01. Sebastian (Cockney Rebel Single A Side August 1973)

02. Loretta’s Tale (Cockney Rebel The Human Menagerie LP November 1973)

03. Mirror Freak (Cockney Rebel The Human Menagerie LP November 1973)

04. Muriel The Actor (Cockney Rebel The Human Menagerie LP November 1973)

05. Death Trip (Cockney Rebel The Human Menagerie LP November 1973)

06. Judy Teen (Cockney Rebel Single A Side March 1974)

07. Psychomodo (Cockney Rebel The Psychomodo LP June 1974)

08. Mr Soft (Cockney Rebel The Psychomodo LP June 1974)

09. Ritz (Cockney Rebel The Psychomodo LP June 1974)

10. Tumbling Down (Cockney Rebel The Psychomodo LP June 1974)

11. Big Big Deal (Single A Side November 1974)

12. Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel Single A Side January 1975)

13. The Mad Mad Moonlight (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel The Best Years Of Our Lives March 1975)

14. Mr Raffles (Man It Was Mean) (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel The Best Years Of Our Lives March 1975)

15. Back To The Farm (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel The Best Years Of Our Lives March 1975)

16. All Men Are Hungry (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel Timeless Flight LP February 1976)

17. Nothing Is Sacred (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel Timeless Flight LP February 1976)

18. I Believe Love’s A Prima Donna (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel Single A Side October 1976)

19. (If This Is Love) Give Me More (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel Love’s A Prima Donna LP October 1976)

20. The Best Years Of Our Lives (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel Face To Face LP June 1977)


Lazing around on a pleasant Sunday morning, I was shocked to hear that Steve Harley had just died at the not so old age of 73. Another influential figure from my teenage, my mind went back to the 23rd March 1975 when I had the indescribable thrill of seeing him perform at Bristol Colston Hall for what was my first ever live show. In hindsight, I guess that night was the high point of an infatuation with Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel stretching back to the summer of 1973 and the first time I heard the lush orchestration of their debut single ‘Sebastian’. Oozing arty sleaze and decadent decay, the beguiling Harley’s embrace of literate composition and the avant-garde was exactly what I was looking for in a British music scene dominated by denim clad, hard rockers and their dumb arse, sexist bullshit.  

      Coming out of New Cross as a teenager with a knowledge of such literary giants as T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence and obscure characters like French painter of clowns Georges Rouault and black English circus proprietor Pablo Fanque, an education forged during lengthy, polio enforced stays in hospital, in 1973 the 22 year old Steve Harley may not have been a cockney but he certainly fancied himself as a rebel. Predisposed to making controversial, headline grabbing statements attacking the excess of the times, he took great pleasure in winding up the music press by denouncing the dominance of the electric guitar as a hippy anachronism.

     True to his word, he let a caustic violin and classical keyboards battle it out on Cockney Rebel’s debut album The Human Menagerie, songs like ‘Muriel The Actor’, ‘Mirror Freak’ and ‘Death Trip’ possessing a rare confidence, arrogance and doomed, decadent insanity. I proved my devotion by penning the Cockney Rebel logo on my arm for all to see while ignoring the abuse of my schoolmates who mocked me for liking such a ‘mincing dummy’. But there was nothing mincing about 1974’s stand-alone hit ‘Judy Teen’ or The Psychomodo, an album that still stands as lost glam masterpiece.

     The artistic good times couldn’t last and they didn’t, Harleys dictatorial leadership and hubris causing the original Cockney Rebel line-up to depart, his most fondly remembered tune ‘Make Me Smile’ arriving months later as a public denouncement of his former co-conspirators demands over shitty pay and a share of the songwriting credits. Ironically, by replacing them with the kind of session yes men he had always professed to hate, his control freakery gradually began to diminish his muse, right at the moment ‘Make Me Smile’ and its parent album The Best Years Of Our Lives turned him into a bonafide star adored by the same dumb fucks who’d once ridiculed me so mercilessly.
     Of course, in the summer of 1976, Johnny Rotten, the Sex Pistols and punk immediately consigned Steve Harley and his like to history. The unsuccessful yet wonderful Timeless Flight had already been and gone by then, its oblique messages and new found romanticism somehow reflecting my own, just turned 16 year old, sense of longing and self-doubt. But that really was it. Just eight months later, ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and Love’s A Prima Donna completed his journey into sappy sentimentality.

     Wholly absorbed by own punk and post punk present, Steve Harley disappeared from my thoughts until 2005  when I went along to Reading’s Hexagon Theatre for a full blown rerun of a vintage Cockney Rebel show. As passionate as ever about his music, his natural generosity with fans old and new still shone through, so much so that I dug out The Human Menagerie and The Psychomodo for the first time in decades. 

     The mid-seventies may not have been the best years of my life but Steve Harley’s grand, often over reaching, artistic vision were an essential element that made them infinitely more interesting and bearable. The records he released during those few short years continue to be ignored. But there’s no denying that his songs actively encouraged my generation to escape the weighty chains of the sixties while furthering our education in literature, poetry and art. For that alone I will be forever grateful!  


Chris Green. 17th March 2024