Live At Royal Concert Hall

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel

Date: 20/10/05   —   £17.50   —   Other

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I had booked the ticket some while ago, for old times sake perhaps. There are many bands emerging now who will have been long gone and forgotten before Steve Harley hangs up his guitar. Many of you will never had heard of him, some of you may know Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile), something of a 70s anthem, you may also recognise some of the other hits although you are unlikely to be able to have said who it was or what the song was called. Harley is, in a way, the man who was nearly the biggest thing since the Beatles, in the mid to late 70s he was an icon of the music and very nearly the acting business. This was, you must remember, an age when young vibrant male frontmen were revered with a fervour approaching disturbing proportions.

Born Stephen Nice in SE London in 1951, Harley was, like Ian Dury, struck with Polio as a child. Now regarded as one of the old school, ex-journalist Harley started out in the music business in 1973 with his band Cockney Rebel. Harley was brought up in and around New Cross and Deptford and much of the area I inhabited what seems many moons ago. Anyway enough of the NME article stuff.

I have to confess when I got home in the early evening before the gig I felt tired and jaded and the thought of driving to the gig to see an aged pop star was not as high up my priorities as it might have been. It was just as well I booked and paid for the ticket ages ago because had I been going to pay on the door I probably wouldn’t have bothered. That would have been a mistake.

I hadn’t been to the Royal Concert Hall before but it’s a more austere serious venue, by the time I’d found the bar that sold draught beer and just got a pint the 3 minute bell went which pissed me off since I found that you couldn’t take drinks in, you’d think they might have informed you when buying. As I took my seat I became aware of the smell, that sort of scent and after shave smell that reminds you of your parents and their friends and it kind of set the scene a little. This was a concert for the generation whose kids have left home, the generation of those of the late 60s, those one might nowadays see as the sell-outs.

The support act were the Backbeat Beatles, now I have always avoided Beatles tribute acts in the past because I always thought it would be naff, so I was surprised that I quite enjoyed what was a pretty decent act. What made me think was the fact that whilst if I was asked to name my very favourite bands The Beatles would probably not be in the first 5 I thought of and yet it is truly staggering how many lyrics you know of even the more obscure Beatles songs. It is this fact that brings it home just how much of an impact the group had. Granted, my Mother was a fairly big Beatles fan and I remember Abbey Road especially as one of the sounds that defined my early childhood. The Backbeat Beatles are an enthusiastic and enjoyable tribute and they did a 45 minute set of early Beatles tracks up to ‘Twist & Shout’.

Steve Harley and the band came on just after 8.30, you could tell Harley is a showman, a man used to the stagecraft, he was able to work the audience and gave the impression very much as the consumate professional. The band opened appropriately with Here Comes The Sun a song which the band themselves released as a cover version in the days when cover versions were done rarely and in homage rather than just a straight moneyspinner. It is followed by another early hit Soft and you can tell all the 50 somethings are tapping their feet furiously. Unlike the other bands I’ve been seeing lately which have been very much hard rock and largely new school, Harley is the old-stager, the band are clearly at ease playing together, there is less pretention, less desire to impress and more to enjoy and bring the audience along. Harley chats to the audience, he makes fun of someone taking a picture with their mobile phone, he calls into question the opinion that they think he’s mellowed at one point responding to someone calling out from the audience “Was that friendly heckling or hostile? I don’t know how to deal with hostile, wait for Kenn Dodd next week he’ll sort you out, or maybe I’ll invoke the new anti-terror laws and have you thrown out, no place for free speech in this country, not any more, not even when you’re 82.” The heckling was friendly. Harley talks about how his kids now tell him to turn the music down and wouldn’t recognise a spliff if it got up and hit them. He is a disciple of a bygone age. He expresses his admiration for Bob Dylan, “The Beatles changed the world and Dylan changed the Beatles, imagine how much power the man had.”

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For me you can tell a band at ease with itself because they are not playing the stock songs exactly as they are in the studio, they play with things, go off into elaborate solo pieces and bring in a variety of instruments in order to experiment. The energy and enthusiasm for their trade is contagious, you couldn’t have had a bad time there if you’d tried.

After the initial conversation a third of the way through the set, Harley is laconic and seems to open up. The music shifts emphasis seamlessly from folk rock to heavy rock to spanish accoustic and Harley is ever magnanimous to acknowledge the musicians alongside him. 2 hours fairly fly by ending with an immensely powerful Sebastian and a great live version of Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile) by this point half the audience are on their feet and dancing away, Harley laments the lack of a dance floor for them. A standing ovation leads to a lively encore with everyone up and dancing.

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