Steve Harley – Live Music Review

STEVE Harley is a musical genius, a national treasure. Full stop. End of matter. Irrefutable. 

To experience one of his concerts is like being immersed in a vat of champagne with a quart pint jug for company and angels hovering above attending to your every need. Heaven, sheer heaven.

Although more than  half a century has passed since Harley and Cockney Rebel strutted their stuff on Top of the Pops, the music hasn’t aged. Far from it. It’s evolved and matured – and the lyrics are as evocative as they are poetic. 

The likes of Mr Soft, Tumbling Down and Mr Raffles (Man It Was Mean) are as catchy as they ever were. Now the equivalent of well matured Madeira wine. 

What makes Harley so special? Well, he’s more than a musician. He’s a wordsmith. A genius. A perfectionist who pours his heart and soul into his performance on stage. He gives all: it’s both painful and mesmerising to watch. 

Goosebumps. Tears. They all come when he performs. Don’t believe me? Come and see for yourself. 

At Pizza Express Live in London’s Holborn on May 26, Harley began a two-night stint at one of his favourite venues: an intimate place where the audience is literally within a breath of the stage. 

He was on fine-form, starting with a number of achingly beautiful songs that tingled the soul and pulled at heat-strings, however bruised they may have been. 

(Love) Compared With You, the opener, was sung with a mighty heart and acute feeling. It was followed by fine ‘interpretations’ of Cat Stevens’ (Yusuf’s) classic How Can I Tell You and David Bowie’s Absolute Beginners. 

The interpretations – there are seven more besides –  form the heart of Harley’s latest album Uncovered (Compared With You is also on it) They are songs, Harley says, that he wished he had written. All delivered live with a large lick of his own paint. 

Apart from Bowie and Yusuf, he paid homage to McCartney and Wings (I’ve Just Seen A Face) and the Rolling Stones with a thrilling version of Out Of Time. 

‘I wish I had written it,’ admitted Harley. Thank God (Harley has had a love hate relationship with him over many years) that he has interpreted it. Along the way, there were homages to his son (Journey’s End), and to religion (Lay Me Down .. Lord). Yet the most thrilling, immersive pieces were Sebastian where the respective violin and guitar of the constantly magnificent Barry Wickens and equally brilliant Dave Delarre sparkled.  

Also, A Friend For Life. Both were pieces of magic. Search out the lyrics and marvel at the writing. With Oli Hayhurst underpinning the music on double bass, this was a night when music was the victor. ‘I love what  I do,’ he said. ‘Being here is natural.’ Rather fitting, therefore, that he finished with a rousing Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) – because that’s exactly what he did. He made the audience smile all the way back to their homes and hotels, having witnessed a genius at work. 

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