Observations From A Hill


[From a fan in New York…]

I was at the Fillmore East on the night of Family’s encounter with Bill Graham. We saw the 2nd show that night… it was announced that Family wouldn’t play, the audience booed, so they had to put them on. Chappo was behaving himself quite a bit for that second show (hands at his side)…. Also saw Streetwalkers at the Bottom Line, where we had a stage side table. While singing “Toenail Draggin’”, Chapman stepped onto our table and slipped on water, He didn’t miss a note, and kept singing, all while kicking his feet in the air like a cyclist. My friend and I helped him up. Very memorable!

from M.A., Newcastle, UK

Buxton Festival in May 1972… the rain was coming down during Family’s set, but when Chappo sang “My friend the sun” the rain stopped pouring and the sun came through. At the end of the song the rain started pouring again.

Patrick Little’s review of Toronto, Maple Leaf Gardens, 10/5/72
An okay old audience recording, with stage mishaps, mistakes and all… Chappo’s mike out for most of the opener, “Good News Bad News”, and he is pissed. Luckily he focuses that into his voice once the mike comes back in. Poli’s vibes add chaotic harmonies to the tune. A killer version of “Burlesque” follows, very on edge. They cut into the tune just like the single and album version. Then the “unplugged” tunes… A very nice “My Friend the Sun” with Cregan sounding like a more appropriate guitarist than Wetton, so his parts shine here. His second vocals are right on with the next tune, “Holding the Compass”. Next comes another new tune, “Top of the Hill”, with Poli adding a lot of the edges while Whitney plows through it all. Intro has pulsating synthesizer which sounds quite good. Tight version, so they keep the song moving like it should. Then they close with “Weaver’s Answer”, (I know, I know… but Elton John has to come one sometime!). Poli’s the star here, with super-echo on the flute, and some wacky synth play. In between songs, Poli’s tuning of the synthesizer is very loud, takes a while, and seems like more trouble than it is worth. From his side comments, Chapman is obviously not pleased. Not an extraordinary amount of crowd response, but those who are taping are pretty excited, calling out songs and yelling to Roger (“Roger the Midnight Belcher!”).

… It was the October 22, 1972 show [Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, CA]. Indeed, I was quite fortunate… to see the Man perform a blistering set. I still can recall the way Roger would tilt his microphone stand on one leg, let go of it, and while it was rocking back and forth he would let out a piercing vibrato…quite an effect. Ah, the good old days…

[From an Isle of Wight resident…]

I first saw Family at IOW Music Festival, and have seen Family many times, can remember Roger playing sax, and that he used to wear Leicester City (football) shirt, no. 9, all the time.For promotion of Anyway at Portsmouth Guild Hall, he showed up in a Rolls Royce. The band went straight in to the first song, “Good News Bad News”, with the customary destruction of a brace of tambourines and manic problems getting the mic stand to corrct height. Chappo threw it to the floor, with a panic-faced roadie thinking “It’s me next” from that wild look of his.

Saw many Streetwalkers gigs in Portsmouth… for Vicious But Fair, after two songs I shouted “Chilli…”. Roger said “Who the f*ck said that?? How do you know that?” Pure guess on my part, saying I had heard the album. He grunted and went straight into it.

Lost touch with my idol until I saw early ’80’s when I saw a leaflet saying “Roger Chapman and the Shortlist” at Gosport Music Week. A brilliant set, then bumped into Neil Sanderson outside and joined the Apprectiation Society.

Another gig… Southampton 1996, Chappo bends down to pick up water bottle (always throwing some at audience), he stands up and says “Energy!… Can you f*cking believe it?? Energy… 20 f*cking years ago this would’ve be ACID!” Brought the house down…

Just wanted to drop you a hearty THANK YOU! for your Family page!!! …to see the RealVideos (on Old Mule’s page) actually brought tears to my eyes! Thank you for a labor of love! This is really, really great. Family was a wonderful group that was sadly under-appreciated here in the US. I actually did get to see them once, in support of Elton John ,but my damn girlfriend at the time couldn’t get her sh*t together fast enough, and we arrived late to hear only 2 songs! Grrr… LOL…

Tsk, tsk… but he did get a chance to snag a handbill at this California gig.

At the 11/96 London show [CHAPPO], I was front and center and he doused us with water (aimed at a heckler), kicked a towel towards us and nearly brained us with a cowbell he tossed in the air.

