This review was originally published by The Stinger here
Steve Harley and his band-mates take the stage and launch straight into George Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun, a top ten hit for Harley and co, in 1976. It’s well received by the audience and I’m instantly transported back to the previous (and only) time I saw Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, one blazing August afternoon at the Reading Festival back in 1983 when that song worked its magic on the crowd. It’s a great start. The trademark combination of electric violin, electric and acoustic guitars and keyboards all in place, the band have the audience on side straight away.
After a couple of energetically performed hits, however, he takes us into some of the more reflective songwriting of his later solo career. Harley is a hugely talented and award-winning songwriter, but my view has always been that with an instantly recognisable but fairly limited vocal range, Harley’s voice is better suited to the more upbeat pop-rock material. That was confirmed for me tonight. There’s some beautifully heartfelt songs and some absolutely superb musicianship. Original Cockney Rebel drummer, Stuart Elliot is still with the band and Paul Cuddeford is an absolute whizz on guitar. Between songs Harley is a witty, sincere and, at times, a surprisingly emotional host. However, much as I admire his evident songwriting skills on the slower, more sensitive material, the delivery didn’t always quite work for me.
After a short interval though we’re back on to some of the rockier material where the band excel, particularly the aforementioned Cuddeford, and where Harley’s vocals are perfectly suited. And as we come to the end we start to get another blast of the hits. Over the course of the evening we are treated to Mr Soft, Love’s A Prima Donna, Best Years Of Our Lives, Sebastian and many more. Struggling to move around following a recent hip operation Harley tells the audience he’s not going to hobble off stage, wait in the wings and hobble back on for an encore as he introduces his best-known and one of the most memorable pop songs of the past fifty years. Now in use by Pfizer as the soundtrack for a Viagra ad, he jokes that he offered them Mr Soft but they insisted on this one.
The normally genteel, all-seated De La Warr audience start to get up and make their way up to the front to dance along to a wonderful, life-affirming rendition of Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me).
I learnt a lot more about what makes Steve Harley tick tonight. For someone who did not always endear himself to the media circus back in the day, he comes across as genuinely likeable and engaging. I’m still always going to love him more in glam rock god mode than in sensitive singer songwriter mode, much as I have a deep love for both genres, but this is a gig I am certainly glad I did not miss.
Photo credit: Sarah-Louise Bowry