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”.
The Farinas / Formative Years (1962–1967)
The soul-pop ensemble James King and the Farinas came to life in 1962, at the Leicester Art College, nestled in the historical city of Leicester, Leicestershire. This band was the brainchild of Jim King, who took to the mic with heartfelt lead vocals, and Charlie Whitney on lead guitar, showcasing his dual talents with guitar and vocals. Their lineup was rounded out by Tim Kirchin on the bass guitar, providing the rhythmic backbone, and Harry Ovenall, who brought the beats with his drums. Not long after their formation, the band adopted a more concise moniker, becoming known simply as The Farinas.
Whitney, originally of North Yorkshire, was no stranger to the spotlight, having been raised by parents immersed in show business. Seeking educational stability, the family relocated to the outskirts of Leicester when Whitney was five years old. It was at Leicester Art College that Whitney, alongside King and Ovenall, bonded over a foundational art course. Here, they also encountered Terry Cowlishaw, a pioneering drummer and a Fine Arts student who would occasionally play with The Farinas while also performing with other bands like The Teenbeats and The Monarchs in Peterborough. An interesting footnote is that Cowlishaw was the drummer for Unit Four Plus One during his college years.
As fate would have it, Whitney was already honing his strings as the lead guitarist for Tony Bart and the ReVels, a group that included Tony Bart on lead vocals, Rod Moore providing the bass groove, Pete Davies on rhythm guitar, and Ovenall on drums. Following Bart’s departure and the untimely passing of Moore, King took the reins of the group, and it was Ovenall who, with a stroke of serendipity, discovered the name The Farinas from within the pages of a library book, inspired by an Italian car designer.
Bursting with ambition, James King and the Farinas left their sonic fingerprints in the form of a rare acetate demo, containing tracks like “All You Gotta Do,” “Twist And Shout,” and “By By Johnny,” which was meticulously crafted at Sound Studios in Derby, Derbyshire, and helmed by producer Victor Buckland. This marked their transition to professional status in April 1963.
The quintet soon became a familiar sight across The Midlands, gracing venues such as The Marcam Hall in Cambridge and Tamworth Castle’s Banqueting Hall. They often played in the vibrant heart of London, notably at the renowned 100 Club on Oxford Street, sharing stages with the likes of The Pretty Things and The Graham Bond Organisation.
1964 was a milestone year for The Farinas as they recorded their maiden single, “You’d Better Stop” and “I Like It Like That” at Fontana Studios, Stanhope Place, Marble Arch, in London. This single was then released on August 28, 1964, on Fontana TF 493.
After this release, Ric Grech joined the band. Born in France to Ukrainian parents and raised in Leicester after a stint in France, Grech was a musical prodigy who at a young age played first violin with The Leicester Youth Symphony Orchestra and later switched to guitar and bass, showing versatility and dedication to his art.
The Farinas’s shift to a five-member outfit occurred in 1966 with the addition of Roger Chapman, a dynamic lead vocalist with a storied history in the Leicester music scene. It was during this formative period that the band played their final gig under the name The Farinas before adopting the moniker The Roaring Sixties and, subsequently, Family.
Family’s initial performances echoed the name change, with appearances across the UK including Manchester’s Oasis Club and Liverpool’s legendary Cavern Club. With John Gilbert as their manager and under the guidance of producer Jimmy Miller, Family signed with The Liberty Label in 1967, laying the groundwork for a new chapter in their musical journey.
This fruitful collaboration led to the recording of their first single, “Scene Through The Eyes of A Lens” / “Gypsy Woman,” featuring contributions from the illustrious members of Traffic, including Steve Winwood. After a personnel change which saw drummer Rob Townsend replace Ovenall, Family’s debut single was released on Friday, October 13, 1967, on Liberty LBF 10031, marking the onset of an exciting era for the band, which would come to be revered as a defining presence in the British rock scene.
