Dan Matovina's latest attempt to capture the essence and allure of the music of Peter William Ham proves to be as fruitful and charming as the original 1997 collection of Ham demo material on Rykodisc, 7 Park Avenue. This new CD picks up where the former collection left off in continuing to help us comprehend and appreciate how much talent Ham truly possessed and how much of that talent was hidden under the veil of Badfinger.
The CD, titled Golders Green, derives it's name from a section of London in which Ham and his cohorts refined their classic British pop stylings of the late sixties and early seventies. Like 7 Park Avenue, the material presented on this new CD will satisfy and quench everyone's appetite for everything Ham until a third volume of Ham demos are released sometime in the next millennium (fingers crossed).
The CD opens with the upbeat and catchy track "Makes Me Feel Good". The immediate question in my mind about this song was how did the Iveys not hear the potential in this track. With similar light weight pop songs like "Tracy" and "Dizzy" dancing up the hit parade in the late 60's and early 70's, this song would have worked extremely well with those other pop radio staples of the era in establishing the Iveys as an AM radio force.
Another gem is the mid-tempo, slightly unfinished and truly beautiful "Dawn". A worked up version of this by Badfinger would have made a splendid addition to the No Dice LP. This song, appearing here in its infancy, has single written all over it. Completed, this composition would have had "gold single" stamped next to it in the latest edition of Joel Whitburn's Billboard Top 40 book. It is that good.
Unlike 7 Park Avenue, when I first heard Golders Green there were many bands and artists whose styles resembled parts or whole songs on this new collection. Bands and artists I thought I heard in this new Ham collection included, Squeeze ("Goodbye John Frost"), Elvis Costello and / or Graham Parker ("Richard"), Monkees ("Makes Me Feel Good - 2nd version"), Harper's Bizarre ("A Lonely Day") and even Harry Nilsson ("Midnight Caller").
The CD also offers a medley of sorts with 4 consecutive mini-tracks, each offering Ham experimenting with a different aspect of his unique talent, including percussionist, acappella(ist?) and blues stylist. The only down side of this medley is that it is entirely too short and your left wishing Ham had completed each track (Badfinger did complete "Shine On") and composed three more of each style for all to embrace. The shortness of tracks aside, it is a pleasure to hear Ham perform in ways you would not have expected and the material, as usual of Ham, does not disappoint.
Other highlights include hearing Pete describe his yearnings for the girl on "Keyhole Street". It has a youthful quality to it, and it should, Pete wrote this when he was nineteen years old. His gift for songwriting is clearly audible on this pleasant track which also contains the perfect lyric description of Pete's intentions for his audience, "...want to bring you joy...". Also enjoyable is the short instrumental "Pete's Walk" which has shades of the Iveys "I've Been Waiting". Pete, in the downtrodden songs "I've Waited So Long to Be Free" and "Where Will You Be" manages to construct beautiful melodies for each. "Helping Hand" is another pop gem waiting to be discovered.
Contrasting 7 Park Avenue and Golders Green: 7 Park clocks in over 50 minutes, Golders Green is just under 42 minutes in length, still longer than most original versions of Badfinger LPs. Overall, 7 Park Avenue comes across as a serious collection of Ham material, while Golders Green attempts to capture Ham in good spirits and clearly having a good time doing what he enjoyed most, making great pop music (note: the CD covers also express these overtones). The tone of Golders Green is noticebly more upbeat, though there are those gorgeous reflective moments of Ham contained in the disc as well.
Many folks may ask, which is more important and vital to the Ham collector, 7 Park Avenue or Golders Green. The best way to answer this for those pondering whether to purchase Golders Green, is to consider the two LP's No Dice and Straight Up. One is rough on the edges, a tad innocent and energetic, the other is polished, mature and powerful. Both LP's capture Badfinger in their artistic brilliance and quite possibly their zenith (throw Wish You Were Here in there as well). It is incomprehensible for any Badfinger fan to be without either disc. That is how Golders Green and 7 Park Avenue will be viewed. They're similar, yet different and both totally pleasing to hear. They will compliment each other very nicely in your multi-disc CD player and you will not be able to be without either CD.
To have two complete volumes of demo material made available over twenty years after Ham's tragic departure from this realm speaks volumes for a growing public's appreciation of his talent. We are lucky in that we get to enjoy these saved treasures that were resting in an attic for so many years. We are also the unfortunate ones in that we truly know how much we've lost in the talented Ham. But for now, rejoice! This new compact disc of Ham material will make a wonderful addition to your Badfinger and Badfinger related collection. This new Ham collection titled Golders Green. Enjoy!