Roger Chapman 1994 interview

Great interview by Jay Strange, sourced from his site: http://artintodust.blogspot.com/2008/08/family-interview-with-roger-chapman.html

How old were you when you decided that music was the thing you wanted to do?
I never planned to be in the music business really, I just started singing with pals, literally on street corners back in 1958, ’59. Stuff by The Coasters, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis. We were 15 year old kids and we started doing talent contests. We were called The Searchers. Then I joined a local group in Leicester, the Rocking R’s, because they were the only people I knew who could play Ray Charles tunes. I left school and wanted to go to art college, but being the type of geezer I was I ended up doing an apprenticeship in painting and decorating. I got the elbow from that after a few months and never really got on with work anyway, just doing odds and sods, working in factories and stuff.

I remember hearing that Charlie Whitney and Jim King came and got you off a building site.
Yeah, they turned up one day and asked me to join The Farinas, and that was that.

When did you first realise how distinctive your voice was?
It wasn’t until Family, nobody had ever said anything about my voice before then. We were demoing the songs from ‘The Doll’s House’ album at the old Marquee studios in London and a producer heard me sing and gave me the impression there was something odd about my voice. I wasn’t sure whether to worry about it or not.

When did you start writing songs?
The first attempt was when I was about twenty-two, but as I’ve said I didn’t play an instrument and everything I did was instinctive, so it was very difficult to write songs in that sense. Then it just sort of grew – Charlie and I wrote two or three songs together, rehearsed them and did them on stage. Then the band went through this thing where we elbowed the drummer that we had, and a lot of the writing came from when the four of us would be in Jim King’s flat. Jim would be playing soprano sax, Ric would be playing the violin, Charlie would have his acoustic guitar and the four of us would rehearse while we were waiting to get a new drummer- who was Rob Townsend. It was a very strange environment, you have to remember that this is a real loopy trio of instruments we had there as well. For no particular reason we started to write all these songs, and what we came up with was really quite unique.
So late 1966 and the demos produced by Kim Fowley – how did you meet him?
I met him in London, he was over from the States and our manager at the time introduced us to him. We got talked into going into a little studio in Wardour Street and we put four tracks down. I wish I had those Fowley tapes, I’d like to hear them again.
Can you remember what songs you did?
Only ‘Silver Dagger’ which was a Judy Collins track, it was all very early Los Angeles/San Francisco type stuff, which Kim Fowley was of course a part of. I can’t even remember if we did any original songs. Anyway, we then got a new manager, John Gilbert, and he got us this one-off deal with Liberty for the ‘Scene Through the Eye of the Lens’ single, (on which the whole of Traffic also play alongside Family) and then we got signed to Reprise and started recording ‘Music In A Doll’s House’ with Dave Mason producing.
What do you remember of those sessions?
It was quite good fun, we recorded at Olympic Studios in Barnes and our manager, John Gilbert (his father was the film director Lewis Gilbert) used to get all these films which he’d show on the walls of the studio, things like ‘Fantasia’.
So a lot of the stuff for Doll’s House you’d already been playing live?
Yeah, with the same arrangements really. There were a couple made up, and the track ‘Winter’ got turned round – Dave reformed it into a different arrangement. Dave was smashing, a musician like ourselves and from the same neck of the woods. When the album came out we were really pleased with it. We were in an era when albums were being noticed as a saleable force, and John Gilbert; a clever man, had the foresight to make Dolls House into a complete entity. Also we were part of the psychedelic scene, we were there at its peak, and all that was being influential.
The album has been compared to ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and ‘S.F. Sorrow’ in its scope.
Personally, I’m more of a ‘Revolver’ fan myself – but yes, it was all carefully pre-planned in the studio. We worked hard in the studio, but basically as a band we just did a bunch of songs and the general outcome was controlled by Dave Mason. Ultimately the whole concept was down to John Gilbert though, and to be honest it was probably exactly the right thing to do.
What’s your favourite tracks on the album?
