Cockney Rebel Singer Steve Harley Passes Away

18 March 2024 | 12:04 pm | Mary Varvaris

Steve Harley “passed away peacefully at home” with family by his side at 73.

Steve Harley

Steve Harley (Source: YouTube/Steve Harley)

Steve Harley, the singer of the UK glam rock band Cockney Rebel, has died.

According to his daughter Greta, he “passed away peacefully at home” with family by his side at 73. In late December, Harley wrote to fans on his website and revealed that he was fighting a “nasty” cancer but was thankful that it wasn’t affecting his voice: he continued to sing and perform most evenings.

“The birdsong from his woodland that he loved so much was singing for him,” his wife, Dorothy, and children Kerr and Greta wrote in a statement (via BBC). “His home has been filled with the sounds and laughter of his four grandchildren.”

Harley is best known for the 1970s Cockney Rebel hits, including Judy Teen, Sebastian (their debut single), Mr Soft, and Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me), the latter of which found success in Australia, landing at #17 on the Kent Music Report (pre-ARIA Charts).

Make Me Smile stemmed from the band’s 1975 album, The Best Years Of Our Lives, produced by Steve Harley and famed producer and musician Alan Parsons (the sound engineer on The BeatlesAbbey Road and Let It Be and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon). The album landed at #62 in Australia.

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Cockney Rebel disbanded in 1977, and Harley went solo quickly afterwards. In October 2005, Harley released his first solo album in nine years and the first in 29 years under the Cockney Rebel name, The Quality Of Mercy.

Harley released six albums as a solo artist, with his final album, Uncovered, released in February 2020.

Tributes have been pouring for Harley since his passing was announced. Rod Stewart commented that he was “absolutely devastated” by the news, writing in a statement, “Absolutely devastated, words fail me. The Cockney Rebel has left us. Loved you and admired you Steve and always will. Sir Rod Stewart.”

Duran Duran’s John Taylor said the band were “so lucky” to have Harley join them for their cover of Make Me Smile, writing on social media: “The moment Steve entered was truly chilling, and I still remember it today. An amazing moment.

“Thanks Steve for the music and your good vibes. We shall miss you.”

Peter Hook (former Joy Division and New Order bassist) called Harley his “favourite songwriter”.

“Steve Harley was the man who with ‘Sebastian’ introduced me to proper music, on holiday in 1973 in Prestatyn,” Hook wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter). “I was counting the hour down on Radio Luxembourg for the power play. Cockney Rebel were my favourites & Steve my favourite songwriter. You made me smile! God bless. RIP.”

Former Ultravox singer Midge Ure added, “Steve Harley was a true ‘working musician’ He toured until he could tour no more, playing his songs for fans old and new. My thoughts go out to Dorothy and his family at this very sad time. Our songs live on longer than we ever can”.

American pianist and David Bowie collaborator Mike Garson wrote that he was “deeply saddened” by Harley’s passing.

Acknowledging Harley’s musicianship, Garson continued, “The world has lost an extraordinary artist. Having had the privilege to perform alongside Steve, including on his touching song Friend for Life, I witnessed the depth and soul he brought to music. His heart shone through with every note. I cherish our moments of collaboration and friendship. We connected instantly through our shared love for music.

“Steve will be dearly missed, not just by those of us who had the honor of working with him but also by his countless fans whose lives he touched through his music. Steve’s legacy will continue to resonate, inspiring and moving us all. He was not done yet…”