Early Years (1968-69)
Family’s inception within the swirling psychedelic scene of the late 60s is a significant footnote in the annals of British rock music. Their journey began with a historical signing to Reprise Records, marking a pivotal moment as they became the first UK band to be signed directly to both UK and US divisions of the label. The anticipation surrounding their debut album, Music in a Doll’s House, was substantial. Recorded in early 1968, the album’s production encountered an unexpected shift when slated producer Jimmy Miller had to prioritize his commitments to The Rolling Stones’ “Beggar’s Banquet.” Consequently, Miller’s influence was largely confined to two tracks, “The Breeze” and “Peace Of Mind.”
The majority of the album’s innovative sound was forged under the guidance of Dave Mason, formerly of Traffic, and was brought to life in London’s revered Olympic Studios. Renowned engineers Eddie Kramer and George Chkiantz played pivotal roles in capturing the essence of the music on tape. Mason wasn’t just behind the glass; he penned “Never Like This,” the sole composition on the album not authored by a band member. The group also lent their musical prowess to Mason on the flipside of his single “Just For You,” which released in February 1968.
Family’s live presence quickly gained momentum, marked by their London debut at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall where they warmed the stage for Tim Hardin. They found themselves in good company, sharing the revolutionary UK psychedelic/progressive “underground” scene with the likes of Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, The Move, and The Nice. It was a period of intense creativity and lifestyle choices that didn’t go unnoticed, even influencing popular culture through Jenny Fabian’s and Johnny Byrne’s 1969 novel “Groupie.”
Family’s place in the scene was cemented when Music in a Doll’s House was released in July 1968, charting at #35 in the UK and receiving kudos from influential figures such as John Peel of BBC Radio 1. The album’s eclectic blend of Chapman’s bluesy vocals with a diverse range of instruments like saxophones, violin, cello, and harmonica, contributed to its status as a quintessential British psychedelic rock masterpiece.
The group continued to evolve with the release of their 1969 album Family Entertainment, slightly dialing back the psychedelic elements in favor of a more streamlined sound. The album fared well, peaking at #6 in the UK Albums Chart and featuring the standout single “The Weaver’s Answer.” However, the band reportedly had no say in the final mix or track selection, with those decisions being left to their management.
Despite their growing success in the UK, Family faced trials during their US tour in April 1969. The abrupt departure of Grech to join Blind Faith midway through left a noticeable gap, hastily filled by John Weider, who had to quickly acclimate to the rigors of the road. Further misfortune ensued during their Fillmore East debut; an unfortunate incident involving Chapman and the venue’s promoter, Bill Graham, coupled with a stolen passport and lost voice, hindered their American appeal.
Yet, they continued to perform at landmark events back home, such as The Rolling Stones’ free concert in Hyde Park and the Isle of Wight Festival. By the close of 1969, Family faced another lineup change as Jim King departed, allegedly due to “erratic behavior,” and was replaced by multi-instrumentalist John “Poli” Palmer, marking the end of a chapter and the beginning of another in the chronicles of Family—ever a band in flux, yet indelibly etched in the musical heritage of its time.
Later years (1970–1973)
The year 1970 was a thrilling chapter in Family’s odyssey. They graced the stages of various U.S. cities such as San Francisco and Boston, showcasing their live prowess to audiences overseas. This was the backdrop to the release of their third studio album, A Song for Me; a record that represented a high watermark for the band, ascending to #4 on the UK Albums Chart. The creative force behind the album’s production was the band themselves; perhaps it was this autonomy that allowed them to blend hard rock with folk rock in such a seamless and engaging way.
As summertime unfolded, Family’s refreshed line-up (led by the steadfast frontman Roger Chapman and guitarist John “Charlie” Whitney) breathed life into festival stages, notably performing at the Kralingen Festival in the Netherlands and returning triumphantly to the Isle of Wight Festival. It was at this iconic event that they were featured in the documentary “Message to Love,” performing the hauntingly beautiful “The Weaver’s Answer,” a song that had become emblematic of their ability to connect with the audience on a profound level.
Their follow-up album, Anyway, broke new ground by combining the fervor of live recordings—captured at Fairfield Hall in Croydon—with studio-crafted songs, a duality that demonstrated the band’s versatility. The album was embraced, reaching #7 on the UK chart, a testament to their evolving musicianship and fervent fanbase.
