One of the privileges to come from the concept of Mudkiss was always going to be the opportunity to talk to those who had profoundly influenced or affected us musically. Like most kids in the early 70s’ I listened to The
Photo: Andreas Fucke (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Pink Pop Classic, Aug 2007)
Banned from access to a little sister was always going to be irresistibly inviting, especially on days off sick from school. Amongst The Who, Pink Floyd, Be-Bop Deluxe, The Beatles and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, to name a few, I discovered Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, ‘The Human Menagerie’ and ‘The Psychomodo’. Despite punk being on the march in 1976, captivated by Mr. Rotten and crew, I still was elated to receive my own copy of ‘Love’s a Prima Donna’ for Christmas. The dichotomy of sometimes dark and macabre lyrics set to upbeat melodies, alongside grandiose operatic layers of drama and a voice that purred, Steve Harley certainly has a major role in the soundtrack to my life. I was indeed elated, along with being incredibly nervous, at the prospect of actually speaking to Steve over the phone. At a babbling race of knots I told him how I had been informing virtually everyone I had met that I would be speaking to him, listening to their own perspective. One friend summed him up first and foremost as “a wordsmith”. I wondered if he would agree.
Steve - Laughs, “Yeah, it’s about right I should think, but actually playing live is my biggest love, actually singing the words as it were, playing.”
Lorraine - For me, personally, you were the first artist to strike a chord of any meaning.
Steve - That’s nice to know, How old are you may I ask?
Steve - I was 58 last week. Ah God (he laughs). So you were quite young when you were listening to me.
I explain the scenario with my elder brother
Steve - I didn’t have one of those, but that’s the way to do it. My children, especially my son who is now 26, when he was about 12 I started to hear from his bedroom, I’d hear things like, it would be what was happening then, like Oasis and Blur, but he would switch around with all my hundreds of CDs. He’d be playing Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan. It’s interesting; they have very wide, catholic tastes now.
Steve - I think, I don’t know if it’s common ground, I usually work alone, write alone, I ‘m best. Usually I have five ideas to everyone else’s one when they try to work with me and it gets a bit tiresome, but yeah, I have about four or five guitars at any one time set up around the house in different rooms, so everywhere I go, every room you walk in really, there’s a guitar on a stand, acoustic guitars and two pianos so you play all the time really. When I am at home I would be playing a lot and you just think “hang on, that sounded quite attractive, that chord progression” or I might be at the piano mucking about. I’m not much of a pianist, I would never get into a band. I play it well enough to write songs but that’s about it. It starts from that really, you realise something is happening, bit of a melody there or a good chord progression and you think you can work on it and get something beneficial from it, you know, something decent, but it gets harder as you get older, the writing, you can either keep doing it and turn out a load of twaddle, which I don’t want to do, or you just wait and wait and wait for the muse to come and sit on your shoulder again.
Photo: Steve Harley by Manfred Esser
Steve - How do you know that? Have you been reading my diaries?
Lorraine - Yes, I have been reading them *smiles*
Steve - Yes, I’m always in the woods or birdwatching. I’ve had a great morning at my house this morning, just fantastic. The first time I’ve seen a reed bunting. Actually I’ve just come back from the Highlands and up there on top of the mountains, up in the snow, we saw snow buntings which you would never see down here of-course. They were amazing. Yeah, yellow hammers on the lawn this morning. I’ve got a friend who is a serious birdwatcher and we agree that a lot of people don’t get it and we get really excited. I get really excited. When you see one for the first time it’s such a thrill, I can’t explain it. Little things please little minds.
Steve laughs as I carry on to say how I get the impression that he is looking for the ultimate high from nature and wonder what place has come the closest or moved him the most.
Steve - Oh everything! I travel a lot, even when I am not on tour I still travel. It’s very inspiring when you see mountain after mountain after mountain and glaciers and hydro electric power, water gushing down the rock. It’s quite a sight. I never tire of thinking how lucky I am, never get blasé about it. The whole world is amazing. We’ve just been to the
Steve - Well it’s not even a book is it, it’s a collection. I tell you what, I don’t think I could ever write a novel. I read a lot but how they sustain characters is beyond my comprehension.
Steve - Sometimes when I send it to my webmaster, as I zap it out, I think “Oh Christ, what have I done, what have I said?!” and then you think “well hang on, it’s not a blog that other people would do, it’s not tittle tattle”. I try to make it as literary as I can and make it readable and that’s why I don’t do it very often. Sometimes you hear people saying “Why doesn’t he do more diary entries”. If you did it every day it wouldn’t be worth having. I try to make it interesting by talking about what I’ve seen and what I’ve done. We go to the theatre quite a lot, serious plays, musicals. I was at the opera last week and I like to write about that too, to turn people onto things.
