Family an English rock band, active from late 1966 to October 1973, and again since 2013 for a series of live shows. Their style has been characterised as progressive rock, as their sound often explored other genres, incorporating elements of styles such as folk, psychedelia, acid, jazz fusion and rock and roll. Family’s sound was distinguished by several factors. The vocals of Roger Chapman, described as a “bleating vibrato” and an “electric goat”, were considered unique, although Chapman was trying to emulate the voices of R&B and soul singers with some reviewers noting however that Chapman’s voice could be grating and irritating occasionally. John “Charlie” Whitney was an accomplished and innovative guitarist, and Family’s often complex  song arrangements were made possible through having multi-instrumentalists like Ric Grech and Jim King in the band and access to keyboards such as the Hammond organ and the new Mellotron. Family were particularly known for their live performances; one reviewer describing the band as “one of the wildest, most innovative groups of the underground rock scene”, noting that they produced “some of the rawest, most intense performances on stage in rock history”

The band’s rotating membership throughout its relatively short existence led to a diversity in sound throughout their different albums. Family are also often seen as an unjustly forgotten act, when compared with other bands from the same period and have been described as an “odd band loved by a small but rabid group of fans”.

The band signed with the Reprise Records label (the first UK band signed directly to UK and US Reprise) and their debut album Music in a Doll’s House, was recorded during early 1968. Jimmy Miller was originally slated to produce it but he was tied up with production of The Rolling Stones’ album Beggar’s Banquet and he is credited as co-producer on only two tracks, “The Breeze” and “Peace of Mind”. The bulk of the album was produced by former Traffic member Dave Mason, and recorded at London’s Olympic Studios .

Mason also contributed one composition to the album, “Never Like This”, the only song recorded by Family not written by a band member. Alongside Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, The Move and The Nice, Family quickly became one of the premier attractions on the burgeoning UK psychedelic/progressive “underground” scene. Their lifestyle and exploits during this period provided some of the inspiration for the 1969 novel, Groupie, by Jenny Fabian (who lived in the group’s Chelsea house for some time) and Johnny Byrne. Family featured in the book under the pseudonym, ‘Relation’.

Music in a Doll’s House was released in July 1968 and charted in the UK to critical acclaim, thanks to strong support from BBC Radio 1’s John Peel. Now widely acknowledged as a classic of British psychedelic rock, it showcased many of the stylistic and production features that are archetypal of the genre. The album’s highly original sound was characterised by Roger Chapman’s vocals, rooted in the blues and R&B, combined with several unusual instruments for a rock band, courtesy of the presence of multi-instrumentalists Grech and King, including saxophones, violin, and cello . Music In a Doll’s House was as important to rock in 1968 as that other debut album from that year conceived in a tiny abode, the Band’s Music From Big Pink. Like the Band’s freshman effort, Family’s first album presented a much more thoughtful and musicianly alternative to the excesses of much of the rock of the late sixties .

Family’s 1969 follow-up, Family Entertainment, toned down the psychedelic experimentation of their previous offering to some extent, and featured the single “The Weaver’s Answer”, although the group reportedly had no control over the mixing and choice of tracks, or the running order of the songs. The cover of Family Entertainment, depicting circus performers, was inspired by the sleeve of the Doors’s Strange Days.

Family Entertainment shows these five musicians growing steadily. Chapman’s vibrato vocals evolve into more of a bleated growl, Whitney’s guitar riffs become more inventive, Jim King’s saxophone is decidedly funkier, and the already excellent drummer Rob Townsend becomes even more so. The biggest surprises, though, come from Ric Grech; not only does his improved bass work stand out dramatically here, he also wrote or co-wrote four songs on the album and sings lead vocals – sometimes with Chapman, sometimes solo – on these songs. His clear, flawless voice provided an an exciting contrast to Chapman’s primal shouting.

With the UK success of Family’s first two albums, the band undertook a tour of the United States in April 1969, but it was beset by problems. Halfway through the tour, Grech unexpectedly left the band to join the new supergroup Blind Faith; on the recommendation of tour manager Peter Grant, Grech was replaced by John Weider, previously of The Animals. A further setback occurred during their first concert at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East, whilst sharing the bill with Ten Years After and The Nice – during his stage routine, Chapman lost control of his microphone stand, which flew in Graham’s direction, an act Graham took to be deliberate.

Returning to the UK, the band performed at The Rolling Stones’ Hyde Park gig and the Isle of Wight Festival that summer. In late 1969, Jim King was asked to leave Family due to “erratic behaviour” and was replaced by multi-instrumentalist John “Poli” Palmer.

In early 1970, Family released their third studio album, A Song for Me; produced by the band, it became the highest charting album the band released, reaching No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart. The album itself was a blend of hard rock and folk rock. Issued in January 1970, A Song For Me is an act of defiance from a band that refuses to surrender to the kind of adversity that would have devastated other groups and comes back stronger and sharper than ever. Family had formed a new production company to replace John Gilbert’s management, and they gained a sense of freedom along with confidence in both their music and in taking full control of the recording process. The ten cuts on A Song For Me are an eclectic mix of country, folk, twelve-bar blues, and brutally hard rock in which conventional rock and roll boundaries are outlined and subsequently smashed. Weider’s rough bass certainly helped, and Palmer contributed an awesome array of skills as a pianist, flutist, and vibraphone player, but the remaining original members were no less potent. Charlie Whitney’s guitar slashed through chord changes with raw intensity, and Rob Townsend’s drumming was nothing short of a major assault. But it was Roger Chapman, as usual, who outdid everyone; his voice had now mutated in a hideously wonderful screech that, to paraphrase Robert Christgau, could kill small animals at a hundred yards.

