Tag Archives: Alan Parsons Project

Album: Cockney Rebel – The Psychomodo

Produced by Alan Parsons – of Project fame – and with orchestral arrangements by Andrew Powell – later producer for the likes of Kate Bush, Al Stewart and The Hollies – “The Psychomodo” was Cockney Rebel’s (as they say in America) sophomore album. (“Sophomore album” representing a phrase I have always hated)

Although it never threatened the USA charts it rode the wave of Harley’s hit single “Mr Soft” all the way to #8 on the UK album charts

Sweet Dreams” kick starts the album in a jaunty – but angry – manner, Harley immediately going for music journalists’ collective jugular with the caustic
Pop paper people printing Rebel Insane
They in my head and digging into my brain
“,
a verbal smack-down for the many who had dismissed his talents following the release of the debut album

This then morphs into the title track, “The Psychomodo“, another angry tirade where Harley seems very disconsolate indeed..
“I been losing my head
I been losing my way
Been losing my brain cells
At a million a day
I’m so disillusioned
I’m on Suicide Street”

Mr.Soft” was the massive hit single, a fairground ride rebuilt as a pop song. It includes the engaging couplet
Mr Soft, put your feet upon the water
and play jesus for the day

and a little nod to David Bowie with the telling
Spot the starman, rough and tumble
which some have suggested is Harley comparing his ‘critical lot’ with that of the Thin White Duke. I tend to look on it a little more objectively, thinking that Harley is merely accepting the bad that comes with the good of fame.

36 years after its release “Singular Band” still sounds – to me anyway – the big hit that was never released as a single. From beginning to end it oozes radio-friendly Top 20 fayre. Quirky & different, driven by snare drums, a finger-plucked violin and Harley’s voice I reckon it would have taken the charts apart back in 1974. It has the perfect dead-stop ending for DJ’s too!

The lyrics to “Ritz” – which closes down Side 1 – are as convoluted (and now, sadly dated) as they come. If I have a complaint about this cut – immense sonically – it’s basically that Harley tried just too damned hard on the lyrical content, sadly coming across as a Dylan-Lite.

That said it contains one of my favourite pair of rhyming lines of all time…
Couch my disease in chintz-covered kisses
Glazed calico cloth, my costume this is

… both utterly beautiful and cheesy in the same breath

Side 2 of “The Psychomodo” feels like a different beast to me. I’ve always felt these 4 cuts were a little concept project all by themselves

Cavaliers” feels like a lengthy outtake from Harley’s debut album, Steve once again using the lyrics as another musical element. He adds brass instruments and a harmonica almost as a ‘test’ of the listener… ‘do they work?”… for me, no sorry they don’t

Despite finding it sonically average, it contains some of his most captivating lyrics…
Long-tailed coat, a silly joke; they drink
like men then see them choke on coca-cola
Morgue-like lips and waitress tips and you
Shuffle around on your Sabrina hips

If I was disappointed in “Cavaliers” (for me always the weakest song on the album) then the last three cuts more than make up for it, representing Steve Harley at his very best.

Bed in the Corner” is another carnival ride, an oblique (vanquished) love song that highlights Harley habit of using the violin as a lead instrument and then lushing everything up under an orchestral arrangement.

It morphs seamlessly into “Sling It!” a song where Harley seems to accept his own ‘anger’ and starts to laugh about it warning that we should all
Be careful, this is only a game
just prior to the song breaking down into a fragmented wall of noise

Tumbling Down” is album’s tour de force and a cut which provided the  fitting finale for every single 70’s Cockney Rebel gig I ever went to. Harley is still sounding off and being bitter about his detractors…
Gee, but it’s hard when one lowers one’s guard to the vultures
Me, I regard it a tortuous hardship that smoulders
like a peppermint eaten away
will I fight, will I swagger or sway?
Hee, hee, M’Lady, she cries like a baby to scold us
see her tumbling down, tumbling down

but by the end he seems to accept his lot, blaming it on the media interest in music in general, berating the press for undermining it value.

