The Argotist Online

About        Articles       Interviews        Features       Ebooks       Submissions      Links


   Steve Harley  


Steve 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.


As 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.


One 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.


Steve 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".


Steve 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 him.


Among 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.




Q: Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?


A: 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.


Q: Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?


A: Perfect rhymes are not much of a consideration in a song-lyric. Inflection can work wonders for a dodgy couplet.


Q: 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?


A: 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.


Q: When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to the music you enjoyed?


A: I 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.


Q:  Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting?


A: 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.


Q: Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?


A: 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 poetry!