Rubettes star Alan Williams – who voiced the band’s famous number one, Sugar Baby Love – has won a High Court battle with other members of the pop group over who owns the group’s name.
Judge Pat Treacy made the ruling today after the singer and songwriter, and a company he runs, had sued Mick Clarke, John Richardson and Steve Innes Etherington.
Mr Williams argued his firm, Alan Williams Entertainments, owned the ‘goodwill’ in the names ‘the Rubettes’ and ‘the Rubettes featuring Alan Williams’ in relation to live music events, merchandising, music sales and ‘associated goods and services’.
He complained that since late 2018, the involvement of Mr Clarke, Mr Richardson and Mr Etherington in a band using, or being promoted under, the name ‘the Rubettes’ amounted to ‘passing off’.
Mr Clarke, Mr Richardson and Mr Etherington disputed the claim. They argued there was ‘no agreement’ as to how the ‘goodwill generated by the band’ should be owned and that the goodwill was therefore owned by the members of the band jointly.
Judge Treacy today ruled in Mr Williams’s favour, saying: ‘The defendants’ conduct amounts to a misrepresentation sufficient to engage the tort of passing off. The claimants have succeeded.’
Frontman Alan Williams (pictured outside court), 64, claims his former band mates went behind his back to launch a breakaway band called the Rubettes after they split in 2018
The Rubettes (pictured in 1976) shot to fame in 1974 after the release of their debut single and number one hit, which blended 70s glam-rock and 50s doo-wop with distinctively high-pitched vocals
The judge heard how the Rubettes had formed early in 1974 and had a successful first song – Sugar Baby Love.
The track sold 10 million copies worldwide and is still used as a popular melody in TV adverts and movie soundtracks, while the judge was told that other songs had ‘varying degrees of success’.
The judge said Mr Williams, Mr Clarke, a bass guitarist, and Mr Richardson, a drummer, had all been involved with the ‘original band known as the Rubettes’ – Mr Etherington had begun performing ‘at a later date’.
Earlier in the case, Mr Williams’ barrister said guitarist Mr Clarke, who founded the band alongside his client and Mr Richardson, was ‘sacked’ in October 2018 ‘following a dispute about fees’.
Soon after Mr Clarke applied to register the UK trademark for ‘the Rubettes’ and started his own band with Mr Richardson and Mr Etherington alongside him.
He was also said to have used the band’s distinctive red and black logo to advertise his band, which Mr Williams’ lawyer Mr Smith claimed he has no right to use.
The frontman claimed guitarist Mr Clarke and drummer Mr Richardson hatched a ‘clandestine and secret plan’ to split from Mr Williams and did not know what they were planning.
‘There wasn’t a whisper or a dickie bird, this was all going on behind his back,’ barrister Mr Smith told the judge last month.
Mr Williams claimed he ‘suffered damage’ due to the band’s splintering.
His barrister said: ‘He has been told by one of the main promoters of 60s and 70s bands in the UK that he cannot promote his band because of the presence of Mr Clarke’s band in the UK.’
But in his evidence, Mr Clarke said he and bandmate Mr Richardson only began discussing the option to break away when their frontman told a TV show in Holland he was planning to relocate to Australia.
Pictures of John Richardson (left) and Mick Clarke (right) outside High Court during hearing in fight over name of seventies pop group Rubettes
Chart-topping 70s glam-rock group the Rubettes (pictured) known for number one hit ‘Sugar Baby Love’ have been torn apart by a bitter court fight over their iconic name
They discussed whether they would ‘walk away’ from the band or carry on without Mr Williams, who they assumed would be out of the picture due to living on the far side of the world, said Mr Clarke.
He had also grown increasingly frustrated with Mr Williams’ controlling style, the court heard, claiming that he was secretive about the cash the band received and pushed the Rubettes into taking on wasteful tour dates.
‘He never consulted us about what the fees were,’ Mr Clarke said from the witness box.
‘I was interested in the band and doing the music but not interested in taking on projects which were clearly more harmful when no one was turning up for some of the shows.
‘I knew that he was losing money rather than making money and doing harm to the band.’
He said he was open with Mr Williams about wanting to carry on with the band when he moved to Australia.
Mr Clarke told the court: ‘We told Alan we were going to carry on.’
This is not the first time there has been a dispute about who can use the band’s name.
In 2002, their keyboard player Bill Hurd split away and it was agreed in court that there would be one band named the Rubettes featuring Alan Williams, and the other, named the Rubettes featuring Bill Hurd.