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.