A long time has passed since Steve Harley burst on the music scene in the early 1970s as a cockney rebel – a young man from London’s Deptford.
But Harley, now a little greyer around the edges, has lost none of his stage presence – despite still recovering from a fall at a friend’s house some 14 weeks ago that temporarily left him hospitalised.
Performing on the opening night of a five-night gig at PizzaExpress Live Holborn (London) that ends on Sunday May 13, the 67 year-old demonstrated that his music and lyrics are as poignant now as they were back in 1974 when Judy Teen turned him into a pop sensation.
Indeed, with just James Lascelles (keyboard) and Barry Wickens (guitar and violin) providing magisterial support, a pared back set meant his lyrics held centre stage. Songs such as (Love) Compared To You, Sebastian, Ordinary People, A Friend For Life and Journey’s End (A Father’s Promise) were hauntingly delivered. They tear at the soul, inducing a mix of melancholy, a little bit of sentimentality and tenderness. At times, it was all achingly beautiful. Raw music, eating away at the emotions.
Other songs from his debut album Human Menagerie (Hideaway), The Psychomodo (Sling It and an upbeat Mr Soft) and Poetic Justice (All In A Life’s Work) were performed with passion and aplomb.
Of course Harley cannot play a set without Judy Teen, The Best Years Of Our Lives and the song that keeps him financially secure (Make Me Smile: Come Up And See Me). Indeed, Make Me Smile is to be used in a new advert that airs later this month (May 24).
But Harley is much more than these three signature tunes. He is a wordsmith, a poet, whose words cut to the core.
With anecdotes aplenty – funding a son through university, near misses with Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) and a brief audience with Bob Dylan – this was an intimate night in the presence of a great musician. An individual whose passion for live performance and perfection (it shows in his face) remains undiminished.
Yes, he is hard on himself and occasionally others (a photographer annoyed him temporarily until he was informed the individual was ‘official’). But as he told the audience, he ‘lives and breathes’ his live music.
Although Harley is mesmeric, Lascelles and Wickens are both excellent. Lascelles providing magical moments on both Sebastian and Sling It – Wickens responding with violin wizardry on Ordinary People, Journey’s End and a spine tingling version of Coast of Amalfi.
If you can, come up to PizzaExpress Live Holborn. I am sure the mature cockney rebel that Steve Harley is will make you smile.