Pete Ham was one fourth of The Iveys, who released their only album on Apple Records in 1969. With a member change, they became Badfinger. While signed to Apple, Badfinger had their biggest hits, “Come And Get It”, “No Matter What”, “Day After Day”, and “Baby Blue”. Their albums, though not huge sellers, were highly regarded and were critically acclaimed. After leaving Apple, Badfinger could not find their audience while signed to Warner Brothers. There were also a lot of legal battles, manager issues and the band were basically dropped by Warners without their third album for the label being released. In April of 1975, Pete Ham took his own life, and the world was robbed of one of the greatest songwriters, guitarists, vocalists of all time. He was a gifted artist.
Since his untimely passing, there have been a number of albums issued featuring his early demos of Badfinger songs and songs that the group never got to record and release. Gwent Gardens continues in the series of releases that started with 7 Park Avenue, in 1997 (put together by Badfinger’s biographer, the late Dan Matovina, to whom the collection is dedicated). Kevin McElligott, who did the mastering and restoration, has done an incredible job working with the source material and making it sound so good. Tom Brennan also has a hand in getting these albums ready for release and he has edited and engineered all the music for the album, and he has a great ear as to what is interesting, historical and just plain enjoyable.
A couple of the 18 songs have surfaced on other compilations in the past, but the majority of the songs are making their debut. Some of the songs went on to be Badfinger classics, such as the 1967 demo of “I MIss You”, which would be released on Badfinger’s 1974 album Badfinger. Here the song is dtripped back and one hears pure emotion in the recording. It also demonstrates Ham’s own distinct style of piano playing. “Walk Out In The Rain” dates back to The Iveys and was recorded by The Iveys and released on Badfinger’s Magic Christian Music album. Again the demo is a blueprint for the recorded song but it is still very interesting to hear the song taking shape. Perhaps the best is the demo for “Take It All”, which is incredible with just the electric piano.
But it is the other songs that have not been heard before that will be of interest to fans. “The Day Begins”, for example, is a demo from 1969 and is a powerful song. “I wonder if I’m ever going home” Ham sings. It is a stark and beautiful song. Also “Little Mary”, which demonstrates Ham’s ability to tell a story. The lyrics are poignant and the music is moving. It could have been a classic song had it received the Badfinger treatment. “Stop Waiting For The Sun To Shine” sounds unfinished, which is a shame. It is short but it packs a punch. Again, one can’t help but imagine what could have been with such a great rock song. “Stop waiting for the sun to shine,” sings Ham. “Just blow the clouds away” he finishes, showing his seldom seen optimistic side.
Gwent Gardens is another fascinating glimpse into the creative process of Pete Ham. Of course, it does not give a complete picture, but it does let fans into his world of music and songs. He was a creative force and the amount that made it out on Badfinger albums is a small sample of this artist’s talent. Albums, such as Gwent Gardens go a long way into allowing fans and potentially new fans, to listen to a genius at work and having fun (the instrumental “Pete’s Boogie” is just a burts of joy). Gwent Gardens is a beautiful tribute to Pete Ham and his work.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: PETE HAM – GWENT GARDENS