Wickham Festival News

Steve Harley still smiling after 40 years

By Graham Hiley

Recently Steve Harley and his wife Dorothy were sitting in the back of a taxi in Montenegro heading for a night out when the car radio played Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me).

The driver tapped the steering wheel in time to the catchy beat, totally oblivious to the fact that he was transporting the man he was listening to.

Steve chuckled: “I did think about telling him – and I have done that in the past. It can be quite fun to say: ‘That’s me.’ And then they stare hard and say: ‘Hey, it IS you.’ But I left him to enjoy the song. He did not recognise me at all but it was interesting to see his reaction.

Steve Harley
Steve Harley is looking forward to returning to Wickham

“My wife just raised her eyebrows as if to say ‘Not that again!’ but I must admit it did give me a bit of a warm glow.”

It should come as no surprise that the 1975 Number One hit should still be getting air time across the globe; it is still regularly voted in polls of the top 100 songs of all time.

Steve added: “It is fair to say it has stood the test of time! People ask if I ever get tired of playing it, how could I? That song has been very good to me. It is a different version every night and I love playing it and I love the reaction from the audience.

“The place usually goes ape as soon as we play the opening notes. People love it; I would never fail to play it. That would be disrespectful and churlish.

“I have written more than 130 songs but that one stands out though I do get a bit miffed if people think that is all I have done, especially semi-professionals who don’t do their research.

“I trained as a reporter so I know all about research and I know it does matter so I get a bit fed up with people who don’t do it. I was always taught to check, double-check and then check again but it is a very different world these days.”

Steve Harley
Steve Harley in Bonn (Photo by Karlheinz Beck)

Despite scoring just 24% in his mock O Level in Maths, Steve’s first job was as a trainee accountant at the Daily Express.

But his love of journalism saw him train as a reporter – despite leaving school without an English A Level; he eventually took it in his mid-Thirties.

It is easy to assume now that Steve would have gone into music journalism but that was never his aim. He added: “I trained as a hack and I would have stayed that way.

“I loved being a news reporter and mixing with journalists but I have no regrets about switching to the music industry. I trained with some people who have gone on to become very successful in the industry but I never look back and wonder what might have been.

“I have lived a life full of highlights. Everything has been such an adventure and I have travelled the world,” said Steve.

“Three years ago I took my acoustic show to Norway. We went to Tromso in the Arctic Circle where they have six months of daylight and six months of darkness.

“It was dark after the gig so I guess it must have been winter and as we were being driven back to the hotel, the driver asked if we wanted to go and see the Northern Lights.

“I said I thought that would be quite pleasant so we drove out somewhere it was pitch dark and then saw the most magnificent spectacle of nature. Playing a concert for 700 people and then seeing that was a real highlight.

“Another would be waking up in Beverley Hills to a phone call from the managing director of EMI to say we had reached Number One with Make Me Smile.

Steve Harley circa 1975
Steve Harley hit Number One in 1975 (Photo by Mick Rock)

“But the highs just keep happening and hopefully there are a few more to come.”

So, what next for the 64-year-old who shows no sign of slowing down?

“There is a lot on the burner. One of my songs has just been recorded by a major international superstar. I can’t tell you who he is because it is being kept hush-hush until it is in the shops but he is one of the world’s biggest selling artists so that is a buzz.

“I have just been in the studio and made a beautiful record which might get a bit of air play but it is very difficult to get that these days. Life has changed so much; you can get spotted and dumped in a matter of weeks.

Steve Harley is embarking on a 40th anniversary tour
Steve Harley is embarking on a 40th anniversary tour

“In the autumn I will be going out on a 40th anniversary tour which will be a lot of fun. Duncan Mackay is coming over from South Africa to play with us so it should be fantastic.

“Before then we are playing several festivals, all in the south which is good because it means we can get home afterwards and save on hotel bills.

“I do so many festivals that it can be hard to remember too many but Wickham genuinely stands out for me, partly because the organiser Peter Chegwyn is such a good man and partly because it is such a good event.

“I played there a couple of years ago and loved the atmosphere. Everyone was very chilled and relaxed. And they have what I call proper musicians who just love to play.

“This year they have a fantastic line-up of real good people. I have bumped into Billy Bragg on many occasions and I have known Graham Gouldman for ever. Steve Knightley and Phil Beer are old friends.

“I have known Tom Robinson since he was in short trousers and the Proclaimers played with me at Wickham in 2012. They came and watched my set and were so kind.

“But that sums up Wickham. It is full of good people as well as good musicians. That is why I am genuinely delighted to be asked back. It means they must think I am a good person as well as a decent artist.”

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    Good things come in threes! After announcing Nick Lowe & Los Straitjackets plus John Otway & Willy Barrett for Wickham 2020 we've another artist announcement coming tonight. A clue: English indie-pop band, much requested by you, our audience. Any guesses? ... See MoreSee Less

    Good things come in threes!  After announcing Nick Lowe & Los Straitjackets plus John Otway & Willy Barrett for Wickham 2020 weve another artist announcement coming tonight.  A clue:  English indie-pop band, much requested by you, our audience.  Any guesses?

