Steve Harley was born as Steven Nice, on 27 February 1951 in South London, growing up in New Cross and attended the school Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College. His musical career began in the late 1960s when he was busking (with John Crocker) and performing his own songs, some of which were later recorded by him and the band. The original Cockney Rebel was formed when Steve hooked up with his former folk partner, John Crocker (fiddle / mandolin / guitar) in 1972. They auditioned drummer Stuart Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys, and keyboardist Milton Reame-James.
They were signed to EMI after playing just five gigs. Their first single "Sebastian", a soaring rock epic, was an immediate success in Europe, though failed to score in the UK singles chart. Their first album, The Human Menagerie, was released in 1973 to critical acclaim, and is still felt by many fans to be their best. The orchestra arrangements were penned by a guy named Andrew Powell who was suggested to the group by their record company. The interesting aspect about Steve's backing band was that they had no real lead guitarist, which equaled to a revolutionary move at that time. Steve's unashamed theatricality, the weird costumes for his stage appearances and the dithyrambic live performance soon made Cockney Rebel one of the most critically acclaimed acts on the circuit, soon gaining a strong cult following.
Harley managed to irritate a significant segment of the music press with his self-aggrandisement, even as the music itself was getting rave reviews and gaining a wide audience. Shortly thereafter Steve got in touch with the talented producer Alan Parsons, who had made his first experiences as an assistant engineer during the The Beatles' Abbey Road sessions and had also engineered for a variety of artists since. Alan co-produced Cockney Rebel's next single "Judy Teen" which reached #5 in the UK charts. It was soon agreed that Alan Parsons also be the co-producer for The Psychomodo, which was released in 1974. When it came to orchestration Alan said 'I've got a guy' but Steve refused and replied 'No, use the same guy as last time'. Therefore, as fate would have it, The Psychomodo was the first album Powell and Parsons would work on together, but certainly not the last (as Powell was later steadily involved with The Alan Parsons Project). Soon after the release of the album Steve had his backing band dispersed an fully regrouped, with only drummer Stuart Elliot remaining. The next hit quickly followed, "Mr. Soft", also taken from the album, and after that "Big Big Deal" which was already recorded using the new lineup of Cockney Rebel. In 1975, the album The Best Years of Our Lives hit the market, and it was the first time that the album's sleeve officially stated 'Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel'. On keyboards was South-African Duncan Mackay, a highly talented keyboard wizard who had a strong influence on the sound of the group. "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" was the big chart buster taken off this record.
Steve, as doggedly unpredictable as ever, started touring the US supporting The Kinks. Overseas "Make Me Smile" was doing fine, and so a Best of album especially put together for the American market was compiled: A Closer Look, a selection from the period when label credits read Cockney Rebel rather than Steve Harley's Cockney Rebel. A next new single "Black or White" failed to enter the charts, same as "White White Dove" in January 1976. That didn't discourage Steve and he released the next album: Timeless Flight which was equally a disappointment commercially, even though it contains very strong moments of Steve and the band. The oddly percussive synth-playing of Duncan Mackay pervaded the album, and on a musical level made it almost as much Duncan's as it was Steve's. Already later that year a new long-player was brought out, Love's a Prima Donna. For that album Steve succeeded gradually to build a bridge between pop and classical music. The Beatles' classic "Here Comes the Sun" was the preview single of the album and charted in the UK's Top Ten in 1976's extraordinarily hot July. In between Steve had a first appearance for The Alan Parsons Project. For their 1977 album I Robot Steve contributed vocals for one of his most charismatic moments, the performance of "The Voice". Unfortunately, this first contribution was also his last. Parsons also often used the instrumental skills of Stuart Elliot and Duncan Mackay for his own project, and they became steady participants in the recording sessions Parsons held at Abbey Road Studios. Steve realized that he should regain the attention of his fans and undertook a vast tour of England in 1976, recording live on the concerts. This eventually spawned the double live album Face to Face (A Live Recording). By the time it was released Cockney Rebel had already ceased to exists and Steve went on a sojourn in California/USA where he had planned to write and records songs. Duncan Mackay recorded his second solo album Score and joined the reformed and expanded 10cc. In the meantime Steve recorded his planned album using the best-booked session musicians of the US: Rick Schlosser (drums), Ricky Fataar (drums, ex-The Beach Boys), Bob Glaub (bass), Bill Payne (piano, of Little Feat), Bill Champlin (backing vocals, then a member of Chicago), Michael McDonald (backing vocals, at the time a member of The Doobie Brothers) etc. By the end of the recording session Steve had already returned to England, where he finalized the new album at Abbey Road Studios. He later told reporters that the songs contained on the album were old ones, because he didn't succeed in writing songs in California. It should also be mentioned that Steve's long-time friend Marc Bolan played guitar on the track "Amerika the Brave" but tragically died in a motor car accident in south London shortly thereafter. He never heard the final product. Just one week prior to the album's release a preview single "Roll the Dice / Waiting" came out but unfortunately didn't make it up into the charts. A second single, a remix of "Someone's Coming", came out but followed the fate of the first.