It’s all summed up in the one-line refrain
Oh dear, look what they’ve done to the blues, blues, blues
a simple (but telling) lyric I sung so hard and so loud at CR concerts that I regularly came away with a sore throat

Looks like it was still a crowd-pleaser in 1984?…

“The Psychomodo” is another of the mere handful of albums I know inside out, back to front and about as intimately as is decently possible. In itself it briefly taught me to learn a little more about the writers and musicians I knew influenced Harley’s songs (Baudelaire, Dylan, Rousseau, Dylan Thomas), some of which has stayed with me all my life. 

It also inspired me (like many ‘tortured’ teenagers of my ilk) to start *gasp* writing my own dodgy poetry. Yes its an ugly thought. Yes, I still have some of it. No, I probably won’t inflict it on you. I may comment on it, but I’m unlikely to share it. Some things are best left unpublished, if you get my drift?

In pure commercial terms “The Psychomodo” was very much the career-maker for Steve Harley. He did have one more ‘perfect moment’ to come however, and it features as a cut on my next Cockney Rebel album review… for “Best Years of our Lives”.

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March 16th 1975

“Rebel – Winter Gdns B.Mouth – INCREDIBLE (met them etc)”

So, my second Cockney Rebel gig … but my first experience of rubbing shoulders with the stars!

Winter Gardens in its heyday… and as it fell into disrepair

The Bournemouth Winter Gardens always felt like a strange music venue to me. It was built in 1937 as an indoor bowling-green. Then, after WWII, Bournemouth Council converted it into a Concert Hall and improved the landscaping around it.

It was blessed with perfect acoustics – rare for old converted theatres – but the seating layout never really felt suited to anything approximating a ‘rock concert’ to me.

It started suffering from a lack of use in the early 90’s, the cost of renovation outweighing the possible income. In 1999, the Council invited development proposals from the private sector for the entire site but only where those proposals retained the Winter Gardens. Sadly, no application was successful, and in 2007 the complex was demolished in preparation for a new mixed use development.

This gig was – I’m pretty certain – my first at the Winter Gardens and I went to it with my friends Niles, Sarah and someone else whose name I can’t recall. (Alex?). We all caught the train down, hoping to then catch the last train back after the show.

Yep, that never happened.

This was the all-new incarnation of Cockney Rebel – now billed as Steve Harley AND Cockney Rebel – drummer Stuart Elliott the only surviving member from the 1974 shows. Elliot later recorded with Al Stewart on his breakthrough “Year of the Cat” album and has since played with the likes of Sting, Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney.

Harley’s new laid back bassist, George Ford, was the brother of Emile Ford, both of them founder members of the Joe Meek-produced Checkmates, who nabbed 1959’s Christmas Number 1 spot with the doo-wop classic “Why Do You Wanna Make Those Eyes at Me For?” (Damn, I’ve just discovered that he died in March 2007. RIP George)

Keyboard player Duncan Mackay came to Cockney Rebel via a spell as a member of both Sergio Mendes ‘ brazilian rhythms band and – even more unlikely – Jon Hiseman’s blues/jazz combo Colosseum II. Before joining Harley he had already released one solo album and was preparing a second. (Life after Cockney Rebel included playing on Kate Bush’s first three albums, several Alan Parsons Project…. erm, projects, as well as becoming a member of pop group 10cc)

Guitarist Jim Cregan’s pedigree included playing on Julie Driscoll ‘s debut album and being a member of both Family (of whom I have waxed lyrically before) and Roger Chapman’s post-Family band, Streetwalkers. He was married to songstress Linda Lewis, who enjoyed a Top 20 hit single in 1973 with “Rock-a-Doodle-Doo” and would go on to enjoy further hits. Cregan’s rightful place in the musical firmament was somewhat assured in 1975 when he joined Rod Stewart’s band, eventually becoming his music director and (with Rod) co-writing worldwide smashes such as “Forever Young“, “Passion” and “Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me)“. He has since won Grammys and plaudits galore.

Tonight in 1975 the band evidently gelled to such a degree that one (OK, very biased) 17-year-old reviewed the concert as INCREDIBLE

They were good though, very good. I can still remember elements of this evening. Their renditions of both “Best Years of our Lives” and “Sebastian” have remained with me all these years, the crowd singing and swaying along in unison.

