tomorrow is here

Peter William Ham (1947-1975) was one of the preeminent songwriting talents of the 1960s and 1970s, although only recently has there been a concerted attempt to establish this. In spite of his position as one of the principal creators in the Iveys and Badfinger, his reputation has languished, unjustly, in relative obscurity. In either incarnation Ham was the group’s most prodigious, and arguably its most gifted songwriter. The two CD collections of his demos, 7 Park Avenue and Golders Green, are a treasure trove of previously unknown pop songs, a legacy many of his fans hadn’t even guessed existed.

The original tapes — left to Pete’s brother, John Ham, who later entrusted them to Badfinger biographer Dan Matovina — were recorded at the Iveys/Badfinger house in Golders Green on a Revox Sound-On-Sound tape machine. Constructing arrangements as elaborate as the portable mono recorder allowed, Pete accompanied himself on guitar, keyboards, percussion and even drums, overdubbing harmonies to eventually create fully formed ideas for presentation to the Iveys and later Badfinger. The rescued tapes showed considerable deterioration, necessitating extensive technical cleanup under Mantovina’s direction in 1993. Some of the demos were then subtly enhanced with careful regard to the accuracy of the era in which they were recorded. (None of the lead guitar or vocal parts were altered.) Notably, former associates including Iveys member Ron Griffiths and onetime Badfinger keyboardist Bob Jackson contributed to the overdubbing sessions. The sound quality is impressive given the tapes’ origins; in only a few instances (e.g. “Sille Veb”) are the source limitations apparent enough to be distracting.

Only a few songs are familiar, and surprisingly few follow in a recognisable Badfinger style. 7 Park Avenue contains a beautiful acoustic reading of “No Matter What” and an early version of “Island” more closely resembling The Who Sell Out than any Badfinger recording. Golders Green contains a piano demo of “Midnight Caller” that includes a harmony part that was not used when the song was recorded for No Dice. “Without You” appears in its embryonic form as “If It’s Love” (missing the Tom Evans chorus, “I can’t live/If living is without you”). Of the unfamiliar songs, “Live Love All Of Your Days” would not have sounded out of place on Maybe Tomorrow or even Magic Christian Music; “It Doesn't Really Matter” is brother to “No Matter What.”

For the most part 7 Park Avenue and Golders Green explore directions Badfinger never chose to take or that the Iveys were never able to have released. Pete’s acoustic “Coppertone Blues” is stunning and hypnotic, as if the Beatles’ “Julia” had been written and recorded by Paul instead of John. “Sille Veb” (his onetime girlfriend, Bev Ellis, spelled backwards) has the same kind of haunting quality. The two discs even hint, to a modest degree, at pop’s future, foreshadowing Sheryl Crow (“Matted Spam”) and Sloan (“Where Will You Be”).

Ham’s gentle nature, introspective yet caring for the world outside, was at odds with narcissism of 70s rock; since Badfinger was aspiring to be a part of that system, the touching song about his mother, “Catherine Cares,” would have been hard to place. Cautionary affection, as in “Dear Father,” “Just How Lucky We Are” and “Hurry On Father” was out, to rock music’s collective loss. Not all of the unearthed material shows Ham to be exclusively contemplative. A humourous rocker, “Richard,” celebrates his manhood. His playful good riddance to winter, “Goodbye John Frost,” revisits the ska of the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and a rare instrumental, “Pete’s Walk,” reveals Ham’s underrated skill as a guitarist.

Golders Green contains 20 additional demos from 1967 to 1975, bookended by two versions of “Makes Me Feel Good” (the first, from 1968 exemplifies the classic Iveys sound; the second, from 1967, closely resembles the Kinks). The second volume is an even stronger collection than the first. 1969’s “Dawn” incorporates brilliant psychedelic layered guitars; “I’ll Kiss You Goodnight,” reputedly the song that secured the Iveys a publishing deal with Apple, is pure pop songwriting, giving (along with the first volume’s “Hand in Hand”) the clearest encapsulation of the Iveys’ sound outside the Maybe Tomorrow LP.

The frustration he experienced late in his life is evident in “No More” and “Ringside” (on 7 Park Avenue). The lyrics to “I've Waited So Long To Be Free” are, for Ham, unusually blunt: “Passing the buck/But I don’t give a fuck/If they ever accept or believe me.” It seems astonishing that so many of Pete Ham’s songs were otherwise fated to be binned, but 7 Park Avenue and Golders Green have done a great service in preserving Pete Ham’s legacy.

©2003 Rodney E Griffith. All rights reserved.