Stranger Comes to Town

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Stranger Comes to Town
Steve Harley Stranger Comes to Town 2010 Album Cover.jpg
Studio album by Steve Harley
Released 3 May 2010
Genre Rock, pop rock
Length 49:46
Label Absolute (UK)
Repertoire Records (Europe)
Comeuppance Ltd
Producer Steve Harley
Steve Harley chronology
The Cockney Rebel - A Steve Harley Anthology
(2006)The Cockney Rebel - A Steve Harley Anthology2006
Stranger Comes to Town
(2010)
Cavaliers: An Anthology 1973-1974
(2012)Cavaliers: An Anthology 1973-19742012

Stranger Comes to Town is the fifth studio album from English songwriter and musician Steve Harley. Released in 2010, the album was Harley's first studio album in five years, following the Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel album The Quality of Mercy. The album was produced by Harley.

Background[edit]

After the release of The Quality of Mercy in 2005, Harley continued to write and record new material (primarily demos). In January 2007, Harley and the band entered the recording studio and plans for a new studio album were announced with a possible spring 2008 release.[1][2] The album's working title was "Wide Screen", with an alternative being "The Road Home".[3] Although the proposed album did not come to fruition, Harley continued writing.[4] Later in March 2009, he revealed in his online diary that a contractual issue had delayed a new album: "Finally wrapped up a contract wrangle which has kept me sometimes awake and regularly disturbed for almost three years. Cost me a great deal in all sorts of energies and resources to end this loathsome arrangement, but I knew in my heart I had to sort it."[5]

Intending to soon enter the studio,[6] Harley commented of his unfinished song ideas and demo recordings: "The notes are there, in notebooks and on scraps of mini-disc. Tunes and couplets, simple rhymes and deeper thoughts all jumbled, randomly acquired and noted over the past few years. There is only one way I will collate it all into coherent songs, and that is by booking a recording studio."[6] Harley and his band Cockney Rebel spent a month at Leeders Farm Residential Studios, Norfolk, in September-October 2009.[7] Harley would typically spend 12 or more hours a day working on the album.[8] In October 2009, he commented in a diary entry:

"Slightly shattered. Ten tracks recorded, some sung, others waiting for lyrics. It's like jet-lag. Coming down from the mad rushes of adrenalin that go with the producing/recording process. Been living-in at a residential recording studio. Odd to get up and share breakfast with the band. Odd, too, to share the dinner table each night, but they are all decent blokes and easy to get along with. I'm the one with the swimming head, tunes and words, production plans all juggled at the same time, so I'm the distant one over the boiled eggs and soldiers."[9]

During their residency at Leeders Farm, the band spent most mornings rehearsing around the studio's kitchen table.[9] Due to other professional commitments, guitarist Robbie Gladwell was absent for much of the recording, leaving Barry Wickens to cover the electric guitar parts on half of the album.[9][10] By the end of October, nine songs were nearing completion and the remainder of the year saw Harley spend more time in the studio to finish the album, including recording vocals and mixing the tracks.[11] In a November diary entry, he revealed: "Stranger Comes to Town, new CD, likely to be released early May. Got 10 new songs. Three of them are co-written with various guys. Tunes only. Not words. Only wish any one of them had a literary bent, too. The lyrics have been the toughest part, as usual."[12]

By the end of the year, the album was almost complete, except for the remixing of a couple of songs, as well as the choosing of the album's running order.[13] Talks began with record label representatives over the album's release in January 2009.[14] With the finishing touches completed in that month, the album was mastered in February by Denis Blackham at Skye Mastering.[7] In March, Harley announced that the Absolute label was to handle the album's distribution, while "Faith & Virtue" was announced as the album's lead single.[15] Stranger Comes to Town, as well as the lead single, was released at the beginning of May 2010. The album reached #187 in the UK Albums Chart, as well as #20 on the UK Independent Albums Chart.[16][17] Later in June, a second single, "For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn", was also released.[18] To promote the album, Harley and Cockney Rebel embarked on a UK-based tour in late May, which included performances at the Isle of Wight Festival and Glastonbury Festival. The tour continued into June, and also included a few concerts in Norway and one in Denmark. Later in October, the band toured Europe.[19]

