JOHN LENNON INTERVIEW, October 1973 - Part 2

The second part on my 1973 interview with Johnny Beatle.

John considers Mind Games to be better than Imagine, although he says he’s never completely satisfied with his records. “For the last ten years I’ve said that if I didn’t like something I wouldn’t put it out, but whenever I played the record back I’m thinking of ways to change it and make it better still. It’s good, but you can always do better and that’s why I go on making records.
         “I was disappointed at the reaction to the last album [Sometime In New York City]. Over here they banned it and made such a fuss about the songs, and it was never played because they said it insulted blacks which it didn’t at all. I know a lot of black people, and they know what’s going on.
         “I know it was political with a capital “P”, but that was what I had in my bag at the time and I wasn’t just going to throw them away because they were political. ‘Imagine’ did pretty well, so after that I wanted to just do one that I felt like.
         “I still like the song ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’. I like the sound of it and it gets me off, but it just happened that it didn’t please people.”
         At present, John has no immediate plans to tour or appear live anywhere. He had plans until the much-publicised visa situation reared up, and now he’s content to wait until these problems are sorted out before going on the road.
         “At the time they were trying to throw me out, I really felt like going on the road, but having to go to court and go to Washington put me off the idea. I had no time to think about work, which was maybe what they were trying to do to me – wear me down.
         “I wouldn’t mind doing it, but the organisation frightens me. I could probably earn a lot of money, which wouldn’t be a bad thing because all my money is tied up in England and they won’t let me have it. I get lots of people wanting me to do things for charity, but usually when I show, it turns out the whole thing is a fiasco and I end up running the whole show.
         “Not many people know how to put a show on properly: most of them think that if they get a famous name, he’ll call everybody he knows and they won’t have to worry about anything else.
         “The Bangla Desh show started this big charity thing. Now people ring me and they think that if I say ‘yes’ then Dylan, George and God will appear, too. If Yoko appears anywhere, they automatically expect me to appear, so I now say screw it for the time being.
         “I’m in no particular hurry, I don’t miss not being on stage and one way or the other I always seem to be performing somehow, no matter where I am.
         “When I did the Madison Square Gardens show, I had a sort of deja-vu feeling that I’d done it all before and this was no better or no worse than it had ever been before. It felt strange and I felt like a robot doing the same thing over and over again.
         “I’ll probably go out on the road again before too long, but it’s just the itty-bitty things about it that I can’t stand. If something comes up that interests me, then I may do it. I think I’d sooner play the Roxy here than a ballpark, but the complications of someone like me doing a show anywhere are endless.
         “I couldn’t do what Paul did with Wings and just turn up at Bradford University and play. It’d have to be something more organised than that.”
         Right now, John is waiting for the appeal hearing for his application to remain in the USA. While the appeal is pending, he’s just behaving naturally, and relying on a team of lawyers to keep him informed of how the case is proceeding.
         To this end, he’s kept out of the papers recently, living quietly in an apartment in Central Manhattan, New York, anxious not to offend those who want to see him leave America. His only publicised public appearance recently was when he went to watch the Watergate hearings in Washington.
         “I only went once to see Watergate, but it made the papers because I was recognised straight away. I thought it was better on TV anyway because I could see more. When it first came on I watched it live all day, so I just had the urge to actually go. I had other business in Washington, anyway.
         “The public was there and most Senators have children, so every time there was a break in the proceedings I had to sign autographs. I was looking like a Buddhist monk at the time with all my hair chopped off, and I thought nobody would spot me. They spotted Yoko before me, and assumed – rightly – that I must be with her. It was quite a trip.”
John took part in some of the sessions for Ringo’s forthcoming album which brought three ex-Beatles together – and almost all four – for the first time since the split. “Yea, the three of us were there and Paul would most probably have joined in if he was around but he wasn’t,” said John.
         “I just got a call from Ringo, asking me to write a track so I did. It seemed the natural thing to do. George has written a track and Paul has written one, but most of them are Ringo’s. I like his songs. For the track that I wrote, I was on piano, Billy Preston was on organ, Ringo was on drums, George was on guitar and Klaus Voorman was on bass.”
         John says he talks to at least one of the other three ex-Beatles every two weeks. “I’ve talked to Ringo a lot recently because he’s just moved into my house at Ascot, which is nice because I’ve always got a bedroom there. I haven’t talked to Paul since before he did the last tour with Wings, but I heard Red Rose Speedway and it was all right.
         “I liked parts of his TV special especially the intro. The bit filmed in Liverpool made me squirm a bit, but Paul’s a pro. He always has been. I hear two people have left Wings now. The only news I hear is what I get from the English trade papers. Nobody tells me things, unless I ask and really, it’s nothing to do with me anyway what Wings are doing.”


IN PLAIN SIGHT - The Life & Lies of Jimmy Savile

I was going to post the next extract from my 1973 interview with John Lennon today but decided instead to throw a curved ball and post this book review instead. More John tomorrow.

