Steve Harley Acoustic Band – The Atkinson, Southport – A Review


To most people who know the name, Steve Harley is synonymous with that magical record Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) – the number one smash hit from 1975 that spent nine weeks in the top 50, and has sold in excess of 1.5 million copies worldwide. The inventive stop-start arrangement, clever wordplay and iconic flamenco-style acoustic guitar solo has become the brainworm of generations. Hell, I even cover it myself and it’s incredible to see how the dynamic of the room changes when that intro riff kicks in. It’s a song for all time, that’s for sure.

And so, on the back of that one hit, Harley sells tickets, but there’s much more to him than just that. Harley, best known as frontman of the rock group Cockney Rebel, is a hugely talented and award-winning songwriter with an instantly recognisable but fairly limited vocal range – therefore it was interesting to see how he tackled this intimate venue with a three-piece acoustic backing band that were, at times, sublime.

Playing a range of standards, covers and the odd original song to begin with, Harley, who hobbled to a seat on a crutch, sang with great expression and care. The first twenty minutes had a somewhat folky, melancholic feel (aided by some expert fiddle playing and the eerie slide of an upright bass), until Harley started to intertwine songs with stories, and stories with song. 

Harley’s voice is better suited to the more upbeat pop-rock material, but he still has a way of delivering the softer stuff with captivating charisma. His guitar playing may leave something to be desired, but his stellar band, comprising of long-standing violinist/guitarist Barry Wickens, Oli Hayhurst on double bass and Dave Delarre on lead guitar comprised a beautiful and at times jaunty, rocking sound that pushed and pulled an enthused audience through two more than fascinating halves.

The incomparable Mr Soft, somewhat reinvented from its glam rock tradition that lingers in the imaginations of 80’s kids (a result of its overplay on the Softmints TV advert), got a rousing reception, mainly as a result of the epic fiddle solo and emphatic ending. We hung on for the crown jewels – Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) – though it was a little underwhelming. Without Cockney Rebel and a rhythm section it wasn’t quite the gem that we all know and love. 

However, Harley, a bonafide 70’s rock star, is still out there rambling and roving and good luck to him. An adorable story about his grandson, six years old, who had been to see him perform and couldn’t quite associate grandad and this star on the stage moved me. You always take something away with you from these intimate little occasions with big names, and Harley will forever be that.

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