*** RON GRIFFITHS OF THE IVEYS, Interviewed by Mark A. Johnston *** (from Issue 21 of Sweet Floral Albion)
The Iveys are probably best known for being the embryonic Badfinger
and also for being one of the very first acts signed to the newly formed Apple Records
in 1968 by Mal Evans. The Badfinger tragedy (the suicides of founder Pete Ham and
Tommy Evans) has too often overshadowed the brilliant pop that was created by The
Iveys. The Iveys were honing their pop skills at a time when the rest of the world
had just become "pyschedlicized." The Iveys would have none of it and
they often found the psychedelic side shows a bit over the top. What is most interesting
about the Iveys is the music that has never been (officially) released. The Iveys,
like the Beatles, were influenced by American girl groups and American R&B groups.
Just have a listen to the band performing a stunning cover of The Carrolls' obscure
1966 'Surrender Your Love' on BBC's Radio One in 1969. With a little luck, perhaps
we will be hearing a lot more from The Iveys in September on a planned Apple Artists
CD, as well as, two Iveys rarities CDs slated for release in 2004. This month, original
Iveys bassist Ron Griffiths was kind enough to speak to all of us at SFA. Ron was
unceremoniously pushed out of the band just as they were about to break it big and
morph into Badfinger. Ron was, at the time, a newly married young man with a new
baby. Imagine trying to live in a band house with Tommy Evans turning up the radio,
as any twenty-two year old rock musician might want. Early in the morning. Perhaps,
in deference to the band, a "band house" would never be conducive to rearing
a family. That being said, Ron was there from the genesis to the end of the Iveys.
Ron created some very memorable songs ('Dear Angie'), played on 'Come And Get It'
and left before the fun ran out Of course, Ron missed the massive success of Badfinger,
but he also was not there for the bad business deals and the tragic losses of Pete
Ham and Tommy Evans. Our thanks to Ron Griffiths for sharing the good times with
MAJ: Ron, when did you first become interested in a career in rock n' roll?
What moments, if you can recall, were the catalysts?
RG: I never ever looked at it from a career aspect. When I first started to play bass, I just enjoyed listening to all styles of music and my natural ability to harmonize coupled with my percussive tendencies was the key to my being bass-oriented. The power of the instrument was awesome to me. Mam and Dad had a great radio-gram which pushed the bass "in my face." If the truth were told, when The Iveys became popular, maybe then there was a hint of becoming a professional musician.
MAJ: What type of bass and amp did you use during the Iveys days?
RG: In the early days I used a Vox A.C30 bass combo and a Hofner violin bass. Then I moved up to 2x18" Selmer Goliath cabinets with a 50watt head, which then became 100watt. This co-incided with a brand new Fender Precision bass in Lake Placid blue (1964). Some of the Selmer stuff was damaged in a road smash in 1967 and I replaced this with a Vox A.C.100 and a 4x12" cab with 2 horns. When we signed to Apple I inherited a Fender 100w amp and a 2x15" cab (which I used along side the Vox gear) it was in that blonde/beige cloth might have been called Bandmaster.
MAJ: Do you recall what guitar and amp Pete was using with the Iveys?
RG: Early days Pete had a Harmony meteor and a Vox A.C. 30.But - after supporting The Who he moved up to a Marshall 100watt head and the angled 4x12" cabinet. This was augmented by a Fender Strat' in white; this was modified by Pete with 3 micro-switches so he could simulate the strats' on board "in-between pick-ups out of phase sound" which everyone else had. Pete, however, could have the advantage of all on, and bridge and neck as a pair!!!!
MAJ: How did Pete get the nickname "Piggy"?
RG: From the surname Ham ( another name for bacon - from the same source i.e. the pig )
MAJ: Was the band a "Mod" band while gigging 'round Swansea and playing Tamla-Motown, Yardbirds, etc.?
RG: I suppose we were, we wore mod style clothes, but back then there were no designer labels, the tendency was the style or fashion rather than a stupid brand name!!!!
MAJ: Was there a prejudice against musicians coming out of Wales in those days? Did the industry take you as seriously?
RG: I do not think there was any prejudice at all. If a band had that certain something which appealed to the general public ( younger general public that is) then they would be judged on merit. At the time of the "Swingin 60's " everywhere was regarded backdated by the folks in London and the South East!!! How little they knew!
MAJ: Any thoughts on fellow Welsh bands like the Bystanders and Eyes of Blue?
RG: The short answer is: they were genuinely great outfits and terrific people as well. Technically, they would blow us away. C'mon, to this day, one of Eric Clapton's favourite guitarists is Ray (Taff) Williams.
