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. Over the years they have had five albums in the UK Albums Chartand twelve singles in the UK Singles Chart.
Steve Harley grew up in London's New Cross area and attended Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College. His musical career began in the late 1960s when he was busking (with John Crocker aka Jean-Paul Crocker) and performing his own songs, some of which were later recorded by him and the band. After an initial stint as a music journalist, the original Cockney Rebel was formed when Harley hooked up with his former folk music partner, Crocker (fiddle / mandolin / guitar) in 1972. Crocker had just finished a short stint with Trees and they advertised and auditioned drummer Stuart Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys, andguitarist Nick Jones. This line-up played one of the band's first gigs at The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London on 23 July 1972 supporting The Jeff Beck Group. Nick was soon replaced by guitarist Pete Newnham but Steve felt that the Cockney Rebel sound did not need an electric guitar and they settled on the combination of Crocker's electric violin and the Fender Rhodes piano of keyboardist Milton Reame-James to share the lead. The band was signed to EMI after playing five gigs. Their first single, "Sebastian", was an immediate success in Europe, although it failed to score in the UK Singles Chart. Their debut album, The Human Menagerie, was released in 1973. Although not a commercial success they did attract a growing following in London.
Harley managed to irritate a significant segment of the music press with his self-aggrandisement, even as their music 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". In May 1974, the British music magazine, NME reported that Cockney Rebel were to undertake their first British tour, with the highlight of the itinerary being a gig at London's Victoria Palace Theatre on 23 June. There then followed the album The Psychomodo. A Live at the BBC album included material recorded during a BBC Radio 1 broadcast. Following the European single "Psychomodo", a second single from the album, "Mr. Soft", was also a hit. "Tumbling Down" was also issued in America as a promotional single. By this time the problems within the band had already reached a head, and all the musicians, with the exception of Elliott, quit at the end of a successful UK tour. Crocker continued to write songs and perform, forming a duet with his brother. Reame-James and Jeffreys formed the band Chartreuse in 1976.
Harley's next appearance on BBC Television's Top of the Pops was supported by session musicians and Francis Monkman, and B. A. Robertson. The band's single "Big Big Deal" was issued in 1974 and was almost immediately withdrawn.
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 released, 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. It sold over one million copies globally. Amongst the backing vocalists on the act's only #1 was the future chart-topper, Tina Charles. Changing the band name from Cockney Rebel to Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel for the #1 hit, the degeneration was rapid. In a television interview recorded in 2002, 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.
One more single from the album, "Mr. Raffles (Man, It Was Mean)" made the Top 20, and the following album Timeless Flight was a top 20 success, although both singles "Black or White" and "White, White Dove" failed to chart. After 1975, Harley struggled to match the success of "Make Me Smile" and faded from fame, and Cockney Rebel eventually disbanded. The band had a surprise Top 10 in the summer of 1976 with a cover version of "Here Comes the Sun". This was followed by the Top 50 single "(I Believe) Love's a Prima Donna" and the album Love's a Prima Donna. After the band's split, Harley provided vocals on The Alan Parsons Project song, "The Voice" on 1977's I Robot. Harley released two failed solo albums in the late 1970s; 1978's Hobo with a Grin which featured the two singles "Roll the Dice" and "Someone's Coming", and 1979's The Candidate. He made a minor comeback as a solo artist in the UK Singles Chart with "Freedom's Prisoner" from the latter album. After a brief appearance in the 1980s with a song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, The 1982 single "I Can't Even Touch You" was released by Harley under the band name, whilst the 1983 minor hit single "Ballerina (Prima Donna)" was also credited to the band on the both sides of the vinyl release, although not on the sleeve, where Harley was solely credited. In 1986, Harley released two singles on RAK; "Irresistible" and "Heartbeat Like Thunder". Harley began touring again with his old Cockney Rebel songs in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Harley has released several solo albums since – Yes You Can in 1992 (including the singles "Irresistible" and "Star for a Week (Dino)"), Poetic Justice in 1996, and most recently, The Quality of Mercy in 2005 (which included the singles "A Friend for Life" and "The Last Goodbye"), 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 only two original members in Harley and Elliott. Additionally in 2004, the live album Anytime! (A Live Set) was released.
Two of the bigger hits appeared in UK television advertisements in the 1990s: "Make Me Smile" for Carlsberg Lager in 1995, prompting the track's return to the UK Top 40; and "Mr Soft" for Trebor Softmints between 1987 and 1994. "Make Me Smile" was used again in a 2005 advertisement for Marks & Spencer. It was also used on the soundtrack of the 1997 film, The Full Monty and the 1998 glam rock film Velvet Goldmine, in the latter's case being used in the end credits.
Original keyboardist, 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.
In 2010, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel began touring again setting concert dates for England, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. This was done following the release of the new studio album Stranger Comes to Town. On 24 November 2012 the band including the Orchestra of the Swan and a choir performed the band's first two albums The Human Menagerie and The Psychomodo in their entirety for the first time. A live double-CD and DVD was released in October 2013 of this performance, titledBirmingham (Live with Orchestra & Choir).
- Current members
- Steve Harley - vocals, guitars (1972–1977, 1998–present)
- Stuart Elliott - drums (1972–1977, 1998–present)
- Lincoln Anderson - bass (2001–present)
- Robbie Gladwell - guitar, vocals (1998-present)
- Former members
- John Crocker - violin, mandolin, guitar (1972–1974)
- Paul Jeffreys - bass (1972–1974; died 1988)
- Nick Jones - guitar (1972)
- Pete Newnham - guitar (1972)
- Milton Reame-James - keyboards (1972–1974)
- Jim Cregan - guitar (1975–1977)
- George Ford - bass (1975–1977)
- Duncan Mackay - keyboards (1975–1977)
- Jo Partridge - guitars (1976–1977)