I love the riffs to ‘See Through Windows’ – that was Charlie. I like ‘Peace Of Mind’. The essence for me is if I can do them on stage, and by God we used to fucking shift some people with that! We were playing Universities by then, and on stage it’s just so much more enhanced, everything with an edge and in between songs we’d get fifty percent of the audience going fucking crazy, and fifty percent yelling “Boo! Fuck off.” We used to get other bands we played with asking how we ever thought to do material like that, and we’d just have to say “I dunno – we just rehearsed them in Jim King’s flat”. And that’s all it was -we never plotted any of it, it just came to us naturally. The funny thing was, you’d see the same band a year later and they would be at it as well! But some people just couldn’t make us out. We had so many people firmly against us that we just knew we were doing something right.
One famous Family gig at that time was at the Woburn Festival when you played just before the Jimi Hendrix Experience and blew them away.
Everyone found it hard to catch up with us that day, we seriously slaughtered them! We used to work with the Experience a lot though, they were pals of ours and they used to ask us to go and work with them. They pulled us out of trouble in America, they had so much weight, but at the same time we were a hard band to keep up with.
Moving onto the second album, Entertainment, the story goes that you weren’t happy with the finished production.
What happened with that was, we went along again with what John Gilbert had in mind, using Glyn Johns who is a fantastic producer, he really knows his stuff in the studio. The people he had produced was nobody’s business, and it was a sign of John Gilbert’s influence that he could get a big producer like that to look after us. What needled us most about it really was that we put all the tracks down and then we had three or four gigs up north, so we clambered into the truck and off we went. When we came back the album was done, they’d gone into the studio and mixed everything without us – and that really wasn’t right. Why hadn’t they waited until we’d got back? We were actually really happy with the finished album, but that incident drove a wedge between us and it was never the same after that. We started getting very insular – we didn’t have anything to do with other bands, there were a lot of times I wouldn’t let us go and work festivals because we weren’t part of it. We really locked ourselves in completely.
The versions of the songs that eventually appeared on ‘Old Songs, New Songs’ – is that how they would have been on `Entertainment’ if you had produced it?
If we’d gone and produced it ourselves it wouldn’t have been anything like that anyway, because we didn’t know our arse from our elbow! The only thing you can do is make suggestions if you’re there, but only if you’ve got the studio professionals at the back allowing you a certain amount of freedom. In retrospect I realise Gilbert was perfectly right. The only thing he did wrong was he should have given us a bit more thought and a bit more credibility. As I say though, this was a serious nail in the coffin, because we didn’t want to be controlled at all after that. Then we went to America and had that huge farce of a tour. We’d been in New York for three or four days to sort of acclimatise ourselves – I say ‘acclimatise’, but it was more like hanging around getting stoned out of our boxes on American gear as opposed to English!
Ric Grech left right at the start to join Blind Faith?
Unfortunately he didn’t leave right at the start, which is when he should have fucking left. He obviously knew, and so did Gilbert, before we got to America. They didn’t let us know though until the day before we were supposed to open at the Fillmore East. Which we played, and where we died. Ten Years After were top of the bill, we were second and the Nice were at the bottom – and it was a disaster. We were not on form at all. For all the timing John Gilbert had perfected before this with the albums and putting things together, he couldn’t have timed anything as badly as this. The start of our first American tour, and bang! There goes Ric Grech.
The first gig became famous for the Bill Graham incident, which is reported as anything from you deliberately smashing him in the face with a tambourine to you accidentally bouncing a microphone stand off his head – can we clear this one up for once and for all?
It was nothing like that. From what I can gather, towards the end of the set I flung a mic stand down and he was standing at the side of the stage, and it just missed him. It definitely didn’t hit him. I think it just frightened the shit out of him and then what with the audience reaction and the state of the band, he just went haywire -he went and took all our pictures out of the foyer, for instance. He was quite a heavy dude, but as it happens Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding were there and they went and talked him round into letting us do the next couple of shows. Which we did with me not daring to move an inch on the stage. That was when our manager went home – thanks a lot, John! The thing spread to other gigs by word of mouth from promoter to promoter, and we were doing gigs for people who weren’t really interested in us by this time. Ric Grech had left, and Peter Grant arranged for John Weider to join us mid-tour. Then we had all our equipment nicked in New York and it all just fizzled out. I had my passport nicked as well, so we couldn’t get into Canada – it just went from bad to worse.