Speaking to Classic Rock in May 2010, Harley summarised the album: "The essence of the stories on this album is the 'Stranger' bit. That's the mystery. It's a metaphor, an allegory for modern life and invasions of privacy and all the things that have entered into the Western world and ruined it."[20] In an interview with The Bolton News, Harley described the album as "a sort-of protest album", adding: "I'm sick of the greedy people running the country and the fact that everything is being dumbed down."[21]

In an interview for The York Press, Harley commented further on the album's theme, describing it as being like "a state-of-the-nation report":

"I'm not a Grumpy Old Man but... what's happening to this country? I don't like the dumbing-down from the moment our Prime Minister said 'Call me Tony'. I've been angry ever since. Kids are growing up in a world where there's no deference. What was wrong with 'sir' or 'madam'? The album is a new-fashioned protest album. It's not Blowin' in the Wind or Masters of War, but deep down, what are we coming to?"[22]

Describing the album as a "true labour of love",[23] as well as being "hard work",[24] Harley described the album's development and style to Acoustic Magazine: "I've reverted to the type where you've got rather simple acoustic tunes, but with poetical lyrics and mysterious stories mixed in with the more bizarre production kind of things. I've come back to the young man that set out in the early '70s with a lot of ambition and no inhibitions. In the studio I got into my own mindset. I was just having fun in the studio."[24] In The York Press, he added: "I've had five years of ripping my own ears off. It really doesn't get any easier. It's not the tune that's difficult, it's the words that are a struggle – and like John Lennon said, 'it's not about filler words'. You never rest as a songwriter. You're always looking for the muse to come and sit on your shoulder, and I can't take the stress. Well, every five years, I can... though this might be the last one. I've so much to say on this album."[22]

Speaking of the album's title, Harley stated it referred to "a man who feels estranged from what is going on around him". He added in The York Press: "I borrowed it. When I was up in Norfolk we went to a village pub to get the stress off with a pint of Guinness, and we heard these two people say 'Stranger Comes to Town'. They asked, 'What are you doing here, Steve?', so I gave them a line from Eccles in The Goons: 'Everyone has to be somewhere'."[22]

Song information[edit]

"Take the Men & the Horses Away" is an anti-war song, speaking of the UK's involvement in the Afghanistan and Iraq war. Harley had written the chorus several years beforehand, but never completed the song. After playing the chorus to the rest of the band, the song developed into the track that was recorded for the album. Four members of Cockney Rebel received co-writing credits.[9] Before the album's release, "This Old Man" was previewed to fans in November 2009, after Harley uploaded a short piece of footage to his website, showing the band rehearsing the song in the studio.[25]

"True Love Will Find You in the End" is a cover of the 1984 song by American singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston, from his Retired Boxer album.[26] Harley chose to record the song after requesting ideas from fans on his official website forum. Harley commented in a diary entry from November 2009: "The pointer towards Daniel Johnston by Graeme is indeed welcome. Had all but forgotten the self-proclaimed "rejected unknown". Maybe too many have covered the beautiful, poignant "Story of an Artist" – irresistible, as it is – for me to attack it so late in its life. Maybe. But "True Love Will Find You In The End" is less exposed. Maybe that one."[27] The song was recorded in December 2009, and was the last to be recorded for the album.[28] On 9 March 2010, Harley recorded a live performance of the song with Jools Holland and his band, for Holland's show on BBC Radio 2. It was broadcast the following month.[29]

"No Bleeding Hearts" features Harley's son, Kerr Nice, playing piano. The idea was suggested by the band's keyboardist James Lascelles, after Nice arrived for an overnight stay at the studio.[10][9] The song was described by Harley in October 2009: "The song may seem mysterious on first listen, but I'm quietly hoping that those who have now heard it twice, some even three times on this tour, will have started to form some interpretation."[30] In the May 2010 issue of Acoustic Magazine, Harley stated that the song sounded like the early Cockney Rebel, and "could be very much my modern day Sebastian".[24]

