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17 March 2024

Steve Harley, Cockney Rebel Frontman, Dies At 73

Steve Harley Dies 73
Photo: Gordon Scammell/Alamy Stock Photo
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Steve Harley, the frontman of the rock group Cockney Rebel, has died aged 73.

The renowned English singer and songwriter, best known for his 1975 song Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me), had been receiving treatment for cancer. He died at his Suffolk home on Sunday morning.

In a statement, his family said: “We are devastated to announce that our wonderful husband and father Steve Harley has passed away peacefully at home, with his family by his side. The birdsong from his woodland that he loved so much was singing for him. His home has been filled with the sounds and laughter of his four grandchildren.

“Whoever you know him as, his heart exuded only core elements. Passion, kindness, generosity. And much more, in abundance.”

Harley’s family said they knew the singer would be “desperately missed by people all over the world”.

Last Christmas he posted a message on his official website that said cancelling scheduled tour dates was “heartbreaking” but that he was fighting a “nasty” cancer.

He said: “2023 has not exactly been an annus horribilis for me, as the first half was often magical, with some great nights on stage with Barry, Oli and David. And the full rock band in Holland and Belgium, and Denmark … out there, on the road, that’s where I come alive.

“The second half, well … cancelling live dates is heartbreaking. I’m aware of the stress and financial strain it can place on you. But I’m fighting a nasty cancer. My oncologist is pleased with the treatment’s effects so far. It’s tiresome, and tiring. But the fight is on. And thankfully the cursed intruder is not affecting the voice. I sing and play most evenings.”

Harley was born in south London in 1951 and formed Cockney Rebel in the early 1970s. The original band was made up of Harley, Jean-Paul Crocker, drummer Stuart Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys and guitarist Nick Jones.

Their debut studio album, The Human Menagerie, was released in 1973. It was a cult level success but 1974’s The Psychomodo went to No. 8 in the UK and went gold with help from songs such as Mr. Soft and the title track. 1975’s The Best Years Of Our Lives did even better, again going gold and peaking at No. 4 following the No. 1 success of Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me).

Other hits include Here Comes The Sun which was released in 1976. Later in his career, Steve Harley branched out as a solo artist before the band regrouped in 1990 after the success of his 1989 tour. He also presented the BBC Radio 2 show Sounds of the 70s from 1999 to 2008. The show is now hosted by Johnnie Walker.

Tributes to Harley have started to roll in. Singer-songwriter Mike Batt, who worked with Harley on many songs, described him as a “dear pal” and “lovely guy”.

“What a talent. What a character,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “My condolences to Dorothy and all. RIP, mate.”

The duo worked together on tracks including Ballerina (Prima Donna) released in 1983 and the 1988 charity single Whatever You Believe, in which they were joined by Yes lead singer Jon Anderson.

Midge Ure, who produced Harley’s 1982 track I Can’t Even Touch You, said he was a “true ‘working musician'”. “He toured until he could tour no more, playing his songs for fans old and new,” Ure wrote on social media. “Our songs live on longer than we ever can.”

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