REVIEW: Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel @ The Live Rooms

Steve Harley

Iconic 70s British rock act, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, made a Northern stop in Chester over the weekend as part of their current tour. With little knowledge of the band other than being familiar with a couple of songs, I was set for a rather interesting evening at Chester’s intimate and increasingly popular venue, The Live Rooms.

For those of you unfamiliar with the band, they were predominantly popular in the early 70s, becoming active again in the late 90s. With their prog rock and sometimes pop tunes, they’re what I’d call a bit of a ‘Dad band’, reaffirmed by the fact that mine was particularly excited about me reviewing their show. The band are best known for their 1975 number one single ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)’, which has now been covered over an impressive hundred and twenty times, most notably by Duran Duran in the 80s.

The carpet was rolled out for Steve Harley and crew – quite literally, I’ve never seen the venue looking as swanky, with more recent acts targeted towards heavy metal heads and incurring mosh pits. The line-up for the night was also rather different to the usual affair, with no support act and an interval between two sets from Harley and co. It’s also safe to say that I was perhaps the youngest attendee, lost in a huge crowd of 50+ year old fans gearing up for the performance enthusiastically.

The show kicked off at 8:30pm, with the band starting off with their well-known cover of The Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’ which seemed to get the crowd going. My favourite performance of the night followed, ‘Mr. Soft’, which certainly got everyone moving with people starting to break out some fabulous dance moves. The crowd pleasing tunes continued for an hour, before the band took a short break and then returned to the stage. Now, by that point, I had rather enjoyed the show which had been a nice mix of quality performances and a few nice anecdotes. However, when the band returned to the stage for a further 90 minutes, I felt that the pace and atmosphere began to dwindle, particularly for someone unfamiliar with most of what was played during the second half. The show eventually came to a welcome close with the band’s biggest hit, ‘Make Me Smile’, not without Harley expressing the nuisance of people referring to it as ‘Come Up and See Me’.

All in all, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel gave a great performance, albeit a rather long one. Harley has got an amazing bunch of musicians around him, particularly in his guitarist and violin player who showed off with some great solos. With a classic band like Cockney Rebel having achieved much of their fame forty years ago, it’s always a danger for the act to sound more like a tribute band than the real deal. However, Harley and co did not disappoint and they sounded rather fresh, which is a rather impressive feat for an act that has been around so long. The band admitted to being a tad under-rehearsed, which was evident at times but also forgiveable due to their charm.

At two and a half hours, the show was just too long to keep me interested. Now, when I saw Bruce Springsteen whack out a full three hours in Coventry last year, that was a sexy beast of a gig. However, despite Harley’s musical talent, the Boss he is not. Saying that, the intimate atmosphere was ideal for such a night and Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel have still got it, overall putting on a good show for plenty of happy ageing rebellers.

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