On the cover of this impressive biography of Sir James Savile OBE is a picture of the subject as an old man reclining in an armchair in a flat that overlooks Scarborough’s South Bay sea front which is clearly identifiable through a large picture window. This is the sea front that I describe in a Beatles-related post elsewhere on Just Backdated that recalls the summer of 1963, the summer of ‘She Loves You’; the sea front where I strolled with a girl on my arm and where Savile strolled on many occasions with his beloved mother, ‘The Duchess’, for whom he bought this flat when he became rich.
         Thankfully this is the only parallel I can find between Savile and myself though I have also posted about two close encounters with him that led me to conclusions not unlike those shared by most everyone following the revelations that have surfaced since his death in 2011, and which readers of this bulky 600-page book will also undoubtedly reach. To wit: Savile was a thoroughly nasty piece of work; shifty, vain, duplicitous and possessed of a genuinely vicious streak that he cleverly suppressed when mixing with defenders he needed to nurture, most notably HRH Charlie Wales and Thatcher PM but also numerous shady senior policemen and scatter-brained clerics. All these and more seemed in thrall to his overbearing personality, like rabbits caught in the glare of a particularly bright headlight. That he was a serial sex-offender was probably suspected by many but never acted upon because he was a big celebrity who hid his crimes behind a massive wall of charity work. Also, cunningly, he often joked about his predilection for ‘dolly birds’ so that he became perceived as a sort of benign ‘Jack the Lad’ figure when he was nothing of the sort. He was a grade-A pervert, rapist and paedophile, almost certainly the most prolific sex offender this country has ever seen.
         The more he sinned the more he expanded his charity work, evidently believing that, as a practising Catholic, when he reached the Pearly Gates his debit and credit columns would cancel each other out and he’d be allowed through. He had all sorts of weird ideas about religion and, visiting Israel, walked in the desert with a wooden staff in the footsteps of Christ or so he believed. On the same visit he attempted to broker a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, just as on another occasion he tried to do the same thing between the loyalists and republicans in Northern Ireland.
         All this and more is told in this superbly researched but tolerably written book by an author who admits to being obsessed with Savile for a very long time. Davies evidently knew him well and interviewed him on many occasions, not that the interviews ever revealed much as Savile was a liar and fantasist who invented and exaggerated in order to muddy the waters, or if he didn’t like a question simply clammed up and changed the subject like politicians on TV. Trying to find out the truth can’t have been easy and Davies admits as much as we move through his life.
         The book opens with the destruction of Savile’s gruesome headstone at the cemetery in Scarborough where it had been unveiled amidst much pomp and ceremony just 19 days before. Thereafter it ramps up the tension through a non-linear narrative in which the upward momentum of Savile’s career is told between chapters that describe the author’s own meetings with Savile at his homes in Scarborough and Leeds, and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans at the BBC as details of his crimes begin to emerge after his death; their dilemma over whether to broadcast a fawning Christmas tribute show or a damning exposure on Newsnight, and the cack-handed manner in which they dealt with it.
         The building blocks upon which Savile’s eccentric character was formed are carefully examined; the youngest of seven, childhood poverty and illness, minimal education, unskilled work, ducking and diving, grab all you can. Distanced from his father but adored by his mother, he saw dancehalls as an entry into teenage lives and became a DJ, first in Leeds, then in Manchester, moving from live work in Mecca nightspots to radio, firstly with Luxembourg and then the BBC. That he was a good decade and a half older than others in this line of work was somehow overlooked, largely because he disguised himself with outlandish clothes, bling and long hair dyed blond. Despite the concerns of a few sceptics at the BBC, he moved smoothly from radio to TV and by the time of Jim’ll Fix It he was simply too popular – 15 million watched it every week – to dump. By this time he’d become a big charity campaigner, most often by performing stunts of physical endurance, running and cycling marathons, which drew attention to him. He liked attention all right. He mixed with the Royal Family, acting as an ‘advisor’ to Charles and Diana when their marriage was failing, and became pally with Thatcher who, because of his fundraising for Stoke Mandeville Hospital, pushed through his knighthood in 1983 against the advice of wiser heads in the cabinet.
         Along the way Savile amassed a small fortune through kick-backs and endorsements and systematically sexually abused teenage girls and the occasional boy wherever he went, at the BBC, in hospitals, in children’s homes, in his motor home, in hotels, anywhere and everywhere. The extent of this is staggering and discomforting to read, though the book never stoops to sensationalism. On only one occasion – aboard a cruise liner – did Savile’s addiction to pubescent female flesh come to the attention of someone in a position to do something, in this case the ship’s captain who was alerted to his misbehaviour and confined Savile to his cabin until such a time as he could disembark and fly back to the UK. Regrettably this went no further and the press didn’t report it.
         Eventually Saville dies, alone and unloved, virtually friendless too as he avoided personal relationships of any kind. Then, slowly at first but with increasing momentum, the shit hit the fan. It’s an appalling story, fairly well crafted in this book though there are some leads that could have been chased down further and the editing is a tad sloppy here and there. I’m not sure whether to recommend it and, I have to admit, the only reason I read it was out of lurid curiosity and to find out how this ghastly man got away with all that he did. I have a bit better understanding of that now but there’s no real explanation as to why so many people simply let him do as he chose. The only reason seems to be that it was easier to ignore him than confront him, easier to turn a blind eye than rock the boat. In some ways you can forgive the nurses who knew what was going on but were powerless to do anything but the same cannot be said about those in positions of power, supposedly people of good judgement, who were either taken in by him or, worse, let him abuse at will.
         Incidentally, I was disconcerted to discover that on the one occasion I saw The Beatles, at Bradford on December 21, 1963, Savile was in the audience (and Rolf Harris was the compere). I also spotted two silly errors – a reference to Savile wrapping £20 notes around rolled up newspaper to give the impression he had a wad of cash in the fifties (£20 notes weren’t introduced until 1970) and Johnny & The Hurricanes described as a ‘popular singing act’!
         Approach with caution. 


