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Steve Harley - on the road again

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Ashcroft Theatre, Fairfield Halls, Thursday, November 21, 8pm For tickets, priced £23, call 0208 688 9291 or visit www.fairfield.co.uk

A JOURNALIST once called Steve Harley 'happy go lucky' and he's never forgotten it.

This is, after all, the man who penned the lyrics to Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me), which actually leaves the listener with little to smile about.

"You can't write the dark, brooding romance that I write and be happy go lucky," Steve insists. "I'm still writing that sort of thing now and I do have some dark thoughts."

Steve cites his childhood illness as one of the reasons for the way he is today. He contracted polio in 1953 and spent a total of four years in hospital between the ages of three and 16.

"People ask if that affected me," he said. "Of course it affected me. I learnt how to be alone and solitary. My whole life was kept in a wooden cabinet beside the bed. Early trauma like that makes you the man you are.

"I am lucky it was just physical. Apart from that I had a wonderful childhood."

He started writing and listening to music seriously at age 12, while recovering from surgery.

Steve went on to become one of the best known singer-songwriters in the country as part of Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, with worldwide hits including Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me), Judy Teen, Mr Raffles and a cover of Here Comes The Sun.

With 13 albums to his name and an unfailing love of performing live, Steve rarely has a year when he doesn't take to the stage.

He's just started a 13-date tour of the UK which takes in Croydon, where he'll be trying to sing at least one track from every one of his albums.

"This show pretty much spans my whole career," Steve said. "I do have a set list but I rarely stick to the order.

"The band and the lighting department have to jump through hoops but they know me well enough to know what's coming next. It keeps them all on their toes. But because I mix things up I sometimes miss an album and then the hardcore fans get upset."

Steve has no problem with the overriding success of the song that everyone knows him for – Make Me Smile. He knows that's often the one song that the crowd are desperate to hear.

"I don't mind because I wrote it, my big hits are not bubblegum tunes," he said. "I like these songs. Make Me Smile is never the same twice. People sing it with me from beat one. Why wouldn't I like it?

"We were performing in Dublin a few years ago and there was a woman at the front who kept shouting at me 'Play Make Me Smile Steve', and it was only 20 minutes in. So after a while I stopped and looked down at her and said 'Look, if you've paid £25 just to hear that one song then I suggest you go for a walk, get a burger and come back in an hour and a half's time, then you can hear it.' She loved it and the audience were in fits."

As well as the tour, Steve has recently released a live DVD and 2 CD album, recorded at his special one-off show at the Birmingham Symphony Hall in November 2012. It features one of his performances of a lifetime, singing all of the tracks from The Human Menagerie and The Psychomodo albums, back to back and in sequence, accompanied by a band, orchestra and choir.

After the tour, Steve has a busy year ahead. He and the band will perform their annual Christmas gig at the Picturedrome in Holmfirth, Yorkshire. Then there's another live performance complete with orchestra and choir in Manchester in April.

After that he'll be heading over to Norway to record new songs in a renovated warehouse on a fjord.

"It's so idyllic there, I can't even tell you," he said. "I'm writing the new material now but it's hard to write new lyrics when you're on tour, singing the old ones every night."

Harley's lyrics have always been one of his strengths however, with Rod Stewart calling him "one of the finest lyricists the UK has ever produced."

Clare Youell

Steve Harley - on the road again


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