Family’s follow up album Anyway, released in late 1970, had its first half consist of new material recorded live at Fairfield Hall in Croydon, England, with the second half a set of new songs recorded in the studio, Family had originally intended to follow up A Song For Me with a double live album, but they decided against it. Apparently, the problems were that their concert performances were rather undisciplined, sounding even more so on tape, and the sound quality seemed too rough to justify a two-record concert set. Also, they felt that any live versions of songs like “The Weaver’s Answer” and “Drowned In Wine” would pale in comparison to the studio versions. Family ultimately compromised by deciding to assemble a single album – side one would feature live performances of four songs that, with one exception (“Strange Band,” referred to earlier), were unavailable in studio form, while side two would contain four new songs from the studio. Hence Anyway, released in November 1970.

In March 1971 the compilation album, Old Songs New Songs, (which contained remixes and rare tracks) was released, but in June Weider left Family . He was replaced by former Mogul Thrash bassist John Wetton, who had just declined an invitation from Robert Fripp to join King Crimson.

As with Grech in Family’s original line-up, Wetton also shared vocal duties with Chapman, and this line-up soon released Family’s highest-charting single “In My Own Time/Seasons” which reached No. 4, and the album Fearless in October 1971,  This album, is the masterpiece, the best album Family ever made. Everything the group had become known for over the previous three years – curious arrangements, abrupt tempo changes, imaginatively abstract lyricism, stellar musicianship – clicked together here like a well-made combination lock. The group’s quest for innovation paid off handsomely on Fearless, with the band offering its tightest, most cohesive performances and an adventurous sampling of different rock styles. Like A Song For Me, Fearless is superb from beginning to end, but Fearless is better – albeit only slightly better – for two reasons. One is Fearless’s superior production, owing to the band’s greatly improved command of technical skills in the recording studio. The other factor was the result of their latest personnel change.

In June 1971, John Weider, having grown tired of playing the bass as his principal instrument, left the group. He was quickly replaced by an ambitious 22-year-old musician named John Wetton, whose steady, economical pacing anchored the music with great subtlety. Also, Wetton was an accomplished singer in his own right, offering a magnificent, unencumbered voice that stood out on its own and blended wonderfully with Roger Chapman’s voice no small achievement – in harmony arrangements. Chapman remained the center of attention, though, as his primitive bleating and the undeniably powerful passion that fueled it continued to make for decidedly uneasy (but still intriguing) listening.

In 1972, another album, Bandstand was released, which leaned more towards hard rock than art rock, featuring the singles “Burlesque” in late 1972, and “My Friend the Sun”, which was released in early 1973. Bandstand is the only Family LP not to feature an instrumental track.

For their sixth album, Bandstand, the group attempted a tougher edge to their sound; they experimented more with synthesizers, sought a grittier yet polished feel and, for the first time, introduced a female backing vocalist into the mix. The woman in question was Linda Lewis, a high-pitched London R&B diva of West Indian heritage who at the time was the girlfriend of Jim Cregan, who would soon become Family’s fourth and final bass player. Lewis’s five-octave range made her stand out considerably here, and she provided a formidable backdrop for Roger Chapman on this record.
The final outcome of all this innovation produced both mixed results and mixed reviews. Many critics and fans regard Bandstand as being superior to Fearless, Family came up with some really tough playing here, Poli Palmer concocted some wonderfully subtle synthesizer lines as well, and the group’s sound was crisper than ever. The whole, however, falls short of matching Fearless in terms of consistency. There are some undeniably weak moments here, and not every song on Bandstand is as memorable as those that grace Fearless or A Song For Me.
The album’s sleeve was a similarly tremendous feat. Bandstand featured a cover depicting the image of – and die-cut in the shape of – an antique television set with the band onscreen posing in a dimly lit recording studio; opening the layered page revealed the television set’s mechanism underneath. Again, this was impossible to replicate to the letter on CD,

In mid-1972, John Wetton left Family to join a new line-up of King Crimson and was replaced by bassist Jim Cregan, and at the end of that year John “Poli” Palmer also left the band and was replaced by keyboardist Tony Ashton,  After Wetton’s departure (but before Palmer’s exit) Family toured the United States and Canada as the support act for Elton John, 

In 1973, Family released the largely ignored It’s Only a Movie (and on their own label, Raft, distributed by Warner/Reprise), which would be their last studio album. Most of Family’s songs were written by the songwriting team of group leaders Charlie Whitney and Roger Chapman, but It’s Only a Movie is the only Family LP comprised entirely of Whitney/Chapman compositions. By the middle of 1973, Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney felt it was time to dissolve their group, largely for three reasons. First, there was the lineup; there had been five personnel changes up to that point, meaning that there had been as many replacements as there had been original members. Chapman and Whitney feared that, with so many member turnovers, Family might soon turn into a parody of themselves; indeed, they were becoming notorious for being unable to hold onto a bass player for more than two albums. Secondly, their songwriting was beginning to get formulaic, and they felt that their most innovative ideas had been exhausted. (Chapman: “The choruses came more and more. As you write [songs] you can’t help but standardize yourself.”) Thirdly, they realized that achieving mainstream success in America was a pipedream; though they stirred some interest in the U.S. with Bandstand so Family would call it a day .

Roger Chapman  of Family - a voice that once had the distinction of winning out over Tom Jones.

Studio albums

  • Music in a Doll’s House , (1968)
  • Family Entertainment , (1969)
  • A Song for Me , (1970)
  • Anyway , (1970)
  • Old Songs, New Songs ( 1971)
  • Fearless , (1971)
  • Bandstand , (1972)
  • It’s Only a Movie ( 1973 )
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s