70s glam-rock band the Rubettes, known for the number one song “Sugar Baby Love”, have been torn apart by a bitter legal battle over their iconic name.
Frontman Alan Williams, 74, claims his former bandmates went behind his back to start a splinter group called the Rubettes after they split in 2018.
He claims that he and his company, Alan Williams Entertainments Ltd, have the right to use the name “the Rubettes” and to prevent former bandmates from using it.
And he accuses Rubette guitarists Mick Clarke, 75, and Steve Etherington, and vocalist drummer John Richardson, 75, of trademark infringement.
His lawyer told the High Court in London that guitarist Mr Clarke, who founded the band alongside Mr Williams and Mr Richardson, was ‘sacked’ in October 2018 ‘following a dispute over The fees “.
And sshortly after Mr. Clark applied for UK trade mark registration for ‘the Rubettes’ and started his own band with Mr. Richardson and Mr. Etherington at his side.
He also allegedly used the band’s distinctive red and black logo to advertise his band, which Mr Williams’ lawyer, Mr Smith, says he is not permitted to use.
Frontman Alan Williams (pictured in court), 64, claims his former bandmates went behind his back to start a splinter group called the Rubettes after they split in 2018
The Rubettes (pictured in 1976) rose to fame in 1974 after the release of their first single and number one hit, which blended 70s glam-rock and 50s doo-wop with distinctly high-pitched vocals.
Photos of John Richardson (left) and Mick Clarke (right) outside the High Court during a hearing into the name of 1970s pop group Rubettes
Mr Smith told the court that the ‘central issue’ in the dispute was whether Mr Williams and his company, Alan Williams Entertainments Ltd, had the right to prevent his former bandmates from using the name ‘the Rubettes’ “.
He added that Mr Williams’ company had a monopoly on the use of the disputed name until the fall of 2018.
He told the court: “Alan Williams Entertainment was the relevant business entity using the name or variations from around 1983 to when (the three band members) began their wrongdoing.”
The frontman claims guitarist Mr Clarke and drummer Mr Richardson hatched a ‘clandestine and secret plan’ to part ways with Mr Williams and didn’t know what they were planning.
“There wasn’t a whisper or a dickie bird, it was all behind his back,” attorney Mr Smith told the judge.
Mr Williams claims he ‘suffered damage’ due to the breakup of the group.
His lawyer said: “He was told by one of the leading band promoters of the 60s and 70s in the UK that he could not promote his band due to the presence of Mr Clarke’s band in the UK .”
But in his testimony, Mr Clarke said he and his teammate Mr Richardson only started discussing the option of parting ways when their leader told a TV show in Holland that he planned to move to Australia.
They discussed whether to ‘walk away’ from the group or continue without Mr Williams, which they said would be irrelevant as he lived halfway around the world, Mr Clarke said.
Chart-topping 70s glam-rock band the Rubettes (pictured), best known for the number one hit ‘Sugar Baby Love’, have been torn apart by a bitter legal battle over their iconic name
He had also grown increasingly frustrated with Mr Williams’ controlling style, the court heard, saying he was secretive about the money the band was receiving and was pushing the Rubettes to take unnecessary tour dates.
“He never consulted us on the charges,” Mr Clarke said from the witness box.
“I was interested in the band and the music, but I wasn’t interested in projects that were clearly more harmful when no one showed up for certain gigs.
“I knew he was losing money rather than making money and hurting the group.”
He said he was open with Mr Williams about wanting to continue with the band when he moved to Australia.
Mr Clarke told the court: ‘We told Alan we were going to continue.
The single “Sugar Baby Love”, which sold 10 million copies worldwide, is still used as a popular tune in TV commercials and film soundtracks, the court also heard.
John Richardson told the court that he had known Alan Williams since 1969 and was present during the original recording sessions for “Sugar Baby Love”.
This isn’t the first time there’s been a dispute over who can use the band’s name. In 2002, their keyboard player Bill Hurd parted ways and it was agreed in court that there would be one band name called the Rubettes with Alan Williams, and the other, named the Rubettes with Bill Hurd.
Addressing how their chart-topping hit was orchestrated in the early 1970s, Michael Colbey – representing the breakaway trio – said: ‘While Mr Williams’ evidence on this is not entirely clear, he seems to accept that he was not responsible for the startling lead vocals, particularly in the song’s introduction.
Mr Smith pointed out that his lead client also played a role in the sessions to which he commented: ‘No disrespect to him, but I just don’t remember he was there.’
“I was there for all the sessions but I can’t say he was there because I don’t remember him.”
Mr Etherington has now left the Rubettes, although he remains a named defendant in the litigation.
Judge Pat Treacy has now reserved her decision in the case.
This isn’t the first time there’s been a dispute over who can use the band’s name.
In 2002, their keyboardist Bill Hurd parted ways and it was agreed in court that there would be one band name called the Rubettes with Alan Williams, and the other, named the Rubettes with Bill Hurd.