“I heard a song on the only FM station for pop music in northern Germany, the NDR, around 1976. I couldn’t remember the title, but the band was called Family or so. A friend told me: “The song is ‘In my own time’, I’m sure. But find it out yourself!” He handed over to me “music in a dolls house”, “fearless” and “anyway”. I don’t know by now, not after 20 years, if it was “the weaver’s answer” or “in my own time”. I will figure it out in the future by listing to Family music over and over again and again… Anyway…”

The first time was I think in 1969, when Family Entertainment was being road-tested. Weaver’s Answer must be the best family track. Apart from that, I remember Roger falling off stage a fair amount.The best Chappo concert was probably Newport Filling Station earlier this year (run by Alan Jones ex Amen Corner but now alas closed). Very small with good sound. The most professional was Winterbach, a couple of months ago. Winterbach also had Snowy White on the bill.

My brother-in-law is the real fan (yes the Cornwall – Swansea trip was by car all the way – there and back within 24 hrs). The recent (1996) Robin Hood concert was on his birthday. During the show our wives unfurled a 20 foot banner with the words (Happy birthday Clive 39 today). When Roger finally saw it, certain ribald remarks were added to his songs. It was a pity we did not not have a tape recorder.

My first ever concert at the age of 14? 10cc at the Orpheum theatre [Boston] with the opening act…The Streetwalkers. It was December 75. They had one album and all I knew from them was they had former members of Family and that Rolling Stone gave a good but not great review to the lp. The audience seemed pretty indifferent, I recall…I think I couldn’t appreciate them cause I had little familiarity with the kind of white Brit blues approach they had. The lead singer was very throaty, and thrashed about the stage a lot, throwing the mic stand around. They played about 45 minutes.

“After reading a Rolling Stone review (or Creem, or whatever….) at the age of fourteen, I picked up “It’s Only a Movie,” and then immediately bought the other three available Family recordings. Basically, those four records got me through my crappy high school years.
When I was off at college, I stored my record collection at my dad’s place, and a bunch of them mysteriously disappeared, including all my Family stuff (as well as releases from Back Door, another little-known kick*ss British band). Anyway, I have worn-down casette recordings of “Fearless” and “Bandstand” left, but that’s it.
Must say that I’ve always regarded “Top Of The Hill” as one of their finest moments. Give it a few more listens!!!”

“My first exposure to Family’s music came in either 1974 or 1975 when I bought Bandstand as a cut-out, through hearing about John Wetton’s involvement as I was (and still am) a Crimson fan. I was a little shocked at Chappo’s voice at first but was immediately impressed with the power and scope of the band. “Good News/Bad News” still gives a wallop over 20 years later. I think I picked up “Fearless” next and loved it, especially “Larf & Sing” and “Spanish Tide”. Incredible!! I basically started at the beginning and worked my way forward, with only “It’s Only A Movie” being a letdown amongst the bunch.
These daysI’m pretty much into psych and some harder prog and also UK folkrock of the Trees/Fairport sound, so I really have a much greater appre- ciation of “Music In A Doll’s House” which I think is absolutely brilliant, a masterpiece. It has all the hallmarks and feel of a classic lp of it’s day, but also a cohesion and breadth that let the listener know that this would be a band to be reckoned with for years to come.
I remember reading a live review in a Melody Maker from about ’75 or so where they said the performance was great, the audience ripped out quite a few seats, and Chappo destroyed something like 2 tambourines and a mike/mikestand by the halfway point of the 1st song! Also, I lived in England fron 1979 to 1984 and saw Chapman with the Shortlist in ’83 at a show in Hitchin which was filmed for a BBC concert or an Old Grey Whistle Test which was fantastic. Of course “My Friend The Sun” and “Burlesque” brought the f#ckin’ house down!

“I arrived at this conclusion while listening to the keyboard parts of a the Family tape: Poli Palmer is a f*cking genius”

Nice & Ten Years Heavies —But Family Weighs Out

(Billboard – April 19, 1969)NEW YORK – Music measured out by weight will have to tip the scales against the Family, Reprise group whose Gothic rock shocks were felt at Fillmore East Wednesday (10), forming a British Alliance of violent mind-flushing psychedelics with the symphonic fury of the Nice and the chilling guitar of Ten Years After’s Alvin Lee.

