Cockney Rebel’s Steve Harley Dead At 73

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Cockney Rebel frontman Steve Harley has died at 73. The English musician’s family announced the news in a statement, writing: “We are devastated to announce that our wonderful husband and father has passed away peacefully at home, with his family by his side.” Harley had been undergoing treatment for cancer, and had to cancel a number of shows last year because of it.

Harley was born in London in 1951, and he spent a good part of his childhood in the hospital after contracting polio at a young age. He took music lessons when he was a kid. He left school early and started working at a newspaper, first as an accountant and later as a reporter. But he left that job and began busking and performing in folk clubs.

He started Cockney Rebel in 1973 with John Paul Crocker, and they rounded up a band that was signed to EMI after playing only a handful of shows. Their debut single “Sebastian” and their debut album The Human Menagerie were both released before the end of that year. The one-off “Judy Teen,” which came out early on in 1974, was the band’s first UK hit, capitalizing on the popularity of “Sebastian” in the rest of Europe.

Harley released a solo single, “Big Big Deal,” around the same time that the band got to work on their sophomore album The Psychomondo, which came out in the summer of 1974. By that time, tensions within the band had become strained and Crocker, Milton Reame-James and Paul Jeffreys all quit. Harley had to put together a new band, save for drummer Stuart Elliott who stuck around, and started performing and recording as Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel.

Their next album, 1975’s The Best Years Of Our Lives, contained what would become their most enduring hit, “Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me),” which was directed at the band members who had quit. Cockney Rebel notched a few hits in the years after that, including “Mr. Raffles (Man, It Was Mean)” and a cover of “Here Comes The Sun,” and recorded a couple more albums, Timeless Flight and Love’s A Prima Donna, both of which came out in 1976.

The band split in 1977 and Harley moved to Los Angeles to record his 1978 solo album Hobo With A Grin, but was already back in Britain by the time The Candidate came out the following year. His output slowed down in the ’80s, but picked back up in the ’90s when he revived the Cockney Rebel band and put out some more solo albums. Harley took out various iterations of the band out on the road in the decades that followed.

The statement from Harley’s family announcing his passing reads: “Whoever you know him as, his heart exuded only core elements. Passion, kindness, generosity, and much more, in abundance.”