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Badfinger

+ {The Iveys} + {Pete Ham}

Whether there’ll be a day when a scriptwriter/filmmaker might motivate a producer to part with money for a BADFINGER movie, is anyone’s guess, but their rags-to-riches-to-rags rock’n’roll plot could be worth wading through the logistics and inevitable, legal wrangles. For prospectors or pop-pickers to ponder, there’s an eponymous documentary DVD (released in 1997) that might help all concerned get to grips with the tragic events, events that saw the suicides of two of its creative forces, Pete Ham (in 1975) and, in turn, Tom Evans (in 1983).
The 70s had started oh so swell for BADFINGER, whose power-pop/soft-rock anthem `Come And Get It’ (penned by PAUL McCARTNEY), had rocketed up the British charts and was about to repeat the Top 10 feat across the pond. `No Matter What’ and `Day After Day’ tracked its path in the few years that followed, but with parent albums, only America seemed slightly aware of their existence. BADFINGER, therefore, ran into troubles outwith their making; their BEATLES connections to a bankrupt Apple Records between ’73-’75, leading to a similar path for the group.
If the players could turn back time to when they’d converged with the British Invasion brigade as The IVEYS, maybe they would’ve chosen different doors to open. Formed in Swansea, Wales (initially as The Wild Ones) in 1964, singer/lead guitarist Pete Ham, bassist/vocalist Ron Griffiths, rhythm guitarist/vocalist David “Dai” Jenkins and drummer Terry Gleason, tried hard in their attempt to follow in the footsteps of heroes The HOLLIES; the following March, Mike Gibbins superseded Terry.
A support act to the YARDBIRDS, the SPENCER DAVIS GROUP, The MOODY BLUES, among others, The IVEYS looked destined to be another nearly-band, until they hooked up, in June ’66, with Bill Collins (dad to MOJOS musician-turned-actor Lewis Collins), who’d moved them to London to back protégé DAVID GARRICK, and to be close to the Harold Davidson Agency. When The KINKS’ Ray Davies offered to produce the group, Collins nudged the quartet to pen their own material; demo recordings subsequently surfaced, including three songs with Ray. In August ’67, as psychedelia captured the hearts and minds of Britain and beyond, their need for another songwriter left Jenkins out in the cold, as Liverpool lad Tom Evans (ex-Them Calderstones) filled his berth.
After a near-death experience that October when the band’s van crashed, The IVEYS had an altogether better year in ’68 when BEATLES associate Mal Evans (along with A&R head of fledgling Apple Corps, Peter Asher), were impressed with their glowing performance on 25th January at the Marquee. As fledgling Apple Records wanted more than just the mighty Fab Four on their books, The IVEYS were signed that summer. However, their debut, Baroque-pop platter `Maybe Tomorrow’ was a flop, compensated only by its modest chart appearance Stateside when issued there in January ’69. As if to hint on what was to come in terms of bad luck and poor judgement, the then-unknown Tony Visconti (and Mal Evans) produced MAYBE TOMORROW (1969) {*7} was only issued in Italy, Germany and Japan, prompting the withdrawal of their second single, the heartbreaker `Dear Angie’. While copycat comparisons to The BEATLES were rife (not forgetting The HOLLIES, The BEE GEES and SMALL FACES), fans from either side of the Atlantic had to wait to its post-90s CD re-issue to measure whether `See-Saw, Grandpa’ et al, had been worthy of the hype.
The group then appeared on a rare Various Artists (Apple) Records compilation EP for Walls ice cream, singing `Storm In A Teacup’ (not The FORTUNES track), whilst a new moniker was duly settled on when Macca offered them the aforementioned `Come And Get It’ to place in the 1969 film and subsequent various artists soundtrack to The Magic Christian; the other two were `Carry On To Tomorrow’ and `Rock Of All Ages’. Their move into sophisticated and orchestral power-pop had been a heady solution for some post-psych/bubblegum bands, but BADFINGER – as they were now called – pulled it off with ease.
