Entertainment Music

Wednesday 24 October 2018

I coulda been a contender

How does it feel to leave a rock group just before they become mega-successful? ED POWER reports on those musicians who were destined to miss out on stardom

The Cranberries - minus original singer Niall Quinn
The Cranberries - minus original singer Niall Quinn

It was the decision that would come to define Henry Padovani's life. On a muggy London afternoon in August 1979 Padovani, a musician and aspiring superstar, jumped ship from the obscure post-punk band with whom he played guitar. He wanted to be famous and felt he stood a better chance with The Electric Chairs, a rival outfit fronted by a transvestite named Wayne County.

Behind him he left three musicians: Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland. As The Police, they would go on to be one of the biggest forces in rock music.

Padovani's dreams of wealth and celebrity, in contrast, swiftly turned to smoke. The Electric Chairs never amounted to more than a cult act.

Later, Padovani would go to form a well-regarded instrumental band called The Flying Padovanis. Critics thought highly of them. Yet the public, by now thrilling to Police chart-toppers such as Roxanne and Walking On The Moon, didn't give The Flying Padovanis a second glance.

To this day, however, Padovani insists he isn't bitter about walking out on The Police on the eve of their breakthrough. As the band embarks on a €150 million reunion tour (they play Croke Park in October), he has broken his silence, claiming to have no regrets. Well, not many.

'Technically I left to join a bigger band, but with hindsight it's certain that the Police went on to better things," said the 54-year-old. "I feel a bit like a young father who has gone through a painful divorce and left the baby behind."

Padovani isn't the first musician to leave a group just as fame and wealth came knocking. What sets him apart is the fact that he departed voluntarily.

More typical is Pete Best, ejected from The Beatles on the advice of producer George Martin, who didn't like his drumming (rumours that John and Paul were glad to see the back of him, because he was allegedly the best-looking Beatle, were never substantiated).

In contrast to Padovani, Best didn't bear up very well as his former band mates vaulted to mega-stardom. For years, he tried to live off the Beatles association, touring America as The Pete Best Band (an indifferent sticksman, he couldn't really hold a group together), and cheekily releasing an album called Best of the Beatles. Fans bought it, mistakingly taking it for a greatest hits compilation.

Failing to capitalise on The Beatles, Best sank into depression. In the late 1960s, married and holding down an administrative job with Liverpool council, he tried to take his life by putting his head in the oven.

Still, his story has a (moderately) happing ending. After The Beatles issued their odds 'n' sods Anthology record in the mid 1990s, they saw to it that Best was compensated for his contribution - he's understand to have received between €1 million and €4 million.

The Beatles, it's reasonable to claim, would have been huge whether or not Best was a member. The same cannot be said of The Cranberries who, in their earlier incarnation of The Cranberry Saw Us, were fronted by Limerick drummer Niall Quinn.

With Quinn behind the mic, The Cranberry Saw Us were a radically different proposition from the band they would become. He quit after a few years, worrying he wasn't devoting enough time to his 'day job' group, The Hitchers. As a parting gesture Quinn, guilty about leaving, suggested a stand-in lead singer: a shy local girl, barely out of school, named Dolores O'Riordan.

Subsequently, Quinn has stated he never regretted his decision, correctly pointing out that O'Riordan was the secret ingredient The Cranberries had lacked. At the same time, he doesn't especially enjoy the notoriety that comes with being an 'ex-Cranberry'. Several years ago, he stopped talking to the press altogether, claiming interviews were edited to make him sound bitter at missing out on The Cranberries' success.

Not every sacked musician shuffles quietly into obscurity. When Metallica, then a cult-ish metal outfit, fired their lead guitarist Dave Mustaine in 1983, he promptly formed Megadeth.

Behind Mustaine's dismissal lay a familiar tale of rock and roll bad behaviour in extremis. All of Metallica liked to party. Mustaine, however, partied harder than anyone. He would turn up drunk to group meetings and once 'playfully' doused bassist Ron McGovney's plugged-in instrument in beer, nearly electrifying McGovney (he also committed the fatal error of kicking singer James Hetfield's dog).

What really sealed his fate, though, was the fact that, like Best, he was an outsider in a band composed of old school friends. Just as Best would go to bed early as John, Paul and George stayed up drinking and bonding, Mustaine never fully clicked with the rest of Metallica. He was hired after answering an ad, and from the beginning was always made to feel a spare wheel.

If too much partying can have you thrown out of a group, the opposite is also true. Pianist Ian Stewart joined The Rolling Stones before Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman, Keith Richards or Charlie Watts.

His gentle nature and devotion to the quiet life, however, quickly marked him out as an aberration in The Stones. While his jazzy playing style proved hugely influence on their sound, he was nevertheless shown the door.

Not that Stewart ever fully left the Rolling Stones 'family'. Despite being formally ejected from The Stones, he continued to tour and record with them. The arrangement, you sense, suited both parties equally. Stewart died of heart disease in 1985.

Then there was Jason Everman, a Seattle scenester who managed to twice miss out on rock stardom. As Nirvana's original guitarist, Everman was on board when Kurt Cobain wrote Smells Like Teen Spirit. However, his on-stage showiness and off-stage introversion didn't go down well with his bandmates and he was out after a few months.

Everman then joined the nascent Soundgarden. Again, he failed to strike up a rapport with the rest of the group. By the time they became grunge posterboys, Everman had joined the military.

Looking back, Henry Padovani says he is proud of what The Police would go on to accomplish and isn't haunted by his decision to leave the band. "It's great to watch The Police doing so well from afar. I would not say that I'm hugely rich or world famous, but I'm certainly very happy."

How Pete Best, among others, must envy his peace of mind.

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