JOHN LENNON INTERVIEW, October 1973 - Part 1

Elsewhere on Just Backdated I write about my relationship with John and here is the interview I did with him in Los Angeles in October 1973. This is the unabridged version, as it appeared in Melody Maker, dated November 3. It’s in three parts.

Where Doheney cuts Sunset at the edge of the Beverley Hills estate, there’s a tobacconist’s shop that carries all makes and brands. It’s called Sunset Smokes and it’s one of the few places in LA that sells English cigarettes. When my duty-free allocation burned up, I went there to re-stock, deciding ultimately on a carton of Rothmans to satisfy my nicotine habit
         “You English?” inquired the shop assistant, who was probably in her late forties. I replied in the affirmative.
         “We got Piccadilly now,” she informed me. “I’ll tell you something,” she continued. “When The Beatles were The Beatles and they were staying in Los Angeles, they were in here every day asking for Piccadilly. We couldn’t get them then, but we’ve got them now. If you see one of them, tell them.”
         Three days later I saw one. He smoked only Gauloises. “I’ve been smoking these for years,” said John Lennon, in the bustle of the Rainbow Club, situated on the Strip not a stone’s throw away from Sunset Smokes.
         John was sat in the quietest corner of the noisiest club, curled up on a seat among a constant stream of well-wishers and others seeking an audience. In the company was Lou Adler, self-made music millionaire, part-owner of the Roxy Club next door, mentor to Carole King and owner of the Bel Air mansion where Lennon is staying on this rare excursion out of New York and rare separation from Yoko.
         About a week later, after a series of ‘phone calls and messages, I spent an afternoon at the same Bel Air mansion in the company of John. I took along three recent copies of the MM, a token gift which he eagerly accepted.
         John Lennon today seems smaller and thinner than he’s ever been. His hair is cropped short and he wears tiny round glasses similar to the type that are provided with sun-ray lamps to protect the eyes from the blinding glare. He sips beer on the terrace and talks willingly about any subject I bring up. He’s very friendly and very open.
         The reason for his visit to Los Angeles is to put the finishing touches to his next album Mind Games which is due out in November. But as often as not he’s out on the town. Nightly it seems, he’s been socialising at the Rainbow, catching an act at the Roxy and even spending a weekend in Vegas where he stopped off to see Fats Domino.
         But, he explains, the problems of being John Lennon are always there. Whenever he’s spotted, a crowd gathers just to gawk at this little man who, probably more than anyone else, gave popular music the biggest kick in the ass it’s ever had. Once a Beatle, always a Beatle.
         We talked for over an hour – about his new record, his love of the States, his dodgy visa situation, his thoughts on the recent Beatle re-release double albums, his lack of live appearances, his views on the current music scene, and, of course, his relationship with the other former Beatles.
         “Tell me about the new album,” I asked him first.
         “Well,” said John in his thick Liverpool accent, “it’s finished. I’m out here in LA to sit on Capitol, to do the artwork and see to things like radio promotion. The album’s called Mind Games, and its, well... just, an album.
         “It’s rock at different speeds. It’s not a political album, or an introspective album. Someone told me it was like Imagine with balls, which I liked a lot. I’ve used New York musicians, apart from Jim Keltner on drums.
         “There’s no deep message about it. I very rarely consciously sit down and write a song with a deep message. Usually, whatever lyrics I write are about what I’ve been thinking over the past few months. I tend not to want to change an idea once it’s in my mind, even if I feel diferently about it later.
         “If I stated in a song that water was the philosophy to life, then people would assume that was my philosophy for ever – but it’s not, it’s forever changing.”
         Yoko is not involved in the new album, although John played some guitar on her last record. The two of them, says John, have decided to keep their careers separate for a while. “Now that she knows how to produce records and everything about it, I think the best thing I can do is keep out of her hair.
         “We get a little tense in the studio together, but that’s not to say we won’t ever do another album. If we do an album, or a film, or a bed-in or whatever, that’s just the way we feel at that moment.
         “We’re just playing life by ear, and that includes our careers. We occasionally take a bath together and occasionally separately, just however we feel at the time. Yoko has just started a five-day engagement in a club in New York, and I ain’t about to do five days in a New York club.
         “She’s over there rehearsing and I’m letting her get on with it her own way.”
         The current temporary separation between them, says John, is the longest there has ever been – but he’s quick to deny the inevitable rumours that they have parted.
         “We have been apart more than people think, for odd periods over the years, and now I know people are calling from England suggesting we’ve split up. It’s not so. The last time that happened was when we spent one night apart at Ascot and somebody, started off rumours.
         “All that scares us about being apart is whether something happens to us. Our minds are tied in together and there’s always the telephone, but one of us could have a plane crash or something. We’ve been together five years or more now, but we’ve really been together for more than ten years in most people’s terms.
         “Her output and energy is so much greater than mine that I just let her get on with things.”



