Tag Archives: Cockney Rebel

May 24th 1975

“Work. Bort 6 classical albums for 95p & new Be-Bop album. Party at Hiltingbury – rubbish – but in pub before=great! Drunk again”

6 classical album for 95p?!! … boy, they must have been good….right?

I think the word most associated with Be Bop Deluxe’s frontman Bill Nelson is “underrated”. As I have stated before I feel he was at least – if not moreso – as accomplished an axeman as so-called greats such as Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page. But he was also a superb songwriter, the songs on “Futurama” – his band’s second studio album – testament to that.

Personally, I feel that the word “underrated” can also be applied to this album. OK, so it gave Nelson his first taste of chart success – the perfectly crafted pop song “Maid in Heaven” – but, in my mind, it’s a much bigger album than that, chock full of wonderful material…

… which kicks off with “Stage Whispers” which (much like the title track on the band’s debut “Axe Victim”) featuring more of Nelson’s musings about being in the music industry…
This guitar does not lie
The great deception is not my achievement
Well I’m waiting in the wings with all the strings
And things that help me make the music

Hardly revelatory lyrics, but they’re wrapped inside a driving rhythm that immediately showcases Nelson’s skillful fretwork. IMHO, one of THE best album openers ever.

Then we get to “Love with the Madman” a chunky slow-paced ballad washed (again) in guitar licks and, proving that Nelson has been listening to a lot of Steve Harley whilst they toured together,  with Rebel-esque lyrics such as “you’ll go crazy with the wonder of it all

Maid in Heaven” – as already mentioned – was the hit single reaching a heady (hey, it was heady in those days!) #23 on the charts. As perfect a pop song constructed around a guitar riff as there’s ever been.

Sister Seagull” – also the b-side of “Maid…” – follows. I’ve never stopped feeling that it should have been a single in its own right. Nelson’s voice is to the fore whilst his guitar work is more subdued than on other cuts, but the whole song simply oozes drama from start to finish. It’s a whole Shakespearean play in one song.

Sound Track” was a cut I wasn’t mad about at the time, but the prevailing years have made me appreciate it more and more. The opening lyric “Tin aeroplanes trace the time, past our fading window’s eyes” is a theme Nelson would return to over and over again in his subsequent work, but here he takes a back seat to some fabulous (again, “underrated”) drumming from his new band mate, sticksmith Simon Fox. (Nelson had originally stole members of Cockney Rebel, but abandoned them in favour of Fox and bassist Charlie Tumahai, later adding keyboardist Andrew Clark)

Side 2 kicks off with “Music in Dreamland” – “maybe we’ll make music in dreamland tonight?” – yet another cut that could so easily have been a single success. Not often you hear heavy guitar licks married to what almost sounds like a Northern Brass Band section!

(As an aside “Music in Dreamland” is the title of a biography of Bill Nelson & Be Bop Deluxe by Paul Sutton Reeves that may – or may not – actually exist. The hardback version is already out of print, and I have had the paperback on pre-order from Amazon for… let’s have a look now… over nine months now, and every few months I get an update saying its release date has been pushed back again. Weird.)

Jean Cocteau” is a laid-back almost acoustic ballad infused with jazz guitar. It could sit quite easily with much of Bill’s later solo work. Just lovely in feel and execution.

Between the Worlds” takes us on a rock’nroll rollercoaster of a ride, mixing modern guitar riffs with classic 50’s “la-la-la-la” chorusing. For best effect, it must be played LOUD!

Swansong” closes the album down and returns Nelson to the feel of the debut album, simple phrasing with guitar flourishes to die for. (I have, however, always worried about the lyric “We were Siamese twins in ecstasy” because… well, if you think about it, it’s just a little bit incestuous and/or creepy isn’t it?)

This is the Be Bop Deluxe album which, for me, represents their best and most fluid work. Many people cite their third album “Sunburst Finish” as Nelson’s best Be Bop output but I’m of a mind to disagree. The debut album contained the seed of what Bill was trying to achieve and this, the follow-up, is the full germination.

Ironic then, that in an underrated career the best album is also the one underrated.

In other news…

Party at Hiltingbury” refers to a semi-regular event that took place at the Hiltingbury Pavilion in Chandler’s Ford. A dingy airless ‘event’ room above the accompanying sports field’s changing facilities, it was rented out to individuals for discos and parties. Parties which invariably descended into physical violence after the local ‘youth’, denied entry, would pick fights with whomever was willing to take them on. My review of ‘rubbish’ would therefore have been based on either “no fights to watch” or “I didn’t get off with anyone”

Yes “Drunk again” is a bit worrying, isn’t it? It was about this time that I discovered a love for alcohol in quantity, invariably spirits rather than beer. Bloody Mary’s (with added Worcestershire Sauce), Bacardi & Coke, Vodka & Blackcurrant and whiskies were my 17-year-old tipples of choice. It was easy when you owned a liver that could take the abuse. Now, not so much.

