Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel with Orchestra & Choir Sage Gateshead 21st June 2014
It was a truly amazing experience to see Steve Harley perform the first two classic Cockney Rebel albums “The Human Menagerie” and “The Psychomodo”, accompanied by full band, the Orchestra of the Swan and Choir, conducted by Andrew Powell, last night. This concert was first performed at the Birmingham Symphony Hall in 2012, and is now available on DVD. Steve Harley said at the time “ It’s been a long time coming – something like 39 years. Now we’re here, at last, with an orchestra and a choir and a big rock band, to play those first two albums pretty well the way they appeared on the original vinyl. Maybe some things should never change, in spite of progress. Welcome, my old friends.”
First Half; The Human Menagerie: Hideaway; What Ruthy Said; Loretta’s Tale; Crazy Raver; Sebastian; Mirror Freak; My Only Vice; Muriel the Actor; Spaced Out; Judy Teen; Chameleon; Death Trip.
Second Half; The Psychomodo: Sweet Dreams; Psychomodo; Mr. Soft; Singular Band; Ritz; Cavaliers; Bed in the Corner; Sling It!; Big Big Deal; Black or White; Tumbling Down.
Encore: Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me).
A great concert. Stand-outs (although there were many, with standing ovations for several songs) were: “Sebastian”, “”Tumbling Down”, and “Make Me Smile”.
Steve Harley put his heart and soul into the performance last night. His voice just gets better with time, and the songs found a new life when played with the full band and orchestra. Steve Norman (Spandau Ballet) was star number two of the show, playing great sax and clearly enjoying every minute of it. Steve had some great craic with us all, telling us stories about his days with the band in the 70s, and bringing back memories for me of classic gigs at Newcastle City Hall and Reading 1974, all of which he referred to. He related a memory from the City Hall of a guy jumping off the balcony and climbing down the light tower. He introduced “Tumbling Down” by reminding us all how we would leave the hall still singing the closing line “Oh dear!….look what they’ve done to the blues, blues, blues…”. Steve quoted Hammersmith Odeon as an example, with the Cockney Rebel crowds entering the tube still singing, but I recall the very same thing happening at Newcastle City Hall, and Reading in 74 and at a gig at Redcar Coatham Bowl. But for me the high point has to be “Sebastian”, Steve shrouded in dark gothic lighting, wringing every drop of emotion out of the epic, haunting, enigmatic ballad. Stunning and beautiful. And the mass singalong, including the full orchestra singing the “ooh la la la”s, for “Make Me Smile” took us all back to our youth. Me, I was back in the City Hall, Steve was No 1 in the charts and the atmosphere was simply electric; I thought the roof would come off.
Thanks for another great night, Steve.
Steve Harley Sunderland Empire 2001
This is my last day of blogging on Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel. The last time I saw Steve Harley was at a concert at Sunderland Empire. It was billed as the “Resistance is Useless” tour, and “Back with the Band” (to make it clear that this was not an unplugged show). The front cover of the programme promised a show that was “Definitely Plugged In”, with “No Support” and thus “Maximum Steve”; and indeed thus it was. Marie came along with me to the gig, having been impressed with Steve when we saw him play unplugged at Billingham a couple of years earlier, and he didn’t let her down. This was another great gig, with Steve on fine form, and all the classics played. I haven’t seen Steve Harley in concert since that concert; it does seem like 12 years ago. He has toured quite a lot during that period, so I don’t have any excuse. In fact I did have tickets to see him at the Sage a few years ago, but couldn’t make it for some reason and gave the tickets to a friends. So its definitely about time to put this right and see Steve again. It seems to me that I have a couple of opportunities to do so; a tour is planned for November 2013, and he is also planning a concert, backed by orchestra and choir, at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester in April 2014. The latter gig will feature the first two Cockney Rebel albums in full, repeating a similar gig that Steve performed in Birmingham last year. Now that’s a gig I should definitely attend.
Steve Harley Billingham Forum Theatre 1999
Ten years after I had last seen Steve Harley at Sunderland Empire, I noticed that he was playing an unplugged show at Billingham Forum Theatre. Marie rang up and booked a couple of tickets on the day of the concert, and we went along and picked them up on the night. Steve had recorded a live alum “Stripped to the bare bones” at the Jazz Cafe the year before, and this show was in a similar format, with Steve telling stories about his life and performing great acoustic versions of his songs. He was accompanied by another guitarist, I think it may have been Nick Pynn. We both enjoyed seeing Steve, and listening to him tell us about his life and sing those great songs with just his voice and a couple of guitars. Marie particularly enjoyed the concert, and still talks about it. The track listing from the “Stripped to the bare bones” album is shown below. The show we saw was similar. Tracklisting: My Only Vice (Is the Fantastic Prices I Charge for Being Eaten Alive); Star for a Week (Dino); Best Years of Our Lives, The; Judy Teen; Last Time I Saw You, The; Mr. Soft; (Love) Compared to You; Tumbling Down; Only You; Bed in the Corner; Sling It!; Riding the Waves (For Virginia Woolf); Sebastian; Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me).
