Tag Archives: Sebastian

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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Filed under 1975 Diary Entries

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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Filed under 1975 Diary Entries