The Nice, whose nowhere name belies the darkly subversive organ attack at the hands of the dedicated and demonic Keith Emerson, are at their best, as instrumentally mesmerizing as any rock heavy in the highly respected rock profession of terrorizing the senses. Cavorting over his organ like a frenetic train engineer squeezing the last licks out of an old boiler, Emerson punished the keyboard (with daggers to boot!) till the bells and chimes cried out and crashed together. His symphonic speed trips, responsible for the black comedy of Leonard Bernstein’s “America,” were brooding hymns in the psychedelic church, laughing and stumbling like the classical anarchy in the phantom of the opera. Brian Davison on drums and Lee Jackson on bass assisted brilliantly in the mind destruction, recorded for the discriminating head heavies on the Columbia-distributed Immediate label.

The Family, with all the woes of an embryonic rock group still getting together in a neighborhood garage on Saturday mornings, nevertheless brought to the Fillmore the erratic and frightening voice of Roger Chapman. Shrill as a bagpipe and trembling like the eerie vibrato of an Irish folk chant, Chapman’s penetrating wail in “Tapestry of Life” threatened the safety and security of every timid soul. Unfortunately the quintet soon tumbled into ineptitude, adding insult to injury as Chapman slapped, kicked and finally heaved the microphone stand in pretentious fit of showmanship. Chapman’s alien cry, the group’s instrumental diversity, some strong Iyrics—and a good dose of discipline—might still salvage the Family for a good run at disk and live success.

As for Ten Years After, Deram group, their reputation as the Cream of the proletariat has quickly rocketed the quartet into the ring of rock elite. Alvin Lee— whose raw-voiced guitar blues is distinct from—but just as distinguished as—the super-slick psychedelics of guitar master Erik Clapton, is easily one of the very best rock guitarists. Bassist Leo Lyons is by far the most flambouyant member of his breed, while Chick Churchill on organ and Ric Lee on drums are an extra measure of pleasure for this most popular of English rock groups.

-Ed Ochs


(Melody Maker, August 1970)

Two factors were particularly evident from Family’s appearance at Croydon’s Fairfield Hall on Sunday. One is that the group is now operating in two definite areas of development, and the other is that bassist/violinist John Weider is now working more to the fore in their lineup. This was only their second British outing in several months (their first was at Nottingham the day before) and it seems that their recent tour of the States has polarized their musical approach. Their first set, for instance, which was recorded for their fourth album “Anyway” to be released on November 14th, showed a marked swing away from their use of heavy rock rhythms. On new numbers like “Processions”(which included a verse from No Mules Fool), the title track “Anyway”, “Holding the Compass” and “Here Comes the Grin”, it was apparent that in one direction they are adopting the more subtle, jazz-inspired approach that they initiated in their last album. The bass and lead guitar were used very, very sparingly, and most of the lead work was done by Weider on amplified acoustic with John Whitney staying in the background and acting basically as an anchor man. Simultaneously, the songs themselves contained more melodic flowing lines. The result was intricate and refreshing. The second set illustrated well the band’s dynamics and heavy approach,with Chapman bleating marvelously on tried and trusted numbers like “Wheels”, “Drowned in Wine”, “A Song for Me” and “Weavers Answer”, which they did as an encore. With their great use of stop-go rhythms, it represented an impressive exercise in musical and visual flair. In both these sets Weider laid down some interesting stuff, notably on violin and amplified acoustic, on the latter instrument he did some very jazzy work on the instrumental “Here Comes the Grin” and “Wheels” and his violin playing always fitted in with what the others were doing, which has not invariably been the case in the past. Whitney was generally content to give him his head. Chapman, of course, the band’s focus, was his incomparable self, despite a certain amount of nervousness in the first half. At one point he threw his mike stand high into the air and it landed in the front row. Visually and vocally, he really must be one of the few impressive lead singers in British rock.
– Michael Watts


by Malcolm Cameron (source unknown – August, 1972)
The audience captured a microphone to call Family back at the Queen’s Hall, Barnstaple, on Friday – and it was just as well they did. The final number, “Song For Me”, was a thundering climax to a great gig with four new songs and plenty of the best old stuff to get things rocking.The new single is to be “Burlesque” – due for release next month and a cool rock number in real Family tradition about a club in Leicester where they used to play long, long ago. It’s not as good as “The Weaver’s Answer” from back in ’69, but there was a good Family feeling about it that could take them back into the charts.

“Top of the Hill” and “Glove” are real stomping tunes with Roger Chapman’s uncompromisingly individual voice cutting through like it was in its own echo chamber. Chapman gets so far into his songs that you get the feeling he is going to sing whether anyone is listening or not. He smashed a tambourine in the first number, flung beer over the crowd and later threw another tambourine away as a souvenir.