"Blinded with Tears" was written around 2000 with ex-Cockney Rebel guitarist Jim Cregan. The song had working titles of "When You Fall Down Dead" and "Failed Romances", and had originally been described by Harley as a "slow, backbeat drama" in a September 2000 online diary entry.[31] Later in October 2004, Harley published part of the song's lyrics in a diary entry, when the song was then titled "Alone in the End".[32]

The song "2,000 Years from Now" features six Wymondham school children providing backing vocals. The inclusion of the local children, aged 10–11, was a last-minute decision, and the close proximity of Spooner Row Primary School to the studio meant that the children were quickly able to arrive at the studio. For a BBC News article, Harley commented: "It's fantastic. We had a really good time – they worked very hard and picked it up so quickly. I'd almost finished this track and I said to my engineer, 'There's a primary school down the road isn't there, I'd like some school kids on this track because the lyric is about the future of the planet'. Three hours later they were all here and two hours later we'd done it."[33]

Release[edit]

The album was released on CD in the UK in May 2010, by Absolute (via Universal). It had been licensed to the label by Harley's own Comeuppance Ltd.[10][34] In Europe, the album was released by Repertoire Records.[35]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic Unrated[36]
Record Collector 3/5 stars[37]
Express.co.uk 3/5 stars[38]
The Press (York) favourable[39]
Rocktimes (German) favourable[40]
Lancashire Telegraph favourable[41]
The Bolton News favourable[21]
R2 magazine favourable[42]

Upon release, Terry Staunton of Record Collector reviewed Stranger Comes to Town, writing: "There's little of the arch art rock of Cockney Rebel on his latest release, though the lyrical adventure of old survives. Here you'll find affecting portraits of dignified war veterans ("This Old Man"), couples coming to term with hardship ("For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn") and against-the-odds romantic optimism ("True Love Will Find You in the End"). It's sturdy, timeless singer-songwriter fare, Harley's acoustic guitar front and centre, caressing his still mannered vocal, embellished by piano and violin. "Before They Crash The Universe" could almost be Bruce Springsteen, but Harley remains his own man for most of the album. He delivers precisely what his diehard fans have been waiting for, though fresh converts may be hard to come by."[37] Simon Gage of The Daily Express stated: "The music is simple, raw and thoughtful but the likeability is still there and the songs interesting. It won't do what "Make Me Smile" did for him but it's an album he must be proud of."[38] Andrew Thomas of The Lancashire Telegraph claimed: "Although well into his fifties, Harley can always surprise me and that's the case on Stranger Comes To Town. This is a striking set with three or four standout tracks – a welcome album from an innovative writer and performer."[41]

Martin Hutchinson of The Bolton News said: "Harley is back. This eagerly anticipated new studio album features Harley at his very best. His anger and emotion comes across in the lyrics of the new songs like "No Bleeding Hearts" and "True Love Will Find You In The End". Thoughtful use of double-bass (courtesy of Lincoln Anderson) gives the tracks upon which it's used a totally different feel than if a bass guitar had been used. Lyrically insightful, musically magnificent. Harley at his very best."[21] Rychard Carrington of R2 magazine noted: "As with every Harley album since Hobo with a Grin, there are moments when the old verve is there to quite an impressive extent ("Faith & Virtue"), and moments when the feel is predominantly lame ("True Love Will Find You in the End"). In terms of musical arrangements, there's none of the early extravagant experimentation, but there's some nice violin, and it's when the keyboards are most prominent that Steve is in fullest flight. Vocally Harley is as strong as ever. Ultimately this is one of those albums that will mostly just please those who are already firmly on the artist's side, but Steve's side does feel like the right one to be on."[42]