March 1971 saw the release of a compilation album, Old Songs New Songs. However, it was not long before the band’s roster underwent another shake-up—John Weider, during the bands highest-charting single “In My Own Time/Seasons”, left to join Stud in June and was succeeded by John Wetton, a talented bassist and vocalist who brought a new dynamic to the group. Wetton declined an opportunity with King Crimson (a decision he would later reverse), opting instead to contribute to the success of Family’s classic album Fearless, which found acclaim in both the UK and the US.
The year 1972 ushered in the release of Bandstand, shifting their musical compass further towards hard rock. Singles like “Burlesque” and “My Friend the Sun” emerged, capturing the airwaves with their gritty and melodic essence. Yet, this period also marked another transition as Wetton departed for his stint with King Crimson, paving the way for Jim Cregan, and as the curtains closed on that year, John “Poli” Palmer exited and was substituted by the vibrant keys of Tony Ashton.
Amidst these changes, Family supported Elton John on his North American tour. Despite the grandeur of the venues, their efforts were met with a disheartening response, a silence that seemed vast against the possibilities that had seemed so promising.
In their twilight year, 1973, Family issued It’s Only a Movie, an album that failed to match the accolades of its predecessors but showcased the band’s continued creativity and defiance of convention. Their penultimate act was a tour that preceded their last live performance at Leicester Polytechnic on October 13, an epitaph on their career as a band.
The legacy of Family cannot simply be forgotten. The split saw the members scatter into various directions, with Roger Chapman and John “Charlie” Whitney forming Streetwalkers, John Wetton becoming a pivotal figure in bands such as King Crimson and later Asia, and others like Rob Townsend joining and contributing to other musical paths.
As time continued, so did the inexorable toll it took upon the members. Ric Grech, Tony Ashton, Jim King, and John Wetton all passed away, leaving behind a lineage steeped in the mythology of rock history. The tenacity and talent of Family may have been ephemeral within the larger scale of the rock timeline, but to those whose lives were touched by their music, their spirit endures, immortalized through the timeless art they created.
“We didn’t try to be different, it was never calculated… It was as naive and as honest as that.”Roger Chapman on Family’s career
The legacy of the dynamic Chapman/Whitney collaboration spans decades, continuing to echo through the shifting landscapes of rock music. Post their tenure in Family, they laid down the foundations of funk and R&B-infused rock with the formation of the Streetwalkers. Under this new banner, Chapman and Whitney crafted several albums throughout the late ’70s. Notably divergent from the progressive and art rock nuances of Family, the raw and gritty Streetwalkers sound coursed through the veins of the contemporaneous music scene, stirring a fresh wave of recognition and appreciation.
Charlie Whitney, seemingly ever-creative and restless, instituted the band Axis Point, venturing into new territories with a joining of talents for a couple of albums. His journey didn’t pause there; Whitney later constituted a UK-based group known as Los Racketeeros, an ensemble that interweaved the earthy tones of blues with the rustic charm of bluegrass. Whitney’s eclectic taste in music has accompanied him like a shadow, even as he transitioned to a serene life in the sun-bathed lands of Greece.
Parallel to these ventures was Roger Chapman’s establishment of a vigorous solo career, commencing in 1978. This new chapter saw him joining forces with the proficient guitarist Geoff Whitehorn. Carving out his niche, Chapman’s solo endeavors resonated profoundly with European audiences, leading to a heightened success that primarily thrived in Germany. His discographic journey, marked by regular releases, promises an enduring supply of Chapman’s distinctive vocal prowess and artistic vision.
Significantly, the 2021 album “Life In A Pond” stood as a testament to Chapman’s sustaining influence and capacity to reunite old ties, roping in former Family member Poli Palmer, hence pleating past threads with present endeavors. This melding of history and current artistry exemplifies the unending progression of Chapman’s career.
For enthusiasts and those intrigued by the enduring mystique of Roger Chapman’s world, the Roger Chapman Appreciation Society serves as a treasure trove—an amalgam of memories, current updates, and mutual appreciation among devotees. It’s a digital homage to a living legend whose voice and vision continue to ripple across the realms of rock, unconfined by temporal or geographical boundaries.