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Q&A: Steve Harley

The Cockney Rebel frontman on revisiting his Best Years, pointing fingers and his troublesome motormouth.

Now 64 years old, Steve Harley co-founded Cockney Rebel in London in 1972 when he was 21. After the original line-up ran aground two years later, the singer took control of the band until a split in ’77. A Harley-led version has existed since 1988, and next month he and the band’s original drummer Stuart Elliott reunite for a lengthy UK tour with two former members – guitarist Jim Cregan and keyboard player Duncan Mackay – to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the album they made together, The Best Years Of Our Lives.

You recently said your new single, Ordinary People, is “a potential Radio 2 playlister… if only”. That doesn’t sound very confident.

The new single from Cliff [Richard] is on the A-list, and they play David Gilmour, but it’s tough. I’d love it if Radio 2 played my single – half the world and its grandmother thinks I only wrote one song [laughs]. If it had the right name stuck to it I think they would play it.

What’s the song about?

It’s a cri de coeur – I’m speaking for the little man, as it were. It’s not John Lennon, but as I get older I’m not ashamed to wear my heart on my sleeve.

Will you be making a new album?

Yeah. Not too many people are holding their breath waiting for it, but I’ve got four other tracks, and lots of lyrics. At the end of the day, what am I if not a writer? It’s what I am. 

Rod Stewart certainly approves of your compositional skills, having reworked A Friend For Life, a song you wrote with Jim Cregan, for his new album Another Country.

Was I happy with that? Just a bit! Rod really nails it in his old soul voice. Good old Rod.

On this tour you’re revisiting The Best Years Of Our Lives by performing the album in its entirety in its 40th anniversary year.

Plus all of the B-sides, yeah. Our singles always had original tracks.

That album was recorded at a troubled time, after all of the band except drummer Stuart Elliott quit. How does it feel, looking back?

Well, Cregan’s mad [laughs]. What can I say? C’mon, it was the seventies and all of us were single. They were hedonistic times: cognac and drugs, up all night smoking. But that’s not me any more. I’ve got to sing the following day. 

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