The tragic life of Pete Ham and Badfinger

Thursday 26 April 2012, 10:00

James McLaren James McLaren

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It's one of the best-known pop songs of the 20th century; a million-selling anthem; a classic, but Without You, written by Swansea's Badfinger and covered by Harry Nilsson and Mariah Carey among many others, has a dark story behind it.

Badfinger

The song was penned by the Welsh duo of Pete Ham (born on 27 April 1947) and Tom Evans of Badfinger. Despite being behind one of the most successful songs of the 20th century (Without You has been covered almost 200 times), they attracted tragedy arguably more than triumph.

Swansea's Ham, Ron Griffiths, Roy Anderson and David 'Dai' Jenkins formed The Panthers in the early 1960s. Anderson was replaced on drums by Mike Gibbins in March 1965, the year after they changed their name to The Iveys.

The Beatles' assistant Mal Evans saw The Iveys perform at the Marquee Club in London in January 25, and pushed for them to be signed to Apple Records. They were the first non-Beatles to be signed to the label. The Iveys' first single, Maybe Tomorrow, was issued in November 1968; it was not a success in the UK or US, though it fared better elsewhere.

A follow-up single, Dear Angie, was released in Europe and Japan in July 1969, and The Iveys' only album, Maybe Tomorrow, was issued in Italy, West Germany and Japan. It was blocked elsewhere by The Beatles' business manager Allen Klein, who was in the midst of an audit of the company's chaotic finances.

Paul McCartney offered them the song Come And Get It, which was written about Apple's early willingness to give money away to all comers. The Iveys recorded it in August 1969, with McCartney producing.

Prior to the song's release as a single, The Iveys changed their name yet again, becoming Badfinger. Around the same time, bassist Roy Griffiths left; Liverpudlian guitarist Joey Molland was drafted in, and Tom Evans switched to bass.

The name Badfinger was chosen after Bad Finger Boogie, the working title of The Beatles' With A Little Help From My Friends. Rejected names included The Glass Onion and (John Lennon's suggestion) The Prix.

Come And Get It was a hit single, and featured in the soundtrack for the film The Magic Christian. Badfinger's first album, Magic Christian Music, was released in 1970.

Listen to Pete Ham talk about songwriting:

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Badfinger's links with The Beatles lasted well into the 70s. George Harrison co-produced their album Straight Up in 1971, the same year that guitarist Joey Molland and Tom Evans played on John Lennon's Imagine. Additionally, Ham, Evans and Molland played key roles in Harrison's All Things Must Pass and Concert For Bangla Desh.

They released the No Dice album - considered by the band to be their best album - in 1971. No Dice contained the song Without You, written by Ham and Evans, which was covered by Harry Nilsson later that year and became an international hit.

In 1973 their manager Stan Polley negotiated a multi-million pound deal with Warner Bros, which soured relations between Apple and Badfinger. The band released a final album on Apple - titled Ass - and their début for Warners, the Badfinger album, in quick succession.

However, the group's finances were in disarray thanks to gross mismanagement, with millions missing from the band's accounts. The members of Badfinger were in personal debt, and relations with Warner Bros had deteriorated to the point where their third album for the label, 1974's Head First, was never released.

Listen to Pete Ham talk about playing Madison Square Gardens for the Concert for Bangla Desh:

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In early 1975 Badfinger's contract with Warner Bros was terminated. On 23 April 1975, in despair at the turmoil within and around the band, Pete Ham hanged himself in his Surrey garage. His suicide note was addressed to his girlfriend and her son, and blamed the band's business manager Stan Polley. Ham's daughter was born one month after his death.

Over the next few years, the remaining members of Badfinger tried to control their increasingly complex legal and financial problems. In 1978 Tom Evans and Joey Molland kickstarted the band again, with ex-Yes keyboard player Tony Kaye and former Stealers Wheel drummer Peter Clarke, though without Mike Gibbins. In 1979 they released the album Airwaves, which was followed by a second album, Say No More, in 1981.

But tragedy was to hit the band again. Evans and Molland split with acrimony in 1981, and for two years operated rival bands, both called Badfinger. On 19 November 1983, following an argument with Molland and as the result of years of unhappiness with the band's business dealings, Tom Evans hanged himself.

In 1986 Molland and Gibbins reformed the band for tours, until the latter left in 1990. Joey Molland's Badfinger continues to tour.

A number of live and radio recordings by Badfinger have surfaced in recent years, in response to the still-high demand for the music of one of Wales' most popular and sorely-missed groups.

In October 2005 Badfinger drummer Mike Gibbins died at his Florida home at the age of 56. A statement on his website read: " To all of Mike's fans, it is with deepest regret to inform all that he passed away October 4th, in his sleep by natural causes. He will be terribly missed by all."

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    Comment number 1.

    I met the band when they were known as The Ivey. They appeared at my local club in the valleys. They were very talented and I got to talk to the lead singer who mentioned to me that they were going to London to sign with Apple. They were a superb band and it was tragic the way things turned out for them

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    Comment number 2.

    You failed to mention that the band had three top 10 singles in Britain, and I believe some success in the U.S. Their single "Come and get it" was used in the film "The Magic Christian".

  • rate this
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    Comment number 3.

    Joey Molland was not initially with the band. He joined after the original bass player (Ron Griffiths) left and Tom Evans moved over to bass.

    Also, in my opinion, "Straight Up" partially produced by George Harrison and Todd Rundgren and released in 1972 is their best album on Apple Records, while "Wish You Were Here", initially released on Warner Brothers in 1974 and then yanked in the wake of Stan Polleys handiwork, is their best album

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    Pledge Music is working with the Pete Ham estate and is releasing a Limited Edition 50 track double CD set – “Keyhole Street: Demos 1966-67” – to coincide with a Blue Plaque Ceremony and Tribute concert to Pete Ham / Iveys / Badfinger taking place next year on his birthdate, April 27, 2013, in Pete’s hometown of Swansea in Wales. The following day a memorial stone will be unveiled at the Morriston Cemetary, which is where Pete’s ashes had been spread.

 

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