There have been a number of powerful influences in my life. But three of the most important have, without any doubt, been a love of music, a desire to protect what I call “small creative”, and a quest for the politics of fresh and real ideas, not Utopian ideology.
I wonder how many of you out there have heard of a bloke called Peter Ham. Pete (pictured left above with writing companion Tom Evans) was the founder and driving songwriter behind an amazing band from the late Sixties and early Seventies called Badfinger. He came from Swansea, and he was (in my view) one of the most powerful composers of ‘commentary’ music in the history of rock n roll. Trust me, is he is up there with Ray Davies.
Yet beyond that, Ham represents for me all three of those influences I listed in the opening paragraph above. He wrote music to make your hair stand to attention, he was a delicate creative growth destroyed by lack of nurture, and in 1972 he said – you can still Google the interview – “There’s too much around in our lives about perfection. Nobody and nothing is perfect, but there is still this pretence that we can achieve it. To have ideals is great, but to understand human imperfection is far more important”. I cannot think of any philosopher who has summed up my outlook with such brevity and insight. Even today, forty years after his death, I wish I’d met the bloke.
The story of Badfinger has been written many times, but the précis remains truly amazing.
They were the first group signed to Apple records, and were enthusiastically encouraged by both Paul McCartney and George Harrison – in itself, an unlikely combination. The band had hit after hit: although band member Tommy Evans composed their debut single Maybe Tomorrow and McCartney wrote the smash-hit single Come & Get it, Pete Ham went on to better that, by writing with Evans, No matter what you say, Day after day, Carry on til Tomorrow, and the defining track of my twenties, Can’t Live if Living is Without You.
That last track appeared on their album No Dice in 1970, and coincided (happily or otherwise) with the break-up of my first real love affair. The track was spotted by Harry Nilsson, and went on to become what the music business calls a ‘standard’. Nilsson, Sinatra, Shirley Bassey and a host of other international singing stars went on to cover this anthem. In 1972, Badfinger backed George Harrison at his memorable Madison Square Garden Concert for Bangladesh.
These four blokes should’ve gone on to become one of the Giant Bands of all time. The reason they didn’t resides in the carcass of a sociopath called Stan Polley.
In 1970, Polley formed a company called Badfinger Enterprises, Inc. as a management arm for the band which had no American representation at the time. Two years later, Polley negotiated a record contract with Warner Brothers Records for Badfinger, which called for advances to be paid into an escrow account. ‘Escrow’ soon became a watchword in the music industry for embezzlement. In 1974, Warner’s publishing division filed a lawsuit against Polley when it was unsuccessful in locating the funds in this account. The legal morass that followed left Badfinger penniless. During the period in which Polley was living high on the hog of Pete Ham’s genius, the songwriter himself was going onstage in shoes he had to glue together because the soles had come apart from the uppers.
On 24th April 1975, Pete Ham and his by now closest friend Tommy Evans met up for a drink to discuss the band’s finances. Although Ham faced imminent eviction, on leaving Evans’ car that night he said to his friend, “Not to worry, I have a sure-fire way out of this”.
That night, Ham hung himself.
Eight years later on 18 November 1983, Evans argued with Joey Molland of Badfinger on the telephone about potential income divisions of the Nilsson song whose ASCAP royalties accumulating for airplay had been funding Evans, with other potential publishing funds being held by Apple Corps Ltd. pending resolution of debate between the group members and original manager Bill Collins. The following morning, 19 November, Evans in turn hung himself.
A lyrical genius, a prolific writing duo, and a tremendous live band were destroyed forever by a predictable combination of huckster greed and legal rows. Chief culprit Stan Polley continued as he had begun. After Pete Ham’s death, he claimed on the life insurance he had taken out on the band’s members. Polley was named during Senate-investigation hearings as an intermediary between unnamed crime figures and a New York Supreme Court judge. In 1991, Polley pleaded no contest to charges of misappropriating funds and money laundering in Riverside County, California. Aeronautics engineer Peter Brock accused Polley of swindling him for $250,000 after the two set up a corporation to manufacture aeroplane engines. The court ordered Polley to pay the money back, but Brock never saw a penny of it.
On July 27th 2009, Stan Polley died in his bed at the age of 87. He did not spend a day in prison as a result of his crimes.
The ‘Aims’ page of this blog is sub-headed as follows: ‘The aim of The Slog is to protect creative and vulnerable Small from controlling and powerful Big’. This may sound to some pompously high-minded and up itself, but in reality I am a practicalist with the usual emotional attachments. Perhaps from now on – when people rhetorically ask me what I’m trying to say – I should simply point them at this case-history. Because although tragic in human terms, it is also a tale of greedy ego triumphing over economic growth and social contentment.
Just think how many musicians, technicians, salespeople, retailers, rock fans, promoters and venues could have obtained employment and greater fulfilment had Badfinger been allowed to realise their true potential. That potential was unthinkingly pissed away by one opportunistic jerk.
Four decades on from Pete Ham’s death, the jerks seem to me to be in control of events. As pertained with Polley, they are not brought to book. And it is it because the Rule of Law is being bludgeoned into pulp by soi-disant ‘deregulation’ that the antimatter who remain protected from prison will one day imprison us all in a cell where the only ‘entertainment’ on offer is formulaic and cruel Fame Television.