Monthly Archive: June 2014

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel with the Orchestra of the Swan & Chamber Choir @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham,UK – 29 June 2014

Tonight it’s to the exquisite Symphony Hall where 70’s pop meets classical. To quote the artist this is “the chance to make a dream come true.” Tonight, ladies and gentlemen Steve Harley and his Cockney Rebel bandits will be making you smile, with a classical make-over of his first two albums, with the accompaniment of the Orchestra of the Swan & Chamber Choir.

Cockney Rebel formed way back in 1971, recording ‘The Human Menagerie’ in 1973 (an album that didn’t chart at the time and the tracks didn’t break either) and followup ‘The Psychomodo’ in 1974 which made number 8 in the UK charts. They went onto become classic albums of the era –  ‘Sebastian’, ‘Mr. Soft’ and ‘Judy Teen’ are still played on the radio worldwide. Then three members walked and the band split – but that didn’t stop Harley – he renamed the band Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel and went on to have further hits including the million selling global hit  ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)’  and has been touring and performing ever since.  He influenced a generation – bands such as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Erasure all cite him as an influence, with even The Wedding Present covering ‘Make Me Smile’. Tonight’s venue is not far being sold out – he still remains popular and can pull in a good crowd.

Harley started this journey with a one off “exclusive” gig at The Symphony Hall about a year and 3 months ago. He in his own words, “felt slightly fraudulent” as he announced this trio of gigs –  tonight is the third of the three  which includes a previous night at The Royal Albert Hall in London.

So the lights dim, and the choir, then orchestra and band take their places – before Harley takes to the stage – cheers getting ever louder. First part of the set is ‘The Human Menagerie’ in track order listing – something he comments on – invariably he mixes and matches the sets  certainly when it’s acoustic – and doesn’t necessarily  “…have a clue what’s coming next…” but tonight he does and we do.

‘Hideaway’ is performed with depth of sound with full orchestra and choir. ‘What Ruthy Said’ remains more true to its original roots – you can hear the lighter side of Cockney Rebel in their true colours. And as the sax solo rolls out – we recognise the player – this be Steve Norman, one time member of Spandau Ballet, tonight playing with the guy that inspired him, and acting not only as saxophonist but multi-instrument percussionist. ‘Loretta’s Tale’ has an Italian vibe – with mandolin. For ‘Crazy Raver’ we bop along happily.

As Harley removes his jacket he quips it’s “…expensive… made for the occasion…. Not just made to measure…made to fit…” He chuckles that a London journalist thought his career was on the skids – clearly not with his expensive jacket. He’s quietly spoken, but self effacing and funny – and engages well with the crowd.

‘Sebastian’ is one of the highlight’s of the night – beautifully haunting with full orchestral arrangement, the sound rises and rises, the ethereal accompaniment of a high female voice from the choir, lifts it more  into an epic reworking. And quite rightly, the audience respond with a standing ovation. “If you didn’t think that was big and powerful – you should stand here and feel it!” He’s chatting again “ … if that wasn’t bad enough, playing in track order – you feel we’ll peak too early…”

And the tracks roll on – the orchestra performing perfectly with the accompaniment of the choir – at times coming over all Beatles-esque aka ‘Sergeant Pepper’ as they remix and juggle and spin the tracks round and around – still totally identifiable. And Cockney Rebel play deliciously well – Norman is partying – playing every single type of percussion instrument available in each song.

We chant back right at them for ‘Judy Teen’ as he tells us, he just doesn’t hang out with musicians, he’s unpretentious, some reviewers just don’t get him and quote him word for word [avoids doing such! – sic]- as the orchestra, band and choir crank up for the epic ‘Death Trip’ and we are indeed tripping – think Beatles – ‘A Day in The Life.’

Huge applause and standing ovation again – we’re off for a 20 minute break….

Second album ‘The Psychmodo’ starts as it means to go on – energetic and frenetic – before Harley comments that “..we know what’s coming…” and we’re into the bouncy bouncy ‘Mr. Soft’  – far bassier and bam bam bam with this full orchestral package.

