Music writers are sometimes criticised for commenting on the personality rather than the music.
I’m going to ‘fess up and make no bones about it – this review is going to gloss over the music and predominantly focus on the most blatant display of arrogance by a musician that I have witnessed in some time.
I’m not against musicians speaking between songs – sometimes that interaction can cement the link between performer and audience and enhance the experience. But some people really should just let the music do the talking.
It is difficult to pinpoint what annoyed me the most about Steve Harley at The Forum in Kentish Town. It might have been when he stopped mid-song to tell members of the audience to refrain from taking pictures of him on their mobile phones. Then again it might have been when he tersely repeated that request a song later, saying that the flashing of lights disturbed his intense concentration.
I suppose he must have been pleased that there were no more than a couple of professional photographers present, that the gig wasn’t sold out and that his performance wasn’t sufficiently rousing to get people on their feet or singing along. Heavens knows how that might have disturbed his concentration. It must be distressing when loyal fans, having paying their hard-earned cash to see you, have the cheek to want to record the occasion.
Thankfully some of the audience were able to redeem themselves by bumping up his pension fund through purchasing his merchandise, which we were repeatedly told was to be sold from the front of the stage during the interval (there was no support band – he played a gig of two halves) and at the end of the gig. And indeed it was. From a plastic box, Delboy-style.
He told us how he hated the hassle of giving interviews and scoffed at how interviewers can ask badly-researched questions. Therefore it must have been some relief to him that there was a distinct lack of press at the gig.
Perhaps the most annoying part was when he spent ages telling us how he had allowed his hat to be auctioned for charity, then forgot the name of the charity that he professed to care about so much. On the other hand, it could have been when he asserted that as an artist he has a free pass to behave as badly as he likes. Or maybe it was when he took the mickey out of his own fans by saying that some of his early work was unemotional and meaningless lyrically and that he didn’t understand what they were reading into it.
If you are reading this not having attended the gig, you may think that he was merely displaying a self-deprecating, dry sense of humour. But that wasn’t the impression given by his delivery.
So what about the music? Actually it was pretty good, although not remarkable. It was an acoustic gig with Harley on guitar and vocals, as well as a second guitarist/violinist, a keyboard player and a drums/percussion/saxophone player. Harley’s voice has lost none of its tone or strength with the passing of time. The other musicians were highly skilled, the violin being both mournful and exuberant.
His songs were moderately touching but not heart stopping. The middle-aged faithful in the all-seated audience appreciated the old songs and were quietly appreciative rather than dancing in the aisles. For the less hardcore of us, however, it was a gig to remember for all the wrong reasons.
Steve Harley played the HMV Forum, Kentish Town on December 13th
Photographs: Carl Byron Batson