'Come Up and See Me and I'll Challenge You with My Lyrics' CONTRARY GLAM ROCK STAR STEVE HARLEY TALKS TO MATT THOMAS ABOUT HIS PROBLEMS WITH THE PRESS, WHAT HE THINKS OF BOB DYLAN AND HIS FAVOURITE CROSSWORD PUZZLES

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THE first time Steve Harley's voice issues from my phone, it's in the form of an answerphone message.

Through a combination of unlikely circumstances I've managed to miss my allotted slot with The Cockney Rebel but he's keen that we don't lose our chance to speak entirely.

Which is how his still-dulcet tones come to be forever engraved on the silicon memory of my desk phone.

Harley is on tour in support of his latest, self-released album, Stranger Comes To Town, although he promises to throw in a few of his old hits like Come Up And See Me or Mr Soft during next Wednesday's Cardiff show.

"I know people want to hear stuff like that but I'm also pretty sure they're not going to walk out if you do a set that's heavy on the new songs," he says.

"I mean, that would be a pretty strange thing to do, considering they've paid for it and everything."

Given that Harley himself has described, on his blog, the new disc as being "anything but an easy listen" how have his long-standing fans taken to it? "Did I say that?" he replies. "I meant that there's a lot going on with that record. I mean, the first few people I played it to, family, friends, the engineer at the studio, they all pointed out that there's a lot going on lyrically.

"I mean, my wife often says, 'I never understand your albums but I always love them.' "Anyway, this is something that I end up getting a lot of stick for from reviewers and that's because, very often, they haven't got the time to give an album a proper listen.

"I mean the people reviewing an album for Q, they're stringers getting paid pounds 50 quid per album, they're not going to be able to give it a proper listen for that sort money."

This is clearly an area to which Harley - a former journalist whose old desk on the East London Advertiser was occupied by one Richard Madeley, fact fans - has given a lot of thought.

"Well, that's why I don't take reviews that seriously," he says.

"Although there was one review that I did read and this was pure bile and spite from some nonentity who used to work for me years ago and still bears some sort of inexplicable grudge against me. It was a hatchet job pure and simple and that kind of exemplified the sort of criticism that I find levelled against me.

"I mean, I've been doing this for a long time, I started writing when I was 12. I've made a study of the lyrics of Bob Dylan, of Tom Waits, I've sat down and analysed their words the way you're supposed to. That's what I want to try to achieve with my music, something poetic. …