herald

Saturday 23 September 2017

see HArley and smile

The popular notion may be that punk formed a Year Zero for musicians, with accepted rules being torn up and the manual rewritten in favour of the new order, but even that wave of young bands had to have roots and influences. In certain cases US garage bands from the 1960s provided a template but, apart from the obvious nods to classic Stateside rabble-rousers such as the Stooges, New York Dolls and MC5, there was a clear line closer to home in the form of early 1970s Glam Rock.

The visceral three-minute stomps of Slade, Sweet and Gary Glitter clearly had an effect on the rowdier elements of the new breed, while the artier stylings of David Bowie held sway all the way through the decade.

However, another act who developed a huge following and certainly had the arrogant attitude which inspired outsider loyalty was Cockney Rebel. Dramatic and ever so slightly off-kilter, Cockney Rebel and their lead singer Steve Harley blazed brightly, if all too briefly. Their 1974 breakthrough album, The Psychomodo, and its title track certainly didn't go unnoticed in the North London household of a certain John Lydon. Listening to Harley's sneering, drawling and lacerating delivery one could be forgiven for thinking you were privy to some weird, violin-led version of an unwritten Sex Pistols song beamed in from an alternative universe. Honestly, the vocal likeness is uncanny.

Apart from having a bearing on the mannerisms of young Mr Rotten, Harley had an unswerving belief in his own talents and a frequently fractious relationship with the media, possibly caused, in no small part, by the fact that he'd originally had a career as a journalist. He knew how the game operated, which made him one of the most interesting figures of the Glam period.

Having failed to register in late '73 with the epic debut single Sebastian and its accompanying album The Human Menagerie, EMI's patience and financial backing was rewarded six months later with the brilliant Top 10 single Judy Teen and The Psychomodo album.

Another distinctive hit followed with Mr Soft which saw the band vying with Roxy Music at the artier end of the Glam spectrum, but Harley's career-defining hit came early in 1975 with the superlative Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me), a song which still sounds fresh today and has somehow managed to survive cover versions by both Duran Duran and The Wedding Present.

Harley has continued to write and record down the decades and, as he proved with a memorable show in the Olympia a few years back, is a compelling and generous performer.

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel play the Academy on Sunday

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