Badfinger at the 100 Club, London, 17 March 2017. Yes, you read that right: Badfinger. Live. In 2017.
I know, I can’t believe it either- but there it is in black and white. And why not? Since the turn of the century, we’ve grown used to seeing so many other “classic rock” outfits either reform (New York Dolls, MC5) re-group (Nazareth, King Crimson, Foreigner, Yardbirds) or simply carry on (Procol Harum, Barclay James Harvest, Sweet, Wishbone Ash, The Enid, Lindisfarne, Hawkwind, “Son Of Man”) with only one or two extant original members that frankly, anything is possible. In fact, given the inevitability of mortality and musicians’ egos, such occurrences are in 2017 not only natural, but inevitable: and, while purists may scoff, the concept does nonetheless make a certain twisted sense. After all, musicians need to earn a crust, and truly great songs deserve to be played- so who better to play them than, at the very least, one of the original participants? It also provides those too young to have witnessed the originals (ie me) an opportunity to experience- however tenuously- legends they never thought they’d even get the remotest schnifter of: ultimately, as time marches on, this will become more and more of a fact of life anyway, so it’s probably better we get used to it now than bellyache about it later.
Beneath that level, however, lurks the most bizarre contingency of all- the bands that boast no originals among their number. Here you’ll find Dr Feelgood (two members from the 80s and another from the ’90s, all of whom played alongside the late Lee Brilleaux at some point, but none of whom were there during the group’s heyday) the Climax Blues Band (whose longest serving player joined sometime around 1981, 12 years after their debut) Atomic Rooster (now led by a pair of blokes who played separately on two studio albums in the 70s, but not actually together) Gong (who basically consist these days of everyone who was in the band when leader Daevid Allen died in 2014, although confusingly, several sub-incarnations also not featuring him have existed since the mid-70s) Soft Machine (now featuring three-quarters of their mid-70s lineup, which was already their tenth incarnation back then) Marmalade (led by Sandy Newman, who joined in 1975 just in time to sing on their final two hits) Molly Hatchet (if truth be known, even I don’t know who’s in them anymore) and most notoriously The Albion Band (now based around the sons and daughters of the original members, who have either all retired or died) Quite an incredible roster of once-weres, when one thinks about it- and now, it would seem it’s Badfinger’s turn to throw their hat into the ring. This could go any one of a number of ways…
With principal singer-songwriters Pete Ham and Tommy Evans having committed suicide in 1975 and 1983 respectively (believe me, never was a band’s story more tragic) and drummer Mike Gibbins having died of natural causes in 2005, only guitarist Joey Molland and keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Bob Jackson, the latter of whom first joined in 1974, now remain active: however, as Molland will only perform in his adoptive USA, there are currently two Badfingers in existence (like things weren’t complicated enough already) and, as Jackson’s mob hold the rights to the trademark over here, it’s them we’re seeing tonight. Then again, that doesn’t deter me one iota- as a former member of Indian Summer, Ross, The Searchers and The Dodgers (the latter also featuring Evans) he appeared on several of my favourite records of the “long seventies” (to whit, the period betwixt 1967 and 1983) and even if he wasn’t trading under the Badfinger moniker, I’d still want to see him.
Moreover, it would seem many fans are of similar mind: the 100 Club, as we surprisingly discover upon entrance, is near-rammed, and the roar that greets the band’s arrival is one of the loudest I’ve encountered in all my years of patronising the venue. To put it into perspective, there are over twice as many punters in attendance tonight as there were for mod-proggers Audience’s last ever show in 2013- and that was with three out of four originals still present!! So, unless the entire London Welsh Society has wandered down from Grays Inn Road (a possibility which, considering the band no longer boast any Welsh members, is highly unlikely) I think we can consider this a commercially successful venture. What’s even more amazing, however, is how artistically successful they are: yep, Jackson’s Badfinger are good. And then some.
