Chappo on Top of the Pops

FAMILY existed from early 1967 until late 1973. During this period, this UK band from Leicester were festival staples, and covered a lot of musical ground, touching on 60′s psychedelia; breezy acoustic passages; hard progressive rock; jazz-flavorings; and in their final stages, a laid-back, “good-time” brand of rock and roll. The basis of the group lies with the songwriting partnership of Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney. Mr. Chapman is thought by many to have the most unique voice in rock. This can be alternately down-home and soothing, to outright manic and throat-wrenching…almost a bleating straight from hell itself. Chapman recently said of his talents: “I thought I was just singing like Little Richard or Ray Charles”.
Formative Years (1966–1967)Family formed in Late 1966 in Leicester, England from the remaining members of a group that was previously known as The Farinas and later The Roaring Sixties, whose sound was grounded in R&B. The Farinas originally consisted of John “Charlie” Whitney, Tim Kirchin, Harry Ovenall and Jim King, forming at Leicester Art College in 1962. Ric Grech replaced Kirchin on bass in 1965 and Roger Chapman joined the following year on vocals. The American record producer Kim Fowley suggested they call themselves “The Family” as they regularly wore double-breasted suits in performances, giving themselves a mafia appearance, a look they soon abandoned in favor a more casual dress code. They played the famous Marquee Club in April 1967. Family’s debut single, “Scene Through The Eye Of A Lens/Gypsy Woman”, produced by Jimmy Miller and released by Liberty Records in October 1967, was not a success. Around this time, drummer Harry Ovenall was asked to leave the band and was replaced by Rob Townsend.

Early Years (1968-69)

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 with engineers Eddie Kramer and George Chkiantz. Mason also contributed one composition to the album, “Never Like This”, the only song recorded by Family not written by a band member, and the group also backed Mason on the b-side of his February 1968 single “Just For You”.

Family made their London debut at the Royal Albert Hall in July 1968, supporting Tim Hardin. 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 at #35 in the UK to critical acclaim, thanks to strong support from future 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 characterized by 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, cello and harmonica.

Family’s 1969 follow-up, Family Entertainment, toned down the psychedelic experimentation of their previous offering to some extent, reaching #6 in the UK Albums Chart, and featured the single “The Weaver’s Answer”, although the group reportedly had no control over the mixing and choice of tracks being left to their management at the time.

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 Eric Burdon and The Animals, rehearsing and joining the band in Detroit. 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; Chapman performed the following shows with his hands by his sides, and by the end of the tour he had lost his voice; Chapman also had his passport stolen resulting in the band performing in Canada without him. Family’s reputation in the US never recovered and they ultimately never achieved great recognition there.

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 behavior” and was replaced by multi-instrumentalist John “Poli” Palmer.

Later years (1970–1973)

In 1970, Family played a few more gigs in the United States, appearing in San Francisco and Boston. In January 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 #4 on the UK Albums Chart. The album itself was a blend of hard rock and folk rock. Family’s new lineup played at major rock festivals that summer, including the Kralingen Festival in the Netherlands and the Isle of Wight Festival for the second year in a row. The band appeared in the documentary film Message to Love about the latter festival performing “The Weaver’s Answer.”

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, and reached #7 on the UK chart. In March 1971 the compilation album, Old Songs New Songs, was released, but in June Weider left Family to join Stud. 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 lineup, 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 #4, and the album Fearless in October 1971, which charted in both the UK and the US. 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.

In mid-1972, John Wetton left Family to join a new lineup 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, previously of Ashton, Gardner and Dyke.After Wetton’s departure (but before Palmer’s exit) Family toured the United States and Canada as the support act for Elton John, but their performances were often greeted with silence and Poli Palmer later recalled that “the only clapping in this huge stadium would be the guys doing the PA”.

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, followed by another tour.

Family gave their final concert at Leicester Polytechnic on October 13, 1973. The band never reformed, but instead many of its members went onto different musical projects; Roger Chapman and John “Charlie” Whitney formed the band Streetwalkers; John Wetton played with King Crimson eventually became the lead singer of the band Asia. Rob Townsend was a member of Medicine Head between 1973 and 1975 and later joined John “Charlie” Whitney again in the band Axis Point. Ric Grech died of kidney and liver failure in 1990 at the age of 43, as a result of alcoholism. Tony Ashton died in 2001 at the age of 55 of cancer. Jim King died in 2012.

Here’s what the Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock has to say:

“Seminal British folk-hard-rock-prog band fronted by Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney. Their music was instantly recognizable due to Chapman’s unique and grating vocals. Musically they covered a wide range of stuff, all condensed into song format and generally accessible, but still very progressive for its time.”

After seven lp’s and five years of touring, Family called it quits due to uneven success and lack of attention in the American market. British radio host John Peel suggested that it was Chapman’s reluctance to deliver “hummable songs” that kept him from the recognition enjoyed at that time by fellow Englishmen Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart. But Family‘s stubborn innocence has given them a unique, legendary status.

Roger Chapman on Family’s career:
“We didn’t try to be different, it was never calculated… It was as naive and as honest as that.”

But the partnership of Chapman/Whitney didn’t end here. They went on to make a few more albums in the late 70′s as the STREETWALKERS, with a more direct sound of R &B. Charlie Whitney then formed Axis Point for a couple of albums, and is now with a blues and bluegrass combo in the UK called Los Racketeeros . Roger Chapman began his long-awaited solo career in 1978 and formed a partnership with guitarist Geoff Whitehorn. He found greatest success in Europe, and most of his releases were based in Germany. However, he is still producing records with much success in both UK & Germany. For more Chappo info please head over to the Roger Chapman Appreciation Society.

Comments are closed.