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.”