The enigmatic, fast paced and rustic world of Fleet Street during the late 1960’s became the unofficial nerve centre of recording and documenting Britain’s exciting and vibrant cultural revolution. Stuck to his desk in the dark and dismal accounting office, a young Steve Harley could only dream of one day being on the front cover of one of the newspapers he worked for. Involving himself in the London folk scene, Steve discovered his true calling to perform on the biggest stages and over half a century on, he still thrives upon being the master showman.
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Meeting violinist John Crocker during the late sixties would push Steve’s music ambitions to the forefront. Calling himself The Cockney Rebel which was originally the name of a newspaper cartoon which he spotted one day while browsing the local paper, Steve and John were determined to assemble the perfect combination of people. They auditioned drummer Stuart Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys, and keyboardist Milton Reame-James who were all hired. Their first single Sebastian proved an immediate success in Europe but failed to make its mark in the UK charts. Yet Steve remains extremely proud of the song as it still represents what Cockney Rebel was about. Unlike most music of the generation, Steve and the band were forever devoid of any use of social and political messages in their songs. Instead they focused on the joys of life and celebrating the euphoria of being in love.
In 1975 Steve and Cockney cemented longevity by securing a number one hit in the UK chart with the single Make Me Smile. When writing and arranging the song, Steve and the band recognised that they might have something special but had no idea of just how famous this song would be. Make Me Smile quickly became a pop anthem and was a melodic shorthand for Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel. Forty years later, the song remains as fresh and popular as ever and Steve never tires of performing it. The song has since become part of the fabric of British culture and has been covered over one hundred times. For Steve, he always prefers covers which play around with the song to a degree it’s far removed from the original. There’s no doubt that Make Me Smile shall live forever but it’s the ultimate treat for Steve when he hears a unique take on his biggest hit and he’s just proud to make such an indelible mark on British music.
Celebrating fifty years with Cockney Rebel, Steve Harley remains very much in love with the art of live performance and is currently enjoying a packed schedule of gig and tour dates right up to the autumn of 2023. At the tender age of 71, it’s very clear that the evergreen rocker isn’t ready to hang up the microphone just yet and with a loyal audience, he remains determined to keep going for as long as his body will allow it. It was a real honour to interview the iconic Steve Harley and with such a formidable contribution to British music, it’s exciting to see where his story goes from here.