Steve Harley obituary


Steve Harley, the frontman of Cockney Insurgent, who has died aged 73 of most cancers, was rather more than a one-hit surprise, however his sole UK chart-topper outlined his profession. This was Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) , which reached No 1 in February 1975. The next 12 months it additionally turned the group’s solely look on the US charts when it reached No 96.

A seemingly cheerful piece, powered by a bouncing bassline and an infectious “ooh la-lala” hook sung by feminine backing singers, it was the proper playground for Harley’s distinctive and eccentric vocal fashion. The lyrics had been half sung and half declaimed, with vowels stretched and syllables twisted as if Harley had been auditioning to play Richard III. The way in which he delivered the road “for under metallic, what a bore” was a working example.

Regardless of its title, the music was in actual fact an offended rant impressed by Harley’s ex-bandmates, declaring that that they had “pulled the insurgent to the ground” and “spoiled the sport”. This was as a result of after he had recorded two albums with the unique group line-up, as Cockney Insurgent, a few of the band members wished to jot down songs for the third album. This was not a part of the singer’s Harley-centric plan, and he responded by forming a brand new band. For the avoidance of any doubt, it was known as Steve Harley and Cockney Insurgent.

Make Me Smile’s father or mother album, The Greatest Years of Our Lives, reached No 4 within the UK; it additionally spun off the Prime 20 single Mr Raffles (Man, It Was Imply). Report Mirror declared the album “utterly fulfilling, a monster unleashed”, and lots of reviewers remarked on similarities between Harley and David Bowie.

The anarchic American critic Lester Bangs noticed waspishly that Harley not solely sounded “close to similar to David Bowie”, however “vacationed on Sparks and got here dwelling to Ian Hunter”. For his half, Harley was contemptuous of the press. “All of the papers are nugatory to me,” he instructed Sounds. “They carry no weight, they carry no affect so far as I can see.”

He was again within the Prime 20 with Timeless Flight (1976), and the album Love’s a Prima Donna adopted the identical 12 months. This reached 28 on the album chart and generated the No 10 hit single Right here Comes the Solar, a model of the George Harrison music, which one way or the other managed to sound like Queen. Nevertheless, in 1977 Harley disbanded the group and signed a solo cope with EMI. This was not a powerful success, and after the albums Hobo With a Grin (1978) and The Candidate (1979) each flopped, Harley was dropped by the label.

He was born Stephen Good in Deptford, south London, the second of the 5 youngsters of Ronald Good and his spouse, Joyce (nee Forgham). She had been a singer with swing bands, whereas Ronald was a milkman who typically turned out for Brighton & Hove Albion FC.

In 1953, Harley contracted polio: “I used to be two and I copped a packet in the precise leg. However that’s all. All I do is limp … and it doesn’t have an effect on my life.” However he spent a lot of his youth out and in of hospital, present process main surgical procedures in 1963 and 1966, and having to stroll on crutches made him the butt of his schoolmates’ jokes. He took refuge within the writings of TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway and soaked up the works of Bob Dylan. He recalled the Rolling Stones paying a goodwill go to when he was a affected person at Queen Mary’s hospital for kids in Carshalton in 1964.

Harley (second left) and Cockney Rebel in Amsterdam, 1974. Steve Harley 2nd from left (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)
Harley (second left) and Cockney Insurgent in Amsterdam, 1974. {Photograph}: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

He attended Haberdashers Aske’s Hatcham grammar faculty in New Cross, however left with out taking his A-levels. Having lengthy felt an urge to develop into a journalist, he discovered a job as a trainee accountant on the Each day Specific on Fleet Road and manoeuvred his means right into a trainee reporter’s job; he then turned a reporter at varied titles within the Essex County Newspapers group, earlier than shifting to the East London Advertiser.

In the meantime he had been taking part in guitar since he was 10, and was now writing songs and acting at native folks venues. At 21 he determined to attempt his luck within the music enterprise, surviving on the dole whereas honing his craft on the London folks circuit and busking on the underground. For a time he was a member of the folks band Odin.

In 1972 he fashioned Cockney Insurgent. They had been supplied a deal by Mickie Most’s RAK Music Publishing, which prodded EMI into giving them a three-album deal. Their debut, The Human Menagerie (1973), was a no-show on the charts however earned some beneficial evaluations. A debut single from the album, Sebastian, was a hilariously overwrought theatrical epic that flopped in Britain however was an enormous hit in Belgium and the Netherlands.

This was rectified the next 12 months when Judy Teen reached No 5 on the UK singles chart, whereas the second album, The Psychomodo, cracked the Prime 10. So did the only Mr Smooth, one other eccentric creation constructed round an oompah beat with Russian-sounding bass voices groaning within the background. Throw in some klezmer violin and Harley’s mannered, melodramatic vocals and it was clear that this was not rock’n’roll as we knew it.

Steve Harley deathFile photo dated 15/08/86 of Cockney Rebel’s Steve Harley who lost the role of “The Phantom of the Opera” to Michael Crawford, at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington, London, to rehearse the title role of “Marlowe”. Cockney Rebel frontman Steve Harley has died peacefully at home at the age of 73, his family has announced. Issue date: Sunday March 17, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story DEATH Harley. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
Harley in rehearsals for Marlowe on the King’s Head theatre, London. {Photograph}: PA

Then got here the chart-topping annus mirabilis of 1975, however the bloom light abruptly and the Nineteen Eighties turned what Harley known as “the wilderness years”. He carried out intermittently with Cockney Insurgent and in 1983 launched the solo single Ballerina (Prima Donna), written and produced by Mike Batt. It reached 51 within the UK. Harley additionally loved some success by co-writing the songs Any person Particular and Gi’ Me Wings for Rod Stewart’s album Silly Behaviour (1980), with each tracks gaining publicity within the US.

In 1982 Harley made his performing debut because the playwright Christopher Marlowe within the rock musical Marlowe, on the John Cranford Adams Playhouse in Hempstead, New York, and likewise on the King’s Head theatre in Islington, London. And in 1986, he and Sarah Brightman recorded the title music of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera and reached No 7 on the UK chart. Harley was then supplied the lead function within the present’s West Finish manufacturing, however after engaged on it for 5 months he was unexpectedly changed by Michael Crawford.

In 1989 he assembled a brand new model of Cockney Insurgent, which toured the UK and Europe. It was the beginning of Harley’s rebirth as a touring artist, which might proceed into the 2020s. They had been common pageant company, and performed at Glastonbury thrice. “On the market, on the highway, that’s the place I come alive,” he mentioned. He typically gave performances in help of assorted charities, together with the Bridge Undertaking, Chailey Heritage College for kids and younger folks with advanced neurodisabilities, Nordoff-Robbins Music Remedy and Guitars In opposition to Landmines. He additionally launched a daily string of reside and compilation albums.

He constructed up a loyal following as presenter of Sounds of the Seventies on BBC Radio 2 from 1999 till 2008. He was obsessed with horse racing and had owned horses since 1984. “I solely want I might have ridden an enormous, good steeplechaser over the Cheltenham course simply as soon as in my life,” he wrote on his web site.

He’s survived by his spouse, Dorothy, whom he married in 1981, and their youngsters, Kerr and Greta.


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