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Cockney Rebel frontman Steve Harley's performance at Glastonbury Festival was a disaster

Updated on September 10, 2015

Steve Harley

Steve Harley Photo by Mick Rock
Steve Harley Photo by Mick Rock

Hits like Mr Soft and Judy Teen

I had loved the hits by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, songs like Judy Teen, Mr Soft and Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me), so was really looking forward to watching Steve live on stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2003.

At the time I was working all three main days at the festival as a compère for the Avalon stage so could only get away from my work when my shift was over. I had had to miss REM on the one night because it took so long to get the band on that I had to introduce that by the time they were ready to play, and taking into consideration how long it would take me to walk over to the field REM were playing it it would have been over by the time I got there.

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel- Make Me Smile Live [HQ]

Arthur Lee instead of Steve Harley

This was one of the disadvantages of this sort of job - you have to stick around the stage you are working on in case you are needed and until the next MC is ready to take over. Nevertheless I consoled my self looking at the programme for the festival by seeing that on the following day I would be able to see Steve Harley and should have time to get to another stage where the legendary Arthur Lee and Love were playing. If things had run to schedule this would have worked fine.

I had finished the days shift at the Avalon Stage and made my way over to the one Steve Harley was due to play on. I was there before he was due to start and so were many of his fans.

Unfortunately the time he was due to begin his performance, according to the time-table had arrived and all Steve Harley had done was wandered around on the stage, as did various sound technicians.

People assume that a big prestigious festival like Glastonbury everything should run to schedule and that the sound quality should be the best. Unfortunately sometimes this isn't the case. There are problems caused by the different levels and instrumentation needed by different acts, and of course all the one lot of gear has to be taken off the stage and the instruments, microphones and amps etc have to be sorted out for the next act.

This should be done within set times though so the audience can plan their day and expect to see singers and bands at at least around the times they are supposed to be on.

Steve Harley's fans were growing restless and so was I. At least half an hour had gone by by my time-keeping.

I heard calls of "Give us a song then, Steve," and "Hey, Steve, get on with it."

No response though from him, no apology for the delay made over the microphone, nothing except more wandering on and off the stage and fiddling about with his guitar and lead.

Eventually I had had enough. It was obvious now that whatever time Steve Harley was actually going to begin it would mean that his set would cut badly into the Arthur Lee and Love time on stage.

Much as I love Steve Harley's songs I thought this was really unprofessional of him, especially seeing as he had been in the business since the early `70s. I mean, he could and should have done something, if only using the vocal mic to say he was sorry for the delay but they were having a few problems but hoped to be with us soon.

He could have given us some songs solo with just the vocal mic and guitar. That would have been better than nothing and any professional singer-songwriter ought to be able to manage that. Dylan and Neil Young, for example, are both a perfectly capable of playing long sets of their songs with nothing more than a guitar.

I gave up on Steve Harley and went to watch Arthur Lee and Love who, by contrast, put on an absolutely brilliant show.

But the singer who was famous for singing: "Come up and see me, make me smile..." didn't have that effect on me. Perhaps I had been expecting to much of a man who named his band Cockney Rebel?


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    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks for posting! Sounds like I didn't miss much!

    • profile image

      Christian 6 years ago

      He was no better this year. The sound was terrible, the musicians where crap, people started walking out after a couple of songs.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you, Dallas!

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Your in depth knowledge and appreciation of music shows. Great hub! Flag up.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks for posting, Tom! I just think it is really unprofessional! Actually I saw another act at the same festival who is a friend of mine and she put Steve to shame easily. Amy Wadge was playing the Acoustic stage and went to do a song on keyboards instead of guitar but she found that it wasn't working. But did this stop her? No, not at all- she made a comment and then went back to her guitar and did another song while a sound engineer came on and fixed the keyboards. Amy showed she is a professional and can carry on despite minor problems unlike Steve Harley. Much as I like his songs I wouldn't bother to go and see him live again!

    • justom profile image

      justom 7 years ago from 41042

      First, I'm totally jealous you got to see Love. I, through the years have seen bands that got on my nerves because of their piddling on stage, tuning and re-tuning again and again. A few years back I went to see a band called Guided By Voices at a local club and part of the way through a tune the lights went out but the equipment and mics were still working. The lead singer started rambling and I shouted play some music but he just rambled on until the lights came back. Good hub, Peace!! Tom