The unexplained cancellation of the 6 o’clock fast train from Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour via Guildford last night caused me to take a slow train that went round the houses, stopping everywhere, and as it did I settled back in a hot and crowded carriage that crawled out of West London towards those Surrey stations where the car parks are full of posh cars belonging to rich commuters. It was too cramped to read the paper so I settled back with the iPod and jotted down a few notes on my iPhone which I’ve just tidied up.
         First up tonight is ‘I Need You’, the George Harrison Beatle song by The Webb Sisters. I don’t think I’ve heard this before but it’s really nice… from a Mojo George compilation that I must have downloaded and forgotten about. Lovely little vocal flourishes, especially in the instrumental break and towards the end.
         ‘Berlin’ by Kirtsy MacColl. I used to know the lovely Kirsty MacColl who of course sings the female part in ‘Fairytale of New York’. For a short while in the early ‘80s – before she eventually married Steve Lillywhite, U2’s record producer – she went out with a friend of mine who lived near me in Hammersmith. They sometimes came around to my flat after the pubs shut and Kirsty liked nothing better than to stick my headphones on and listen to my vinyl Beach Boys albums. She had a gorgeous voice and sometimes sang along, forgetting that we could hear every word. Kirsty was killed in a boating accident in Mexico in 2000, drowned after a speedboat crashed into her as she was swimming with her two sons whose lives she saved. The driver of the speedboat was allegedly the son of a multi-millionaire who got off scot free, so it was both a tragedy and a scandal. There is a bench in Soho Square that commemorates Kirsty, bought by fans in her honour, inscribed with the lyrics of her song ‘Soho Square’: “One day I'll be waiting there / No empty bench in Soho Square.”
         Paul Simon – ‘God Bless The Absentee’, from One Trick Pony, a catchy piano riff, a nifty guitar break and its central portion seems like a re-write of 'Homeward Bound'. ‘Black Betty’ by Ram Jam, from a rock compilation. I know this song well but I’d have been hard pressed to say who recorded it. Were they one hit wonders?
         ‘Eden’s Wall’ by Little Feat, from their box set Hotcakes & Outtakes, and just the opposite... I know the group well but don’t recall this song, probably because it’s from a version of the band after Lowell George died. This is pleasant enough but a bit MORish for LF, and too much going on for my taste, too long too. They’d never have recorded this if Lowell had been alive.
         ‘I Wanna Be Free’ by The Monkees. Soppy ballad, ’nuff said. Davey Jones was cute but he was responsible for some real drivel, the one member of that band who had no allegiance whatsoever to rock’n’roll.
         ‘Wonderful One’ by Page & Plant from their No Quarter album, a slow-paced, slightly North African sounding piece with downtuned guitars, deep percussion and Robert in good voice. Embracing world music was a laudable move by these two, in many ways mitigating the rather questionable blues ‘interpretations’ from their Zep days that could be traced back to old black dudes.
         ‘I Met Her Today’ from Elvis’ Nashville To Memphis album. Another soppy ballad, seems like a recurring theme in my iPod posts. And I have so much great Elvis on it too.
         Next up is this evening’s big surprise, Trio Bulgarka, with ‘Mari Tudoro from their album The Forest Is Crying. I got this CD because the Trio were mentioned in Graeme Thomson’s Kate Bush biography Under The Ivy, and the way Graeme described them really left me no choice. Here’s an extract: “The Trio consisted of Yanka Rupkina, Eva Georgieva and Stoyanka Boneva, three middle-aged women who had been singing traditional Bulgarian music both together and apart for a couple of decades and had contributed to the semi-legendary compilation Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, first released by a Swiss label in 1975 and later reissued, in 1986, on Britain’s hip indie imprint 4AD. Bulgarian folk had already exerted a small but appreciable influence on western popular music. In the mid- to late-Sixties, the State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir’s album, Music Of Bulgaria, The Ensemble Of The Bulgarian Republic, was released on the Nonesuch label and reached the likes of David Crosby and Graham Nash, soaking up the vibes a world away in the blissed-out, false idyll of Laurel Canyon. They were stunned by its otherworldly sound. ‘Those women sing rings around everybody in the world,’ said Crosby many years later. ‘They make the Beach Boys sound loose. And they were a huge influence on Nash and myself both. We listened to that album probably a couple of hundred times. There is no question they influenced me, strongly. I thought that was the best part singing I have ever heard in my life.’ Kate Bush was evidently “devastated” by its emotional purity, likening their voices to those of angels, although there was nothing sweet or mellifluous about it. Singing from the throat rather than the chest, the trio employed diaphonic stylings, the lead vocalist singing the melody while the others sustained a single drone note, creating an effect much like that of a bagpipe. Punctuating the dissonant, brittle harmonies in sevenths and ninths with strange whoops, trills and yelps, the results were raw and powerful, utterly alien to western ears and yet touching the receptive listener at a profoundly deep level.” After reading that I simply had to investigate and the Trio certainly make for an arresting sound, although it’s a bit of an acquired taste.
         Next up is Paul McCartney singing ‘Here Today’ from his 2009 live album Good Evening New York City, which largely comprises faithful interpretations of Beatle songs performed by the young and enthusiastic group he’s employed for the last 15 years or so. I bought this (double) CD at a Motorway gas station because it was a) cheap, b) I’d forgotten to bring any CDs on this trip, and c) most of what was available was modern chart rubbish. ‘Here Today’, of course, is a heartfelt song to his former Beatle partner, perhaps made all the more poignant in this version as he is singing it in NY where John died. Unadorned, with Paul facing a huge audience, it certainly shows he’s got plenty of bottle. Then again, with the crowd on his side he can’t go far wrong.
         It’s always a treat to hear The Mamas And The Papas’ ‘I Saw Her Again Last Night’, its harmonies as lovely as ever. The only surviving member of the group, Michelle Phillips, turned 70 in June and still looks gorgeous.
         ‘Miles Ahead’ by Miles Davis from the Complete Columbia Sessions brought a touch of gentle swing as the train began to empty, and next up was Albert Lee & Hogan’s Heroes playing ‘One Way Rider’ from Live At The New Morning, a Paris rock club. The greatest unsung guitarist Britain has produced, Albert is one of the best country pickers in the world, a living legend and a lovely bloke too. We’ve met on a number of occasions and I once found myself sat next to him in a box at the Albert Hall for a Clapton concert. I think he’d left Clapton’s band because he was fed up of playing ‘Slow Down Sally’. A couple of years ago I went to watch him do a master class at hotel in Guildford. He was showing off really, but when you can play like him you have every right to show off.
         We were breezing through Clandon now, coming up to Guildford and the last track to come up was ‘Arc Of A Diver’ by the wonderful Steve Winwood, with lyrics by Vivian Stanshall for whom the royalties were no doubt very welcome at this time in his life. Many years ago I interviewed Viv in a Greek restaurant on Charlotte Street and he was particularly taken with some extra hot peppers that came as a side dish. He asked the waiter for a handful and when we’d eaten we headed off to the Ship in Wardour Street for a quick pint. On the bar, in a plastic case, were some open sandwiches into which Viv slipped a pepper or two when no one was looking. No doubt some poor sod got a bit of a shock when he bit into it. The last time I saw Viv was at Kempton Park Racecourse many years ago when the Charisma Handicap was being run. He looked very strange in those days, strange clothes, strange glasses, strange hair. Our daughter Olivia, aged about three, was with us and I introduced her to Viv. “That’s a very funny man,” she whispered in my ear afterwards. “Yes,” I said. “He is a very funny man.” 


