Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel is an English rock band that began in the early 1970s. Their music covers a range of styles from pop to progressive rock, and while they were contemporary with the glam rock period, their music is not truly classifiable as such. Indeed, many feel that Harley and the band might have been more successful if they had begun their careers earlier, and had not been eclipsed by the glam rock bandwagon. Their track "Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)", a UK Number One single, remains the band's biggest selling hit.
Steve Harley (born Steven Nice on 27 February 27 in south London) began his musical career as a soloist in the legendary Beckenham Arts Lab founded by David Bowie. Here, he was busking (with John Crocker) and performing his own songs, some of which were later recorded by him and the band. The original Cockney Rebel was formed when Steve hooked up with his former folk partner, John Crocker (fiddle / mandolin / guitar) in 1972. They auditioned drummer Stuart Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys, and keyboardist Milton Reame-James. They were signed to EMI after playing just five gigs, one of the band's first gigs being at The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London, on 23 July 1972 supporting The Jeff Beck Group . Their first single "Sebastian", a soaring rock epic, was an immediate success in Europe, though failed to score in the UK singles chart. Their first album, The Human Menagerie, was released in 1973 to critical acclaim, and is still felt by many fans to be their best.
Harley managed to irritate a significant segment of the music press with his self-aggrandisement, even as the music itself was getting rave reviews and gaining a wide audience. It was becoming clear that Harley regarded the band as little more than accompaniment to his own agenda, and already there were signs that things would not last, despite having a big hit with their second single, "Judy Teen". There then followed the album The Psychomodo, an adventurous and ambitious production which showed that there was real talent in the group. A second single from the album, "Mr. Soft", was also a big hit. The band was voted the 'Most Outstanding New Act' of 1974. By this time the problems within the band had already reached a head, and all the musicians, with the exception of Stuart Elliott, quit at the end of a highly successful UK tour. Harley's next appearance on Top of the Pops was supported by session musicians drafted in for the show.
From then on, the band was a band in name only, being more or less a Steve Harley solo project. In 1974, a further album, The Best Years Of Our Lives was made, produced by Beatles recording engineer, Alan Parsons. This included the track "Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)" which would go on to be a UK Number One single and the band's biggest selling hit. In a television interview recorded in 2002, Harley described how the lyrics are vindictively directed at the former band members, whom he felt had abandoned him - a fact which eludes a majority of listeners who enjoy the apparently happy chorus.
After 1975, Harley struggled to match the success of "Make Me Smile" and faded from fame, and Cockney Rebel eventually disbanded in 1977.
In 1998 Harley began to use the Cockney Rebel name again. The 2005 album "Quality of Mercy" (which included the singles "A Friend for Life" and "The Last Goodbye") was the first album since the 1970s to be released with the Cockney Rebel name
In 2010, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel began touring again setting concert dates for England, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. This was done following the release of the new studio album Stranger Comes to Town. On 24 November 2012 the band including the Orchestra of the Swan and a choir performed the band's first two albums The Human Menagerie and The Psychomodo in their entirety for the first time. A live double-CD and DVD was released in October 2013 of this performance, titled Birmingham (Live with Orchestra & Choir).