❉ The Badfinger frontman talks about his first new album in 10 years.
“We recorded the album very quickly, in six weeks or something, in a studio that David Bowie once used. Julian Lennon came along to do some singing on the tracks. That gave me a lot of confidence that people wanted to sing ‘on my songs’. Julian also took the photograph for the album, and it’s a really handsome cover.”
“Mike McCartney is a lovely, lovely man,” Joey Molland says. “He’s a real scouser, isn’t he? I’ve met Pete and Roag Best at events, and I’ve had some real laughs with Roag. Real ‘on the ground’ laughs, you know what I mean? People say I look like Paul – that’s what they’ve been saying. I don’t see it – I haven’t been looking for it – but that’s what they’ve been saying all these years.”
These people first noted the resemblance in the seventies, when Molland – one of two Liverpool men in an otherwise Welsh band – started performing with the guitar outfit Badfinger. With his natural good looks, and remarkable taste in shirts (there was never a sleeve under pressure), Molland proved the most engaging of the three frontmen who sang for Badfinger. Pete Ham’s work was mystical, Tom Evans’ confessional, but Molland’s proved the most immediate to listen to on first sitting.
“Wish You Were Here has become very popular in recent years,” Molland chuckles. “I’m normally allergic to the ‘favourite songs question’, but if I had to pick: LoveTime has a nice melody, I like the In The Meantime/Some Other Time track too. Out of Pete’s stuff, Dennis is just tremendous. You’re So Fine was a song Mike Gibbins wrote, and me and Pete sang it. It’s the only time that it’s me and Pete singing, normally it was Pete and Tommy doing the singing. Tommy and I sang I’ll Be The One, but I always thought that one was a bit corny. I like it, but it’s a bit corny.”
“I played a 1955 Telecaster on Pete’s part of the song [Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch],” Molland continues, “before playing a Firebird on my song, Should I Smoke. I still have my Firebird from the Badfinger days. My wife Kathie wouldn’t let me sell it, even though there were times we really needed the money. I didn’t use it on this record, but I bring it out when I’m playing onstage for the fans.”
We’re here to chat with Molland about Be True To Yourself, his first solo album in almost ten years, released on 16 October by Omnivore Records and boasting a star studded line-up of guest stars. Molland’s calling from Minnesota, but he remains as committed as ever to those Northern vowels. “My mum’s half Irish, I can’t remember where, but she had Irish in her. I haven’t been to Ireland in years, but we played a few times in Dublin and Belfast. Dublin was great: the beer was good, the girls were so pretty. So pretty.”
He finds it easier to discuss Liverpool, the city many proudly proclaim as the ‘Real Irish Capital’ (my apologies to any readers from Glasgow!). A hybrid of communities, the city’s colourful, contradictory nature featured in Paul McCartney’s jaunty Penny Lane, Mike McCartney’s biting Edward Heath, and formed the basis of Molland’s triumphant gospel ballad Be True To Yourself. “I guess it is a philosophy. You’ve got to tell the truth, you’ve got to temper it, ‘cause you don’t want to be rude to people, but you’ve got to be truthful. I wrote that song when I visited my brother Frank in Liverpool. I didn’t really know Frank, he’s sixteen or seventeen years older. He was in the navy by the time I got to know him. So, this was the first time we really talked. We talked about all sorts: religion, politics, our own lives. We got on great. I went away with the words, and originally recorded it for the Return to Memphis album. Well, not really: we changed the chorus and melody.”
The “we” in this instance refers to Mark Hudson, Be True To Yourself producer and co-writer. “Mark sings like a bird,” Molland replies. “But it’s not his record, it’s my record [laughs]. Whenever I play a Beatlefest, he comes up to sing the high harmony on No Matter What with me. I didn’t really sing on the original. I played guitar, I added some ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’, but most of it is Pete and Tommy. But I’m there at the end of the record.”
He’s all over Be True To Yourself, the most exciting record Molland has released in some time. The album, described by its singer as “beat music”, revels in chest thumping choruses, infectious hooks and some truly colossal displays of guitar effects. Positivity drenches the album, decorating a world that questions the legitimacy of the future (This Time, I Don’t Wanna Be Done With You) against the more precise solitude offered in the here and now (Heaven, Shine). Bearing in mind the degree of sonic ambition evinced on the title track, the album comfortably shirks any ghosts The Beatles and Badfinger left behind for a sound that is entirely Molland’s own.
“It’s great that you seem to have taken an interest in the record,” Molland says. “We’ve released Rainy Day Man as the first single. We recorded the album very quickly, in six weeks or something, in a studio that David Bowie once used. We spent some time with guitar overdubs, but most of it was recorded quickly. It’s going down well, it’s being played on the radio. Julian Lennon came along to do some singing on the tracks, he added some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’. That gave me a lot of confidence that people wanted to sing ‘on my songs’. He sung great. Julian also took the photograph for the album, and it’s a really handsome cover. It will make a real collection on vinyl. And for guitar heads, I’ve used a John Lennon Epiphone Casino.”
Be True To Yourself , a vast kaleidoscopic soundscape written as earnestly as Lennon’s towering Imagine, is likely to garner much of the critical attention, but the project holds another, equally formidable opus in All I Want To Do, a jaunty guitar painting written as concretely as any of the exhilarating rock pieces Radio Caroline exhibited in 1967.
“We soak up a lot of influences, but we’d never consciously copy anyone. Just the way it is, like a big sponge, but it’s the kiss of death to copy. I mean, nobody plays guitar like George Harrison. The Beatles had broken up when he worked with Badfinger, and he asked if he could play with us? He didn’t have a band to play with. I basically handed him the guitar, and he and Pete put down the slide parts to Day After Day. Those guys were great to work with: Todd Rundgren, Chris Thomas, George Harrison. I’m saying everything’s great, because that was a real highlight of my life.”
This optimism feeds into music, just as much as the songwriter feeds into the energy. There’s Loving You, the singer’s great expression of love; Heaven, a joyous power ballad and All I Do Is Cry, a boogie-woogie number appreciative of the world he and his listeners live in. Much as he does in our interview, Molland-the only surviving member of the classic Badfinger lineup- shows himself to be every bit as eager to write, record and play as he ever did.
“I’d ask people to give the album a shot,” Molland asks. “I was meant to be on tour this year with Christopher Cross and Mickey Dolenz. Obviously, that didn’t happen. But I’m busy appearing on podcasts – I’m on one tomorrow – and hopefully we’ll do the tour when we can. I love playing in a band. I don’t know if you’re in a band, Eoghan, but it’s always great when a band gets better on the road. The more you play, the tighter you get, and the smarter the arrangements are. George always encouraged Badfinger to harmonise. He got us to practice together, and record together. That was the way it was done in those days. You see pictures of Frank Sinatra, and when he needed backing singers, they were standing in the same place. I mean, we could have recorded the voices separately: there was twenty-four track, sixteen track. But George wouldn’t let us, he made us sing together live. I think we sounded better because of it .The Beatles, they could harmonise.”
Ringo? “Ha ha! I won’t tell him you said that!”
❉ Joey Molland: ‘Be True To Yourself’ (Omnivore Recordings OV-402) is available from 16 October, 2020. Click here to order.