Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel are an English rock band from the early 1970s. Their music covers a range of styles from pop to progressive rock.
Steve Harley (born Stephen Malcolm Ronald Nice, Deptford, London, 27 February 1951), grew up in London's New Cross area and attended the school Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College. His musical career began in the late 1960s when he was busking (with John Crocker) and performing his own songs, some of which were later recorded by him and the band. The original Cockney Rebel was formed when Harley hooked up with his former folk music partner, John Crocker (fiddle / mandolin / guitar) in 1972. They auditioned drummer Stuart Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys, and keyboardist Milton Reame-James. They were signed to EMI after playing just five gigs. Their first single "Sebastian", a soaring rock epic ballad, was an immediate success in Europe, though failed to score in the UK Singles Chart. Their debut album, The Human Menagerie, was released in 1973 to critical acclaim, and is still felt by many fans to be their best.
Harley managed to irritate a significant segment of the music press with his self-aggrandisement, even as the music itself was getting rave reviews and gaining a wide audience. It was becoming clear that Harley regarded the band as little more than accompaniment to his own agenda, and already there were signs that things would not last, despite having a big hit with their second single, "Judy Teen". There then followed the album The Psychomodo, an adventurous and ambitious production which showed that there was real talent in the group. A second single from the album, "Mr. Soft", was also a big hit. The band was voted the "Most Outstanding New Act" of 1974. By this time the problems within the band had already reached a head, and all the musicians, with the exception of Stuart Elliott, quit at the end of a highly successful UK tour.
Harley's next appearance on Top of the Pops was supported by session musicians drafted in for the show.
From then on, the band was a band in name only, being more or less a Harley solo project. In 1974, a further album, The Best Years of Our Lives was made, produced by The Beatles' recording engineer, Alan Parsons. This included the track "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" which would go on to be a UK Number one single in February 1975, and the band's biggest selling hit. In a television interview recorded in 2002, Steve Harley described how the lyrics are vindictively directed at the former band members, whom he felt had abandoned him – a fact not obvious in the apparently happy chorus.
After 1974, Harley struggled to match that success and faded from fame, although he provided vocals on The Alan Parsons Project song, "The Voice" on 1977's I Robot. He made a minor comeback in 1979 as a solo artist in the UK Singles Chart with the Tamla Motown-inspired "Freedom's Prisoner", which bubbled under the UK Top 40. After a brief appearance in the 1980s with a song from Andrew Lloyd-Webber's 'The Phantom of the Opera', Harley began touring again with his old Cockney Rebel songs in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Cockney Rebel's original bass player, Paul Avron Jeffreys, was one of those who died on Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. He was with his bride on their honeymoon.
Harley has released several solo albums since – Yes You Can in 1992, Poetic Justice in 1996, and most recently, The Quality of Mercy in 2005, the first since the 1970s to be released with the Cockney Rebel name. He has dubbed his current touring band Cockney Rebel Mark III – although the band contains none of the original members except for Harley and drummer Stuart Elliott.
Two of the bigger hits appeared in national UK TV advertisements in the nineties: "Make Me Smile" for Carlsberg in 1995, prompting the track's return to the UK Top 40; and "Mr Soft" for Trebor Softmints in 1988. "Make Me Smile" was used again in a 2005 advertisement for Marks & Spencer. It was also used on the soundtrack of the 1997 movie The Full Monty and the 1998 glam rock film Velvet Goldmine, being used in the end credits.
Since 1999, Harley has presented a popular show on BBC Radio 2 called The Sounds of the Seventies.
In 2006, EMI released a three CD box set compilation album spanning Steve Harley's Cockney Rebel and solo work.
On 25 July 2007 they performed in Warsaw, Poland and on 28 July 2007 they performed in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in both cases opening The Rolling Stones concerts.
Keyboardist Milton Reame-James has since joined with James Staddon, Phil Beer and Robbie Johnson to create Banana Rebel, who have released a CD Top Banana, available from their website.
* The Human Menagerie - 1973
* The Psychomodo - 1974 - Number 8
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel:
* The Best Years of Our Lives - 1975 - Number 4
* Timeless Flight - 1976 - Number 18
* Love's A Prima Donna - 1976 - Number 28
* Face To Face - A Live Recording - 1977 - Number 40
* Hobo With A Grin - 1978
* The Candidate - 1979
* Yes You Can - 1992
* Poetic Justice - 1996
The Steve Harley Band
* Anytime! (A Live Set)
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel:
* The Quality of Mercy - 2005
* Greatest Hits (1988)