I am sure there will be more about my drinking in future posts.

Sadly.

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May 22nd 1975

“Nig came round – brought my new copy of Human Menagerie”

Funny how a simple diary entry will remind you of something.

Reading this reminded me that I went through several copies of Human Menagerie before I found one that didn’t suffer very noisy surface noise on the opening track.

It was a recurring ‘issue’ back in the days of vinyl. Unlike now where any ‘faulty’ product is immediately discussed and disseminated at online message boards – resulting in swift withdrawal and replacement by manufacturers – news of a bad pressing would often take weeks to filter through to record companies.

I think I must have gone through 6 or 7 copies of “Human Menagerie” before I struck Cockney Rebel gold. I’m guessing that Nig must have worked in Eastleigh to have swapped my album out at Jack Hobbs… either that or I was simply getting embarrassed at the number of times I had already done the deed?

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May 9th 1975

Again, sorry for the delays between posts… It will remain a little erratic for a little while longer until I get my proverbial springtime ‘sh*t’ together. In the meantime…

“Lower school dance – Wore my satin jacket – Great dance – had Mr Soft & Make me Smile dedicated to me”

Somehow I think “great dance” can be interpreted as “got off with someone”, the pair of dedications perhaps evidence of that?

How on EARTH someone could have found me ‘hot’ in that ridonkulous satin jacket is anyone’s guess. I certainly hope I didn’t add insult to injury by having a dancefloor boogie to either of these two Cockney Rebel classics…

I have to own up to copying an affectation of Mr Harley’s back in the day. Chewing imaginary gum. I did that. Nope, not proud at all.

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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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Album: Cockney Rebel – The Human Menagerie

As I have said before Cockney Rebel played just FIVE gigs before being signed up by EMI Records

If their playlist consisted of songs from the subsequent debut album, “The Human Menagerie”, you begin to understand why. Every one of them is from the pen of a VERY confident 23-year-old. Steve Harley seemed to be a songwriter ‘old before his time’ if these songs – and those that popped up on his other 1970’s output – are to be believed.

His EMI recording career kicks off with “Hideaway“, which, with more of a whimper than a bang, leads in with a simple acoustic guitar lick, swiftly accompanied by a violin. Light drums appear and soon Harley is singing “let them come a running, take all your money and hideaway, let them come a running, take all your money and flee“, a strange, defensive lyric given the circumstance.

What Ruthy Said” feels FAR more like an album opener, driven by manic drums and distorted organ, and more reminiscent of Roxy Music’s debut album than I’m sure Harley would have preferred.

Loretta’s Tale” has always been one of my favourite Cockney Rebel songs. Musically it’s very simple but lyrically – and the way Harley uses those lyrics as another ‘instrument’ – has always impressed me…
Watch Loretta taste the wine,
kick the actor from behind,
sprawl across the sofa, then
speak of foreign towns again,
like the loner, seek Marlene,
ask the waitress: “Where you been?”
She says: “Don’t give me no lies,
I’ve been inside your head at least three times…”

This song is also the first of studio engineer Roy Thomas Baker’s impressive quasi-orchestral arrangements for Rebel, something Harley call on again and again in future work. (Yes, the same Roy Thomas Baker who would later be responsible for producing “Bohemian Rhapsody”, much of Queen’s other output and albums by artists as diverse as The Cars, Ozzy Osbourne, Devo and a band who my wife HATES so much I can only type their name using asterisks; Jo*rn*y)

Crazy Raver” is an over-the-top bar-room rock’n’roll song, but it is the first on the album where you suddenly realise Harley does not use a lead guitar. He uses pal Jean-Paul Crocker’s electric violin as the primary instrument. I think it was this element which made Cockney Rebel stand out from the crowd back in the day, at least for me it did. Just like Roxy Music’s refusal to be ‘ordinary’, Harley felt a little more ‘exotic’

I think every artist has one KILLER moment in them, one which elevates them from the mundane to the mandatory. Steve Harley’s grand opus is the awesome “Sebastian“, a song which absolutely everyone should add to their music collection.

It’s rambling, contrived and audacious in equal measure, 7-minutes of orchestral pop that sounds as fresh to me today as it did 36 years ago when I first heard it. At every Steve Harley concert I went to, it provided that “lighters in the air” moment, sending aural shivers down everybody’s spine. Love it, love it, LOVE it!

Just in case you didn’t ‘get it’ with that last YouTube link, here’s another version by Steve taken from a gig in 1989…


(Yes, Steve does have that male pattern baldness thing going on doesn’t he?)

