One of the huge drawbacks of EFA70sTRO 1974’s diary being ‘light’ on entries – particularly in the latter half of that year – is that we’ve missed out on several of my musical discoveries during that time.
I therefore feel it necessary to offer an ‘aside’ post about Cockney Rebel, one of the very few acts in my lifetime with whom I have shared a relationship bordering on ‘fandom’.
There have been many other acts I have abjectly raved about over the years – Bill Nelson, Captain Beefheart, Bowie, Ian Dury, ELP and more – but only a tiny handful where I have been drawn in a little bit further. Prince is one such act, Eno is another. But if I LOVED an act as an impressionable teenager it would have been Cockney Rebel. Or more correctly, Steve Harley.. because when all’s said and done he really was Cockney Rebel.
My first exposure to Cockney Rebel was back in February 1974 when I saw them on BBC’s “Old Grey Whistle Test“. I think they performed the track “Hideaway“? If memory serves me correctly, Harley sported heavily applied dark eyeshadow, slightly rouged cheeks and an ugly velvet suit. (VERY glam in other words!) Then, in May 1974, their hit single “Judy Teen” was all over the radio. The band appeared many times on Top of the Pops and I always found Harley to be something of of engaging character.
I bought “Judy Teen” and the accompanying album, “The Psychomodo”. Not longer afterwards I tracked down the band’s 1973 debut album, “The Human Menagerie” (which – over the years – has proved itself to be my out-and-out fave) as well as shelling out for the band’s next hit single”Mr Soft” (a marvellous carnival piece of earworm-worthy pop fluffiness) and the follow-up flop, “Big Big Deal” (So much of a flop it was actually withdrawn from sale after just a few weeks!)
(It would feel criminal if I didn’t do EFA70sTRO reviews of the bands first two albums… so expect them soon!)
The weekly music press I was reading back then seemed to have a love/hate relationship with Harley, his own journalistic background evidently giving him a keen eye for what would represent a good ‘quote’. The statements he made seemed to purposefully wind people up, and whilst the press seemed to find favour with his music they treated him personally with a certain disdain. I can’t explain why, but this dichotomy appealed to me somehow, so I then wanted to find out more about the band.
Steve Harley started life as Steven Nice, born in Deptford, London in 1951. He attended Hatcham’s College in the 1960’s, lucky to be attending an establishment where music was a speciality. He started writing songs and began performing them as a busker on the London Underground, often accompanied by his friend, violinist John Crocker.
He got the aforementioned job as a music journalist, simultaneously forming a touring band with Crocker (now known as “Jean-Paul Crocker”), drummer Stuart Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys (who would later be one of the victims of the Lockerbie Air Disaster) and keyboard player Milton Reame-James. Harley named the band Cockney Rebel, doubtless a cheeky nod to his own disruptive nature. They played just FIVE gigs before they were spotted by EMI Records and signed to a multi-album deal.
They toured on the back of “Human Menagerie” and (even after 35 years) I remain disappointed that I never caught them at Southampton University in early 1974 whilst Harley was just starting his career. (If that OGWT performance had been a month or two earlier I think I would definitely have trekked to the gig)
My 1974 diary didn’t mention it – hell, it didn’t mention much at all – but I seem to remember Cockney Rebel played either the University or Southampton’s Top Rank later on in the year too. Maybe I have that wrong? I can’t find reference to it anywhere online, so there’s every possibility I am just imagining it.
At the end of 1974 Harley broke up the original band, egotistically renamed it “Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel” and started recording a new album with, again, Alan Parsons (of Pink Floyd, Beatles and…erm… Alan Parsons Project fame) on production duties. This album – and one of its cuts in particular – would prove to both make and break Harley’s career. EFA70sTRO will be covering it at a later date.
My utter fandom for Steve Harley has not remained in place into my middle-aged life. I still adore all those early albums but it turns out his ego eventually got the better of him and his output started to drift downhill fast thereafter.
However, the phrase “Cockney Rebel” stuck with me and has become something of a personal legacy. After moving to the USA in the late 90’s I joined an online message board affiliated with a radio station my wife worked for. I was invited to chose a user name and “Cockney Rebel” popped into my head. From then until now I am known by many people more as “Cockney Rebel” or “CR” than I am my real name!
1975 and beyond will doubtless refer to Steve Harley and/or Cockney Rebel many times. I can only apologise in advance.