BADFINGER - Carnegie Hall, March 1972

This third story about Badfinger was written less than a month after the last and involved a trip to New York to see them headline Carnegie Hall, my second ever visit to the US. Aside from the show, details of which appear below, I can remember going out for dinner with the group afterwards and driving through Central Park in a stretch limo with them and their US manager Stan Polley, the guy who shafted them big time. Polley was adamant that I accompany them, seemingly concerned that if I didn’t I might go elsewhere after the show and find something else other than Badfinger to write about.
         What I also remember about this trip was that a Scottish Jock The Lad I knew, who in a few years’ time would make a name for himself in the footnotes of the UK punk scene, was ‘staying’ in the same hotel as me. When I returned from my late dinner with Badfinger I bumped into him in the lobby and on his arm was a groupie whose charms he was evidently promoting. “She’s yours for $20,” he said. I declined. He then explained that he’d lost his room key – I suspect he didn’t actually have a room – and begged me to allow him to stay in my room which, as it happened, had two double beds. In the end I let him and he brought the girl along too. By this time her rate had dropped to $10 but I still wasn’t interested. Had I been, I thought provision of the adjoining bed ought to have been payment enough but he was a Scotsman so ’nuff said. Either way, I fell asleep to the sound of their congress.
         But I digress, a bad habit of mine. Back to Badfinger…