For starters, Jackson himself is an extremely self-effacing, humble and personable frontman: not only do you immediately warm to his kindly West Midlands brogue, but his deft skills on piano, organ, guitar and lead vocals alike are more than considerable, and with an image hovering somewhere between Macca, Ray Davies and Justin Hayward, he still looks the part into the bargain. Just as commendable are his detailed explanations of precisely what each lyric meant to its departed composer: rather than any form of cynical cash-in, this is evidently an attempt to honour a legacy that demands to be heard, and if Molland is determined not to give his one-time homeland the benefit of his expertise, then I’d rather hear these songs played this way than not at all. Similarly, while I’m not quite certain of the exact pedigree of guitarist Andy Nixon, bassist Mike Healey and drummer Ted Duggan, they’re clearly the men for the task: sprightly, economical and well-versed in the art of understatement, they attack the opening quartet of “Just A Chance” “Know One Knows” “Dennis” and “Baby Blue” with spiky enthusiasm and handle the more melancholy end of the band’s oeuvre (“Lost Inside Your Love” “Take It All” “Name Of The Game”) with equally requisite sensitivity.
Granted, some may question whether playing five ballads in succession works, especially when curiously followed by several faster numbers: yet as all are (in keeping with the band’s Apple-related origins) Beatlesque love songs in the Lennon-McCartney mould, they bear by definition far bouncier meters than your average rock “slowie”, and as such, have little difficulty holding one’s attention. In any case, Badfinger- much like their US contemporaries Big Star, Emmitt Rhodes and The Raspberries- always were a band of “measured” tempo: though no stranger to rocking out when called upon, the likes of “I Can’t Take It” and the Gibbins-composed “In The Meantime” were always more the exception than the rule, and that same maxim still holds true today. That said, though they technically owe everything to the helping hand of the Fab Four, and may not have existed (except possibly in their original incarnation as the more Bee Gees-influenced Iveys) were it not for the intervention of George Harrison, “Here Comes The Sun” possibly stands as the evening’s sole unnecessary moment: after all, when you’re already fighting for your right to perform your own band’s songs, the last thing you want to do is start covering other people’s.
A man of his word, Jackson promises early on that the show will feature selections from right across the band’s history- and feature them it does, right down to the ultra-obscure “I Won’t Forget You” from the group’s short-lived mid-80s incarnation. What we’re not prepared for, however, is two new numbers (“In A Different World” and “Lucky Guy”) that bear all the hallmarks of classic ‘Finger the very way Ham and Evans would have wanted it: very suddenly, it dawns on us that rather than some cheesy nostalgia act, this is a happening outfit with a genuine future, and the prospect is justifiably thrilling. Furthermore, it is an actual band, as opposed to “one guy from the 70s and three rentablokes”: sure, Jackson may be the focal point, but he’s more than happy to share the limelight, a fact amply reinforced by Dixon and Healey’s skilful redistribution of lead vocals on “Hold On” and “Moonshine”.
For Badfinger, presenting their audience with such a prime selection of deep cuts definitely works in their favour: though there’s sadly no room for my three personal faves (“Constitution” “Timeless” and “Knocking Down Our Street”) they’re clearly unafraid to test their fans’ mettle, and as such, their adventurous spirit is rewarded with much appreciation and approval. Nonetheless, there are still three or four numbers whose omission would be tantamount to high treason- and duly, a shimmering “Day After Day”, a thumping “Come And Get It”, a rousing “Without You” (not inspired, as certain Asian reality TV contestants might believe, by the mythical “Ken Lee”, but by Pete Ham’s first partner Beverley, who’s in the house tonight) and a riotous “No Matter What” take their rightful places among the melee. Job done…
I came here tonight part-expecting a ragged, half-hearted tribute-fest: I came away not only having seen a vibrant bona fide rock band, but palpably excited at the prospect of seeing them a second time. Sure, there are those who will question how much aesthetic right Jackson, who only played on one full (posthumously released) album and both of Ham’s equally posthumous solo efforts, actually has to the Badfinger name, but with a genuine love of the music rather than the money (which, as a former promoter, I know he won’t be “raking in” at this level anyway) and an altruistic desire to grant the band that had more dreams destroyed than possibly any other one last shot at glory, he has every inch the right motive. And if that’s enough for (apparently) widows and assorted alumni alike, it’s enough for me. Sure, I’d love to see Joey’s band too, but even if that never happens, Bob’s mob will more than do the job: with the festival season not underway for a few months yet, the third life of the band even two suicides and a brain aneurysm couldn’t kill has barely yet begun.
Straight Up, Badfinger are back to kick our collective Ass: meanwhile, do excuse me while I briefly nip off and defecate all over Stan Polley’s grave. It is, after all, precisely what Pete, Tommy and Mike would have wanted.