Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel
Cockney Rebel in 1974
|Also known as||Cockney Rebel|
|Years active||1972–1977, 1984, 1989–1992, 1996–present|
|Past members||John Crocker|
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel are an English glam rock band from the early 1970s. Their music covers a range of styles from pop to progressive rock. Over the years they have had five albums in the UK Albums Chart and twelve singles in the UK Singles Chart.
Steve Harley grew up in London's New Cross area and attended Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham Boys' School. His musical career began in the late 1960s when he was busking (with John Crocker aka Jean-Paul Crocker) and performing his own songs, some of which were later recorded by him and the band. After an initial stint as a music journalist, the original Cockney Rebel was formed when Harley hooked up with his former folk music partner, Crocker (fiddle / mandolin / guitar) in 1972. Crocker had just finished a short stint with Trees and they advertised and auditioned drummer Stuart Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys, and guitarist Nick Jones. This line-up played one of the band's first gigs at the Dagenham Roundhouse, London on 23 July 1972 supporting The Jeff Beck Group. Nick was soon replaced by guitarist Pete Newnham but Steve felt that the Cockney Rebel sound did not need an electric guitar and they settled on the combination of Crocker's electric violin and the Fender Rhodes piano of keyboardist Milton Reame-James to share the lead. The band was signed to EMI after playing five gigs. Their first single, "Sebastian", was an immediate success in Europe, although it failed to score in the UK Singles Chart. Their debut album, The Human Menagerie, was released in 1973. Although the album was not a commercial success, the band attracted a growing following in London.
Harley managed to irritate a significant segment of the music press with his self-aggrandisement, even as their music was getting rave reviews and gaining a wide audience. It was becoming clear that Harley regarded the band as little more than accompaniment to his own agenda, and already there were signs that things would not last, despite their having a big hit with their second single, "Judy Teen". In May 1974, the British music magazine, NME reported that Cockney Rebel were to undertake their first British tour, with the highlight of the itinerary being a gig at London's Victoria Palace Theatre on 23 June. There then followed the album The Psychomodo. A Live at the BBC album from 1995 included material recorded during a 1974 BBC Radio 1 broadcast. Following the European single "Psychomodo", a second single from the album, "Mr. Soft", was also a hit. "Tumbling Down" was also issued in America as a promotional single. By this time the problems within the band had already reached a head, and all the musicians, with the exception of Elliott, quit at the end of a successful UK tour, leaving the band to become session musicians. The original keyboardist, Milton Reame-James, recalled in 2010 that the original band 'said goodbye on the steps of Abbey Road studios and were never to meet up again.' Crocker continued to write songs and perform, forming a duet with his brother. After a brief period with Be-Bop Deluxe in 1974, Reame-James and Jeffreys formed the band Chartreuse in 1976.
Harley's next appearance on BBC Television's Top of the Pops was supported by session musicians and Francis Monkman, and B. A. Robertson. The band's single "Big Big Deal" was issued in 1974 and was almost immediately withdrawn.
From then on, the band was a band in name only, being more or less a Harley solo project. In 1974, a further album, The Best Years of Our Lives was released, produced by The Beatles' recording engineer, Alan Parsons. This included the track "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" which would go on to be a UK number one single in February 1975, and the band's biggest selling hit. It sold over one million copies globally. Amongst the backing vocalists on the act's only No. 1 was the future chart-topper, Tina Charles. Changing the band name from Cockney Rebel to Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel for the No. 1 hit, the degeneration was rapid. In a television interview recorded in 2002, Harley described how the lyrics are vindictively directed at the former band members who, he felt, had abandoned him – a fact not obvious in the apparently happy chorus. Bill Nelson, for whose band Be-Bop Deluxe Jeffreys and Reame-James had departed, confirms this story.
One more single from the album, "Mr. Raffles (Man, It Was Mean)" made the Top 20, and the following album Timeless Flight was a top 20 success, although both singles "Black or White" and "White, White Dove" failed to chart. After 1975, Harley struggled to match the success of "Make Me Smile" and faded from fame, and Cockney Rebel eventually disbanded. The band had a surprise Top 10 in the summer of 1976 with a cover version of "Here Comes the Sun". This was followed by the Top 50 single "(I Believe) Love's a Prima Donna" and the album Love's a Prima Donna. After the band's split, Harley provided vocals on The Alan Parsons Project song, "The Voice" on 1977's I Robot. Harley released two failed solo albums in the late 1970s; 1978's Hobo with a Grin which featured the two singles "Roll the Dice" and "Someone's Coming", and 1979's The Candidate. He made a minor comeback as a solo artist in the UK Singles Chart with "Freedom's Prisoner" from the latter album. After a brief appearance in the 1980s with a song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, the 1982 single "I Can't Even Touch You" was released by Harley under the band name, whilst the 1983 minor hit single "Ballerina (Prima Donna)" was also credited to the band on the both sides of the vinyl release, although not on the sleeve, where Harley was solely credited. In 1986, Harley released two singles on RAK; "Irresistible" and "Heartbeat Like Thunder". Harley began touring again with his old Cockney Rebel songs in the late 1980s and 1990s.
