Article – The Family Way

by Andrew Tyler
“It’s like somebody blows a whistle and we all change places,” said Jim Cregan, who’s just inherited “the shoulder crusher” – a double-necked bass and six-string Gibson that John Wetton used to play before joining King Crimson

Jim is Family’s new bass player. He’s never played bass before but it hangs nicely on his body and the switch from six-string is already working out with surprisingly little aggro. Jim is a long-time member of the Family of friends – ever since 1967 when he used to play alongside Poli Palmer in Blossom Toes.

More recently he was with Stud, a classy band featuring former Taste men Charlie McCracken on bass and drummer John Wilson. They made one largely-ignored album as a three-piece before being joined by Will “bluegrass is God” Weider who, oddly enough, used to play the shoulder-crusher before Wetton. 

Stud, as a four-piece, made an astonishingly fine album-master that BASF in Germany excited themselves over but it went little further than that. The band ground to a halt in the spring and Cregan got together with a photographer called Tony Roland who’s recently turned songwriter. The pair did a lot of rehearsing together but never made it as far as a stage.

If you’re still following, join us on a magical trip up London’s Harrow Road to a Disco called Terry’s Club. It’s a nightspot run by Terry Downes and, these days, Family’s rehearsal hall.

Roger Chapman, in red and matelot T-shirt, is dancing with a plastic pig. The band, having completed the serious business, are cruising through a medley of rock numers while roadies dance and wrestle with each other.

People these days are saying that Family are a bit past it and isn’t it a shame they never took off cos they really showed great potential etc. All very peculiar when you consider the record.

The last four albums have all made the Top Ten chart. “Fearless,” the current release, went in at around 14 and finally came to rest at six or seven. “Entertainment,” “Song For Me” and “Anyway” did no worse than the No. 5 spot.

“In My Own Time,” the last single before “Burlesque” reached No. 3 and “Weaver’s Answer” and “No Mule’s Fool” made No. 11 and No. 25 respectively.

Apart from the data, there is the band’s artistic stature to consider. “Fearless” marked a new level of growth for the band and earned them a sizeable following among American DJ’s, especially on the West Coast.

“Burlesque” illustrates that their creative power hasn’t left them and if it can be regarded as being representative of what takes place on the “Bandstand” album, the obituary notices become almost obscene.

“It makes you wonder what you have to do,” said Chapman. “I get the feeling that some people in the press don’t want us to make it. Sometimes it brings you down and then you think f*ck it and it makes you want to work that much harder.”

“Bandstand,” like “Fearless,” was a relatively expensive project – costing something in the region of 10,000 pounds.

“In ‘Fearless’ there are a lot of nice songs, well arranged and well played, in a tight sort of way. With ‘Bandstand’ we’re playing with a better feel and it hasn’t turned out so cut and dried. There are still some nice songs but we do more blowing now that we’re more comfortable. Melody is still important for us, though, and always will be. We get bored otherwise.”

With Cregan in the line-up it has meant running through and relearning all the old material – a useful exercise because it forces them to re-examine and reassess just about everything they’ve ever done.

“It gives us a chance to iron out all the little kinks,” said Chapman, “and take a completely different perspective. Jim is a really good guitar player and besides all that, we have a good friendship basis.”

What about John Wetton?

“John wanted to do something else. I never asked what, really. I heard he was leaving and I said ‘OK’. That’s the way it is. The same goes for anybody else in the band. If they want to leave it’s accepted. There’s never any aggro about it.”

Cregan, through his singing and guitar playing abilities, should add a whole new dimension to Family’s sound. There’s likely to be all sorts of dual guitar work with Charlie Whitney and vocal harmonies with Chapman.

The stage-show, irrespective of any musical refinements, is likely to remain a fine blend of aggression and understatement.

Chapman says he and the band feed on whatever is happening around them – positive or negative.

“The music gets off the ground when we get ourselves excited. I get really angry at things like lights being switched on and off at the wrong time, over somebody tripping over wires. These things set you off and so does a good feeling coming from the audience. The whole band goes zzzipp and we’re away. It’s a very emotional thing with us. From the audience point of view I’m the most commercial member of the band. It’s easier to look at me than at the band but we all lean very much on each other. If someone’s flagging he gets kicked up the arse and if somebody’s really doing it we all jump on him and we’re away.”

September 24 they take off on their third tour to the U.S. The first, three and a half years ago, was a catastophe. The second one, one year later, was a distinct improvement. This next one is the crucial test.

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