MAJ: Any memories of opening for Syd and The Floyd, The Yardbirds or The Moody Blues?
RG: When we saw the Floyd for the first time as support at the original Marquee club, we had read all the hype surrounding their presentation (i.e., the liquid backdrop and all those colourful things which were being projected on the wall behind them etc.), however we were very disappointed in their musicality. They were doing really third rate versions of R&B standards, we smiled smugly to each other and collectively thought, 'What's that all about then??' They were not as good as us doing that sort of material. Of course, the rest is history. They really were great innovators and so creative. You would never have guessed what was to come if you had heard them that night. We did not see the Yardbirds with E.C. They were energetic and frantic. The Moody Blues, well strange as it may seem, I only ever really enjoyed the bands music when Denny Laine was fronting them, and after he went so did my personal interest.
MAJ: The scene was becoming very psychedelic and beat music was dead, but the Iveys never went psychedelic, why?
RG: I think because we thought a lot of it was above most people's heads at the time. You could argue that we were not in the same league as people like 'Soft Machine' etc, but honestly trying to please your average person was more our thing.
MAJ: Ray Davies, through introduction via Robert Wace, produced the very first Ivey demos in London's Old Kent Road? Had he heard any material prior to
producing this demo session?
RG: Yes, it was by coming 'round to 7 Park Avenue and hearing all the stuff we had in the can via our rough demos on the Revox machine we used. Ray was impressed enough at that time and took us in for our first real session. We had the Kinks road/tour manager living with us at number 7, Dave Duffield. He was an important contact around that time too; he had mentioned to the Davies brothers that some of our stuff was worth listening to.
MAJ: Were you a Kinks fan at all? Any memories of his visit with you at Golders Green to listen to home recordings?
RG: We all liked the Kinks, we enjoyed his visits naturally, and it was great rubbing shoulders with a big name from the industry. He made constructive suggestions and genuinely was interested.
MAJ: Why did he choose "I Believe In You Girl," which is your own composition and "Taxi," a Pete Ham composition that features your lead vocals?
RG. I really have no idea! Maybe he liked my voice.
MAJ: Did this choice and session lead you to have feelings that you were going to be pushed more into the spotlight in writing and vocals?
RG: Not really when we were doing our bread and butter road work at gigs all over the place, I did a majority of the lead vocals anyway. I have never had a natural creative streak , although I was quite instrumental in some uncredited suggestions to a certain P.W. Ham.
MAJ: How did the band decide who would sing lead vocals? You sang lead on a few Pete Ham songs, yet we don't think of you as a "lead" vocalist.
RG: I was the most powerful voice on the cover tunes we did. As the song writing took over, generally the writer sang his creation. Peter always liked my voice and asked me to do the lead lines on ones he did not think he could do as well. It is documented in certain historic publications that I was to sing the lead on 'Midnight Sun,' but I was ill with chicken pox and could not make the session.
MAJ: What are your memories of Ray's first impressions upon playback?
RG: I only remember Mike and myself looking at each other with gleeful expressions on hearing the powerful drums and bass coming out of the big studio monitors.
MAJ: Were there other tracks recorded with Ray at the helm?
RG: Only the two you mentioned.
MAJ: Why didn't an arrangement with Pye Records via Ray Davies work out?
RG: I am afraid I do not really know the answer; an educated guess would be Bill (Collins) did not think their percentage payment terms were up to the mark. Yes, that was the reason!!
MAJ: In 1967, what brought about Dai Jenkins departure from the band? Dai went on to Ruperts People briefly.
RG: The other three of us were putting in a lot of effort and enthusiasm - up early, getting on with laying down tracks. Dai was more interested in "having a good time". Let's put it like that. A little animosity was setting in. We talked about it and Dai admitted he was not interested in the putting together of demo tracks of original material.
MAJ: What were your initial thoughts when Liverpudlian Tommy Evans, an outsider from the Calderstones, was being brought into the band?
RG: We were working Liverpool and surrounding areas. We went and saw bands on our nights off that we had seen advertised. We went to Litherland Town Hall to see 'Them Calderstones'. We liked Tommy's image and voice and asked him to come and look, listen, live with us for the weekend. He was naturally shy as he did not know us and there was also a dark morose side, which we noticed. But he was a natural and good replacement for our Dai.
MAJ: Do you recall what gig Mal Evans came to see that changed your career?
RG: We had a residency at the Marquee Club on one of their quieter nights (a Tuesday, I think). Bill had bumped into him in London and they renewed their previous acquaintanceship from their Liverpool days - Bill asked him down to see us perform. The rest as they say...