Michael Schröder of the German website Rocktimes said: "Already during the first run of the album exudes a certain familiarity, without appearing as plagiarism of his previous records. I recommend, among others, the opener "Faith & Virtue", that settles immediately in the ears. Vocally, you can see here the Steve Harley of the 70s, even more clearly than the other numbers. Those who prefer something more rock, like a fat Hammond should definitely a listen to "Blinded With Tears", my personal favourite! Conclusion: Songwriting: top, singing: top, variety: no luck, game assets: top! A decent, solid album!"[40] Jon Butler of The Press (York) also mentioned and praised the album in a review of the band's concert at the Grand Opera House in May 2010: "With the passage of time Steve Harley has lost none of his edge. Indeed his voice has held up well and the new material from Stranger Comes to Town is strong stuff and worthy of closer inspection because Harley has something to say that's worth listening to. His lyrics reflect where he's at along the journey of life, and his vigour for performing live is undiminished."[39]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Faith & Virtue" Steve Harley, Barry Wickens 4:50
2. "Take the Men & the Horses Away" Lincoln Anderson, Stuart Elliot, Harley, James Lascelles, Wickens 4:11
3. "For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn." Harley 5:00
4. "Stranger Comes to Town" Harley 4:10
5. "This Old Man" Harley 5:27
6. "True Love will Find You in the End" Daniel Johnston 3:46
7. "No Bleeding Hearts" Harley 7:05
8. "Blinded with Tears" Jim Cregan, Harley 5:02
9. "Before They Crash the Universe" Harley 4:30
10. "2,000 Years from Now" Robbie Gladwell, Harley 5:39

Personnel[edit]

Musicians

  • Steve Harley – vocals (all tracks), acoustic guitar (tracks 1, 3, 6-9)
  • Barry Wickens – violin (tracks 1, 3-7, 10), viola (tracks 1, 3-4, 10), electric guitar (tracks 1-2, 7-9), acoustic guitar (tracks 6, 10), backing vocals (tracks 1-2, 6, 8, 10)
  • Robbie Gladwell – arpeggio guitar parts (track 7), electric guitar (tracks 8, 10), 12 string acoustic guitar (track 10), backing vocals (tracks 1-2, 8, 10)
  • James Lascelles – keyboards (track 1), percussion (tracks 1, 3, 6), Hammond organ (tracks 2, 8-10), Mini-Moog synthesizer (tracks 2, 7, 9), Hammered dulcimer (track 3), piano (tracks 3-6, 9), melodica (tracks 4, 6), synthesizer (track 4), strings synthesizer (track 10)
  • Lincoln Anderson – bass (tracks 1-3, 6-10), double bass (tracks 4-5)
  • Stuart Elliott – drums (tracks 1-3, 7-10), hand drums (tracks 4-5), percussion (tracks 4, 7, 10)
  • Katie Brine – backing vocals (tracks 1-3, 8, 10)
  • Kerr Nice – piano (track 7)
  • Grace Nickalls - choir on chorus (track 10)
  • Joe Dobson - choir on chorus (track 10)
  • Marcus Greenwood - choir on chorus (track 10)
  • Masie Colquhoun - choir on chorus (track 10)
  • Maya Hodgson - choir on chorus (track 10)
  • Sam Hewitson - choir on chorus (track 10)

Production

  • Steve Harley – producer
  • Nick Brine – engineer
  • Dougal Watt – studio assistant
  • Owen Morgan – studio assistant
  • Alex Edmunds – studio assistant
  • Nelson Milburn – studio assistant
  • Tom Povall - post production
  • Denis Blackham – mastering

Design

  • Mike Callow – photography
  • With thanks to – "The Stranger on the Beach"
  • Mark Scarfe at Aarlsen – sleeve design

Charts[edit]

Chart (2010) Peak
position
UK Albums Chart[16] 187
UK Independent Album Breakers Top 20 Chart[43] 7
UK Independent Albums Chart Top 50[17] 20

Singles[edit]

The album spawned two digital-only singles – "Faith & Virtue" and "For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn".[44][45] Both singles were released with a cover using the same artwork as the Stranger Comes to Town album.

