who isn't, currently at least, quite up to the job.