Steve - Well, I was actually in the
Photo: Andreas Fucke (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Pink Pop Classic, Aug 2007)
Steve - I have to! I feel terrible, I feel like a fraud sometimes. Last week I was in
Steve - It worked, it worked. I had a thoroughly brilliant time for an hour. I was so pleased. We got in the transport to go back to the airport then and I was just saying to Barry “God, I’m so glad we did that”. I was so pleased, it seemed to mean so much to people, you know, little things. That’s what always amazes me about how much people want, how little they want and how much it means to them. I do auctions or charity concerts and at charity concerts I’ll do an auction, you know, and we raised twelve or thirteen thousand pounds a few months ago for the
Steve - Well I’m an ambassador for the Mines Advisory Group, the landmine clearance agency. I’ve led two treks for them, one in
Steve - I’ve got two in training. I’ve got one that is a hurdler and one that’s a thoroughbred flat horse, he’s in Newmarket and the other one’s in Lambourn. Cheltenham next week, very big event, four days, the greatest racing of the year.
Steve Laughs, no, I don’t. I’m actually quite nervous around horses. I prefer to own them, racehorses. No, that’s a big old head and when he throws it about.
We chat a little about horses and Essex before I ask Steve if he will be playing any
Steve - I’m waiting for confirmation, I think we’re playing the
Steve - Yeah, it’s fine by me. It’s easier when agents and promoters have a new album from an artist. There'll be publicity and advertising, some hook to hang it on, you know, so I am going to do that anyway. It will probably be on sale a year from now, about March time, then we’ll do a big tour. I shall miss it badly. I’m missing it already to be honest. The guys in the band, the guys that I use mostly, they play pubs and clubs and stuff with other people and I can’t do that. When I’m not onstage, on tour, then I’m not playing and I do miss it very badly.
Steve - Oh loads. The last two Tuesdays I’ve been on the jury picking the best song of the year for the Ivor Novello Awards in May. I’ve done it before, but I was chairman this year. Terrific jury, we had lovely people, Badly Drawn Boy, Damon Gough, we had a right bunch of good people, Mike Rutherford from Genisis, Glenn Tilbrook, Beth Orton. We had ninety three tracks, singles, in the first week. It was a bit of a good year last year, a really good year. Unfortunately, the best record of the year wasn’t included because the ‘Ivors’ are all British songwriters. Two or three of the best songs that were on Radio 2 last year were written by Americans, especially The Killers, I thought that was the best record of the year, ‘Human’. Listening to at the moment? The Van Morisson ‘Live at the
Photo: Tone Bratland Aakra
Steve - Yeah, I’m hoping we’ll bring that back, it’s resting.
Steve laughs: I don’t know. I think they ran out of money, they gave it all to Jonathan Ross and there was nothing left for anyone else. That’s about what happened to be honest. I enjoyed doing it, it bought out the old journalist in me.
I have to ask Steve how he viewed the change bought about by Punk Rock in the mid 70s, the glam and fantasy soon replaced by record companies scrambling to sign any garage band with a message of social realism.
Steve - It was a difficult time for me because I don’t rage against the establishment, I never did. I find it very pointless and energy sapping. I’m much more rational than that. I’d already become established, I’d sold lots of records and had lots of hits and took a back seat to it all. I don’t really remember it now, except it was an attitude. I’ve always loved music, and lyrics obviously. Punk was something that was a movement that had to be created by some-one and the kids of that time had to go through that period in life and I understand that much. But I would never have jumped on the bandwagon. I never felt any part of it at all. My friends were much more establishment than that, intellectual, as it were. You can’t help who you are or where you come from, you know. I don’t know what to tell you. It came and went didn’t it. The Clash were about the only ones who really made a mark, the rest of it is pretty forgettable isn’t it.
Finally I have to confess that he was my first crush and that his poster from Jackie adorned my wall.
Steve laughs, I do meet women who tell me that, “I had you on my bedroom wall”. I usually say, “No, surely I’d remember”. Lorraine Kelly did that, she interviewed me on the radio, she actually said that to me live on air, “Ah, it’s such a thrill to be meeting you Steve, I have to be honest, I once had you on my bedroom wall”. I leaned into the mic, one and a half million people listening and said “No
Laughing I thanked Steve for taking the time to talk to me for Mudkiss
Steve - It’s been a joy talking to you
I am smiling now as I finish typing. What can I say, other than that I have always had discerning taste, right from a young age!
Steve Harley's website: www.steveharley.com
Colour photos by Andreas Fucke, 52511 Geilenkirchen/Germanyor (find him at Hobby-Photograph/Flickr.com)and Tone Bratland Aakra
Black & White photo by Manfred Esser