“Sebastian” was released as the first single from Cockney Rebel. Despite it’s quite convoluted nature, it found success on mainland Europe but strangely went nowhere on the UK charts.

Having built Side 1 of “Human Menagerie” on the basis of 4 good songs topped with a streak of abject genius, Harley repeats the process on Side 2…

Mirror Freak” kicks off the second side, that ‘lead violin’ again providing the base for Harley’s clever lyrics. Lyrics that I often find myself randomly singing – for no reason – over three decades later…
… so you perform like it’s your very last show,
you turn her on but she’s never gonna know
Then you can shuffle your hips
or Ma-Ma-Mae West your lips
but you’re the same old thing we’ve always known

Likewise the lyrics to “My Only Vice (is the Fantastic Prices I Charge for Being Eaten Alive)” where Steve offers up the wonderful couplet of “Simply Lorraine sings for a while, in a three-octave harmonica style” before telling a tale about a “lady from a background of pearls, who’s tormenting and bending my world” over Croker’s gypsy violin. I always wanted to date someone called Lorraine – I don’t think I ever did? – so I could introduce her to people as “simply Lorraine”… yes, that IS a bit sad isn’t it?

Muriel the Actor” is a little carnival ride of a song, the killer line “slip on a t-shirt, me gotta look so cool” another lyrical earworm that has sat with me for ages. It’s another Rebel song where it feels like Harley uses not just his voice but also the lyrical content as another instrument. (Ian Dury later had the same talent IMHO)

Chameleon” is no more than a mere 1-minute filler before the main event…

Death Trip” is the album closer and it’s almost up there with “Sebastian” in terms of it’s sustainability over the years. It’s like a self-contained 10-minute rock opera and manages to feel very “British”, that theme around the 4-minute mark reminiscent of Britten or Walton to me, likewise the orchestral flourishes that occur around the end.

Lyrically it’s a little suspect (probably the only thing that lets it down), that final stanza
we’ll grow sweet Ipomoea
to make us feel much freer
then take a pinch of Schemeland
and turn it into Dreamland

especially dodgy. I don’t like to take anything away from it though because sonically it’s immense, brooding and quite masterful in its composition.

Admittedly I have not been asked very often which is my favourite Cockney Rebel album, but on the few occasions I have I have answered something along these lines….

“The Psychomodo” was the first album of Cockney Rebel’s I bought and wore to death so it will always carry special resonance for me… however, over the years “The Human Menagerie” has proved its worth time and time – and time – again. I suppose what I am saying is that I wish both albums had been released together as a double because I really can’t choose between the pair as my ‘favourite’. I do know that, a few songs aside, he never really bettered the material on his debut and the follow-up…

Talking of the follow-up, “The Pschomodo” is getting its full EFA70sTRO respect very soon…. stay, as they say, tuned…

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April 15th 1975

“Nigel C came round in evening”

Nigel C – as opposed to Nig – was a college chum who shared a few classes with me at Barton Peveril. He also lived in Fair Oak.

We didn’t have the hugest amount in common until I found out that he too was a music freak, in particular a massive – and somewhat rabid – fan of Marc Bolan & T.Rex.

We soon started swapping albums with one another, duly bootlegging taping the ones we particularly liked. He turned me onto more Bolan stuff than I had previously listened to whilst I had him enjoying the likes of Alice Cooper, Cockney Rebel, Be Bop Deluxe and more. He never got on with much of my Prog stuff, but was all over the glam material.

We eventually became great friends and he even became a flat mate of mine in later years, a period when we laughed a whole hell of a lot together. Sadly we lost touch over 15 years ago and all attempts to try to contact him via shared acquaintances have hit a brick a wall. I often wonder what he’s up to these days, especially whenever a T.Rex cut shuffles its way to my ears on my i-Pod.

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March 28th 1975

“Went to London with Neville”

Despite stealing his Saturday job in the great “Francis Records Job Coup” of 1975 Neville and I remained good friends and it seems we traveled ‘up the smoke’ together.

Naturally – and is often the case – this diary entry does not expand on the basics, offering no clue as to what we got up to once we got there.

However, I do believe it was on this trip – maybe from the famed Portobello Market? – where I bought my one and only piece of ‘seventies glam’, namely a sky blue satin bomber jacket. I remember that whenever I bought it, and wherever from, that on getting home my Dad took one look at it and told me it was the biggest waste of money he had ever laid eyes on.

He may have had a point. It was made from particularly flimsy piece of super-thin material with shoddily finished elasticated wristbands and collar. But it seemed very “Cockney Rebel” to me, very Steve Harley, so I felt it was a more-than-worthy addition to my limited wardrobe.

It became a ‘good friend’ to me over the ensuing months and there are more photos of me wearing it – some now even on the internet – than I’d care to proudly acknowledge.

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