Faith & Virtue[edit]

"Faith & Virtue"
Single by Steve Harley
Released 2 May 2010
Format digital download
CD single (promo only)
Genre Rock, pop rock
Length 4:48
Label Comeuppance Ltd
Songwriter(s) Steve Harley, Barry Wickens
Producer(s) Steve Harley
Steve Harley singles chronology
"The Last Goodbye"
(2006)
"Faith & Virtue"
(2010)
"For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn"
(2010)
"The Last Goodbye"
(2006)
"Faith & Virtue"
(2010)
"For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn"
(2010)

"Faith & Virtue", the album's lead single, was written by Harley and Barry Wickens. It was released on 2 May 2010 as a digital-only single,[46] while a promotional CD was also released in the effort to generate radio play.[33] The song did not make a chart appearance in the UK.

Harley first announced the release of the song as a single in his official website diary entry of 3 March 2010. He commented: "All the team is now set up for the big push. We have radio/TV plugger Jackie Gill, who will do everything she can to get the single play-listed on Radio 2, and all the good TV she can muster."[47] The song received its first play on BBC Radio 2 on 19 April on the Jools Holland show. Harley appeared as the show's guest for the episode.[48] The song was also given away as a free MP3 for anyone signing up for email updates on Harley's official website.[49]

Speaking to The Bolton News in 2010, Harley revealed that the origins of "Faith & Virtue" dated back ten years before it was recorded for Stranger Comes to Town. He commented: "The single was being played on the radio and my wife said "I've always loved that song". I explained that I'd only just finished the song when I realised that I'd actually been playing it on my piano for the last ten years and hadn't got round to recording it."[21]

The song has been performed live by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel. In a review of the band's concert at Shepherds Bush Empire in July 2010, Music News noted that the live version presented was "rockier than the album version".[50] Ian D. Hall of The Spinx said that the band's "kicked off" with the song at their concert at Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton in May 2010, making an "incredible start" to the show.[51]

Track listing

  1. "Faith & Virtue" - 4:48

For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn[edit]

"For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn"
Single by Steve Harley
Released 27 June 2010
Format digital download
Genre Rock, pop rock
Length 3:59
Label Comeuppance Ltd
Songwriter(s) Steve Harley
Producer(s) Steve Harley
Steve Harley singles chronology
"Faith & Virtue"
(2010)
"For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn"
(2010)
"Ordinary People"
(2015)
"Faith & Virtue"
(2010)
"For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn"
(2010)
"Ordinary People"
(2015)

"For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn", the album's second and final single, was written by Harley. It was released as a digital-only single on 27 June 2010. For its release as a single, the album version of the song was cut down by a minute to produce a "Radio Edit" version.[18] It did not make a chart appearance in the UK.

The release of the single was first announced in Harley's official website diary entry of 31 May. He noted: "Over lunch, will make notes re edit of "For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn." which we have agreed to release as a download single. Radio 2 airplay? Not much chance, to be honest. It's tough to get on their playlist if you're not represented by Universal or Sony. But Stranger Comes to Town is a major project, so we'll suck it and see."[52] The song received its first play on BBC Radio 2 on 23 May 2010, on Johnnie Walker's Sounds of the 70s show. Harley appeared as the show's guest for the episode.[53]

Like "Faith & Virtue", "For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn" had its origins dating back a decade. Harley first mentioned the song in his online diary during September 2000. Speaking of new additions to the live set, Harley added: "And a new lullaby, a longing, yearning lullaby where a terrified young man is saying, "No. It cannot be what it appears to be; nothing living lies that still....." beside his helpless wife's bed."[31] Since 2000, Harley had started work on a new studio album. Although recording took place from 2000 onwards, no album immediately materialised. In a diary entry for 1 December 2001, Harley revealed he was going into the studio that week to record "The Last Feast" and "For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn".[54] Later on, the song was to be included on the 2005 album The Quality of Mercy. Harley revealed it had been recorded during the band's February 2005 sessions, however, it did not make the album's final track listing.[55]

The song has been performed live by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel. Writing for The Spinx, Ian D. Hall spoke of the song in a review of the band's concert at Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton in May 2010. He described the song as "haunting", and commented that the band "thrilled the crowd" with the song, alongside others from the new album.[51]

Track listing

  1. "For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn (Radio Edit)" - 3:59

References[edit]

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