Article – Family Matters

(John Peel, The Listener 18 October 1973)
By the time you read these lines I will have been to Leicester. Not the sort of thing I’m given to doing, but there will have been a good reason for my eccentric behaviour. At something like midnight last Saturday, Roger Chapman, Charlie Whitney, Rob Townsend, Tony Ashton and Jim Cregan will have scampered off the stage at the breathtakingly lovely Leicester Polytechnic, and Family, for the past six years one of the most consistently rewarding and genuinely progressive bands on the planet, will be no more. Afterwards there will be a party at, of all places, the Leicester Holiday Inn and I will be there. If at this party some alien creature wedges me into a corner among the coats, and demands, with menaces, some adequate reason for all the fuss, I will draw myself up to my full height and answer as follows: “Family, dear sir or madam, are very possibly the only band in our midst to have remained entertaining without having compromised their musical ideology. They have amused and diverted us without having sacrificed one jot nor tittle of their coherence. In doing these things, they have won a large and enthusiastic following without ever having lost their basic good nature and their very real modesty. We who unreservedly admire the band have often been mystified, and indeed saddened, at the failure of our heroes to win acclaim in America. Yet at the same time we have been secretly quite pleased, because it has meant that Family have remained here, accessible to all, a genuinely working band.

“Not for them the seemingly inevitable retreat into super-stardom that accompanies the vast wealth that comes with Transatlantic success. Family, whose rare ventures into the American hinterland have invariably been disastrous, for reasons by no means connected with music, have never found, as many British bands apparently have, that they actually lose money by playing in their homeland. Perhaps the reasons for their failure to win over the Americans lie somewhere in Family’s inability to adopt the glittery and charismatic behaviour that American audiences seem to crave. Perhaps Americans cannot accept the keening, gasping manic vocals of Roger Chapman.”

Roger Chapman has, from the start, been the focal point for both record-buyers and concertgoers. His voice is a unique instrument, an agonised bleating, crying thing that is as instantly identifiable as a tiger in a flock of sheep. Roger does not look like the stuff from which rock heroes are made. His face seems to have permanent and tufted stubble, his hair recedes and on stage he moves in a grotesque, pin-man way, his eyes staring crazily into the middle distance, an unearthly pallor giving him the appearance of some cadaverous loony from a Hogarth print. Since I first saw the band at the trendy reception at London’s Sybilla’s attended by not one but two Beatles, I have been awed and sometimes slightly alarmed by the intensity of Roger’s work. He seems involved in something that transcends showmanship or theatre and comes close to demonic possession. To talk to him backstage about such mundane matters as the fortunes of Leicester City makes the on-stage transformation that much more unnerving. Roger, along with Charlie Whitney, a guitarist who avoids flash and concentrates on playing just the right things, writes the bulk of Family’s material. Charlie writes the music, Roger the lyrics. Their songs are witty without being obscure or contrived, tender without being maudlin. Their construction is complex without being complicated.

As with all rock bands—save of course the Who—there have been changes in personnel. Chapman and Whitney along with the underrated drummer, Rob Townsend are the constants. They were there at Sybilla’s and they will have been at the Leicester Polytechnic last Saturday. They have never made a bad record with Family and I suspect they never will now that they are on their own. Being a sentimental weed, I shall probably weep at their passing but console myself by murmuring: “Family are dead, long live Family.”

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