Tag Archives: Steve Harley

September 8th 1975

“Speaker not fixed but got it back again. Read Mr F’s poetry, wrote a critique”

I don’t understand that first sentence. Not at all.

Why would I get the speaker back if it wasn’t fixed? Maybe whoever was fixing it – and I am still clueless as to who that may have been – told me keep using the speakers until a part arrived. Who knows? The not-inconsiderable trials and tribulations of a teenage hi-fi enthusiast!

The second sentence relates to my brief – very brief – flirtation with poetry. STOP laughing at the back!

But not for me the beauty and prose of someone like Tennyson, Yeats or Frost. No, my fascination was for the poetry of… my boss, John F at Francis Records!

I will give him some credit though. His poetry influenced me to write my own. Mine was… let’s just say a little more ‘song lyricy’, owing much to the classic stylings of such luminaries as… well, Steve Harley, Bill Nelson and Roger Waters.

I know what you’re thinking… does EFA70sTRO still possess any of his teenage poetry and will he share it with us?

Maybe, but only if you behave!

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May 21st 1975

“Tim came round in evening. He listened to and might buy New Morning”

Yes, I had been introduced to Bob Dylan.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Mr Zimmerman… in as much as I love some of his stuff to the same degree with which I hate his other stuff.

In early 1975 I had bought – or at the very least taped – Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” which had successfully taken my breath away. He managed to articulate a lot of things I was trying to express in his lyrics and the music just flowed from beginning to end, tracks like “Tangled up in Blue” and “Idiot Wind” making me realise why (my then hero) Steve Harley had so many good things to say about him. “Blood on the Tracks” was the beginning of my true appreciation for the simpler singer/songwriter style which I suppose had started with Cat Stevens a year or so earlier?

“New Morning”, originally released at the start of the 70’s, is retrospectively credited as the start of Dylan’s then re-birth in public awareness and a type of album which ultimately led to “Blood…” and the (even better IMHO) follow-up “Desire”

I can’t remember much about “New Morning” and couldn’t name you one tune from it now. I know I picked it up someone quite cheaply – Woolworth’s bargain racks again? – and, after just one listen, decided it wasn’t for me.

It looks like I previewed it for and tried to palm my errant purchase off on Tim, who had previously worked with me at  Lancaster & Crook.

Fingers crossed!

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Album: Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel – The Best Years of our Lives

 

Whilst “The Psychomodo” may have been the album to break Cockney Rebel, “The Best Years of our Lives” was the one which catapulted Steve Harley into the pop pantheon, mainly for the inclusion of the massive hit single “Make me Smile (Come up and See Me) ” which, to say the least, has definitely stood the test of time in the interim 35 years. It’s that ‘one song’ syndrome I have talked about before where an artist lives off its income for the rest of his life. (Also see: Noddy Holder, Al Stewart, Ralph McTell, etc etc) 

It’s admittedly a catchy little number… 

that guitar almost as ‘earwormy’ as the lyrics themselves, but it’s FAR from the best track on its parent album. 

That’s reserved – unreservedly – for the title track, which sits as comfortably with me as an ancient pair of slippers… 

European maids, hard to ignore
You, me and the boys, barred from the shore
 

Fresh-faced imbeciles, laughing at me
I’ve been laughing myself, is that so hard to see?
Do I have to spell each letter out, honestly!
If there’s no room for laughter there’s no room for me
 

Try looking at you, rather than me
No truth is in here, it’s all fantasy
 

Since the last time we met I’ve been through
About seven hundred changes and that’s just a few
And the changes all tend to be something to do
But you’ve got to believe that they’re all done for you
 

Chorus: you’ll think it’s tragic when that moment arrives
Ah, but it’s magic, it’s the best years of our lives
 

Lost now for the words to tell you the truth
Please banter with me the banter of youth
 

If I knew how to say it, I’d say it for you
If I knew how to whisper, I’d whisper for you
If I knew how to waltz, I’d get up and dance for you
If I thought I could run, I’d come running to you
 

I’ve discovered now how to be fair
This I could teach you if only I dare
 

The only conclusion I’ve reached in my life
Is that if I should die I should die-by the knife
Since it’s only a matter of courage all right,
Die a man or a martyr, the two would be nice, so nice
 

Chorus: you’ll think it’s tragic when that moment arrives
Ah, but it’s magic, it’s the best years of our lives
(© Steve Harley 1975)
 

That line “if there’s no room for laughter, there’s no room for me” has been something of a personal creed of mine since  I first heard it, likewise the ‘take life as you find it’ sentiment of the whole song. 

If I’m being honest the other cuts on this album (note, now monikered as “Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel”, Steve’s ego coming to the fore) aren’t as good as those two might suggest. 

The Mad Mad Moonlight” has its moment – Steve’s exuberant “send her up to those fluffy white clouds” has always appealed – but it’s a throwaway song, Steve’s decision to employ a lead guitar (instead of, as previous, a violin) hurting it somewhat (at least in my opinion) 

Mr Raffles (Man it Was Mean) ” suffers from awful rhyming couplets, “there were a thousand maneaters being exchanged for pesetas” indicative all by itself of what we’re have to suffer. 

It Wasn’t Me” is a ‘poor me’ song that has some nice keyboard sounds but is undermined by a phased vocal and – jarringly – Steve somehow rhyming “Gideon” with “Pigeon” 

Panorama” is cute enough – boogie-woogie piano underscoring some brass and fancy guitar work – but it feels throwaway. 

Proof that smoking doesn't make everyone look cool. Some just look like "a bit of a twat"

The ‘hit single’ kicks in to improve things dramatically before “Back to the Farm” descends into further self-pitying on Steve’s part, proving itself to be a paranoic rant about everything and nothing… wherein he seems to even express disgust for one of his early hits “Judy Teen” stating “nothing no more, comes from Judy” which has always felt like biting the hand that feels for me. Some ELP-esque burblings on a synthesizer only makes things worse. 

49th Parallel” was the precursor to how his music would take him in future albums. Stop/start rhythms accompanied by little than a ‘bunch of words’ or lazy rhetoric 

Thanks heavens then for the aforementioned title track to close the album down, a perfect representation of Harley’s songwriting as there’s ever been. 

Proof then that Harley’s best work is pretty much encapsulated by his first two albums before the ego took over the reigns and started to steer everything in the wrong direction. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved this album when I was an impressionable 17-year-old teenager, and continued to worship at the altar of Steve Harley for several years afterwards, but over time I have come to realise that he sacrificed his talent when he cast aside his original ‘Cockney Rebel” concept and replaced it with an ordinary band, playing ordinary instruments in an ordinary manner. 

“The Best Years of Our Lives” reached Number 4 on the UK album chart and proved to be the biggest selling album of Harley’s career. “Make Me Smile (Come Up & See Me)” means that Steve still looks forward to seeing his postman on every legal quarter day, that residual cheque doubtless proving ‘useful’?! 

However… from 1989… 

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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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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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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 Neville, 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…    

Neville Judd - über groupie

My friend Neville 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 Neville 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. Neville 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. Neville 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 Neville 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 Neville 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.*

“snowy”

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 Neville’s 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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