Family

TrackAlbum/Single
BurlesqueBandstand
Check OutIt'’s Only A Movie
Drowned In WineA Song For Me
In My Own TimeIn My Own Time/Seasons
No Mule'’s FoolNo Mule’'s Fool/Good Friend Of Mine
Observations From A HillFamily Entertainment
ProcessionsFamily Entertainment
Scene Through The Eye
Of A Lens
Scene Through The Eye Of A Lens/
Gypsy Woman
See Through WindowsMusic In A Doll'’s House
The Weaver’'s AnswerFamily Entertainment

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Contributors: Merric Davidson & Peter Viney

Out of the ashes of The Farinas (named initially after Richard & Mimi Farina and later to become The Roaring Sixties) rose the cataclysmic … Family. From their first single, Scene Through The Eye Of A Lens, to the last album, It’s Only A Movie, here’s ten of the best from Leicester’s finest – one of the top live bands of the late sixties, and that’s selling them short. The Family sound was certainly distinctive. Like no other. Gifted musicians, tight like a drumskin. Original, stunning songs. Forever on the road; famously, some of these experiences were (allegedly) captured by Jenny Fabian for her 60s pulp shocker, Groupie.

Ahead of its time that first LP – the instant classic – Music In A Doll’s House (1968), mostly produced by Traffic’s Dave Mason and represented here by See Through Windows. But it could have been any one of several, so complete is the album that it still sounds to me like one long, psychedelic soundtrack. This was the unbeatable line-up: John Whitney (lead guitar), Ric Grech (bass & violin), Jim King (sax), Rob Townsend (drums) and Roger Chapman (vocals); to call Chappo a vocalist is to seriously undervalue his remarkable, glass-shattering voice. It was this extraordinary range that appealed but, in equal measure, drove people away. I couldn’t understand that then and I don’t get it now. There are many distinctive voices in rock but none quite like the distorted sounds that emerged from the throat of the crazy-limbed, wild-eyed, Roger Chapman. It was the group’s calling card for good or bad, and it was alright with me.

With The Weaver’s Answer from the all-round excellent second album, Family Entertainment, Chapman’s voice reached new heights in a towering performance of a concert favourite. Another classic. Family Entertainment was a hard act to follow. I’ve controlled myself by picking only three tracks from it but Emotions, Hung Up Down, From Past Archives and Dim could all fit the bill.

Over the previous three years or so, Family had become firm rock festival regulars playing at all the major events. Things were on the up and looking good. Then Ric Grech famously left the “Strange Band” during a first American tour to join the super-short-lived-group, Blind Faith. It was, in the vernacular of the time, a bit of a bummer.

Grech was replaced on bass by John Weider (ex-Animals). The third album, A Song For Me, didn’t quite rise above the previous album, although the first track, Drowned In Wine, was Family at its peak with Chapman on top form (see 1971 Glastonbury clip above). It was the group’s second Top Ten album and still sounds fine, often experimental, and you’ll find reward therein.

I’ll let my co-contributor take up the Family story from here. (MD)

When I was at university, I bought only around a dozen LPs in three years, and two were Music In A Doll’s House and Family Entertainment. I saw them live three or four times then, including a memorable one where they arrived in Hull without equipment after a van breakdown and had to borrow the support’s gear. I’ll never forget the support band’s terrified faces as Chappo swung their precious microphone in wide arcs inches above the audience.

To me, their two outstanding achievements are Music In A Doll’s House and Fearless. Fearless is quite a different band. Poli Palmer had replaced Jim King for A Song For Me in late 1969, adding keyboards, synth, vibes and flute rather than the sax which was a hangover from their soul band days. Then John Wetton replaced Jim Weider, and it was a conscious choice to add a strong vocalist behind Chapman. This Fearless / Bandstand line up, who again I saw twice, had a much more muscular sound, and with Chapman, Wetton and Palmer singing, they now had three vocalists, with Palmer singing lead on Larf And Sing. When you have a hugely distinctive lead voice, it’s framed by other singers, as with Chapman and Wetton on Spanish Tide and Save Some For Thee. I’d want to take the first four tracks from Fearless in a row, as presented: Between Blue And Me, Sat’d’y Barfly, Larf And Sing, Spanish Tide plus Save Some For Thee. The remastered CD has detailed notes, where Poli Palmer reveals that Sat’d’y Barfly has himself and John Wetton on pianos and Chapman on bass. Then they added tuba over the bass line.

Then to Bandstand, same line-up, amazing album cover too. You’d want to take Broken Nose and My Friend The Sun in addition to Burlesque. According to the sleeve notes, Pete Townsend and Keith Moon heard Burlesque in the studio and persuaded them it was a single.

