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SHAKIN' SHAKEN BY PIT DISASTER.

Byline: SIMON GASKELL simon.gaskell@walesonline.co.uk

ROCK 'N' ROLL legend Shakin' Stevens has spoken of his emotional homecoming to Wales to discover how his relatives were killed in a mining disaster.

Stevens, 65 - real name Michael Barratt - grew up in the Ely suburb of Cardiff before forming a band called The Sunsets in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan.

He later found fame after starring in the West End musical Elvis and went on to have more than 30 top 40 hits.

'Shaky' returned to Wales as part of the BBC's Coming Home series, with the story of his trip due to air on Friday.

He told Wales on Sunday how he discovered how his family were affected by the Albion Colliery disaster on the South Wales coalfield.

He said: "I knew dad was born in Yorkshire and mum was from Mountain Ash. I knew about my grandmother's husband who died in the Albion coal disaster.

"But I didn't know a brother died in the same disaster because of the health and safety, which was terrible."

The 1894 disaster - caused by a massive explosion from the ignition of coal dust - killed 290 men and boys and, of 125 horses underground, only two survived.

Meanwhile Shaky said he also learned of his grandfather's role in Britain's imperial past, fighting warriors in the Sudan.

He also found out that his greatgrandfather William Venables was involved in the 19th century Primitive Methodist revival movement.

And, for the first time, he uncovered the sad story of his uncle Leonard who was a gunner serving on the Western Front.

He said: "Dad was in the First World War in the Royal Field Artillery from 1914 to 1918, as well as uncle Leonard.

"It's amazing, it's 100 years next year.

Leonard joined the army in August 1914. In October he was discharged because when he joined he said he was 20 but he was only really 16.

"He rejoined at 17 and died on the Western Front in 1918. He was injured between January 5 and 7 and died."

Shaky said coming home to Wales also gave him a welcome opportunity to reflect on his own upbringing as the youngest of 13 children to his building site foreman father and mother Florence - a hospital cleaner.

"They were hard times when I was growing up," Shaky said.

"We went down to the river to swim, we used to play British Bulldog and kick the can - basic things, nothing like internet and things like that.

"I always used to sing in the house and I went to school at Hywel Dda Primary School in Ely.

"I think they had a puppet-type show there and word got around I could sing.

"I sang at that puppet performance and used to sing in school. From there, it was in my blood. I didn't want to do anything else but sing."

Shaky said many of his formative years were spent playing church halls and weddings or driving up the Valleys for gigs before he got his break.

"I have always come back to Cardiff even though I don't live in Cardiff," he said.

"I'm very proud of where I was brought up and it was good to do the programme.

"You don't really know yourself until you know your past so I'm glad I did the programme and learned a lot more.

"You can be remembered for the hits and nothing else but there's a lot history there."

Coming Home: Shakin' Stevens airs on BBC One Wales at 7.30pm on Friday.

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Shakin Stevens has uncovered family tragedies on an emotional homecoming to Wales
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 8, 2013
Words:605
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