10 June 2010 (gig)
14 June 2010
'People think all I ever wrote is that one f****** song' quips singer/songwriter Steve Harley during his concert at Sheperds Bush Empire. While there might have been some members in the audience gullible enough to believe it, the majority knew better. Which is why they came to see Mr. Cockney Rebel’s show in the first place.
Sure, his best-known hits are 'Mr. Soft’, 'Judy Teen’, 'Sebastian’, 'Tumbling Down’ and of course 'that one f****** song’. However, fans in the know are aware that the band’s more recent repertoire is simply fantastic material – delivered with soul, talent great enthusiasm and a great voice. After all, this is an artist who supported The Rolling Stones during the 2007 shows in Warsaw,Poland and St. Peterburg, Russia!
For the support act, The Lartey Sisters - an acoustic duo from Peterborough – got the audience in the right mood. Looking like they’re barely out of school (and perhaps they aren’t) Faye Lartey enchanted with a voice that was made for acoustic, while Ashleigh perfectly complimented the ethereal sound with her skilful guitar play.
After their set was completed (to great applause), a lengthy pause followed, which turned into an even lengthier one. The punters started to get rather impatient and started clapping in the hope that Steve and band might finally appear. The long wait was amply rewarded when, after another five minutes or so, they took to the stage.
Kicking off with 'Faith And Virtue’ from the current album 'Stranger Comes To Town’, the folky rock ballad here was presented rockier than the album version. Next came 'Psychomodo’, which needs no introduction: great rhythm that drifts from choppy upbeat to a more mellow and reflective chorus with a great keyboard interlude. The lyrics are typical 70’s Cockney Rebel: 'Desdemona and me. We had a ball in a tree. She read my palm in a moment. It was shocking to me. We were so mystified, we scream out of fear. Oh! She was so hung-up and wasted. Oh! She was so physically devastated.' Genius!
Some more tracks from the old Cockney Rebel days followed, namely 'Judy Teen’ and 'Panorama’. The set continued with 'No Bleeding Hearts’ from the current album, a melodious ballad that emphasises Steve’s superb voice. 'Don’t tell me that you long to brush my hair where the bees are. You’ve never seen the darkest night or the colour of the negro' are lyrics without doubt more mature and thoughtful then the more psychedelic infused songs of yesteryear. It would be tragic if it weren’t so, but yesteryear or nowadays, the meaning of its content is still not that easy to decipher. Remarks Steve, 'Sometimes when I play my old songs, I don’t quite recognise the person who wrote them anymore,'
He also performed two cover versions, namely The Beatles’ classic 'Here Comes The Sun’ as well as 'True Love Will Find You In The End’ by the American singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston, an artist diagnosed with a bi-polar disorder. 'It’s a wonderfully crafted song' explains Steve to his fans, 'and I have a feeling there is a lot more to the lyrics than meets the ear upon first listening.'
More songs were performed that sounded even better live than most of the album versions, thanks to their fantastic musical arrangements and of course, thanks to the excellent backing musicians. Currently they are Barry Wickens on violin and guitar,
Robbie Gladwell on guitar and mandolin, Lincoln Anderson on bass, and as the only original Cockney Rebel member, Stuart Elliott on drums. On keyboards and percussions were James Lascelles and the Lartey Sisters were also back on stage again – with Faye playing the rhythm guitar and Ashleigh performing backing vocals. In fact, all the musicians churned out vocals during one song or another.
During the set, Steve entertained his fans with various anecdotes, like the one when he was young and busking in central London and the tourists always wanted to hear popular songs of the time like 'Little Boxes’, but all he could play were songs like 'Sebastian’. And how no one would throw him any pennies, so he began to charge American tourists for giving directions to Leeyseester Square.
Some more classics followed, like 'Tumbling Down’ (one of the songs used in the 1998 glam rock movie Velvet Goldmine). From the current album, Steve and band delighted with 'This Old Man’ and the title track 'Stranger Comes To Town’ – a hauntingly beautiful ballad about life that uses the sea as an analogy. Little surprise, since the song is slightly reminiscent of a shanty.
What happened next was one of the most amazing renditions of 'Sebastian’ ever, almost ten minutes long and with Faye even playing transverse flute. A glorious ending to a glorious concert that almost lasted 1hr. 40min. – but everyone knew it wasn’t the end just yet, for Steve had yet to play 'that one f****** song’,
After the audience enthusiastically demanded an encore, Steve and band duly came up (again) and smiled. Steve Harley is back and he’s here to stay, there is no doubt about it.