MAJ: It has been reported that The Beatles didn't provide as much help to the Iveys at the time, which of The Beatles showed the most interest in getting the band some help at first?
RG: Paul read an article in a music magazine which I did and read my comments on The Beatles not really showing any interest, offered us a chance of writing some material for a film 'Magic Christian' We could have the one he was going to play a demo of, provided we came up with the rest. The demo of course was his solo version of "Come and Get It". We all got to "audition" for it at the Abbey Road session. Pete was too "muggy", I was too much like Reg Presley (Troggs), so Tom got the job! I reckon it was a Liverpool conspiracy!!!!
MAJ: Did John or George come by any of the Iveys sessions as you recall?
RG: John did not, but George became involved after I had left.
MAJ: Did you develop any form of relationship with any of the Fab Four during your time with Apple?
RG: Not really; had a really good chat to Ringo at an Apple Christmas party and Mal took a Polaroid snap-shop, which is in Dan Matovina's book.
MAJ: By the time "Maybe Tomorrow" album saw release in 1969, Tom and Pete dominated the writing and singing on the album. Why were there not more of your original demo songs on the released album?
RG: Quite simply, I was not coming up with anything suitable.
MAJ: Why was "Maybe Tomorrow" not released in the USA? This has been attributed to Allen Klein. Can you shed any light?
RG: I really do not know anything on that subject.
MAJ: What is your version of the name change from The Iveys to Badfinger?
RG: We went through a series of brainstorming sessions to think up a more suitable name (there was a successful UK band called 'The Ivy League'), but I had left before Badfinger was suggested.
MAJ: What are your memories of the "Come and Get It" sessions? The band's version sounds like a duplicate of Paul's original demo. Why was it decided to keep so close to Paul's demo of the song?
RG: Because Paul wanted it that way. My abiding memories apart from the Reg Presley comments were... at the end of the song I do a nice little run off on the bass, which was not on Paul's version. Paul's ears pricked up and he said, 'that's very nice Ron; we'll keep that.'
MAJ: Which songs were you actually on that were released on the "Magic Christian" album?
RG: All except "Midnight Sun" & "Rock of All Ages" due to chicken pox. I was meant to have been the singer on "Sun" The other track which was recorded after I had left was "Crimson Ship."
MAJ: Did you see the film (Magic Christian) when it was released?
RG: We saw the rushes prior to release to fire our imagination for our bargain with Paul McCartney. I saw it many moons later on T.V.
MAJ: You were voted out of the band because you were a new father and married. Is there more that was leading up to this? Did you appeal such a vote?
RG: That was part of the reason, but without trying to muck rake too much; it's a long time ago; let's face it. Tommy made life very difficult having his stereo system on loud early hours of the morning waking my baby son up and causing friction between Maureen and me. He deliberately put a wedge in-between the others and ourselves, like we were freaks or something.
MAJ: I question their motives only due to the fact that they decided to bring in a guitarist and switch Tommy over to bass.
RG: I do not think it was just to bring in a guitarist. Joey was obviously a better guitar player than Tom, so it was Tom's only option. Tom did not have any percussion or drums in his head to be a really good bass player, but he was adequate. I wish I had the chance to play on quite a few of the subsequent album tracks.
MAJ: Had you or the band met Joey Molland prior to being replaced by him?
MAJ: What did you think when you got the news? Why not move on to another band? Did you keep in touch with Dai or any of Badfinger after you were sacked?
RG: I was saddened, but in a strange way I was relieved. I hated the tension, which had crept into the house just because I was married for Christ's sake. I went to a few sessions after I had left and I had occasional calls with Pete. I lost touch with Dai until 2 years ago at Peter Ham's tribute at Swansea Library.
MAJ: Were there any Iveys songs, that you recall, that showed up on later Badfinger albums???
RG: "I Miss You " was a demo Pete and I did together. I cannot bring any others to mind this late at night.
MAJ: Did you attend Pete's funeral? Did you ever find Pete to be a morose or depressed individual while you knew him?
RG: I went to Peter's funeral naturally. I was welcomed with open arms. Pete was not a morose person. Like the rest of us he had a macabre sense of humour. Like everyone else, I was devastated when Bev phoned me the news of his passing. I do know that had he seen through those dark times, he would have had me back in a band with him... eventually.
MAJ: Word is out that there will be a release of Iveys demos and rarities sometime in 2003/2004 (cross your fingers readers). Any insights into such a collection?
RG: Yes, it is an on-going project. I am helping to dot a few 'I's and cross a few 'T's at the end of July into August , but I am not able to give a release date as yet. Suffice to say, it is going to happen.