    Comment on Facebook

    Hmmm. Well most of the guesses so far have been wide of the mark. The band describe themselves as English indie-pop but maybe a better description would be to liken them to Molotov Jukebox, Electric Swing Circus, Holy Moly and the Crackers, Police Dog Hogan...

    Still got my fingers crossed for Midge Ure ❤️💜 Go on Wickham....you know you want to 😘

    Hope it’s S Club 7

    Still hoping for Hipsway 🤞🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 If I post often enough perhaps you’ll give in for some peace and quiet!!

    Travis. Now they would be a great addition to an already fantastic lineup.

    The Correspondents Caro Emerald Jamie Berry Feat The Speakeasy Three Dead south ( i wish but Canadian ) Caro Emerald Don Johnson Band

    Its Steps isn't it? I knew you'd give in one year if I kept going on about it!

    It’s not Fake Thackray is it??? 😀

    That'll be the Kooks then.... Where's my prize?

    Blur , The Smiths, Florence and the Machine, Gorrillaz, Lilly Allen, The Stone Roses, Pulp, The kooks, Keane, Jamiroquai, Noisettes, Kate Nash, Lighning Seeds, The Vamps, ok i am out of UK indie pop bands..🤔

    Dodgy? But would like to see the Divine comedy.

    The Dubliners!!

    The ballaugh’s Mike Wade 😍

    We’re hoping for Tears for Fears or Wilko Johnson not really Indie pop though!

    Forget Otway & Co and book The Slambovians!!!!!!!

    Gotta be The Lightning Seeds. Superb last time

    What’s that coming over the hill is it a monster. No it’s the Automatic.

    Since no-one's mentioned The Wonder Stuff yet, I will. Edit: oh, someone did. As you were.

    CoCo and the Butterfields flight brigade

    The Magic numbers the feeling the Lightning seeds scouting for girls KEANE

    Pulp, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine or The Smiths.

    Alabama 3 ?

    Sorry I think The Automatic are Welsh.🥴

    The Divine Comedy? 🤔

    James or The Levellers.

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    We're delighted to announce that the wonderful Nick Lowe will be at Wickham on Saturday 8th August with his Rock 'n' Roll Revue starring Los Straitjackets. The composer of classic songs like 'Cruel to be Kind', 'I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass', '(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding' (a hit for Elvis Costello) and 'I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock 'n' Roll' will be joined by one of the world's finest guitar bands, Los Straitjackets, for a rare UK Festival appearance. Day & Weekend tickets now onsale via www.wickhamfestival.co.uk/tickets www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXRtGnI5H5E ... See MoreSee Less

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    Producer for Elvis Costello; Graham Parker and The Rumour; Dr Feelgood (for whom he co-wrote 'Milk and Alcohol'); and The Damned. A member of Brinsley Schwarz and Rockpile (with Dave Edmunds). A noted figure in power pop and new wave, he performed at the first Glastonbury Festival (and was invited back in 2019), released the first single on Stiff Records, and has recorded & produced many fine records of his own. Los Straitjackets from Surf City have been described as the world's leading instrumental guitar band. This will be a great night!

    A fabulous coup!! Wickham you just keep on pulling better and better announcements out of the hat - can't wait for this year's festival! :D

    Claire Askam

    Excellent!

    Thank you

    I have to say I went to see him a few years ago and was very disappointed - he played hardly any of his hits and his music wasn't of the style I was expecting. He's still a good musician and singer though, so I hope he plays a set suitable for the festival - including the hits you've mentioned, that we all know and love!

    Fantastic Wickham! Last seen with Rockpile January 1980, I recall a very boozy set up in Newcastle. Thanks, can't wait 😍😍

    cool, like a bit of Nick Lowe.

    Pamela Horrigan

    Bought Jesus of Cool and played it to death! Ace choice! 😉

    Love it, thank you Wickham Festival, first timers last year & had a brilliant time 👍

    Bulls eye! They were fantastic at Engine Rooms last summer Top signing!

    Oh brilliant it’s my birthday on the 8th too!

    Annie - just ‘wow’!!! 😀😀

    Richard Beechey Rod Marshall Steve Rawlings Bill Kennedy

    Brilliant!

    Wow!

    The Jesus Of Cool!

    Absolutely ACE!

    Nick Lowe is excellent live.

    Andrew Price

    David Kentish 👍

    Brilliant news , how about booking Graham Parker as well ?

    Robert Eastwood Jane Eastwood Dave Malzard

    Wonderful! Wickham Festival.... The gift that keeps on giving!

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    'An array of quick witted stories, stunning vocals and polished stage craft, not to be missed'. After a 6 year stint at sea, singer-songwriter Chris Ricketts is returning for a series of festival dates across Europe this summer and will be launching his new album at Wickham in August. ... See MoreSee Less

    An array of quick witted stories, stunning vocals and polished stage craft, not to be missed.  After a 6 year stint at sea, singer-songwriter Chris Ricketts is returning for a series of festival dates across Europe this summer and will be launching his new album at Wickham in August.
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