Bummed out by the lack of success of Hobo With a Grin Steve announced a planned comeback with a new band and a new concept. The album was finished in early October, and on the 20th he performed a sold-out gig at the London Hammersmith. One track of the new finished album was released as a single and made it into the charts: "Star for a Week" (later also known as "Dino") describes the story of an ordinary boy, searching for his own identity. Apparently the finished album was shelved thereafter for reasons unknown. In February 1979 Steve recorded The Candidate again mostly at Abbey Road Studios, using a variety of England's most outstanding and talented musicians. Unfortunately the album largely fell through the cracks commercially even though the single taken off of it, "Freedom's Prisoner", did well in Germany. By the end of 1980 EMI brought out The Best of Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel.
Steve Harley recollects the 80s as being his lost years, but still a lot of things happened in his life. He terminated a six-year relationship and got married to Dorothy Cromby in February 1981, accepted a proposition to play the 'Christopher Marlowe' in Marlowes "Conspiracy" and formed a new band. In early 1982 the single "I Can't Even Touch You" hit the market but remained a secret to the broad audience. EMI re-issued the double-CD The Human Menagerie/The Psychomodo. In 1986 he participated in the Andrew Lloyd Webber production The Phantom of the Opera, teaming up alongside Sarah Brightman. The pertinent, same-titled single was released in January 1986. In June 1986 RAK release a remixed version of "Irresistible / Lucky Man". The B-side of the UK release, "Lucky Man", had Midge Ure on guitar. An album which was also finished at the time under the working title El Gran Senor never saw release. One of the tracks of that period, "Sophistication", later re-surfaced on the album Anytime! (A Live Set). 1992 finally saw the release of previously unknown material, Yes You Can. The album consists of old songs never released before and some new ones, using a variety of different musicians. Stuart Elliot played drums on several tracks, participations of Jim Cregan and Duncan Mackay are contained. With this album in his luggage, Steve went on a new tour in 1992/93 throughout Europe. Motivated by the warm welcome of his fans, he wrote new songs which were eventually published on the 1996 album Poetic Justice, which remained a collector's item as so many times before. Ever since he's continuing to tour Europe, mainly presenting older songs with some new ones in between, mostly solely playing them with an acoustic guitar. This eventually spawned new releases which hit the market as Stripped to the Bare Bones - Live and Acoustic From the Jazz Caf?, London (1999), Acoustic and Pure - Live (2002, again with Jim Cregan) or Anytime! (A Live Set). Steve continues to compose new songs, published The Quality of Mercy in 2005, and also appeared as a featured artist on the Dossche release Ich bin Gott. For his 2006 Anthology tour, Stuart Elliot was again part of his backing band. In summer 2008 Steve toured the UK again, for the first time ever with a supporting artist, the young singer-songwriter Simon Le Fort.