My Record Collection 126

Steve Harley – the frontman, and songwriter for Cockney Rebel.  Sometimes he records under his solo name and sometimes as S H and C R and occasionally simply as Cockney Rebel.  But the original Cockney Rebel simply made 5 albums (three as Cockney Rebel and 2 as Steve Harley and) and Steve discarded the band and name in 1978 with his first real solo effort Hobo With A Grin.  Wow, what an album.  Great songs from the word go!   ‘Roll The Dice’ as a great single, ‘America The Brave’ a superb critique and ‘Living In A Rhapsody’ a haunting ballad – but the prize must go to ‘Riding The Waves (for Virginia Wolff)’ – great song with a lovely rousing chorus.  Harley followed this in ’79 with The Candidate.  Never sure of this album, on replaying, it sounds a bit slung together, the songs lack depth and quality, however 2 tracks stand out; the title track and ‘Who’s Afraid, which harks back to his old Cockney rebel past.  Then nothing for a decade.  A few half-hearted singles and writing for Rod Stewart (see S) but no album.  Finally in 1992 he scrambled together an album of re-recorded older songs, and a few newer songs.   I haven’t listened to this album in a few years now, and it sounds remarkably vivid and new.  Strange how my memory was that this was a poor album, however it does contain  2 brilliant songs ‘Irresistible’ and ‘Star For A Week’ this last the story of Dino, a teenager who has run off with his motorbike robbing banks and shooting people and his wish to just be somebody – truly one of his best songs.  But re-listening I am really enjoying the songs, and the production is vibrant with Steve’s voice high up in the mix.  He followed this in 1996 with an album called Poetic Justice – and really it must rate as the poorest in his entire career.  The songs are unconvincing and the band sound very ordinary indeed, he even does a couple of half-hearted covers, best of which is Dylans ‘Love Minus Zero’ and a re-recording of ‘Riding The Waves’.   1999 saw Stripped to the Bare Bones – a brilliant live acoustic album.  Beautiful guitar from Robin Gladwell and piano and violin and not much else.  I saw him a few times around this time, and yes, he was brilliant live; raw and impassioned versions from his entire career, including old Cockney Rebel favourites.  Great stuff; best are ‘Star For A Week’ ‘Sebastian’’ and ‘Riding the Waves’; the sound is much more akin to his old Cockney Rebel records – and is highly enjoyable.  Most artists simply churn out old stuff with no new input, but here Steve reinterprets, or rather re-invigorates his old hits.  Another CD of Steve singing with the same small Acoustic set up came out in 2002 (on a different label – so not sure what was going on there) called Acoustic and Pure. This though features more of his solo later work with only a couple of Cockney Rebel songs.  Pretty damn good again.  Best songs are ‘Nothing is Sacred’ and ‘All In A Life’s Work’.  2005 and Steve released an album of new songs called The Quality of Mercy.  A somewhat quieter, more reflective album, the songs seem more personal.  I like it, it has less of the anger and vivid lyrics but is gentler and easier on the ear.  Best tracks; ‘The Last Goodbye’, ‘Coast of Amalfi’ and ‘A Friend For Life’.  Then another live set, again on a different label called Anytime, Anywhere came out a couple of years later.  Again, excellent – but just how many similar live albums do you need….no need to answer that.  But then in 2010 – a new album of new material Stranger Comes to Town.   Strangely I have never got into this record, the songs are okay, the singing good – but somehow it seems a bit lacklustre; as if this was not the album Steve really wanted to make.  Hard, after 40 years to come up with something meaningful and original I suppose.  Still I am not enamoured with this offering.  Much better was 2016’s Birmingham, which was a re-recording of the first two Cockney Rebel albums – but with a full orchestra and choir.   Maybe it is just the familiarity of these songs – after all, I have lived with them for all of those 40 odd years – some, almost constant companions.  I am not sure the orchestra really adds that much to the sparser originals – but still a valiant effort.  Just received, but not really listened to is his latest (2020) offering Uncovered, a covers album of personal favourites.  Just the one listen and I am quite impressed – this will go into my playlist soon.   And just to round up, a couple of compilation albums – A Closer Look, which came out on the late Seventies and feature mostly Rebel songs but a couple from Steve’s first solo albums.  And Face to Face – a live album of Cockney Rebel, when they really were an excellent live band; a scorching version of George’s ‘Here Come The Sun’ and a few anthemic sing-a-longs.  Nothing revolutionary, but still a great couple of records.  So, that was Steve Harley – a long career, but focussing on the early years when the songs blistered on the turntable.  Ah…the Seventies – best of times.

My Record Collection 125

Steve Hackett – later days.   And what a return to form.  1993’s Guitar Noir is really one of his very best records.  A beautiful selection of varied songs, some heavy rock, some gorgeous melodies and occasional acoustic guitar.  He manages to sound different on every track and yet the same unique Steve Hackett sound overall.  Hard to pick a favourite from so many good songs; maybe the first three ‘Sierra Quemada’, ‘Take these pearls’ and ‘There Are Many Sides To The Night’ – which incidentally happens to be the title of his next (live) album.  I bought this as a double 2 cds some time in late 90’s but it was a 1995 release – There Are Many Sides To The Night.  This is a lovely live record of a mostly solo set by Steve where he plays sumptuous mostly acoustic guitar pieces.  He had released a couple of classical guitar albums in the late 80’s and a blues one too, so lots of tracks I hadn’t heard before – and some that were familiar have softer arrangements on this recording.  The Genesis Files is up next, and album from 1999 where Steve both revisits and re-interprets some of the songs he wrote for Genesis or was inspired by,  A couple of new numbers ‘Valley of the kings’ and ‘Waiting Room Only’, and some fine old tracks re-recorded – best of which is ‘Firth of Fifth’.   My next album is To Watch The Storms (2003).  A really excellent album, lots of variety and including a song by Thomas Dolby (see D) ‘The Devil is An Englishman.   I am often amazed how artists keep coming up with new songs, and in Steve’s case, entirely new sounds – but he does, and of all the Genesis musicians, who have all pursued solo careers, he has released far more and varied records than the others.  I remember I bought this CD in Orleans while we were driving back to England, recognising it instantly by the Kim Poor cover.  And it really is a great album.  Hard to pick best tracks really but here goes; some of the tracks are really heavy rock, some blue, some acoustic and some have a fairground feel.  But standouts are ‘Circus of Becoming’, Come Away’ and ‘Serpentine Song’.  Really one of his best albums.  He followed this with Wild Orchids (2006) another strong and varied album.  Some artists simply keep getting better, writing stronger songs and producing amazing albums; not many, but some.  Best songs; opener  ’Transylvanian Express’, the sinister ‘Down Street’, sung in his mock horror voice and the Dylan classic ‘Man In The Long Dark Coat’.  But really a splendid record with not a filler or duff track on it, full of surprising sound effects and interludes of delicate guitar.   My next album is Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth )2009), which despite its title is quite a gentle album, at least in large part – there are a few louder heavy songs but a surprisingly lyrical feel mostly.  Best songs are the last two, ‘Still Waters’ and ‘Last Train To Istanbul’ – with its eastern feel.  A nice record all round.  My last is Live  Rails, which was from the tour promoting Tunnels mouth, and it is a really dynamic live album, lots of old favourites and some really loud stuff.  A great way to end on.