Heaven and Hell: Steve Harley
- Credit: Martin Bone
Steve Harley celebrates his 47th year in music in 2021 and continues to play sell-out concerts around the world. He says that playing live is more than a job, it’s almost his life’s blood. Steve recently released a new album on CD and vinyl, Uncovered. Considered one of the most charismatic live performers at work today, the original Cockney Rebel tours with his band and in a four-man acoustic set-up. He lives with his wife, Dorothy, near Clare.
What is your connection to East Anglia?
My dad’s family have been in the area for centuries. The Fayers, his mother’s family, were mostly builders, living and building in and around Cockfield. The Nice name (my real name) is popular in East Anglia, too. I’m a Londoner, but when we moved to our house near Clare 32 years ago, I felt a little like I was coming home.
What is your East Anglian Heaven?
I travel a great deal, all over the UK and around Europe and further, and when I get back and drive up and off the M11, into north Essex, I wind down. It’s quite sparsely populated. I like that. The only crowd I want to be amongst is at a sold-out concert venue!
What is your East Anglian Hell?
In a normal year, I spend a lot of time at Stansted airport. The drop-off charge is iniquitous. It infuriates my wife!
What’s your favourite East Anglian restaurant?
We like Asian cuisine a great deal. The best Indian cooking by a long shot comes out the kitchens at Little India, near Little Maplestead. We are regulars there. But for special family events, we go to Scutcher’s in Long Melford, where Nick Barrett conjures up some wonderful dishes. They have a fine wine list, too.
What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?
Colchester Zoo. We took our own children there as youngsters many times. Now we take the young grandchildren. Everything is right about it.
What’s your specialist Mastermind subject?
I appeared on a Celebrity (don’t laugh) Mastermind a few years ago. My specialist subject was T.S. Eliot and his poem Four Quartets. I got 10/11 as I recall. I love quizzes and crosswords.
What is always in your fridge?
A decent Chardonnay and tomato juice (for the Bloody Marys). And always a chunk of Stilton and some beetroot. And tomatoes. Very healthy food. They keep the bad guys at bay…I don’t go into supermarkets, but my wife takes care of my special needs!
What’s your favourite film?
Unforgiven. I would forgive Clint Eastwood anything.
What was your first job?
Trainee accountant at the Daily Express on Fleet Street. And considering I didn’t even pass the mock exam for O’Level maths. I lasted nine months. I was 17 when I left. I haven’t had a routine life since then.
What is your most treasured possession?
I’m not really a materially-minded guy. But my battered paperback copy of T. S. Eliot’s Collected Poems has travelled everywhere with me since 1973. Life would be hard to endure without the comfort that Eliot’s mastery of language brings me.
Who do you admire most?
Dorothy, my wife. She is one of the special people. The grandchildren adore her. That’s wonderful.
What is your biggest indulgence?
Racehorses. I’ve owned plenty over 30 years. I’ve got a 50% share in three at the moment. It’s like tossing £50 notes onto the turf and grinding into them with your heel. But it’s my therapy, reading form and watching them run.
What’s your worst character trait?
Impulse-buying guitars. Guitars are beautiful and tactile, and I play constantly at home. I’ve got lots of them and only use three or four. Madness. But trawling the music shops of Denmark Street, in London, is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Best day of your life?
After watching my wife give birth to our two children, that’s a tough one to answer. But Cockney Rebel, the horse owned by a friend, winning the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2007 would take some beating. Winning a Classic on the flat is a thrill all racing people dream of. And we’ve been there.
What’s your favourite breakfast?
Bran flakes with apple, strawberries, blueberries and banana. And a pot of strong tea.
What’s your hidden talent?
I can sense a cold on a person from 20 paces. I sing for a living. I don’t want anyone’s germs. Haven’t had a cold for 32 years. It’s hard work, but my voice is my instrument. I absolutely love playing and singing live on stage. I need my voice.
When were you most embarrassed?
At Marc Bolan’s funeral, I consoled a visibly distraught David Bowie by saying, “Don’t be so upset; it’s not what Marc would have wanted.” I turned away thinking, crikey, did I really just talk in that patronising, cliched way? Never forgotten how trite that must have sounded to David. Still, he did relax a little after that!
What song would you like played at your funeral?
I won’t have a funeral. I will go out via the Common Cremation route. That way, it’s all over in little time. Grieving is such a sorrowful time and I wouldn’t want my family going through that.
Tell us something people don’t know about you?
I’ve been a parish councillor for 25 years. In spite of my loathing of committees.
What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
“You’ve been knocked off the Number One spot by Telly Savalas”
What do you want to tell our readers about most?
Uncovered – my latest album. It was released two weeks before Covid hit the country. I was nine shows into a 60-date tour when the door was slammed on us. When we get back on the road, I’m going to advertise the album again and pretend it’s still “new”. I can’t wait. Without a trolley-case packed and an itinerary, I barely know who I am. For more information, please visit: https://www.steveharley.com
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