Would you say then that this was the first real setback for Family, because until then things had gone really well?
I suppose so, but we were never allowed to appreciate any kind of success anyway. We certainly never got paid for it! We knew we were selling records, I don’t know if we were meant to feel prestigious or not but I don’t think we actually did. When you’re years on the road grinding away, sure something like this was a real bummer, but that was about the extent of it.
After that incident, the story has it that Bill Graham made sure Family were never a success in the States.
I don’t think that’s true, he was a very busy and important man and the last thing he was going to get involved in was a vendetta against us. We were just a group from England, who the fuck were we? Why should he waste his time? Other than saying he was displeased and his attitude did have an affect on that tour, word got around. But that’s what agents do, phone each other up and ask what it was like, because if it’s good they want to jump on the bandwagon. So of course Graham slinging you off his show and getting the needle, people are going to think something’s wrong. But I wouldn’t think it was anything more than that, once we were out of his hair I don’t think he cared one way or another.
Was there a team spirit in the original line-up?
Oh yeah! Really strong.
So it felt like a real betrayal when Ric left.
It was really odd, the first I heard about it was in a Hendrix interview I read. He was asked why he thought bands change, and he said . “People have got to move on, these bands split – like Family”. And I thought, what?! Obviously Ric had told him, the rumours are flying around and these four berks at the back know nothing about it. He should have put a little more faith in us – excuse the pun, because joining Blind Faith didn’t do him much good, did it? And to do it when he did was seriously bad news.
So how did John Weider fit into the band?
John was fine, a really nice bloke and a great player. In some ways I think he was a slightly wrong influence for the band… he took us as far as I’m concerned into more guitarist’s type music. Charlie teamed up with him quite well, but it was going away from what I liked, which was the first couple of albums, and approached a bit on the third album -A Song For Me’. I liked him and we always had enthusiasm even if there was room for doubt. The band was run democratically, which is always a mistake.
You had a parting of the ways with John Gilbert soon afterwards.
When we got back from America. We’d basically been abandoned by him over there, and one day the four of us got on a bus and went over to his house and told him we didn’t want to work with him any more. Gilbert was a very clever man, very astute, but his own ego had got in the way. His whole pride was that he wanted to produce a band that happened, and once we had this flop in America then it was a serious blow to his ego. And that was the end of it. From there we sort of went round in circles a bit. Jim King then left and we did `Song For Me’.
Why did Jim King leave?
Jim was ill and getting worse by the minute. There’s no polite way to say this – basically he was going fucking mad. It was really hard work. He was sort of a genius, the sort of geezer that decided he wanted to play the saxophone and two weeks later he’d be playing it on stage. Great singer, great harmonica player, a great sense of feel and soul – but he just went mental. Which is a shame, because he was a big influence on the band.
So it was quite painful to lose him like that?
You say painful, but it just gets to the point where you want to get rid of him, because he was a bit of a fucking nuisance. In these situations there’s not really a lot of sympathy because everybody’s up to different tricks, taking whatever they fancy, some people are smoking, some are drinking, some are dropping acid or speed and I suppose we decided that Jim was the one who was going mad! It’s not somebody being ill, it’s somebody giving you shit, and we’d had enough of all that shit. Anyway, he went- I think I’ve only seen him once since, and he didn’t look very well then. I think he’s had a lot of problems through the years.
So enter Poli Palmer.
We used to be quite close to the Blossom Toes, and Poli and later Jim Cregan both came from that. Poli brought a different sound to the band with keyboards and vibes.

