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.