Come to New York, they said, and see Badfinger. It seemed like a long way to go to see a British Band, but the idea had its merits. For a start, Badfinger topped the bill at the skyscraper city’s Carnegie Hall last week, and they don’t often play in their home country anyway.
         To say that Badfinger were “bigger” in America than over here in Britain would be an understatement. They’ve just had a big hit in the States with ‘Day After Day’, and they sold out the Carnegie. Second on the bill, incidently, was Al Kooper, and people are only just beginning to realise that Nilsson’s ‘Without You’ is a Badfinger number.
         Badfinger packed the Carnegie – a hall comparable in size to our own Rainbow Theatre, but more plush. It’s doubtful whether the group would fill the balcony at the Rainbow on the strength of their British successes. Badfinger/Al Kooper bill would definitely be reversed over here.
         Badfinger have been lying low for some time now, always there but never here, if you see what I mean. Too many people are inclined to dismiss them with a remark about their associations with The Beatles or Apple, and moderate chart success is their only reward for six years in the business.
         So they turned their sights on America with successive tours as a supporting act, until now when they can make a coast-to-coast trek topping most of the way and pulling in the crowds. The Beatles have helped, of course; the Bangla Desh appearance, and Harrison showing up at a press conference last year – but in the main Badfinger have themselves to thank.
         They are, in fact, one of the few groups who can claim British descendency but who attract a bigger audience in America. Humble Pie seem to be another, ditto Savoy Brown.
         But back to Badfinger, whose music is very different from Pie and Savoy Brown. They’re not a heavy band, but neither are they teenybop. On stage they’re remarkably heavier than you’d expect, but on record they rely – like the Beatles did – on bloody good songs, harmonies and guitar work. They don’t go on at length, and instrumental breaks are kept to a minimum. They’re doing what many groups today would consider to be out of date: but they get away with it because Badfinger are great song writers.
         It’s a three guitar/drum line up with the lead singing shared between bassist Tom Evans and guitarists Pete Ham and Joey Molland, who also share the lead work. On stage, the only resemblance to The Beatles is when Tom and Joey share the same mike; you can’t say the same thing for their records though.
         For the most part Badfinger’s stage act comprised self-pinned numbers – songs from their new album Straight Up and a smattering of tracks from their last record No Dice. They are put over virtually identical to the recorded sound. The only real action comes during a bluesy version of Dave Mason’s ‘Feelin’ Allright’, and at the end when, like so many other bands, the group turn on to a string of old 12-bars.
         That’s when the guitars of Joey and Pete come to life. They can both handle the instrument well, and they trade licks like they’ve known each other for a long, long time, and they have. Tom’s voice, too, comes into its own in these rock numbers. He growls the words, screaming out the lyrics until his throat can stand no more. His vocal chords are a complete contrast to Joey and Pete, who take the softer numbers in turn. And Tom’s bass is as funky as you could wish.
         Drummer Mike Gibbins sits behind an enormous kit, seemingly content to keep things moving instead of extroverting his talents. Percussion doesn’t play that big a part in Badfinger.
         There’s an acoustic part to the set too, with all three guitarists turning to acoustic instruments and singing sweetly a la CSN&Y. Tom picks out the notes on an oversized lute on ‘Sweet Tuesday Morning’, while Joey sings a trifle nervously and Mike taps bongos. It’s in complete contrast to the rock numbers, and the standard three-part harmony songs, but versatility is often a rare commodity in rock.
         It was a pretty young Carnegie audience, and what they’d been waiting for were the group’s hits, ‘No Matter What’ and ‘Day After Day’. The latter was preceded by a presentation by an Apple man of a gold record for a million sales. The gold record was actually George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ – but nobody could see.  It was hoped that Allen Klein would show up to make the presentation: he’d asked for four tickets and he might have been there but nobody saw him.
         Backstage at the Carnegie was very crowded, but Badfinger shrugged off the inevitable groupies and camp followers. There’s record company men, with their wives, sons and daughters, budding musicians who somehow broke the none-too-tight security net and their girlfriends, and a disc jockey or two and the roadies.
         Manager Bill Collins is there too. He’s an interesting character with long graying hair who looks a bit old to be managing a group on the brink of success.  You’d expect a young trendy instead of a father figure like Bill, who shows a devoted concern for the group. He’s certainly got faith in them but he’s worried about pushing them too hard.
         He seems almost too honest and straightforward to be mixed up in the rock business – but it’s difficult to steal a march on him. His faith in Badfinger is resolute. He’s worried that not too many people realise that Nilsson’s current hit is a Badfinger song.
         The group too are as dedicated as rock musicians can be. With the possible exception of Tom Evans, they’re far from ravers. Pete Ham and Mike Gibbons are both married, and Joey Molland is engaged. They were visibly nervous before the Carnegie Hall show, which was probably the most important of their career.
         It was regarded by all as successful by New York standards. There were two encores, and a knowledgeable young lady behind the scenes assured me they were several times better than T. Rex who had played the Carnegie the previous week.
         Badfinger’s initial rise to  status in America may well have been due to the Beatles influence – there was a time when the fans thought Paul McCartney played bass for them – but now it seems they are winning through on their own merit.
         The most unusual fact about the Badfinger case is their lack of support in Britain. More live appearances and a couple more hit singles could well bring them to T. Rex status in the country.


BADFINGER - February 1972 Interview

Joey Molland must have pulled the short straw when it came to being interviewed by me in February 1972, as none of the other members of Badfinger put in an appearance, most likely because they were sleeping off hangovers caused by the previous night’s festivities resulting from the US success of ‘Day After Day’. The second Badfinger interview was done at the offices of the group’s newly appointed PR company in central London.