Then came ‘Song For Me’ – what do you feel about that album?
At the time we thought it was right. In retrospect you look at it and there’s three or four things on there that are nonsense. I like things like `Drowned In Wine’ and “Some Poor Soul’, but there’s a lot stuff which is too mainstream. We had this sort of pastiche pseudo country thing coming in, too much for me. This was the effect of having two guitar players who were heavily influenced by your James Taylors and your Joni Mitchells. I liked them, but I didn’t want to be them!

We talked of the live might of he original Family, was this lost with the new band?
Yeah, although I think it came back as soon as John Weider left, although Charlie might not appreciate me saying that. As soon John left and we recreated a bit individuality, away from the country mainstream pop thing, and just got a little bit more imaginative.
We’re onto `Anyway’ now, with the live side which, like so many live albums from that era, is a bit disappointing…
A bit pissy! The whole object of that, which was really quite brave, was that the first time we played all our new tunes on stage we would record it. I think of that now and it’s mind-boggling. I mean, rehearsing them in the dressing room before going out onto stage and recording it; just the thought of it is scary! We also lost a lot in the production, not really knowing how to produce it. The studio side got some good tunes, I like `Part of the Load’ and ‘Lives and Ladies. The album did very well.
After that you did another U.S. tour in 1970…
Oh, God knows! I have no idea. If you hear anything about it, let me know because I’d like to know what I was doing about then!
Then John Weider left the band.
John met an American girl and moved to Los Angeles. He still had Joni Mitchell in his eyes. He said he wanted to leave, he’d had enough.
And the four of you started on `Fearless’?
John Wetton joined us after about three weeks in the studio and started overdubbing his stuff. It was really excellent because he was very objective about what we’d done so far. He turned things upside-down and was a very inventive player.
He sang some lead vocals on `Fearless’, were you happy with that?
Oh, of course – I didn’t mind at all. He used to take a bit of the weight off me, and it prevented everything from being the same. I never had any qualms about that, I used to like the changes.
I think ‘Fearless’ and ‘Bandstand’ are seen as a bit of a renaissance for the band -both magnificent albums.
John came in as a strong personality and a strong musical force, it became more substantial and more inventive. That was about it – we did Bandstand which I like very much as an album, then John got this offer to join King Crimson and Jim Cregan joined us, and by then we wouldn’t trust any fucker! Jim was really a good guitar player, and he learned bass so he could come in with the band – very eager, and a good muso. Then we did an American tour with Elton John and mentally the band started to split away from Poli. We basically decided we didn’t want him in the band any more. We didn’t have anyone definite to replace him – it just wasn’t happening anymore. So we talked to Tony Ashton and he came in, and hence the ‘pub-band’ era of Family started. I’m not sure if it was a good idea for the band, but we had a fucking good time.
`It’s Only A Movie’ is the most disappointing Family album by far…
Well, we were at the end of it then. I think it was right we finished when we did instead of just plodding on and on. The farewell tour was good fun, we had a wonderful party at the end of it -which was exactly the right time to go out – everybody on a high. We were all in it for our own reasons, and none of it was to be just sitting on the sidelines. If there wasn’t any music to be played or we were getting bored, then there was no point in doing it. I certainly felt like we were just going through the motions then. By this time that was what the audiences wanted – they wanted us to be repeatable and we were never that. So we just thought ‘Bollocks’ – and knocked it on the head.
Then we had the first Chapman Whitney album, and you’ve got Wetton and Palmer playing on it. 
There was too much there just to dismiss it. It took a long time for Poli to talk to us I must say – he was very upset about leaving Family, but I think he realised such things have to happen. Basically Charlie and me went into this thing because we were still writing songs together, so we made an album. There’s some nice stuff on it – we were trying to be inventive once more, create music that perhaps people hadn’t quite heard before. We would have been better if we’d had proper management though -John Gilbert was the only real manager we’d ever had. Then we went back on the road with a new band; met Bob Tench and liked him a lot and we decided to put the Streetwalkers together, which was all right for a year or two.
What’s your favourite Streetwalkers album?
`Red Card’ by far, a great album. That’s when we were at our most together. That fucking thing we made afterwards, ‘Vicious But Fair’, I can’t believe it! When we were recording it I knew it was all wrong. I told Charlie it was a serious mistake, trying to copy other people again. They’d heard Little Feat and Stevie Wonder and all they wanted to do was sound like them! Absolute bookers! The band lost their identity, which was a shame. Suddenly I’m getting daggers because I can’t sing like Stevie Wonder and all this lark….Why not just fuck off to America and see if you can back him instead of giving me a hard time? I obviously wasn’t the singer of the moment and they thought they could do better elsewhere, but they didn’t know where to go. I was hearing these rumours that Charlie was slagging me off, and that was it for me. That’s why I would never reform Family or have anything to do with them again. Then it was decided that if we change the rhythm section it would be better- but this wasn’t Charlie’s problem – Charlie’s problem was me! I’ve only realised that in the past few years. He couldn’t live without me and he couldn’t live with me.
When was the last time you saw him?
Charlie? Oh, maybe eight years ago at one of my gigs. I wouldn’t dream of seeing him. I’ve been happy on my own for the past twelve years, happier with the music, not so much mental strain, and I like what I do.

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