Album Review: Pete Ham- Gwent Gardens

Aaron ConnMusic, ReviewsLeave a Comment

Pete Ham Badfinger

Pete Ham Gwent GardensLate last year, an album full of demo recordings from Badfinger’s Pete Ham was released. The album, Gwent Gardens, is an 18-track collection that will be seeing a CD release come the month of March 2024. While it isn’t perfect, Gwent Gardens can be appreciated for its simplicity.

Pete Ham was the guitarist and a co-founding member of power pop legends Badfinger. Initially signed the Beatles’ Apple Records label, the band would record and release material from 1969 to 1974. In their time together, Badfinger would score several hits such as “Come and Get It,” “No Matter What,” “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue.” Ham, along with bandmate Tom Evans, wrote the ballad “Without You,” which would go on to become a bigger hit for Harry Nilsson and (much later) Mariah Carey. Despite their success, the band were struck with bad luck: poor management and financial troubles led to problems for the band,  ultimately leading to the suicides of both Ham and Evans in 1975 and 1983. While their story is a tragic tale, the band have attained a cult following. In 2013, the band were immortalized when “Baby Blue” was used in the series finale Breaking Bad.

Despite his short-lived career, Pete Ham kept busy by recording dozens of demos. In the last 25 years or so, Pete Ham’s estate has released these recordings through posthumous albums. Gwent Gardens is the sixth release from Ham’s estate. Along with this, Gwent Gardens is the first release since the passing of Badfinger biographer Dan Matovina, who died in 2023. Matovina not only wrote the impressive Without You biography, he also produced all of the Ham demo albums. In regards to this set, the music presented here seems to span from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s.

Pete Ham BadfingerListening to the songs, it’s difficult to listen to this as a proper album: these are demo recordings and they are very bare bones. Some of the songs will be familiar to Badfinger fans, given that some of them would end up on Badfinger albums. This includes songs such as “I Miss You,” “Take It All,” “Walk Out In The Rain” and “Blodwyn.” Compared to the finished versions, these demos sound drastically different and it’s interesting to hear how they started. As for the other songs on this collection, it’s really hit or miss. Let’s get one thing straight: Pete Ham was an incredible songwriter and clearly had a gift. That being said, the recording quality for most of these demos isn’t doing the songs any justice. If anything, some of the songs are quite catchy even in demo form. Songs such as the harmonious “The Day Begins” and the psychedelic lo-fi of “I’m Only Human” show some shades of potential.  Other tunes, such as “Think It Over” and “Stick A Line In”,  have a surprising R&B/soul flair to them. While there are songs that are weaker than others, there are two constants throughout these tracks: Ham’s wonderful singing voice and his songwriting. No matter what (no pun intended) the recording quality is, these two things shine through.

As a whole, Gwent Gardens is a fine collection of tunes from the late Pete Ham. If you’re new to the music of Badfinger, this is not the best place to start. Check out their music (or whatever’s in print) released during their time together. Gwent Gardens, along with the other posthumous Ham albums, are really for diehard fans only. For those who are strangers to Ham’s albums, his estate have digitally re-released all of his material, which can be purchased and/or streamed. This is great, considering the CDs are long out of print. Whatever you decide to choose, you’re guaranteed to experience the excellence of Pete Ham.

RATING: 6/10

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Aaron ConnAlbum Review: Pete Ham- Gwent Gardens