Joey Molland has a cheeky grin, which isn’t in evidence this morning. Last night he was celebrating, and this morning he's alternating between a bottle of aspirins and strong cups of coffee. Cigarettes too are part of his cure for the hangover caused, apparently, by the news that Badfinger are about to make number one in the American singles charts (they didn’t, at least not in Billboard – CC).
         Staying up late to celebrate is one thing, but getting up early to do interviews is another; especially when it's the fourth time he's been dragged from his Hampstead home to central London before noon this week. For the first time since their formation, Badfinger have employed a publicity man – and it could be that Joey's regretting it already.
         Badfinger are one of those peculiar British groups to whom America is more like home than England. They do most of their live appearances there, and consequently sell more records there than they do in this country. They are also still living down the endless criticism that they sound too much like The Beatles for their own good.
         They've just released a new album, Straight Up, and there's no doubt that the similarity to The Beatles goes a lot farther than the Apple label in the middle.  Twelve songs, vocal harmonies, guitar and piano backing, not heavy but not bubblegum, catchy riffs here and there and a reference to revolution in one song: surely the resemblance is too obvious. George Harrison even produced four of the tracks for them.
         “I don’t think about the resemblance to The Beatles,” says Joey, visibly wincing that the old, old subject crops up again. “It might sound like The Beatles but that’s what we sound like. We just play a number the way we feel it should be played.”
         Their association with The Beatles has helped them achieve their current success in the States. On their first tour, audiences were under the impression that McCartney was a member of the group and although  this story is firmly buried today, the fact that The Beatles like Badfinger has meant audiences are more prepared to listen sympathetically to their music.
         “George is like a demi-God in America,” said Joey. “And if he likes us then other people will give us a fair listen. They don’t just come because George likes us, but they are more prepared to give us a hearing. I met Pete Townshend in New York and he said he likes us too. It makes you feel much better to know that respected musicians like what you are doing, even if some of the kids don’t.”
         At the weekend, Badfinger left for another tour of the States. This time it's for two months and includes about 30 concerts on a coast to coast basis. Why did the group virtually ignore England when it came to live appearances?
         “We could like to do a big concert tour in England, but we would like to be sure we could get a good audience who like what we are doing. If we went on tour with a heavy group, they would expect us to play heavy music. We could go if we wanted to but it would probably ruin everything.
         “We will definitely be doing a tour of England. Everybody wants to make it in their home country, and we do too, but we are not sure whether the audiences will accept us.”
         Joey admits that young fans are probably responsible for Badfinger's single success in America – not unlike the current T-Rex phenomenon in this country – but maintains that album sales are predominately to over eighteens. “People in America seem to dig songs more than in England.  Over here they would rather you went out on stage and played a guitar solo for half an hour.
         “We seem rather isolated in England and we always seem to be away whenever we get into the charts so we can't follow up a record success with big promotion to help it to the top or anything.
         “We don’t feel we have deserted Britain, because Britain never made us like it did some groups. Every group in the world wants to go to America and play there. When we go next week, we are topping the bill at the time. We are playing the Carnegie Hall in New York and topping over Al Kooper. It's a lot easier not to top the bill because you don’t have the pressure of following everybody else and being expected to be the top act.”
         Straight Up was recorded in the comparatively short time of seven weeks. It follows an album make by Badfinger but scrapped at the last minute because the group felt it wasn’t up to the standard. Playing piano on some of the songs are virtuosos Leon Russell and Nicky Hopkins but neither are credited on the sleeve of the album – because the group don’t want it to sell on the strength of their names.
         “People would just say that here's another band using Leon Russell and Nicky Hopkins,” says Joey. “We don’t want to make a big thing out of the fact that they are playing on the record.”
         How big a part did Harrison play in the production? ”He just advised us. He has a lot of experience of taking a number and seeing through it and knowing how to arrange it. We are happy with the album considering all the upheavals and personality changes we were going through at the time.”
         Did this mean that internal troubles might split the group? ”I am sure we all feel like leaving the group at some times but we're not going to break up. There is no point. It's like we are all solo artists playing together because we all write and have our own styles, but we can slot into each other's ideas. It's a good arrangement.”


BADFINGER - January 1971 Interview

I did my first story on Badfinger in January 1971, heading up to north London to the communal house they shared in Golders Green, a large detached mock Tudor place on a winding hill. It was sparsely furnished but there was plenty of evidence that its occupants were musicians, guitar and leads littering the floor and cups of tea resting on amps. I seem to remember that one or two of their girlfriends were in residence too, as was their manager Bill Collins, a big bloke with prematurely white long hair who seemed to me to be a bit too old to be their manager, a bit too set in his ways, rather like a slightly eccentric schoolmaster.
         I didn’t know much about them when I went to that house, only that they’d had a hit single with ‘Come And Get It’ in 1969 and ‘No Matter What’ was doing well when I interviewed them. That first hit was written and produced by Paul McCartney and, perhaps inevitably, I began by asking them about The Beatles connection which turned out to be a bad move. They were heartily sick of this line of questioning as I was about to find out. 

"Everyone who interviews us wants to talk about The Beatles.  Sure, we were influenced by the Beatles, like ten million other groups.
“There are a million groups copying Led Zeppelin at the moment but nobody bothers to criticise them for it.  We like melodies and songs and we get called a second Beatles.”
That's Pete Ham talking. Pete is guitarist, singer, and keyboard consultant with Badfinger, a group strangely ignored in this country since their chart success with ‘Come And Get It’ a year ago. Now they're back in the charts again with ‘No Matter What.”
Badfinger are trying desperately these days to shake off the “new Beatles” image, and there's a lot of truth in what Pete said about Zeppelin. Perhaps it was the Apple label, a McCartney-composed hit and the soundtrack to The Magic Christian (which starred Ringo) that did it.
The situation is just as bad (or good), in America, where Badfinger are far more successful than in this country.  Their recent three-month tour over there went down a bomb, and they're looking forward to returning soon for another lengthy stay.
Badfinger live in a big house in Golders Green and signs of their increasing wealth are littered around.  A large blue Mercedes truck stands in the street, and workmen are currently putting finishing touches to a mini-recording studio – sound-proofed for the neighbours' benefit – on the ground floor.
Guitars and amps are scattered about, but bedrooms don’t display the untidiness of most group houses. Perhaps their tidy nature is reflected in the tidy songs they write and sing.
Peter Ham appears to be the father figure. Liverpool accented Joey Molland sits crosslegged and grins cheekily. Tommy Evans, the bassist who – I can't help it – looks remarkably like McCartney, starts sentences but doesn’t finish them, and drummer Mike Gibbins says very little.
“Badfinger has been my only group so I'll tell you about us,” says Pete to my initial question. “We were going as The Iveys when we joined Apple to make some demo tapes. That was two and a half years ago and that was when Badfinger was born. Joey joined us about then and we decided to start again with a new name.
“It was then that we did ‘Come And Get It’ which became a hit. Just before then we had done a song called ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ which we thought was going to be very successful but it wasn’t.
“When it didn’t do anything it was quite a blow to our own judgment but, 'Come And Get It’ came along and we did that instead. That was very big in America and we did an album which also did well over there so we went over for 12 weeks.
“We did 35 college dates over and had our minds blown in various directions, a week to get used to the place but when we did it was great. It was unusual for us to play to people who were sitting down and watching and listening for a change.
The people there seemed to have come specifically to see you instead of just to see another group to dance to.”
“The Beatles have done us a lot of good,” admitted Joey after a bit of pressing. “To have been associated with them has done us a lot of good because they are great people.”
“What we would really love is to be accepted in this country but it doesn’t seem as though we are yet,” said Tom.
“We're not complaining but it's a fight for us in England,” added Joey.
“English people think of us as the group that did 'Come And Get It.' Full stop,” said Pete. “They don’t seem prepared to listen to other things we do, but in America they view every number separately.”
Essentially a melody group, how do Badfinger rate the current wave of heavy bands? “Boring,” said Joey. “A lot of it is a load of rubbish. They play a guitar riff and write a number around it. They should try writing a number and finding a guitar riff to fit it. That’s much harder.
“I think people will get back to more melodic things soon. They have all learned to improvise now and the will use this in writing good songs. That is what we are trying to do.”