It’s Only A Movie comes after Wetton had moved to King Crimson, replaced by guitarist Jim Cregan, formerly Blossom Toes, later the centre of Rod Stewart’s touring band, but unusually playing bass with Family. Tony Ashton replaced Palmer.

Reprise Records had huge faith in Family. I believe they were the first band to get their own company paper 45 sleeve, a sleeve which persists into their last work on their own Reprise sub-label, Raft. They couldn’t break in America, inexplicably I think, though conspiracy theorists put it down to an incident in 1969 where Chapman’s trade mark swinging mic just missed taking off promoter Bill Graham’s face. It’s very hard to see why they didn’t achieve Led Zeppelin/Jethro Tull levels of acclaim and sales in the USA. They were a more original and interesting band than either.

Only ten? That’s the trouble. I agree with most of MD’s selection, but I’d have to find room for the later stuff. I also love everything on Music From A Doll’s House, and Dave Mason adds a psych Traffic feel on production and it has Me My Friend, Mellowing Grey, The Breeze, The Chase … they’re all fighting for a place. Old Songs or New Songs? Play straight R&B, then turn it right on its head? Family always has a sense of humour. (PV)

A 14-CD limited edition box set of Family’s back catalogue was released earlier this year. Once Upon A Time comes at a hefty price and is for committed fans only. The packaging has had mixed reviews but it does contain a 72 page book. Shop around.

Family Bandstand

Roger Chapman Appreciation Society

Family biography (iTunes)

Following the break-up of Family, and the subsequent Streetwalkers, Roger Chapman embarked on a long solo career and if there’s someone out there who can distil that output for Toppermost, we’d be delighted to hear from you.

TopperPost #77

4 Comments

  1. Rob Millis
    Sep 25, 2013

    Glad to see Drowned In Wine there as for me it is the best potted snapshot of the sheer abandon and glorious noise that Family made, along with single In My Own Time.

    Aside from A Song For Me, I favour the late sixties time capsule that is Family Entertainment and then from the Wetton-era I like Bandstand. Anyway and Fearless had the best LP covers but I never thought they leapt out and grabbed you as much as those that bookended them.

    Yes, Wetton certainly filled the “almost co-frontman” role with Chapman that Ric Grech had once provided – John Wieder was far more just part of the engine room.

    I disagree with Peter on the Zep/Tull comparisons; not in terms of creativity but as to how it is that difficult to understand why Family didn’t fare as well Stateside. They are a lot more quirky and eccentric than those of us who like them realise. Tull appear to be more quirky but that’s just Anderson with flute and codpiece fronting a riffy rock band. Zep are classic post-Cream fare, no more. Family are a different kettle of fish altogether – yes, Chappo had the bleating vibrato and the manic stage persona, but the eccentricity of the band delves far more into the musical arrangements and instrumentation than Tull or Zep. You didn’t get vibes set against electric twelve string with Tull or Zep.

    Must have a listen to Second Generation Woman before bed…

    • David Powell
      Sep 25, 2013

      Here in the U.S. I believe Family never recovered from their disastrous first tour stateside. Afterwards, it seems as though they didn’t get that many bookings from concert promoters.

  2. Peter Viney
    Sep 26, 2013

    Family in America: I saw them live several times in Britain. Never less than astonishing. Roger Chapman was genuinely “scary” and even “weird” on stage back then, and the presentation had an edge of (theatrical) violence. But so did The Who, Iggy Pop or Alice Cooper or Ozzy Osbourne. Roger Chapman never had Jim Morrison’s handsome features, nor that bare chested long haired Roger Daltrey, or Robert Plant look. But Iggy, Alice and Ozzy aren’t handsome lads either. It shouldn’t have been an issue. Rob has a point that musically this was way different from riffing bands, however good.

    Why was their first US tour so disastrous? Was it really that Bill Graham incident? Apparently he had to complete the set with his hands by his sides, which put a dampener on things. Was it fear of liability among promoters in case the swinging mic hit someone? The university circuit in the UK wasn’t bothered.

    • David Powell
      Sep 26, 2013

      Incurring the wrath of Bill Graham could have been the kiss of death for a band seeking more exposure in the U.S. at that time. Losing Ric Grech during the tour didn’t help with the group dynamics. Chapman also lost his voice towards the end of the tour. I’m sure other promoters took note. I went to a lot of concerts here in Georgia back then, many featuring three bands on the bill, and I can’t recall ever seeing Family.

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