Wales

Badfinger's last original member still playing their music

Badfinger Image copyright Getty Images

It is a story with its roots in Swansea and Liverpool involving The Beatles, a love song and a tragedy.

Badfinger were the first act signed to the fab four's Apple Records and wrote Without You, which later became a massive hit for Harry Nilsson.

But after enjoying success in the UK and United States they plunged into financial turmoil, and "genius" Pete Ham was found hanged, aged 27.

Now, 40 years later, the only surviving original member Joey Molland says he still feels angry, calling his band mate's death "a disaster".

"As the last one, I'm very aware of my responsibility to keep the music and band going," he said.

Guitarist Molland, now 68, joined the group in 1969 after they had relocated from Swansea to London, lured by the prospect of working with The Beatles.

But he said: "Ron Griffiths [who he replaced] had joked in a magazine it hadn't done much good [being signed to The Beatles' label].

"This ticked Paul McCartney off, who then gave us Come and Get It.

"As soon as I joined, the record came out, it was a big smash hit and it was the last we saw of Paul for years."

While McCartney provided the first single, Lennon's piano prowess was pivotal in the search as the band looked to change its name from The Iveys.

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Media captionBadfinger perform Come and Get It

"We went through hundreds and Badfinger Boogie was suggested.

"It came from [a name for] John [Lennon] who could play piano but was not the greatest player," said Molland.

George Harrison was most involved, playing guitar and calling Badfinger his band.

By 1969, the line-up included Swansea members Ham and drummer Mike Gibbins, plus Liverpudlians Molland and Tommy Evans.

Image caption Pete Ham was born in Townhill, Swansea and made his first guitar in school woodwork class. He worked as an apprentice television engineer before finding fame
Image caption The band house in Golders Green, London, where Badfinger lived

He described them as having fun living in London, playing practical jokes, going to the pub and watching Monty Python.

It was Ham who was musically "streets ahead" and sat in the attic writing before coming down and playing "beautiful songs".

Molland said he got inspiration from things that happened to him, such as splitting up with his girlfriend.

Co-writer Tommy Evans took a different approach and had a "burning ambition" to write a hit record, but he struggled finding a verse for Without You.

"It was [manager] Bill Collins who suggested we join their two ideas. He wanted us to do a big version.

"But Pete got mad. He said 'no, we're a rock band'. He was serious about being a rock band, so they argued about it.

"In the end, there was no demo and we had trouble sticking Without You together."

Image caption Manager Bill Collins first spotted The Iveys playing in Ammanford and took them to London

It was song six on album No Dice and Molland said they had no idea about its potential until 1971 when Harry Nilsson walked into a recording session.

"He introduced himself and asked us to listen to a mix he'd written. He said his ears were burnt as he'd been listening to it for hours and wanted our opinion," he said.

"But he was spinning us a line. They played this bombastic version of Without You and we were flabbergasted."

Success followed, but it was in 1974 after a switch to a US-based manager and the Warner Brothers label that things began going wrong, Molland said.

"Pete had an affair with a roadie's wife, which caused a lot of not good feeling.

"He was very anxious about it. He'd sit in his room, talk to us and he'd taken to burning his hands with cigarettes. He was that concerned.

"The band was also getting an edge, drinking more, taking drugs."

Image caption Joey Molland described Swansea and Liverpool as similar working class ports with vibrant music scenes and said there was a "great connection" in the band

While they returned to form recording Wish You Were Here, Molland said a bombshell was about to tear them apart.

"Warner Brothers had given us £600,000 to sign and I enquired (to the management) about having £1,000 for equipment.

"But I was told there was no money," he said.

"I couldn't get £3,000 for a deposit on a house. It was obvious something was wrong."

Concerned, Molland asked Apple to put a £170,000 royalty cheque on hold, saying: "After that, (manager) Stan Polley stopped sending me my wages and cut me off."

When Warner Music found £385,000 missing from another account, they sued Badfinger and Polley.

This led to arguments, with Ham quitting before returning.

"Pete trusted him [Polley], but was living in an attic, driving a second-hand Triumph Stag after winning an Ivor Novello award," he said.

"In 1974, I left for America with £700. By the next January, the band was done."

Image caption How newspapers reacted to the news that Pete Ham had hung himself in 1975

It was in April 1975 that Ham hanged himself.

"He was having a baby and trying to get money from Polley for night gowns for the hospital, but was told categorically there was none left.

"£325,000 cash we'd received and in three months it was gone. Unbelievable. It took us ages to get over it, I don't know if Tommy ever did."

Speaking to BBC's Week In Week Out programme in 1987, the band's solicitor Tim Douglas-Jones said no money from the US was ever recovered.

He was provided with unaudited accounts that said earnings had been eaten up by expensive US tours.

There was also a counter-claim outstanding from the band's label Warner Brothers for alleged breach of contract.

He said it was decided to "write off" the money in the US, because trying to get it would have involved using other band funds for litigation that may have proved "hopeless".

A total of £500,000 royalty money from Apple was divided between the band.

Stan Polley died in 2009.

Molland said he still finds it difficult to understand why Ham took his life.

"I always felt that when a band is a band, it's four guys in a thing together. You've got to believe in each other," he said.

"Somewhere along the way, we lost that cohesiveness, belief in each other that we could trust each other with our children, our lives.

"I was angry years later, angry that we didn't value at the time who we were, what we were."

While the two Liverpudlian members reformed Badfinger between 1978 and 1981, Without You's co-writer, Tommy Evans, hung himself in 1983.

With Gibbins dying in 2005, Minnesota-based Molland is the sole survivor from the original line-up and still performs Badfinger's music.

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Media captionBadfinger perform Come and Get It

Most of the songs are Ham's - who he calls a "Welsh genius" who would have written many more brilliant tunes.

"I perform them the best I can and try and bring them to life. Sometimes I make money, sometimes I don't," he said.

In 2013, Baby Blue, a record Molland calls "one of the great rock songs" featured in television show Breaking Bad.

"After that, concerts started selling out, it was like we had a hit record again.

"But on the whole, the same fans come. A lot bring their children now.

"The younger ones are curious about the band while musicians talk about the guitar parts that inspired them."

A Badfinger act has also recently been re-launched in the UK by Bob Jackson and has completed a theatre tour.

Mr Jackson joined up with the band following the departure of Molland in October 1974 until Pete Ham's death in April 1975 and toured the USA as Badfinger in the 1980s alongside Tommy Evans and Mike Gibbins.

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