I took my 14 year old Grandaughter Lily to the RAH concert last year, after leaving the hall she turned to me and said “Wow that was amazing…it was even better than Rhianna” (referring the Rhianna concert she had recently attended). I was rather taken aback but she was knocked out by the whole show and enthused about the band, the Orchestra, the songs and most of all Steve Harley’s stage presence.
As we continued our walk along Kensington High Street, passing the former Biba Rainbow Room, she asked how I had originally gotten into Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel all those years ago. I then reminisced about on a wet London Saturday afternoon in November 1973, following another miserable afternoon at Stamford Bridge; I went to a friend’s house where he insisted on playing me an album he had discovered, and he proceeded to play ‘Death Trip’ (coincidently Lily’s favorite track from the concert). From that moment onwards I was hooked, checking out the gatefold cover with the band decked out in mixture of Glam/Clockwork clothing and make-up just added to the excitement. The name Cockney Rebel and discovering the lead singer like me originated from the Deptford area were further attractions to an impressionable 14 year old.
The following day meant only one thing ….a trip to the A1 Stores in Woolworth road, in those days one of the few record shops open on a Sunday. For the next few weeks Human Menagerie was a permanent fixture on the family radiogram, being played before and after school. The next step was a Cockney Rebel concert, the first being at the Greyhound in Croydon in early 1974, followed by the Biba Rainbow and Victoria Palace (with Be-Bop Deluxe in support) gigs in the same year.
I continued to recount the memories on the tube home, though Lily was probably bored by my tales, she just smiled and indulged her Grandad. I recalled to her being upset at the breakup of the band in 1974, then joyously attending the comeback concert at the Rainbow Theatre, where if memory serves me right the band were introduced by Kid Jensen who called them ‘ the pioneers of the third generation of rock & roll’.
Many of the memories I recounted that night are probably shared by many other fans these include the band on Top of the Pops performing Judy Teen, who was the lady sat on the stage in front of Steve?, attending all three Hammersmith concerts in April 1975, the Crystal Palace Bowl concert the same year, the Empire Pool Wembley gig in 1976 with the Bolero intro. Another memory was going to the ABC cinema in Shaftesbury Avenue to see Between the Lines which supported that classic (I jest) movie Death Race 2000.
I explained to Lily how I my musical taste was shaped by Steve when he appeared on Radio One in 1974 when he presented his your ten favourite tunes. His choice of records was eclectic for the time from what I recall it included Fire Brigade (The Move), I Get a Kick out Of You (Sinatra), Paperback Writer (Beatles), Diary (Bread), Falling in Love Again (Marlene Dietrich), Maggie’s Farm (Dylan) and Everytime We Say Goodbye (Ella Fitzgerald). I wonder how much that selection has changed now?
This resulted in a 16 year old boy buying the Ella Fitzgerald Songbook albums much to astonishment of a HMV shop assistant, around the same time I also recall purchasing the Closer Look US import album even though I already had all the tracks on it just because I loved the cover.
These memories remain fresh in my mind, and I am still attending Steve Harley concerts over 40 years later. In recent years I have attended shows in Belgium and the Netherlands, the 2012 Birmingham concert and other various UK gigs, and I still have the same teenage excitement I felt in 1974. This is probably a testament to level of performance that Steve and band always produce.
Anyway that’s enough nostalgia; I started writing this post a year ago in Beirut and now finally finishing it in The Hague, back in the UK for the Guildford concert next week. Lily is coming, she wants a bowler hat to wear to it, so will indulge her. Very much looking forward to the concert, and I am sure it will once again be …Better than Rhianna.
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Interesting post Gary. I envy you having seen the original band live several times during 1974. So little exists on that particular incantation of Cockney Rebel. Where are the books, the live videos, the photos, the bootleg recordings from that time? They just don't exist, which is a shame for the unlucky fans who are just too young to remember all those wonderful happenings! As an 'anorak' I can tell you that the girl sitting on the stage for Top of the Pops was working for Steve and picked by him to appear on the broadcast. It seems to be the thing that everyone remembers about that particular performance. Other than that what other memories do you have about Judy Teen on TOTP's?? The Summer of 74 was over all too quickly and alas so were Cockney Rebel. The re-formed band appeared on the 'Osmonds Special' in August performing Mr.Soft which can be seen on Youtube having survived the BBC's wiping process. Anyone have any memories of the band's second TOTP's performance of Mr.Soft when Herbie Flowers and BA.Robertson backed Steve on the song?? Another great moment lost forever it seems. My earliest memories of Cockney Rebel would be from Make Me Smile onwards although I remember clearly liking Judy Teen when it was played on the radio. Like you I went to see Death Race 2000 at the cinema purely to see the support film Between the Lines. Imagine how good that was seeing the film on the big screen with full stereo sound. The 'love affair' with their music started there and continues to this day. Would still love to see some sort of 'official' DVD release charting the history of the early band onwards. I know a lot of material has been wiped but there's still enough out there to make it happen and it could be brought right up to date with Steve's recent material. It would make a 'mouth watering' collection of songs and would surely win him many more new fans. 'Make it so' Steve!!
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Gary1959, I really enjoyed your account of finding Steve's music and being so captivated by it that you went to lengths to hear it. I was not aware of Steve's music until some time in 2010, being an American with no exposure to it. I "discovered" him by accident and quickly started to spend many, many hours and weeks and months searching out his songs. I couldn't get enough. I thought, "This guy is brilliant! Why have we never heard of him before???" Being of the frame of mind that I'm getting older and need to take opportunities when they present themselves so I have no regrets, I made three(!) transatlantic trips to England to hear Steve sing live. When I think of my life as a whole, the experiences seeing and hearing Steve, and meeting many of his awesome fans, will remain a high point. I understand your passion.