BADFINGER - 'Baby Blue' & Other Matters

In the final episode of Breaking Bad last year, Badfinger’s song ‘Baby Blue’ suddenly formed the backdrop to a key moment in the story. What great taste, I thought, as it’s one of my all-time favourite songs. In the weeks that followed it created a welcome buzz around the group and their song, and I did a Facebook post about it which attracted plenty of likes. I always thought there was a great deal of affection out there for Badfinger, so I’ve revisited that post and will follow this up with the three stories I wrote about the group for Melody Maker in the early seventies. Firstly, though, I need to set the scene…

There is no more tragic story in the history of rock than that of Badfinger, the Welsh group signed to Apple; protégés of The Beatles, fleeced by an unscrupulous American manager/conman and hung out to dry, bringing such poverty and depression that chief songwriter Pete Ham and bassist Tom Evans took their own lives. These two wrote ‘Without You’, the massive hit, first in 1972 for Harry Nilsson and then in 1994 for Maria Carey, and covered by dozens of others, which should have guaranteed their financial security for life.
         ‘Without You’ is a superb ballad but ‘Baby Blue’ is more rhythmic, bristling with pop magic, and one of many songs Pete Ham wrote for the love of his life, name of Dixie. Its cascading, arpeggio-style guitar riffs, all garnished with just the right amount of distortion, fabulous vocal harmonies and all-round melodic bounce grab me every time I hear it; a minor US hit in 1972, no chart action at all in the UK, criminal really as it’s such a wonderful record. A bit Beatlesy, especially the Harrison-like guitar solo and flourish at the end, this was perhaps the monkey on Badfinger’s back, the constant comparison with their patrons who, sadly, turned their backs on them when civil war broke out in the Beatles’ camp in 1970. I interviewed Badfinger for MM three times, the first time at their communal house in Hampstead in 1971, and saw them at Carnegie Hall in 1972 on my second ever visit to New York; a great little band and nice guys too.
         You can probably buy ‘Baby Blue’ for less than a quid from iTunes nowadays and I can’t recommend it enough, but beware – there’s a ‘best of’ album out there recorded solely by Joey Molland, now the only surviving member of the original band, and session men, which purports to be a Badfinger album and it’s well dodgy. Without realising this, I bought it from HMV a few years ago and took it back the next day demanding a refund from a surprised assistant to whom I explained that despite what it said on the front it wasn’t a Badfinger album at all and ought to be removed from sale. She didn’t argue but must have thought I was some kind of nutcase, banging on as I was about some group she’d probably never heard of.
         In 1997 Omnibus Press distributed Without You – The Tragic Story of Badfinger by Dan Matovina, the only decent book on the band, which now goes for silly money on Amazon. Although we didn’t publish it I was happy to help Dan editorially and I understand he’s working on a new edition.

         The Badfinger legacy ought to be about the brilliance of their music but unfortunately the undercurrents of disharmony that plagued them during their active life continue to this day. The estates of Pete Ham and Tom Evans are at odds with Joey Molland who owns the trademark of the name Badfinger. The issues between them are many and varied but in the main involve Molland making misleading statements about the construction of songs that were composed entirely by Ham and Evans, not least ‘Without You’, as well as perpetuating the name Badfinger in groups that fail to live up the standard set by the original which, of course, didn’t include Molland in its early days anyway. For the record, drummer Mike Gibbins who had at times allied himself with Molland, died in 2005. Managers Bill Collins and, especially, Stan Polley, who must share the blame for the misfortunes that befell the group, died in 2002 and 2009 respectively.
         Fans are therefore advised to avoid the ‘official’ Badfinger site (just as they’d be advised to avoid recent recordings attributed to the group) and visit instead the Badfinger Library site - http://www.badfingerlibrary.com – and, on Facebook, the Badfinger/The Iveys page and the Badfinger (open group) page
         Tomorrow, the first my MM stories about this great but tragic band.