An introduction to the band and current Cockney Rebel line-up. He says he was on the radio plugging these gigs and he got a ‘tweet.’ (Harley is well know as a self-confessed technophobe). Which turns out was from @garykemp saying “Tell Harley we want him back…” as he introduces Spandau band mate Norman. ‘Ritz’ is spooky and mesmerising; ‘Cavaliers’ is all big and epic. Harley and Norman duet at the from of stage, Harley on accordion, Norman on sax – and another standing ovation. Harley offers his accordion up tell sell on E-bay for a tenner, and indeed chucks it to an audience member – along with the instructions.  Someone shouts from the rear of the audience “…. I can’t deal with heckles…” he jokes, “… nor can I deal with requests!”

Before ‘Sling It!’ he relates how the three band members left him, right as they were making it big, just weeks before a big headline gig at Reading. He wrote ‘Sling It!’ –  “…this was a flop too…” before they deliver the final track of the album ‘Tumble Down’ all big and epic -once again. During an interlude for the track he tells us of magical moments in a gig – even the biggest stars know of. And how important it is to be nice. Pete Townsend is nice. Others aren’t. (No names mentioned – social media spies). He relates a tale of meeting one of his heroes – Bob Dylan. Who didn’t speak. At all. Just cos Dylan doesn’t do that.  And ask we finish with the final ending and the crowd sing back  on ‘Tumble Down’ that magic moment is there….

And they leave – but not for long. How could you not deliver another magical moment? And they do indeed ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me).’

In Harley’s words:  “Playing live is the biggest thrill there is. Every night is different. Every audience and every town have their own personality, and I am a relentless explorer.”

And 40 odd years on he’s still exploring. Tonight’s gig isn’t the cheapest  – top tickets £45 each. But it was definitely worth it – the Orchestra of the Swan & Chamber Choir were an amazing accompaniment – Harley hadn’t been precious – they remixed and played big and large – and developing the music to the next level. Cockney Rebel make 2014 clearly had blast and truly emotional – Norman had a grin from ear to ear. Harley’s getting on a bit now. He’s 63. And whilst clearly struggling physically, he delivered, engaged, made us laugh, entertained us, performed and then some musically and indeed made us smile. He clearly loved it too. A magical moment. What a nice bloke.


This two part set featured albums in their running order:

The Human Menagerie

  • Hideaway
  • What Ruthy Said
  • Loretta’s Tale
  • Crazy Raver
  • Sebastian
  • Mirror Freak
  • My Only Vice (is the fantastic prices I charge for being eaten alive)
  • Muriel the Actor
  • Judy Teen
  • Death Trip

B side – Rock and Roll Parade

The Psychomodo

  • Sweet Dreams
  • The Psychomodo
  • Mr Soft
  • Singular Band
  • Ritz
  • Cavaliers
  • Bed in the Corner
  • Sling It!
  • Tumbling Down


Review for Gig Junkies; pictures Ken Harrison

Dexys @ Coventry Kasbah, UK – 25 June 2014

Tonight we’re rocking the Kasbah, so to speak –  as we’ve journeyed over to Coventry to hang out with local legends playing one of a trio of gigs before they take to the Glastonbury stage. Rain is predicted at the Festival – but here in the Kasbah it’s increasingly warm as the flocks have come to see one of the true eccentrics of the music scene, Kevin Rowland and his band of merry lads and lasses - Dexys.

Dexys Midnight Runners (now shortened to just Dexys), formed way back in 1978. It was hit ‘Geno’ (a tribute to soul singer Geno Washington) that brought them to the attention of the masses and an image that included donkey jackets, leather coats and woolly hats; ‘Mean Streets’ style. And then to commercial success in the early 80‘s and change of image as the band adorned dungarees and scarfs – an effective rag-taggle off-the-farm look and they went all Celtic folk rock with album ‘Too-Rye-Ay’ featuring the rip-roaring ‘Come On Eileen’. You could say a lot has happened since then, Rowland has had, what could be called, an ‘interesting’ journey and it took over 25 years before Dexys recorded and released their fourth studio album ‘One Day I’m Going to Soar’ in 2012.  They toured pretty extensively that year and tonight this album plays a key part as the first half of the set. Sadly Madeleine Hyland couldn’t make this tour so in her place, we have former Banarama and Shakespear Sister Siobhan Fahey.