The support act for the night were Sailor, who had enjoyed a minor hit single the year previous with “Traffic Jam” and who – maybe as a result of this support slot with Cockney Rebel? – would enjoy massive success at the end of 1975 (and into 1976) with a pair of very infectious Top 10 smashes, “Glass of Champagne” and “Girls, Girls, Girls“. Their sound was a peculiar hybrid of catchy lyrics backed by a weird glockenspiel/jingly-jangly acoustic guitar mix. To replicate their oft-complicated studio sound, group founder Georg Kajanus traveled with a piece of equipment he called “The Nickelodeon”; a huge keyboard contraption that had to be wheeled on and off stage by several roadies.

And, yes, since you’re not asking, the band DID dress up in sailor costumes. Despite that – no, not because of it – I enjoyed them a lot too and happily bought their singles when they were eventually released.

After a fun performance by Sailor and a stellar show by Cockney Rebel, the best part of the evening was still to come…

My friend Niles had a habit of wanting to meet all the bands and artists he went and saw. He would either loiter by the stage door before the shows, blag his way into the soundchecks or ‘stalk’ the band whenever they left the auditorium. Tonight was no exception – he was eager to meet Steve Harley & Co…. secretly I suppose I was too, although I wasn’t prepared for what we had to go through to do so.

By the time the four of us had got out of the Winter Gardens crowd, the band had already left, but Niles found out from a roadie where in Bournemouth they were staying for the night.

The Roundhouse Hotel was quite the trek from the seafront but we walked there nonetheless. Niles casually strolled into the hotel foyer, managed to stumble across Rebel’s tour manager and said we all wanted to meet the band and get their autographs. The tour manager told us we might have a ‘bit of a wait’ whilst they all cooled down following the show. Niles told him we didn’t mind waiting and that we would be outside near the hotel’s entrance.

So, we waited…

… and waited…

… and waited…

… and waited…

… and then Niles went back in to ‘jog memories’…

and we waited…

… and waited…

… and eventually the group came out (albeit piecemeal) most of them somewhat amazed that the four of us had hung around for so long.

We told them they’d done a great show – the usual overawed “blah blah blah” – and got their autographs, each on a page of a notebook Niles always (naturally) carried with him for such eventualities. Harley himself was a little standoffish (as I have stated before, he did have the reputation of being a bit of a twat), but the other guys in the band – especially George Ford – were lovely to us, asking where we’d come from and what other bands we liked. (I believe I said Be-Bop Deluxe?)

That set of autographs remain one of the few things I have kept in good condition. In fact, I framed it along with a bunch of other 70’s/80’s/90’s ‘music memorabilia’ (concert flyers, ticket stubs, etc) a few years back…

Here it is, safely under glass…


That’s Harley’s moniker top right (“forever….”), Duncan MacKay’s top left, George Ford’s below with Jim Cregan to the right of that. Towards the bottom is Stuart Elliot’s theatrical scrawl. There are two other autographs on the page that I couldn’t remember or make out…. well at least until I found the tour programme from the show.*

Squeezed in below Ford’s and next to Stuart’s scribble is the autograph of Lindsay Elliot, Stuart’s brother, who played percussion on the tour. At the bottom right of the sheet, obscured by the camera flash reflecting off the glass (sorry about that readers) is “Snowy“. This was from Snowy White, a guest guitarist, whose later career would encapsulate being a full-time member of both Thin Lizzy and Roger Waters’ band.

After the band went back into the hotel, a certain realisation set in. That realisation was that – given the fact it was now way past 1 a.m. in the morning – we had most certainly missed the last train home to Southampton.

As was often the case in those days, a (doubtless worried) parent was called with the unfortunate news that a) we were stuck without a way of getting back, and b) he would have to come and collect us. I think on this occasion it was Niles’ dad who drew the short straw, forced to get dressed, drive to Bournemouth, find us, and then transport each of us to our respective homes.

It was a great night though, a great gig and my first meeting with anyone ‘famous’. Over the course of my career in the industry I would meet many, many musicians, producers and record label bosses and was able to cast aside any ‘starstruck’ emotions. But this night in 1975 I was most certainly in awe of meeting a few of my ‘heroes’, cementing my love for the music of Cockney Rebel.

*Yes, I kept it… guess what the EFA70sTRO posts will padded out with the next few days?…

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Cockney Rebel

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.

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