Mike Harding was born in 1944 in Lancashire, England. His father, part of a Royal Air Force bomber crew, was killed just a few weeks before Harding's birth, an event Harding eventually memorialized in "Bomber's Moon," a rare serious outing. As an adult, he tackled a variety of jobs, finally settling on acquiring a degree in education, supporting himself with folk club performances. He also played as a member of a number of local Manchester bands, though his only recordings during the 1960s were a pair of folk tunes for the Topic label. His sense of humor came to the fore during gigs and he initially began to tell jokes during between-song pauses, eventually adopting a storytelling method as he became more adept. While he continued to maintain his folk connections, he focused on the development of a bluff Mancunian character that was expressed through an adroit mixture of broad comedy, expert storytelling that drew from his own life experience, and raucously funny songs.
He released his first album, A Lancashire Lad, in 1972. Mrs 'Ardin's Kid followed in 1974. In 1975, the single release of "The Rochdale Cowboy" shot him to more widespread public attention and put him on the same kind of touring circuit played by performers such as Billy Connolly. Harding's bluff character and cuddly appearance went over very well, as did his material, which provided something of a safe harbor for listeners who were finding the edge pushed further and further out -- Harding might be risqué at times, but it was always with a wink and not the slightest bit edgy. One Man Show arrived in 1976 to provide fans with an excellent document of a typical Harding live show, notable in part because the humor often cracks Harding up.
Old Four-Eyes Is Back (a title Elton John had once intended to use for an album, until threats from Frank Sinatra's lawyers put an end to the idea; Harding, it seems, was not as noticeable) maintained the level for 1977, while the 1978 release of Captain Paralytic and the Brown Ale Cowboys is generally seen as the high-water mark for Harding's career for some time to come, with Christmas 1914 (1977) and Bombers' Moon (1984) providing a look at a different, more serious side. Another serious album, Plutonium Alley, was released in 1986, but Harding then returned to comedy, though with a satirical bite. His original recorded output ceased in 1994, though a few reissues have been occurring of later material. Harding has also developed an extensive career as a playwright and novelist and is additionally noted for his non-fiction work on a variety of subjects, including the appearances of the Green Man in Mediaeval stonework and elsewhere. As of 2001, he hosts a weekly folk music show for BBC radio and continues to play live whenever possible.