Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel Live In London Review
Considering that Steve Harley wrote one of the defining songs of the seventies - the sublime "(Come Up And See Me) Make Me Smile" - it's fair to say that I had fairly positive expectations of this concert DVD. While these weren't totally dashed, I have to admit that I wasn't particularly impressed. The music isn't bad at all but the presentation of the DVD is disappointing.
I won't dwell for long on the concert itself. It was recorded in December 1984 which seemed like yesterday until I actually sat down and thought about it. The songs are generally of a pretty high standard, although these live versions aren't a patch on the original records, and Harley begins with his bizarrely moddish cover of "Here Comes The Sun", which sounds like a cross between Paul Weller and Alexei Sayle, and ends with his biggest hits, the aforementioned "Make Me Smile" and "Tumbling Down" (probably the third best song containing the word "tumbling" in the title, although I'll leave you to guess the first two). The other songs range from the maudlin "I Just Wanna Be A Star" to the repetitive pub rock of "Mr Soft". The nicest surprise was a song I wasn't familiar with called "Riding the Waves" which is clearly very personal and sung with a stream of emotion that is curiously absent elsewhere. "Make Me Smile" is mostly sung in the usual out of tune drunken caterwauling by the audience but is saved by the wonderful guitar bridge which was one of the few highlights of mid-seventies pop back in 1975 and still sounds gorgeous. "Tumbling Down" is a great song, easily the equal of anything on Bowie's contemporary "Young Americans" album, but the version of it here is muddy and unconvincing.
The setting is almost unbearably garish. For some reason, the Camden Palace Theatre, already a building with all the internal attraction of a carpet warehouse, is lit with the delightfully tasteful combination of pink and yellow. This makes a fine backing for the band, all of whom appear to have taken fashion advice from Haircut One Hundred and some of whom have hairstyles that not even Limahl would have been seen dead in. Steve Harley himself has made the wise decision to dress smart-casual and looks much the same as he did in the seventies and, indeed, as he does now. He was still in good voice when I saw him performing in Leeds in 1998 and I hope he doesn't slide into undeserved obscurity.
This is one of CP Entertainments various music discs and it's better than some of the others without being remotely impressive.
The quality of the picture is mediocre at best. The aforementioned hideous lighting doesn't help, since it makes the concert irritating to watch and the poor transfer doesn't make this any better. There is a lot of artifacting to be seen and the concert, shot on video, has a flat appearance that not even a great transfer could entirely change.
The soundtrack is two channel PCM stereo, despite the big Dolby Digital logo on the back cover. It's adequate for the purpose but nothing special.
There are allegedly some biographical notes, a discography and an animated menu. I would comment on these, but two players failed to access them so I can only imagine this is either an error on my copy or a problem with the release which hasn't been spotted. There are 14 chapter stops, one for each music track.
The main extra feature is the "DVD Plus" element of having one side as a DVD and the other as an audio CD with the concert on it. Nice for fans but hardly likely to attract anyone else.
Although this release is superior to some of the others released by CP and reviewed by my colleagues, it's certainly not an essential purchase. Even fans of Steve Harley are likely to be a little disappointed by the poor visual quality of the concert.