Q&A: Steve Harley
On david bowie, marc bolan and jonathan rhys meyers
You were one of the big stars of the glam era. Do you ever call around to David Bowie's house for a cup of tea and a reminisce?
I was never good friends with Bowie. In fact, I haven't seen him since Marc Bolan's funeral. Marc was one of my few good friends in the industry. I loved him. He was completely bonkers. He couldn't help himself. He lived on fantasy island. But he was never less than interesting.
What did you think of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers covering your song Tumbling Down in Velvet Goldmine?
Velvet Goldmine... actually, I saw that in the cinema. I'm one of the few! It didn't run for very long. We were invited to the opening in Edinburgh. When it finished my tour manager stood up and said, 'straight to video'.
Not a fan,then? Even though your music was all over it?
I understand Bowie refused to let them use his music. I agreed they could use mine. Thank you David (hah!). God bless you mate.
So what about Rhys Myers' tilt at Tumbling Down?
It's always flattering that people would do one your songs. Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) has been covered something like 130 times.
Is it true you have to listen to and personally approve each version?
Oh God, no. How awful that would be. Copyright law says that, once the writer has made a recording of the song, anyone can do it. That doesn't mean I endorse it or approve of them. Although, I must say, I loved the Wedding Present's version of Come Up and See Me. They gave it a bit of a punk feel.
When you're not glamming it up on stage, you have a parallel existence as a race-horse owner...
It's therapy. It's where the spare money goes. I've got one running tomorrow, at Kempton Park. Of course, I'll be in Aintree for the national meeting. I shall watch my own horse on television.
How do the music and horse-racing industries compare in terms of people being cut-throat and back-stabbing?
In racing, they are very straight people. People who pay their debts. I like that. You don't get racing people tying their shoe-laces just as you walk into a bar. They're not your deep pockets, short arms type. They're a bit of crack, as you might call it.
Of course, before become a pop star you were a reporter on a local paper in Britain. Did that prepare you for the excitable UK music press?
I found it very difficult with the writers of the English music press. I'd been a reporter for three or four years and I'd trained on local papers. They hadn't been qualified reporters like I was. There were some unsteady relationships. There wasn't a lot of mutual respect, let's put it that way.
Did you enjoy being young and famous?
There was an ambiguity about it for me. I had a lot of fun, spent a lot of money, stayed up late and drank a lot of high quality cognac and champagne. I did all that yes. But I got out of it. It isn't the true me. The work started to suffer.
I like adventure. To a degree, I like risk. I don't like playing with my life with drugs. Today they call cocaine a hard drug. They call it addictive. As a young reporter in court a lot of the time, I understood it wasn't addictive. Habit forming, yes. That's not the same as addictive. Most people who do a lot of cocaine give it up overnight, when they decide to grow up. So how can it be addictive? But it is a dangerous drug in that it can possibly led to other things. and to accidental death. I got out of all that.
Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel play Academy, Dublin on May 23. The new album, Stranger Comes to Town, is out next month