Scarily, it’s been 30 years since Dexys placed in Coventry, a huge period of time by anyone’s standards, so tonight’s crowd are pretty expectant. And we have to say, that the crew at the Kasbah are a friendly, helpful bunch which is always a massive plus at any venue. And as we sip our drinks before the band are due to take the stage (there’s no support and Dexys aren’t due on ‘til around 8.30pm), some choose to check out the BBQ that is merrily wafting delicious smells in the warm summers evening.

Taking our places in the venue, the lights go down and it’s in darkness. Keyboard and violin mesmerisingly ring out, and we’re already feeling pretty mellow in the dark, as the band take their places. A single spot light picks out Rowland, akin in hat and shades, red and yellow jacket, stripped shirt and brogue shoes in accompaniment. Parisian retro style starts here – clearly the incarnation of Dexys 2014. “It was way beck in the forties…” he starts off, as we’ve led sublimely into ‘Now.’

Song completes to a huge cheer from the crowd, and now lit in the middle of the set is a white chair.. Rowland sits and takes us into ‘Lost’ – we’re in the blues baby. Tonights set is Dexys art-house style, acting, miming, interpreting alongside the song; more performance than gig. Rowland’s voice is still that distinctive nasal slur and he remains introvertly eccentric, far more comfortable in his persona when singing or acting with his band mates, less comfortable engaging directly with the audience. Band members appear on stage, this performance they are arguing over a girl, a mock fight, then sorry – acting, yet miming at the same time. And the band roll on and on with the blues inspired rhythm.

Rowland and Pete Williams now share vocal duties – part chat, partly sung as up on the balcony a Parisian styled, subtlety lit, Siobhan Fahey joins in – ‘She’s Got A Wiggle’ – which indeed she undoubtably has.

‘One Day I’m Going to Soar’ is a different Dexys. It features subtle blues, 70’s funk and at times its gets us bopping along and tracks roll on and on – the band are tight, vocal duties shared between Rowland, Williams and Fahey. Dexys 2014 are cool, they’re the blues and as opposed to being in a sweaty club we are transformed to chilled-out green fields, the summer sun blazing down, grass wafting in the breeze, glass of wine in hand….

“Thank you so much…” Rowland speaks directly to the audience. As the first part of set concludes we’re building to the ‘hits’ section of the gig. A comic moment as Rowland can’t control the mike stand and the mike slides down to it’s shortest height. Williams quips that “…comedy is introduced into the show….” and promptly continues to take the mick, in a friendly and jovial way.

“Remember this?” we’re asked as Dexys take us into renditions of ‘There, There My Dear’ – versions from ‘82 and back to ‘80. Banter between Rowland and Williams - “…Been searching…”; “What have you been searching for”; “…. Searching for different things…”’; “Just things….” and as he sings Rowland paces from side to side of the stage like a caged tiger.

‘Geno’ 2014 edition is not as angsty as the original – indeed, we’re bright and breezy and calypso. It’s all funked up – indeed let’s take a trip to the Caribbean…

The classic ‘Come On Eileen’ maybe isn’t so frenetic these days (well Rowlands is hitting 60) and gone, as said are the dungarees and straw hats, but it is a full 16 minutes long, as the band chill in the middle, Williams and Rowland chant the chorus, before cranking it up to a grand finale.

The band line up to take a bow – all 9 of them excluding Fahey, before they’re back on. Banter and chat commences – acting returns, “You alright?”. “I’m alright” Playing on ya mind…” “So what’s she like?…” come the dulcet Brummigan tones as indeed we get Dexys opus  ’This is What She’s Like….’

During a quieter moment a punter shouts “Better than the World Cup!” (which admittedly, especially where England are concerned, wouldn’t be difficult!), an introduction to each band member gets a great response form the crowd, as the track rolls on and on an on… and we dance and bop until finally the band take their leave.

Dexys 2014 are not the Dexys that most people would recognize from their heyday. That’s long ago – don’t let that detract – they are deep and introspective, charismatic, arty, but also are a great band – tight and professional with Williams and Rowland great vocal sparring partners. I’m sure at the right time on the right stage they will go down well at Glastonbury. Check them out – they may not be what you may expect from Dexys Midnight Runners – they are indeed Dexys – the core talent and unique eccentricity remains. Indeed, I don’t know about one day, but I am sure that they are indeed soaring…


Review for Gig Junkies; pictures Ken Harrison