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.  


A HARD DAYS NIGHT - 50th Anniversary Restoration Edition

I was asked to write this review for The Beatles UK Fan Club magazine. 

It’s always a pleasure to watch A Hard Day’s Night again and even though wise counsel had advised me that this newly restored version was best seen in a cinema with Surround Sound and a screen the size of the athletics field where The Fabs frolic to ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, it looks pretty damn good on our wide-screen Apple Mac too.
          Sharper, with better contrast and a crisper soundtrack that can be heard in either mono or stereo, it looks better than ever before, retaining all its original charm with the additional virtue of state-of-the-art graphics, especially when the camera focuses close in on the faces of John, Paul, George and Ringo. We must be thankful too that no one thought to ruin it with falsified colour as is so often the case with classic old films. In 1964 The Beatles were a band in black, white and grey; colour arrived later, turning them into a different group from the one in which all four looked vaguely alike, wore smart suits with velvet collars and was pursued by screaming fans wherever they went.
          Now rightly recognised as a milestone in British cinema, analysed and evaluated by learned film critics and scholars, A Hard Day’s Night became the blueprint for the pop videos that would follow, via copy-cat acts like The Monkees, in the eighties when MTV opened up opportunities for rock and pop acts to express themselves visually as well as musically. Director Dick Lester, aided and abetted by JPG&R and scriptwriter Alun Owen, created a minor masterpiece, a film that shredded the tired, patronising star-vehicle format exemplified by all those turgid Elvis movies. His funny, irreverent, fast-paced 87 minutes of celluloid never flags, perfectly capturing the many reasons, not all of them musical, why The Beatles were so fabulously attractive to so many and why, 50 years later, they are still universally adored.
          Since everyone reading this magazine can probably recite long passages of its script off by heart – “Turn left at Greenland” indeed – it’s surely unnecessary to dwell on the ‘48-hours-in-the-life-of’ plot complicated by Paul’s disruptive Irish grandfather played by Wilfrid ‘Steptoe’ Brambell. Nevertheless, I have always wondered why The Beatles in AHDN were shepherded around by ‘Norm’ (Norman Rossington), without doubt temperamentally unsuited to the job, quite unable to control their high-spirited anarchy, while in real life their road manager was the unflappable and ever loyal Neil Aspinall, whose cool-headed diplomacy ensured his continued presence at the heart of The Beatles for 42 years. Then again, Norm’s vexation did add to the comedy element, even if it was a tad forced.
          But I digress. Wonderful though AHDN is, of equal interest to fans is the second disc of special items, although much of it will be familiar to those who collect and retain everything they can. It’s a generous selection nonetheless, the first of which is called ‘In Their Own Voices’ and features interviews with The Beatles talking about the film and the experience of film-making, their voices overdubbed on to extracts from AHDN, the odd outtake and additional footage from a Heathrow Airport arrival scene and a recording session at Abbey Road. Strangely, the voices of Paul, George and Ringo are taken from a different source than John – this is evident from the sound of the recordings – and John says the least. Evidently PG&R’s interviews were done for a United Artists promo record given out to DJs (one of those open-ended affairs that enable DJs to ask a predetermined question and cue up the answer, thus making it seem as if The Beatles are in the studio with them) while John’s is taken from his interviews with US journalist Larry Kane undertaken during the August 1964 US tour. Whatever the sources, the 17 minutes makes for an interesting listen and I like hearing how George says they “didn’t want to make a crummy film” and when he describes the group as “night owls”, someone – probably Paul – hoots in the background.
          Following the trailer for the original movie is David Leaf’s hour-long film on the making of AHDN narrated by Phil Collins (who, aged 12, was in the audience for the film concert at London’s La Scala cinema) and originally shown on US TV in 1994, its thirtieth anniversary. Featuring interviews with many who worked on the film, most notably Dick Lester and producer Walter Shenson, and musicians like Roger McGuinn and Peter Noone, it’s a worthy documentary, enlightening and well worth watching. Collins makes the important point that the way in which The Beatles were presented in AHDN, their characters (John = cheeky, Paul = charming, George = droll, Ringo = cuddly), is the way they have been perceived ever since and that nothing they ever did subsequently, no matter how much they tried, has ever really changed this. Lester reveals that United Artists executives in the US actually proposed that The Beatles’ voices be overdubbed by American actors whose accents would be more palatable to American audiences – and what a catastrophic blunder that would have been! Equally absurdly, producer Shenson had a hard time persuading his US distributors to make sufficient prints because they didn’t think The Beatles would last. “They thought they might be forgotten in year,” he says, somehow suppressing an incredulous smirk.
          Following on from the Leaf documentary is ‘Things They Said today’, a series of interviews with behind-the-scenes personnel, including also George Martin and early PR Tony Barrow, which looked to me as if they could have been outtakes from the same documentary. ‘Picturewise’, narrated by Rita Tushingham, is an appreciation of Richard Lester’s work, not just AHDN but also Help! and his other (non-Beatle) films, and ‘Anatomy Of A Style’ is a rather academic critique of Lester’s work from a cinematography point of view.
          Each of these pieces lasts about 30 minutes, as does the penultimate item, ‘The Road To A Hard Day’s Night’, a history of The Beatles up to the making of the movie narrated by Mark Lewisohn, which has been newly created to include here. Mark takes us from their births during WWII through Liverpool childhoods, rock’n’roll’s arrival into their lives, the Woolton Church Fete, Quarrymen, Hamburg, the Cavern, Brian Epstein’s arrival, signing with EMI, Ringo replacing Pete Best, the advance of Beatlemania, ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’ and the conquest of America, all accompanied by stills and footage and, as you would expect, he makes a fine tour guide, probably the best anywhere. In many respects Mark is reiterating the research he did for Tune In, his recent definitive biography of The Beatles up to the end of 1962, and we get a tantalising hint of what will follow in the next volume of his monumental work.
          By this time, getting on for three hours, you could be forgiven for forgetting why you were watching in the first place so, just to remind us, the closing item is the trailer for the 50th Anniversary Edition of AHND. Then John, Paul, George and Ringo jump into their helicopter and off they fly, into the stratosphere where they have remained ever since.

(My thanks to Andy Neill for additional information)