ALTHOUGH more than 45 long years have elapsed since Steve Harley burst onto the music scene with Judy Teen, the cockney rebel remains a glorious rebel, albeit a tad greyer and slightly unsteady on his feet (a result of a healing broken hip after a fall at a friend’s house).
Fiery, immensely proud and mercurial, Harley is a class performer whose music is as poignant today as it was ground-breaking in the 1970s. A masterclass in professionalism, an individual who drips every ounce of his soul into his music, and who does not suffer fools gladly. Woe betide anyone who interrupts him in his pursuit of musical excellence (note to anyone going to a Harley gig in the near future: don’t take pictures in his eye-line).
Sit through one of Harley’s sets and you will marvel at the cleverness – and beauty – of his lyrics. Sheer magic compared to the banality of most of today’s song-writing.
Some of his words literally hook you like a good fly-fisher catches their salmon, none more so than on his haunting A Friend For Life, a love song since covered by Rod Stewart – and which is guaranteed to send tingles down spines.
‘Through a smoke-filled glass on a desperate night
When the sole of my shoe lets in rain
When the heart’s tired of running and the milk’s gone sour
Will your feelings still be the same?
When the match won’t light so the flames don’t tremble
And the years are condemning us too
I’ll need a soul-mate to hold me and a friend for life
And I’m hoping it might be you.’
Clever, bloody clever. A wordsmith extraordinaire. In another life, Harley could easily have been a poet. Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan – a Harley idol as indeed are TS Eliot and DH Lawrence and their poetry.
Performing at Pizza Express Live in London’s Holborn (an intimate venue) as part of the Acoustic Trio, Harley reeled back the years with searing renditions of some of his unforgettable hits – Judy Teen, Mr Raffles (Man, It Was Mean), Mr Soft and course Make Me Smile which has been covered by musicians galore (many badly in Harley’s opinion) and is currently being used to promote the wonders of Viagra.
A deal, says Harley, that enabled him to buy his first ‘muscle’ car – an Aston Martin (Mrs Harley got a brand new kitchen). As Harley said, Mr Soft could equally have been used to extol Viagra’s reinvigorating virtues.
Yet there was much more besides. A tender cover of Bob Dylan’s Love Minus Zero, a mournful Save Me (From Myself), a beautiful (Love) Compared To You – ‘and you know that since you loved me I have everything’ – and a crazy whirring Sling It, enhanced by the masterful violin of Barry Wickens and the keyboard of James Lascelles (both excellent throughout). Orgasmic – without the need for Viagra.
Other standouts from an impressive set included The Lighthouse (infused with the magic of Wickens’ violin), Ordinary People (a recent song) and The Coast Of Amalfi.
In between the music were tales galore – encounters with Bob Dylan, non-encounters with Van Morrison, meeting Tom Jones at the Wolseley in London’s Piccadilly (and reminiscing about a Remy Martin fuelled night a decade earlier) and being introduced to the wit and humour of Jimmy Tarbuck. Oh – and also Harley’s love of birdlife and friendly conversations in his kitchen with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Harley is a somewhat complex individual on stage, but only because he is a perfectionist. A rare breed. Catch him if you can. He’ll make you smile. But switch off that phone.