Steve Harley (real name – Steven Nice) had worked as a journalist for a local newspaper in Colchester, Essex, before forming Cockney Rebel. The name came from an autobiographical poem (“The Cockney Rebel”) he wrote when he was in the hospital with polio at the age of 12.
Falling awkwardly between glam rock and art school prog, Harley’s original Cockney Rebel had a tendency to alienate as many listeners as they attracted – For every radio-friendly Mr Soft, there was the po-faced theatricality of Sebastian.
Harley’s contrived vocal histrionics and stream-of-consciousness lyrics left thousands baffled, and he wasn’t helped by what some observers identified as an ego that dwarfed any talent he might have.
His response was to dissolve the group in 1974, after little more than a year together, before emerging with an all-new line-up (keeping only drummer Stuart Elliot) heralded by the massive success of Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me).
It was this permutation of the group that delivered the most fully-realised material on stellar albums such as The Best Years Of Our Lives and Love’s A Prima Donna.
Harley continued to tinker with the line-up, ultimately dispensing with the Cockney Rebel name altogether in 1977. He began working on his debut solo album in Los Angeles in 1978 but succumbed to the West Coast lifestyle and had to return to Britain a year later.
Since the 1980s, Steve Harley has owned a number of racehorses, and in 1999 he began a nine-year run presenting the BBC Radio 2 programme ‘Sounds of the 70s’ before handing it over to Johnnie Walker who helped break Cockney Rebel in the 1970s.
Founding member Paul Jeffreys was killed in the Lockerbie tragedy on 21 December 1988 when Pan Am Flight 103 from Heathrow to New York exploded above Scotland. He was beginning his honeymoon with his new wife, Rachel.
Paul Avron Jeffreys