Friday, 11 November 2016

82 Pete Ham and Badfinger

82 Pete Ham

You might assume that a plaque by the entrance to Swansea’s railway station would commemorate its re-opening by some dignitary after modernisation.  But in fact the blue plaque on the right-hand side is in memory of Pete Ham, a singer and song-writer from Townhill, about whom there is information on two bi-lingual panels just inside.

Pete Ham was a founder member of the group The Iveys, who took their name in 1965 from Ivey Place - by the station.  A year later they moved to Golders Green in London, and built up a following through performing around the country, with Pete Ham writing much of the band’s material, as well as singing and playing guitar.  After performing at London’s Marquee Club, they came to the notice of the Beatles, and were signed to the Apple record label in 1968.  Paul McCartney suggested a change of name, so they became Badfinger, with the name emerging when John Lennon with an injured finger played on the piano the song that became “When I’m sixty-four”.  Success followed with songs like “Come and get it” (written by McCartney) and Ham’s own composition “No matter what you want”, leading to a three-month tour of America in late 1970.  George Harrison co-produced their album “Straight Up”, until interrupted by his commitments organising the Concert for Bangladesh.  Badfinger played at that major event at New York’s Madison Square Garden in August 1971 (along with Bob Dylan, among others), with Pete Ham and George Harrison duetting on acoustic guitar on “Here Comes the Sun”.  Badfinger’s LP “Straight Up” secured them two top twenty hits in the USA.

Their most lasting success came when Ham and fellow band member Tom Evans wrote “Without You”, which, following the worldwide success of American Harry Nilsson’s version, won the Ivor Novello award for Song of the Year in 1973.  Subsequently the song was a success for Mariah Carey in 1990, and there have been numerous other recordings.  But with the four Beatles going their separate ways, and the Apple record label starting to crumble, Badfinger moved to the Warner Brothers label, and became embroiled in internal, financial, and managerial problems which stifled their music creativity.  

A hazard of the pop music business can be shady business dealings by middle men who endeavour with dubious business acumen to take advantage of financially naïve pop musicians.  Notably the American singer and song writer Buddy Holly had such difficulty obtaining royalties due from his manager Norman Petty, that he was forced to undertake the ill-fated 1959 Winter Dance Party Tour, in which he was killed in an airplane crash in atrocious weather conditions.

Just two years after that Ivor Novello award, the complex legal and financial pressures became too much for Pete Ham.  Following a discouraging phone call from the United States on 23 April 1975 about finances, he hanged himself in the garage of his home in Woking, Surrey: it was a few days before his 28th birthday, and just a month before his daughter Petera was born.  His body was cremated at Morriston.  Eight years later Tom Evans, the other co-writer of “Without You”, also hanged himself.

On 27 April 2013, with Mal Pope integral in making the arrangements, the first of Swansea Council’s heritage blue plaques was unveiled at High Street station in memory of Pete Ham, by his daughter Petera, on what would have been his 66th birthday.  Mal Pope read out a tribute from George Harrison’s widow Olivia, and there was appreciation from the USA where the music of Pete Ham and of Badfinger is still highly regarded.  That evening two original members of Badfinger played in a Pete Ham tribute concert at the Grand Theatre.

With his blue plaque prominently sited outside High Street Station, and information on those bi-lingual panels inside, the memory of Pete Ham and Badfinger will, in the words of the Buddy Holly song, “not fade away”.                                              


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