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Characterized by Roger Chapman’s unmistakable, glutinous, frog-in-throat vocal vibrato (and boosted by Charlie Whitney’s distinctive guitar plus Ric Grech’s vital violin and bluesy bass), psych/prog-rock outsiders FAMILY created an enduring sound that marked them out as cult favourites around the turn of the 70s.
Formed in Leicester, England, late in 1966 by the aforementioned Chapman, Whitney, Grech, plus local art college buddies Jim King (sax and harmonica) and Harry Ovenall (drums), the quintet had tread the boards from 1962-1964 as the R&B-infused The FARINAS; one platter for Fontana, `You’d Better Stop’, was issued before the five performed as The Roaring Sixties.
After relocating to London, the in-focus FAMILY made their debut at the Marquee Club in April ‘67, while a one-off, Jimmy Miller-produced single for Liberty Records, `Scene Thru The Eye Of A Lens’, failed to generate much interest.
Superseding Overnall with ex-Beatniks sticksman Rob Townsend, the tendency to take on a blues/jazz element was somewhat understated when they supported American folkie TIM HARDIN at the Royal Albert Hall the following July. Inking a deal with Reprise Records for inaugural LP, MUSIC IN A DOLL’S HOUSE (1968) {*7}, the aforementioned Miller was whisked away to work on The ROLLING STONES’ Beggar’s Banquet record, although TRAFFIC’s Dave Mason came in at short notice to fill the production void; he also penned third track, the rootsy `Never Like This’ and contributed some Mellotron. Plugged by John Peel’s Radio One show, the Top 40 set was as trippy as most records at the time (think Canterbury Scene with a smidgen of ‘Floyd), the lack of bonding theme cohesion in among the days’ concept/rock operas was noticeable. Still, there were moments of cosmic-ticity through `Me My Friend’, `Old Songs New Songs’, `Peace Of Mind’, `Hey Mr. Policeman’ and `Mellowing Grey’.
1969’s Top 10 breaker FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT {*7} showcased recent 45, `Second Generation Woman’ (one of three penned by Grech), but there was no doubt among the affiliated that the opening triumvirate of `The Weaver’s Answer’, `Observations From A Hill’ and `Hung Up Down’ propelled their star to that of the similarly fluty, JETHRO TULL.
Pity then that after a US tour, Grech opted to join supergroup BLIND FAITH; one supposes that the offer of playing alongside messrs CLAPTON, WINWOOD and BAKER was too good to turn down. Anyway, a replacement was found by way of former ERIC BURDON & THE ANIMALS sidekick John Weider for the resultant Top 30 entry, `No Mule’s Fool’, and its worthy piano-led flipside, `Good Friend Of Mine’. FAMILY’s domesticity was derailed for a second time in as many months when King chose to leave the roost; former ECLECTION folkie Poli Palmer (on keyboards) was fostered in time for album three, A SONG FOR ME (1970) {*6}.
The prowess and power of lead-off track, `Drowned In Wine’ (another heady Chapman-Whitney tune), was hardly indicative of the somewhat shambolic and experimental Top 10 set. But for the racy R&B cut, `The Cat And The Rat’, The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND-esque `Song For Sinking Lovers’ (but not `93’s Ok J’) and the jam-fuelled, 9-minute title track finale, the record might well’ve been their last.
Re-injecting some of the pace into their repertoire, FAMILY’s answer to the so-called change in tempo was to combine a bit of both for major UK hit, `Strange Band’, a concert staple also featured on their half-live/half-studio LP, ANYWAY… (1970) {*6}; their third consecutive Top 10 entry. Of the freshly-scribed live side, one could easily vouch for the 8-minute, riff-blaster opener, `Good News – Bad News’, while time indoors had produced two minor gemstones in `Part Of The Load’ and `Lives And Ladies’.
1971 was something of a mixed bag for FAMILY, what with a cancelled US tour, the unveiling of a part-remixed/part-re-recorded “best of” by way of effective budget-type OLD SONGS, NEW SONGS {*8}, and a classic, non-album Top 5 signature tune, `In My Own Time’.
Throw in Weider’s displacement by newbie John Wetton for album five, FEARLESS {*6}, and one could say 1971 was eventful at least. With Poli afforded a few pieces to exercise his roly-poly piano attributes, the set took on a trippy, breezy-prog direction that left Chapman’s rasp almost untested. Except for the rather FACES-meets-SAHB-like `Sat’d’y Barfly’ and the SPIRIT-addled `Save Some For Thee’ (ditto `Burning Bridges’), FAMILY were short of the needed songs – what was wrong with the group supplanting a few accompanying 45s, a thing now the done-deal for CD compilers.
Taking on the wickedly funky hit 45, `Burlesque’, to lead out sixth set, BANDSTAND (1972) {*6}, Chapman was back at his most quavering and quirky. Offsetting self-indulgence to a minimum, and enlisting some help from a full-blown orchestra, `Bolero Babe’ and `Top Of The Hill’, carried the band into fresh territory, while the delightful folkie `My Friend The Sun’ surpassed their classy quieter moments.
Switching labels from Reprise to the newly-founded Raft Records, IT’S ONLY A MOVIE (1973) {*5}, heralded a trying time for unpredictable FAMILY. Whether it was the loss of key members Wetton (to KING CRIMSON) and Palmer was speculation, but respective replacements Jim Cregan (bass/guitar; from Stud) and Tony Ashton (keyboards; ex-ASHTON, GARDNER & DYKE) were thrown in at the deep end. With no hit singles in the rather glam-gospel `Boom Bang’ and the WAR-esque `Sweet Desiree’, the funky-cum-country set quickly bombed out of the Top 30. With cheap lyrical nods to cowboy films in its pop-fuelled opening title-spin, it was a poor swansong – as it turned out – for once proud FAMILY. While Townsend joined MEDICINE HEAD and Cregan turned up for COCKNEY REBEL (Ashton went into production work), Roger and Charlie formed Chapman-Whitney STREETWALKERS; the solo ROGER CHAPMAN duly found a new lease of life in the late 90s and hasn’t stopped working since; sadly past-member Grech died on 17th March 1990.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2012

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