In April 1990, Harley and several former members of Cockney Rebel Mark II reformed as Raffles United, and played four consecutive nights in a pub in Sudbury, London. In 2007 Harley revealed that these concerts were, in effect, used as Pop Idol style auditions for new band members, in particular a new bassist, lead guitarist and pianist (Stuart Elliott and Barry Wickens were already signed as drummer and violinist respectively, and as of 2020 they continue to perform these roles in the band), as well as backing singers/percussionists pending a tour in late 1990/early 1991, after the success of 1989's 'Come Back, All Is Forgiven' tour. 
Harley has released several solo albums since – Yes You Can in 1992 (including the singles "Irresistible" and "Star for a Week (Dino)"), Poetic Justice in 1996, and most recently, The Quality of Mercy in 2005 (which included the singles "A Friend for Life" and "The Last Goodbye"), the first since the 1970s to be released with the Cockney Rebel name. He has dubbed his current touring band 'Cockney Rebel Mark III'.
Two of the bigger hits appeared in UK television advertisements in the 1990s: "Make Me Smile" for Carlsberg Lager in 1995, prompting the track's return to the UK Top 40; and "Mr Soft" for Trebor Softmints between 1987 and 1994. "Make Me Smile" was used again in a 2005 advertisement for Marks & Spencer. It was also used on the soundtrack of the 1997 film, The Full Monty and the 1998 glam rock film Velvet Goldmine, in the latter's case being used in the end credits.
Original keyboardist, Reame-James, has since joined with James Staddon, Phil Beer and Robbie Johnson to create 'Banana Rebel', who have released a CD Top Banana, available from their website.
In 2010, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel began touring again setting concert dates for England, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. This was done following the release of the new studio album Stranger Comes to Town. In October 2012, the remastered four-disc box-set anthology compilation album Cavaliers: An Anthology 1973–1974 was released, chronicling the recording career of the original Cockney Rebel line-up. On 24 November 2012 the band including the Orchestra of the Swan and a choir performed the band's first two albums The Human Menagerie and The Psychomodo in their entirety for the first time. A live double-CD and DVD was released in October 2013 of this performance, titled Birmingham.
In 2016, the newly reestablished Chrysalis Records, now owned by Blue Raincoat Music, announced that it had acquired the Cockney Rebel catalogue. Harley was one of the artists who appeared on the label's first release, a charity single of The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" credited to Friends of Jo Cox in tribute to Jo Cox, a Labour Party MP who had been assassinated earlier that year.
In 2018, "Make Me Smile" was used again in an advert for Viagra, the first one of its kind to air on UK television. Harley often jokes at his live concerts that his 1974 single, "Mr Soft", may have been more appropriate given the nature of the advert.
Between 2010 and 2019, some concerts in smaller venues were played acoustically by Harley, Wickens and Lascelles. These concerts were originally marketed as "3 Man Acoustic Show" before being renamed to "Acoustic Trio". Beginning in 2020, Lascelles has been temporarily been replaced by David Delarre on lead guitar and Oli Hayhurst on double bass. This means that keyboard is no longer used in the acoustic shows, and instead they are titled as being from the "Steve Harley Acoustic Band". However, the 2020 Acoustic Band dates are, in effect, a promotional tour for Harley's 2020 album Uncovered and therefore, in 2021, it is possible that the original Harley/Wickens/Lascelles acoustic set will be revived.
In November 2015, Mackay, Cregan, and Elliott regrouped for the first time since 1976, along with Wickens and Prior, for a 16-date UK tour commemorating the 40th anniversary of the release of the 1975 album, 'The Best Years Of Our Lives'. The set used on this tour consisted of a selection of recordings from Harley and the band's career during the first half, and the 'Best Years Of Our Lives' album in its entirety during the second. The version of 'Make Me Smile' played as track six in the second set is significant because it was an acoustic solo by Harley. In other words, Harley played the song as it was originally intended to be released, before the CEO of EMI stepped in and asked him to change it to a pop song.
- Haughton was the main drummer from 1998 to 2015, with Stuart Eliot only appearing at major concerts (such as one-off large venues like the Royal Albert Hall). From 2016 onwards, however, Elliot has been noted to appear more often, with Haughton performing mostly as an understudy if Eliot could not make it.
- Wickens' debut in the band was in the 1984 concert at London's Camden Palace Theatre – the concert was released on VHS as Live From London in 1985. He left the band in 1992, only to return in 1999. During his absence, he was replaced by Nick Pynn.
- Cockney Rebel
- Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel studio discography
- The Best Years of Our Lives (1975)
- Timeless Flight (1976)
- Love's a Prima Donna (1976)
- The Quality of Mercy (2005)
- List of songs recorded by Steve Harley
- List of glam rock artists
- List of artists who reached number one on the UK Singles Chart
- List of performers on Top of the Pops
- List of Peel sessions
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