The Argotist Online
Harley began his singing career singing
in London folk clubs (Les Cousins, Bunjie's and The Troubadour) during the early
1970s. He later joined folk band Odin as rhythm guitarist and co-singer.
he was constantly writing songs, he formed the group Cockney Rebel. The band
signed to EMI for a guaranteed three-album deal in 1972 and released The
Human Menagerie early in 1973. From this collection, a single,
‘Sebastian’, became a huge European hit, staying at number one Holland and
Belgium for many weeks. Other Cockney Rebel and/or Steve Harley albums are: The
Psychomodo, The Best Years Of Our Lives, Timeless Flight, Love's
A Prima Donna, Face To Face (Live), Hobo With A Grin, The
Candidate (all EMI), Yes You Can, Poetic Justice and The
Quality Of Mercy.
Cockney Rebel single, ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)’, reached number
one in 1975 in the UK and many European countries; and is regularly voted among
the top singles in the history of the charts, which covers six decades of
releases. The Performing Rights Society has confirmed it one of the most played
records in British broadcasting.
has written lyrics for several other artists, including his friend Rod Stewart
who has called him "One of the finest lyricists the UK
has ever produced".
still plays between 70 and 100 live concerts on average each year. The majority
of the shows will be with his rock band, but many are in the stripped to the
bare bones format, an acoustic set with one or two other musicians accompanying
those who have benefited from Steve's charity performances have been Huntingdon
Hall, Worcester; Chailey Heritage School For Handicapped Children; Nordoff-Robbins
Music Therapy Charity; The Bridge Project (for those with learning
difficulties), Suffolk, And Guitars Against Landmines.
Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?
All lyrics are mere song-words, supports to a tune, unless for instance you take
an original poem, say one of Robert Burns', and write a tune for it. Only then
are the lyrics truly poetry. However, many good song-words are poetical.
Sometimes, I may have got close.
Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?
Perfect rhymes are not much of a consideration in a song-lyric. Inflection can
work wonders for a dodgy couplet.
Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures such as
clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs can
also be like free verse?
I have written several songs with no middle-eight, no discernable bridge, and
even no chorus, per se. Try ‘The Coast Of Amalfi on my most recent CD, The
Quality Of Mercy. Narrative can be more interesting to a listener, but the
story must hold their attention if no chorus appears for them to hum along to.
When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to
the music you enjoyed?
fell for Burns as a lad; the lilting, strange tones of archaic Scottish
intrigued me. And much of his work was song. D. H. Lawrence's poetry, ‘Ship Of
Death’ and ‘Snake’ for instance, captivated me when I was 12 or
13-years-old. Words, words, words. Rock music was the obvious medium to adopt if
a young man wanted to get his words across to a wide audience.
Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your
Baudelaire, Rimbaud and William Burroughs were required reading in the early
70s, and a mixture of their meanderings and soft drugs were a catalyst that kept
me up all night struggling with the mischievous Muse.
Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?
Most poetry is hard work for the average reader. Music is more accessible, less
intellectually demanding. But at least through music and radio a writer's words
are getting across, even if subliminally. And even if they are not really
© Steve Harley