Stephen Malcolm Ronald Nice was born in 1951 in Lewisham, London. He grew up in London’s New Cross area and as a child learned to play the violin, when he was 10 his parent gave him his first guitar and Stephen played in the school orchestra. By the age of 12 years he contracted polio and spent the next four years in hospital. There he listened to a lot of Bob Dylan who inspired him to become a singer song writer. He left the Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College with no qualifications but started work as an apprentice accountant with the Daily Express in 1968. He later changed to a junior reporter and worked in a number of local Essex newspapers before returning to London and the East London Advertiser. For beer money Stephen busked and formed a folk duo with John Crocker (aka Jean-Paul Crocker). Gradually they got gigs in bars and clubs and in 1972 he formed Cockney Rebel with Jean-Paul Crocker (electric fiddle / mandolin / guitar), Stuart Elliott (drums), Paul Jeffreys (bass), and Milton Reame-James (keyboards). The band must have been good because they were signed to EMI after playing only five gigs. Their debut single "Sebastian," was an immediate success in Europe although the band failed to repeat the success in the UK.
Despite their loyal following in London their first album, The Human Menagerie (1974) made no UK impact.
Their second single "Judy Teen" was released later the same year and this was followed by “Mr Soft” which was taken from the more commercial album, The Psychomodo.
On stage Steve was eye catching and he and the band dressed in fey decadence of glam rock chic. He was a consummate song writer and regarded himself poet as opposed to rock star. He was to pick up on the impact of the movie Clockwork Orange and started to appear on stage with similar costume. His exaggerated gestures, knowing leers, and mannered contortionist’s voice combined to make riveting rock theatre. Despite their success as a live act, continued disquiet within the band led inevitably to a break up of Cockney Rebel in 1974. The band was unhappy mainly with Steve and his enormous ego. Steve’s arrogance had irritated a significant segment of the music press as well as alienated him from the band members, subsequently he won little sympathy. On the subsequent appearance on Top of the Pops (BBC) Steve was supported by session musicians Francis Monk man (Curved Air), and B.A. Robertson with Stuart Elliot the only other member from the original line-up. John Crocker joined his brother in The Crocker Brothers and Paul Jeffreys and Milton Reame-James briefly became members of Be Bop Deluxe, before forming their own band, Chartreuse, in 1976.
Sadly Paul Jeffreys died on Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. He was with his bride on their honeymoon. Steve meantime carried on with drummer Stuart Elliot, renaming the band Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel which now consisted of Jim Cregan (guitar), George Ford (bass) and Duncan Mackay (keyboards). In 1975 they released an album The Best Years of Our Lives (produced by Alan Parsons), which included the number one and million selling single; "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)".
The band embarked on a US tour supporting the Kinks but this created little interest. On return to the UK they completed a more successful UK tour in 1976. Two more hits followed with "Mr Raffles (Man it was mean)" and a cover of George Harrison‘s "Here Comes the Sun" which were both Top 20 hits.
As the seventies ended and musical tastes had changed the band had no further commercial success. Steve relocated to the US for a couple of years before returning to the UK in 1978. Despite several attempts to relaunch his career he never quite reached the level of his previous successes. Steve Harley was an angry young man who did provide some of the more interesting music of the period and was certainly at his best, a serious threat to the establish order of rock music.
Worth a listen
Death trap (1974)
Judy Teen (1974)
Mr Soft (1974)
Tumbling down (1974)
Mr Raffles (1976)
Here comes the sun (1976)