Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel
|Also known as||Cockney Rebel|
|Origin||London, United Kingdom|
|Years active||1972–1977, 1984, 1989–1992, 1996–present|
|Past members||John Crocker|
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel are a British glam rock band from the early 1970s from London. 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.
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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 Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, 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 himself was much written about in the musical press, and the other members began to consider themselves regarded and treated as sidemen rather than co-equals, so there was tension in the band even as they were 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 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 and in interviews that his 1974 single, "Mr Soft", may have been more appropriate given the nature of the advert. In 2020, however, the contract with Pfizer ended, and changed to BMW starting in April 2021. Harley has long driven the manufacturer's 7-Series model.
After the success of 1998 and 1999's respective 'Stripped To The Bare Bones' and 'Stripped Again' tours, Harley would continue to tour in an acoustic format. Firstly with Jim Cregan and a selection of other members of Cockney Rebel, depending on the exact date of the show, in 2002. This format produced 2003's 'Acoustic and Pure: Live' album. With the exception of the 2015 reunion, which was in the full band format, Cregan would next join Harley for 2 acoustic shows in March 2020, which otherwise featured Harley performing alone. In 2003 and 2004, the 5-piece acoustic line-up that played 2004's 'Anytime! (A Live Set)' album was put together, featuring Lascelles on percussion, Gladwell on lead guitar, Wickens on violin/guitar, and Anderson on double bass. In 2005 and 2006, this format was used in Holland and Belgium while promoting 2005's 'The Quality Of Mercy' album, and these shows are notable for featuring significant rearrangements of some of the songs from the album, which were never played during concerts in England. These shows were played without Anderson. Between 2010 and 2019 these concerts were revived as a 3-man line-up, with Harley alongside Wickens and Lascelles (this time on keyboards and percussion, as per his role in the full rock band shows). These shows were originally marketed as the '3-man acoustic show' before being renamed to 'Acoustic Trio' in 2016. The shows in 2010 were marketed as an 'Acoustic Set', as they were the first acoustic shows since 2004. This format was phased out in 2020 - in order to promote Harley's new album 'Uncovered'- in favour of a revived 4-man line-up, though with David Delarre on lead guitar, and Oli Hayhurst on double bass, with Harley and Wickens reprising their roles. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed most of the shows on this tour - with only the first 9 played as planned. Two shows were however played in late-September 2020, both in the acoustic trio format, though Hayhurst accompanied the trio on the second of these shows. In addition, Harley held an online Q and A session via Zoom Videoconferencing in mid-December 2020.
On 23 October 2020, "Make Me Smile" was featured on Melbourne, Australia radio station 'ABC Radio Melbourne's Friday Revue' as part of 'Song Pause Day' - a tribute to songs with a pause.
In the aftermath of the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, Harley's live shows would eventually resume in August 2021. The line-up for the full rock band shows will consist of Harley, Wickens, Lascelles, Gladwell, Elliott, and Harada. The 2021 shows mark the first time this line-up has toured together (having only previously played festivals in 2016), as well as Gladwell's full-time return to the band, having stood in sporadically for Paul Cuddeford on a handful of occasions between 2017 and 2020. The set-lists for the 2021 shows featured many songs that had not been played live for many years, in particular from Harley's 1992 album Yes You Can. Fans have commented that the set-lists used for the 2021 tour are amongst Harley's best ever, along with the November-December 2004 Anytime! In The Autumn tour, again notable for featuring a great deal of rarely-played material.
- November/December 2004 only, as a result of the set-list containing a significant number of songs that had not been played live since 1976 - his inclusion was a last minute decision by Harley, potentially because Elliott would be the only person besides Harley to have played the songs in question before
- 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 after the 1989 tour, only to return in 2000. During his absence, he was replaced by Nick Pynn.
- Nice is Harley's younger brother, 9 years Harley's junior. Nice was credited as Ian Keller on both the 1984 'Live From London' DVD, as well as in the programme for 1989's 'Come Back, All Is Forgiven' tour, though the associated DVD credited him as Ian Nice. Nice changed his surname as a result of a request for him to use the Harley surname from a recording company when he became a solo artist. Not wanting people to know of his relation to Harley, he refused, and chose the name Keller instead..
- 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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