I’ve become a big birdwatcher, not very rock and roll, laughs Cockney Rebel Steve Harley

Singer-songwriter Steve Harley, who has lived in East Anglia nearly 30 years. Photo: Mike Callow

Singer-songwriter Steve Harley, who has lived in East Anglia nearly 30 years. Photo: Mike Callow - Credit: Archant

A throughbred Londoner, Cockney Rebel’s Steve Harley’s roots are in East Anglia. He shares his love of the region’s food, landscape and art.

Holkham is a favourite haunt of Steve Harley and his wife Dorothy. Photo: Holkham National Nature Re

Holkham is a favourite haunt of Steve Harley and his wife Dorothy. Photo: Holkham National Nature Reserve - Credit: Archant

Steve’s dined at some of the world’s finest restaurants but says the best are bang on his doorstep.

“Nick Barrett’s place Scutchers, in Long Melford... he’s a masterful chef, just wonderful food, the best. I love Indian and there’s a restaurant called Little India at Great Maplestead, near Halstead. It’s food beyond... I’ve brought famous musicians here to eat, people who can eat anywhere they like and they say ‘crikey, how good is this’,” he laughs.

Steve’s lived in the cornfields near Clare for nearly 30 years. A throughbred Londoner, settling in Suffolk makes more sense when he explains his ancestors came from Cockfield.

“My great grandfather’s name is Nice and they’re are all over East Anglia, I think they came across in the Huguenot Purges. My maternal grandmother was Fayers which is a big Lavenham name. When you go around Cockfield and the villages around Bury St Edmunds you’ll see Fayers and Nices all over the place in the graveyards, which I’m fond of visiting. Basically I came home.

“I came back from London when my kids were six and three. We just said ‘look, I tour so much we could live anywhere we want’. I showed my wife Dorothy East Anglia, said this is where my ancestry is based and she fell in love with it too. So we just thought let’s raise the family as true Nices,” laughs Steve, who was a reporter for the Essex County Standard, the Braintree and Witham Times, the Maldon and Burnham Standard, the Colchester Evening Gazette and East London Advertiser before music called.

His wife, while Glaswegian, shares a connection with East Anglia too. Her late fater was a gunner on the Lancaster bombers that flew out of Norfolk during the Second World War.

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“He was there two years and survived 29 operations. He was a bit of a hero in his way and had a fantastic history that he didn’t speak much about. I take her up to Coltishall as well, where the memorial fleet is based and went in the Lancaster there.”

One of Steve’s fondest thoughts when he’s away - which is a lot; in a couple of weeks he’s off to Athens to sing with an 80-piece orchestra in an amphitheatre at the base of the Acropolis - is the peace and quiet awaiting him at home.

Ed Sheeran performs at Glastonbury Festival. Photo: YUI MOK/PA WIRE

Ed Sheeran performs at Glastonbury Festival. Photo: YUI MOK/PA WIRE - Credit: PA

“We visit friends in the Home Counties and you see the big country pubs are full to overflowing and think ‘oh, it’s lively here’. Whereas in East Anglia you can always get a table and you think ‘I’d like a bit more of this hustle and bustle’. You get back here and think ‘nah, this is the way to be’. I like getting off the M11 and feeling the sparsely populated space around me.

“I’ve probably flown on 30 flights since Christmas... I’m often at airports which is always a living hell. I have to switch off because I’m trying to write songs for a new album, which is tough, it’s difficult as you get older. I sing, I play and then I come home and I’m in Suffolk again and I’m happy. I like the open air, I like to be outdoors in the sun and the warmth, it brings peace.”

The recent weather has meant Steve could enjoy the woodland and overgrown orchard, which he describes as their own Garden of Eden.

“Our garden is really beautiful, full of colour and life. It’s nice to sit with a notepad and try to write some lyrics. I’m a real birdwatcher, big time... not very rock and roll,” he laughs.

“It only came to me here but I can’t get enough of bird life. We get ‘em all, it’s an aviary. We feed them properly but crikey... people say ‘I’ve never seen a yellowhammer and I say ‘they visit my garden, that’s where they all are’.

“We get goldfinches, robins, baby blackbirds. The last clutches have been born and I can tell some of the songs now. I’ve got a couple of neighbours that are serious twitchers and they’re able to put me straight when I’m saying ‘look I’ve got this in my garden, it looks like this and I can’t find him’. I’ve got all the books you can imagine, a stack load and I can’t find the bugger. They go ‘oh, it’s a jay’. Wonderful, it’s a f*****g egg stealer. But yeah, you can get up on Minsmere, north Norfolk.”

Steve is regular visitor to Nelson Country.

“Because I’ve got this problem with my leg since I was three I’m not able to walk massive distances. It’s a drag for me because my head and my heart says walk, but my body says you can’t. My wife does, she’s extremely fit and healthy. We go to Thetford Forest on the way to Norwich, Burnham Market, Hunstanton, she gets lost on Holkham Beach; it’s sweet up there. I go to Fakenham Races while she goes shopping for a few hours.”

A former annual member at Newmarket for 25 years, he doesn’t go much nowadays but has wonderful memories of the horse Cockney Rebel, owned by a friend, winning the 2000 Guineas Stakes there in 2007.

“I don’t really gamble wildly but I do bet when I think something’s got a good chance. I read form for therapy once I’ve done the Telegraph crossword, read the paper and done whatever essentials have to be done in my life that day.”

An avid art collector, Steve’s always in galleries when on tour; enthusing about the Silk - From Spitalfields to Sudbury exhibition at Gainsborough’s House. “I had some free time, thought I haven’t been there for about 10 years and the exhibition was a surprise to me.”

A big Constable and Gainsborough fan, you’ll regularly spot him wandering about Dedham and Flatford Mill. His love of the landscape is reflected in his collection of work by Gorleston artist Geoffrey Chatten.

“He paints these impressionistic landscapes that are just so colourful and beautiful, I see them in London galleries. He’s a wonderful artist. I don’t know a great deal about him, he’s got the right letters after his name,” Steve laughs. “I’d like to go and see him in his studio if he’ll entertain me for an hour.”

He’s thrilled about the revived Clare market and likes Sudbury’s weekly market. He and Dorothy also like visiting Braintree’s Cineworld in the afternoon. “Twenty minutes drive, masses of parking spaces right by the entrance, come out and have an early dinner at Nandos,” he laughs.

He’s seen a lot of the world but loves taking people to Long Melford, Lavenham... and how breathtaking they find it.

“In the right weather East Anglia, generally speaking, is about as pretty and as interesting as it gets.”

He can’t think of any negatives, although he does have some advice for Framlingham singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.

“I’m not a grumpy old man, I love young people and I do what I can to help them in the music business... but you listen to songs from the 1960s and 1970s particularly and you hear stories, the meaning and depth in the lyric and now...

“What kind of role model is Ed Sheeran, singing about ‘I’m in love with your body’. Pardon me but grow up mate. Everything’s changed but it doesn’t necessarily change for the better, you know?”

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