What’s confusing was Apple’s cash-in of sorts afforded to BADFINGER and Co (the Co being some ex-BEATLES), when they issued the band’s MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC {*6} LP (complete with their film contributions) just prior to the official United Artists soundtrack. Fans could be forgiven if they’d bought the cinematic equivalent, hosting THUNDERCLAP NEWMAN and Peter Sellers songs (plus the score by Ken Thorne), which might’ve been the reason for the bona fide BADFINGER record failing to find a chart position in the Britain (it scraped up a #55 in the US). Prior personnel changes had also seen Griffiths bailing out to become a father; superseded by former MERSEYS guitarist Joey Molland, that led to Evans switching to bass.
Follow-up 45, `No Matter What’ (penned by Pete), was as close an approximation of The Fab Four’s mid-60s amphetamine kick as one was likely to hear, and spawned from the excellent US Top 30 set, NO DICE (1970) {*8}, BADFINGER possessed the will to survive against some needless negativity. If the day’s “hard-rock” music was not instantly recognisable among the handful of flawless ballads on show, the term “power-pop” was lavished upon them; Molland’s rollicking `Love Me Do’ and Ham’s `I Can’t Take It’ was in stark contrast to the folk-y `We’re For The Dark’ and the embryonic `Without You’. The songwriting skills of the Ham-Evans team were finally recognised in ‘72, when NILSSON transformed the latter piece into his own tortured No.1 classic; MARIAH CAREY repeated the pattern 22 years on.
It was at this stage late in 1970 that the quartet hooked up with businessman/agent Stan Polley, who shrewdly became their liaison manager in order to sort out their overseas financial affairs, mainly in America. Their commitments to Collins maintained his British input, but that led to confusion and, ultimately, their earnings going into the “management commission” and “net corporation” coffers of Polley. Subsequent allegations to Stan’s links with the Mafia became apparent when other artists (such as LOU CHRISTIE and AL KOOPER) became aware of his “bad practices”.
Following guest appearances on GEORGE HARRISON’s `All Things Must Pass’ and JOHN LENNON’s `Imagine’ albums (also RINGO STARR’s `It Don’t Come Easy’ single), the quiet Beatle returned the favour by producing `Day After Day’, their third consecutive transatlantic Top 10 hit. Spawned from the TODD RUNDGREN-produced STRAIGHT UP (1971) {*8} – released in Britain in January ’72 – Ham had learned a thing or two from working with album guest HARRISON, who’d initially been roped in to augment the group in the studio (as was Geoff Emerick). Reeling off close harmonies and textbook techniques supplied by wizard Todd, there was no attempt to disguise BADFINGER as pseudo contenders to the Fab Four’s throne; `Take It All’, `Name Of The Game’ and the US-only hit, `Baby Blue’, taking the honours.
For the whole of 1972, as the group busied themselves on tour, a fifth and final Apple album was up for discussion; and Chris Thomas was picked as co-producer when several tracks got canned. Knowing that BADFINGER’s contractual obligations were coming to an end by summer ’73, and thinking the said LP was shelved indefinitely, Polley negotiated a deal with Warner Bros for a reputed $3 million advance, which he said would make the band very rich. Unhappy that the quick-fire transaction might get in the way of this contractual set, and after their new imprint issued single, `Love Is Easy’, a remixed version hit the shops late in ’73. Entitled ASS {*4}, and noted for its opening kiss-off gibe, `Apple Of My Eye’, the self-produced record – depicting a carrot enticing a donkey on the jacket – made little impact in the lists, reaching only #122 due to lack of label support; when released in Britain the following March it was virtually ignored.
Apple Records (mainly HARRISON and boss Allen Klein) set about the litigation process that would allegedly tie up past, present and future royalties. Unable to tour for “Ass” as work had already began in earnest for what was to become the eponymous BADFINGER {*5} album, Chris Thomas was up against the clock to produce a convincing set of songs. Unleashed in March ’74 (June ’74 in Britain as not to confuse “Ass” purchasers), the results were a bit of a sprawling hotchpotch, with only the Ham-penned attendant single `I Miss You’ and `Shine On’, worthy of a once-great band.