Steve Harley Redcar 1980
Although it was only four years since I had last seen Steve Harley, this gig had the feel of a comeback. Steve had played few concerts during that four year period between 1976 and 1980, and this was his first tour with a band, using the Cockney Rebel name since 1977. He had also released a few solo albums during that period, but they had not been particularly successful. Redcar Coatham Bowl was a great, intimate venue, and it was good to see Steve in a close-up situation. The crowd gave Steve a great reception, and he played all the favourite. Steve was back!! I saw Steve again some 9 years later at Sunderland Empire. To be honest I remember less about this gig; in fact I don’t recall being there at all, but I have a ticket stub, so I must have been! I found a setlist from the London show of the 1989 tour: The Best Years of Our Lives; Mr. Soft; Irresistible; Mr. Raffles; Freedom’s Prisoner; Judy Teen; Riding the Waves (For Virginia Woolf); Dino (Star For A Week); Why Does My Light Always Shine; Sebastian; Sophistication; Tumbling Down; Sweet Dreams / Psychomodo; Sling It; Here Comes the Sun. Encore: Dancing On The Telephone; Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me); (I Believe) Love’s a Prima Donna. As you can see, Steve was playing all the hits and live favourites, but that setlist also includes quite a few songs which I don’t recognise, which must be album tracks from Cockney Rebel and Steve’s solo albums. It was to be another 10 years until I saw Steve in concert again.
Steve Harley Newcastle City Hall Dec 1976 Love’s a Prima Donna tour
No Support act.
Steve Harley was back at Newcastle City Hall in December 1976, less than a year after appearing at the same venue for two nights in February. In the 10 months that had passed since his last appearance at the City Hall, and during that time Steve had released a new album, Loves a Prima Donna, and had been back in the Top 10 with his version of the Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun, which reached No 10 in the UK Charts. A second single, the title track from the album (I Believe) Love’s a Prima Donna also reached the lower regions of the charts. They are both great singles; Steve Harley at his best. This was the last time I saw Steve and Cockney Rebel at the City Hall. I remember he started the set with Here Comes the Sun, which was a great opener, and the start of another great gig. For this tour the band was augmented by backing vocalists including the great Tony Rivres (of Tony Rivers and the Castaways and Harmony Grass). Steve was to disband Cockney Rebel soon after this tour, to follow a solo career. However a few years later he would be using the Rebel name again. Setlist (from London gig around the same time): Here Comes the Sun; The Mad, Mad Moonlight; Mr. Soft; Red Is a Mean, Mean Colour; Sweet Dreams; Finally a Card Came; Innocence and Guilt; Is It True What They Say?; The Best Years of Our Lives; (Love) Compared With You; (I Believe) Love’s a Prima Donna; Psychomodo; (If This Is Love) Give Me More; Sebastian. Encore: Seeking A Love (Part 1); Tumbling Down. Encore 2: Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)
Steve Harley Newcastle City Hall Feb 1976 Timeless Flight
Steve Harley was back at the City Hall in February 1976, almost a year after his previous triumphant gig. This time he chose to play two nights; I went along to the first night’s show. I recall wondering if he could sell out two nights at the time and although it was quite full, the City Hall was no means full on the night I attended. The singles which followed Make Me Smile had not been very successful. The first single from the latest album Timeless Flight was Black and White, and didn’t register in the charts at all. Steve said at the time “I knew it was either going to be massive – top three – or a complete stiff. It turned out to be a stiff.” For me the stand out tracks on Timeless Flight is Red Is a Mean, Mean Colour. A second single from the album White, White Dove also failed to chart. None of this seemed to bother Steve who was on fine form at the gig in February 1976. In his mind, and through his performance, he remained a superstar and never seemed to doubt the course his music was taking. I went with my friend Ian, who was also a Steve Harley fan at the time, and we both enjoyed the gig. I don’t think there was any support act for the tour. As well as tracks from the new album, all the favourites were played. The closing song at the time remained Sebastian, with Tumbling Down and Make Me Smile held back for the encore. Steve Harley was an intriguing performer, coming over as very arrogant one moment, and then quite soft and sentimental the next. His songs were also difficult to categorise, and his lyrics quite deep. It seemed to me that he had immense confidence and self-belief, sticking to his own track even when the hit singles stopped coming, as was the case in early 1976. On stage his performance was as strong as ever.