Interview with Steve Harley (Graham Emondson Jan 2004)
looking forward to the forthcoming tour-might we be in for
any major surprises with the set list?
we are rehearsing now- and there's always a few new tracks
that we haven't done before. But no, I'm not going to tell
you what they are because it wouldn't be a surprise would
many of us you are a "rock and roll" act, but you clearly
love the acoustic shows. What do you get from those that you
don't from the full band tours?
are two parallel careers really, the acoustic and the band
shows.-and they never meet. There's an element of schizophrenia
about it. The only thing in common is that they are both about
standing up there with a guitar. It's given me a chance to
find new things, nuances and inflections in the songs. It's
given me space to explore the melodies and the lyrics. With
a band there's a lot going on and there's a limit to how much
a singer can muck about. But I love acoustic music and the
guitar. It's a guitar, just wood with strings.
lot of people actually think your guitar playing has improved
dramatically over the years. Do you still "practice" as such?
flattered to hear it! I don't often hear that, except from
Jim (Cregan). In the 70s I hardly ever played. I don't practice
per se but there are guitars everywhere in the house. There's
two in my study, there's one in the kitchen-an old Gibson.
There's one in the bedroom, one in my son's bedroom. There's
music everywhere. I have 17,18, 19- I don't know for sure.
I bought myself a new Martin a few weeks ago and I played
it on the Richard Allison show live on the radio. It was funny,
off the air he asked me if it was new and I told him it was
and then back on air he said "Steve is that a new guitar?"
and I said "no, I've had it years". He didn't know what to
we have heard your thoughts on playing "Death Trip" live on
stage, but are there songs that you might like to have done,
perhaps you have even rehearsed them but which for some reason
just don't work live?
we don't do "Death Trip" because I don't change outfits anymore!
I used to go off and get changed - you can't do that. And
you can't strum along for five minutes. It's funny, I get
asked that a lot and Death Trip isn't really a song I love.
Its funny, I don't really love "Understand" either. James
plays it beautifully but I have to stand 3 minutes for a jazz
solo. It's OK but its not me. What you get in me is the archetypal
wandering minstrel. I have to play, and a four minute jazz
piano solo isn't touching me.
I would love to do "Rain In Venice" live actually. It's a
great song. Robin LeMesurier wrote some of it with me and
he keeps asking me about it and I say "Yeah, I've rehearsed
it" but it never really seems to work. Others we have tried
and we have to dump them. I can't spend time re-correcting
a rhythm, I can't spend days looking at just one particular
songs DO you love to play then?
Well, we played "Cavaliers" a few times last year and it was
MIGHTY - and Ritz. Barry and that huge rock band sound-they're
great to play. It's not the Eagles with us though, we don't
have to make it sound like a live studio, I don't really care
if we come in "off time"- so long as we all finish together!
It's emotion, its passion and it's wonderful playing. It's
fantastic. I play with guys from the highest echelons. I let
them go- let them have the rope and then rope them back in
again. It's fantastic, massive and exciting. There might be
the odd green note- but I don't give a damn. I'm not worried
about it not being perfect.
you were really pushed- which of your albums are you most
proud of? Why?
years ago I would have said Timeless Flight because it got
the worst reviews. It's my precious boy, my favourite child.
It was such a change for me and the critics weren't ready.
It's like I heard Mick Jagger say about one of the Stones
albums, it was his favourite because it was nobody else's!
I never realised it was the favorite album of so many people.
"Nothing is Sacred" is on there and when I started to play
that live I sensed it was something they really wanted to
hear. Now it's a real blinder and it meant a lot to a lot
of people to hear it. And "Red is a Mean Mean Colour" is a
really personal song for me. There's a lot of personal stuff
in there. "All Men Are Hungry" is another I like to sing.
It's a song people can relate to. Not everybody was in Belgrade
and not everybody can see exactly what I saw that morning
but everyone can reflect on the idea that everyone has a need
and not everybody is fulfilled. Everybody needs space and
time and that's what it's about.
remember you voting in Ray's favorite songs poll a little
while back- what are your three favorites (of your own) right
it was "Riding The Waves" then wasn't it? But who am I to
say really? That's a song that comes from the heart, it's
a song of great celebration. It builds up. I remember reading
"To The Lighthouse" and being so touched by some of the images.
There's lines like "she shook her head and I saw jewels, I
saw golden trinkets hanging there and quivering" great images..
And "Then she whispered, look the honey- coloured ball is
melting it's way into another morning", I can remember reading
that image so clearly. I didn't steal the images- I owned
up to it you know. But some of the images in the song are
so exhilarating. It's like that Guinness ad from a few years
ago- you know the horses in the surf, and the rollers. It's
very powerful. It's like when I'm sailing when I can feel
the spray on my face it's just pure exhilaration.
We are doing Riding The Waves now and I'm singing it now at
the end. I'm allowing myself to improvise and it's a solo
on the voice not the guitar and I'm so proud of that singing.
has been much talk of late among the fans of the song "Black
or White" and whether you have ever played it live. Some claim
to have heard the song on tour in '75. Was it ever a regular
part of set and is what do you feel about that song?
doubt it- we did a great video of it at Abbey Road though
with Mick Rock. That surprises me, I'll get the song out again
and listen to it.
you know, there is small hard core of fans who manage to get
to so many shows- do you tend to actually recognize faces
in the crowd these days?
do- but you really can't see much from up there. There's a
hard core who get to a lot of shows but what people have to
realize is that they come to 10 shows, please don't tell people
the set list-. Don't tell them the punch lines of my stories.
If I'm in a new town I'm not really playing for the people
who were there last night I'm playing for those who weren't
there. I'm reaching a lot of people when I go out and play.
When I go out te time I'm going to many towns that I didn't
go to last year, different places. I'll play to maybe 15,000
on those dates. That's a lot of people who might be seeing
the band for the first time.
addition to The Last Feast we hear that there are some other
songs "almost laid down". What can you tell us about them
and what is the status of a new album?
are some new tracks. I recorded onto a portable studio thing
in Spain a few weeks back and did some more overdubs. Yeah,
there are about 7 songs part finished. But I'm not in a hurry.
I'm really busy just being busy and unless somebody puts a
lot of money in front of me... I know there's a hard core
of fans waiting for it but what everybody has to realise is
that if I have say 10/11/12 songs that I've put my life into
writing then I really don't want it to be heard by just a
are you listening to at present? The last CD you bought?
listen to the modern stuff. My son is at University and when
he comes home he brings it all. Coldplay, Ash and the guy,
Richard Hawley from the Verve. I listen to it all. But then
I'll go and buy the new Joni Mitchell or Neil Young.
was some talk about you returning to the stage (i.e. theatre)
a little while ago? Is that something you still would like
I don't like that at all. I didn't get along with all the
"luvvy" stuff. It's the same dressing room every night for
six nights a week but I like to get to a new place every day
know you like to write. Do you think you will ever publish
a book or an autobiography perhaps?
I've dozens of short stories back to when I was 21 or so.
They are lying around. I don't really feel the need to collate
them-I have no yearning. There are in a place where the kids
could find them- and they belong to them. I sing and I play
and I don't need to be criticised. It would be like the lions
den and I don't need the "lit crits" on my back. An autobiography?
Well I have diaries back to 74. That's the autobiography in
there. It might only be the appointment for say April 14th
1977 but it brings the memories flowing back. That would be
a biography one day. In fact I've had two literary agents
on at me recently about it.
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