With a little more time on his hands, Thomas worked hard on follow-up WISH YOU WERE HERE {*7}, which was unveiled toward the end of ’74. Although it was salivated over by their long-suffering fanbase, the damage had been done. Authored individually by Ham, Evans, Molland and Gibbins (or in pairings), somehow songs such as `Dennis’, `Just A Chance’ and the concluding `Meanwhile Back At The Ranch’ – `Should I Smoke’ medley, seemed to gel, though none on board were issued as singles when the set itself was withdrawn from sale. Lawyers and accountants were now investigating where the money in their “escrow” account had gone, and under Polley’s autonomous supervision, they didn’t have to look very far.
Frustrated by his band’s sacking from Warners when “Head First” was cancelled, the ensuing court battles, and/or the hopelessness when Molland bailed out from BADFINGER, 27-year-old PETE HAM took his own life by hanging himself in the garage of his Surrey house on 23 April 1975; his girlfriend was about to give birth to his daughter and with little prospect of seeing money to pay for anything (and a “soulless bastard” suicide note vehemently pointing the finger at Polley), not even Apple or Warner Bros could come up with a fitting statement on this tragedy.
Reeling from this dramatic event, BADFINGER split, only to be re-formed in 1978 by Evans and part-time pipe-fitter, Molland. Roping in auxiliary drummer Kenny Harck and guitarist Joe Tanzin (although Harck left halfway through the following set), Elektra Records were behind the band’s contemporary comeback LP, AIRWAVES (1979) {*5}. As power-pop surged into top gear under the weight of the new wave scene, sales of the set were reasonable under the circumstances, no doubt bolstered by the minor hit of Molland’s `Love Is Gonna Come At Last’ (Evans’ `Lost Inside Your Love’ flopped).
Evans, Molland and BADFINGER re-grouped once again, this time as a quintet with veteran keyboardist Tony Kaye (ex-YES, ex-BADGER), guitarist Glenn Sherba and drummer Richard Bryans (who replaced ex-STEALERS WHEEL’s Peter Clarke) for the Atlantic-endorsed 1981 LP, SAY NO MORE {*3}. Coming across as a group trying desperately to resurrect their Fab Four sound (in lieu of The RASPBERRIES), only US #56 hit `Hold On’ confirmed the band was back to their best; `Because I Love You’ and `No More’, aside. Different and varied versions of BADFINGER (with Gibbins partly back in tow) would appear over the next few years, but it was clear, time had taken its toll on the combo.
Incredibly, history repeated itself when, on 19 November 1983, after a heated argument between Molland and Evans on the phone, the latter also hanged himself under his willow tree amid fits of depression and financial troubles. Ironically, business problems were temporarily sorted out around a year and a half later, too late, of course, to bring back these lost songwriters of the 70s.
Molland and Gibbins subsequently toured as BADFINGER, and duly re-formed in 1986 with Randy Anderson (guitar) and A.J. Nicholas (bass), before Molland took over completely. Along with session people, he was commissioned to re-record group songs for an unenterprising and poorly marketed BADFINGER (1995) {*2} set.
Fans had to wait a decade and a half for the belated 2000-release of long-lost album, HEAD FIRST {*6}, the record which the band had dutifully recorded – and then had rejected – by Warners after the aforesaid “Wish You Were Here” was taken out of circulation back in ‘74. While it was difficult to listen to without the weight of attendant events surrounding it, this double-disc set (compete with outtakes and demos) proved that BADFINGER were far from a spent force when they recorded it. On the contrary, its musclebound pop was among the best of the day, begging the unavoidable what if… question. Another greatest hits package was released around the same time, only underlining the band’s underrated talent.
For fans of PETE HAM, there were also posthumous releases:- `7 Park Avenue’ (1997) and `Golders Green’ (1999). Another sad footnote to the band’s misfortunes was when Gibbins died of a brain aneurysm on 4 October 2005. With royalties tied up for many years, the courts finally decreed, in 2013, that the band were due monies; the revenue was split between the songwriters and the remainder to Collins’ estate (he died in 2002); whether it was down to the death of Polley in July 2009, well, that’ll be for others to contemplate.
© MC Strong 1994-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS Feb2016

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