The other new piece, “Sun”, was the band’s favourite of the new material – and also quite different from the heavy rock of the rest of the programme. John Whitney produced his acoustic guitar and John Wetton his violin. The thunder diminished for this quiet piece that was the nearest thing Family ever get to a ballad.

There were a few hassles for Poli Palmer when his vibes blew up just before the gig, but the music didn’t suffer much with the substitution of a piano.

The band’s new synthesizer was not heard much, but I got the impression they were still feeling their way with it and it was wise of them not to flog a new sound too hard until the audience had gotten used to it.

They brought it in occasionally “just as a taste” (as Palmer put it) and broadened the sound without making it radically different. It was present in “The Weaver’s Answer” and despite having heard the song so many time unsynthesized there was no suggestion of incongruity in this number – which is still one of the best things they’ve ever done.

The audience could have been more responsive during the gig, but they had only been given records to dance to beforehand and it takes a live sound to get them warmed up.

Family have not yet named the new album, but when it comes, it should be worth waiting for.

American tour review

(Sounds, November 1972)
Their first American tour for two and a half years has been a pleasant surprise for Family. They tip-toed over there feeling like nonentities and found that pretty well everywhere there was somebody that knew them. “We’re getting people calling out for things in some really little towns like Wichita” rattles Roger Chapman’s voice in early morning Oklahoma. “But in the bigger towns we seem to be really well known, nothing like Elton (John) of course, but I mean if there’s 15,000 in the audience then 2,000 have heard of us and come to see us, which is a start, isn’t it?” All of Family are well pleased with the way things are going, and the inevitable turbulent patch when there have been changes in a band seems far behind them. New bassist Jim Cregan, who replaced John Wetton when he left to join King Crimson, is turning out to be mighty fine, and they all agree that there couldn’t be a better person to tour with than Elton John. “The whole band is nice to work with. I don’t think any of us knew too much about Elton before we came here but now it’s like a mutual admiration thing.” The tour is long and grueling and still has a good few weeks to run. The band are very tired but realize how well it is making them play through sheer concentrated habit. “Jim is doing us the world of good, we’re playing well, really stretching ourselves out.” They are doing mainly “Bandstand” material on stage although they include things from “Fearless” and older albums and they try to change the order every night so they don’t fall into a rut. They are well pleased with the success “Burlesque” is having here and it is beginning to do well in America. It is written by Roger and Charlie Whitney and is one of the most commercial things yet to come from the band. That has done much to bolster their flagging egos. And their American record company is really promoting them well. “It’s necessary in American to have the whole machine working with you or you may as well forget the whole thing.” Family have done a lot of local radio appearances during the tour, including a live show in Los Angeles in front of a studio audience of 60 – “that did us as much good as anything.” At another radio station Roger ended up reading the weather report. “We finish up dee-jaying the show while they get in abusive phone calls.” The group are already talking about recording their next single and hope they can get some time in when they return.They plan to return to America in February – “or we’ll lose everything that we’ve gained here. But we’ll do a British tour.” The reception Family are currently receiving in America is just the tonic they needed and has driven all the old spooks of previous tours, like when Ric Grech left right when they were doing the Fillmore, and all their other hassles, far away. “We had more trouble in one week last time than we have had in the whole of this tour so far.” The only trouble to threaten them so far was when Roger had to miss a couple of concerts because of laryngitis. “That was in the first week. It was a long time since we’d worked for six or seven nights on the trot and we weren’t used to it. We’ve fallen into it now and I’m used to it and my voice is fine.” Their success is well deserved. Long may it continue.
– Caroline Boucher

Farewell tour

(New Musical Express, Sept. 1973)
To the stoic strains of The British Grenadiers on came Family for their last live appearance in London. It was a sad occasion, made more so since their set was only occasionally good and too often pretty bad. Roger Chapman was in great voice throughout, but, for once, the PA wasn’t loud enough and Tony Ashton’s keyboard work was sometimes, to put it politely, somewhat suspect. The high spots of the set came next with Buffet Tea for Two and My Friend the Sun. Cregan switched from bass to lead and very nice it was too. For these two everything was just right, unhurried and beautifully controlled. After that came Sweet Desiree and Burlesque. Neither worked at all. The introductions were almost totally unrecognizable. Weavers Answer was greeted with huge applause, but seemed to disintegrate in the middle. Something seemed to be rotten in the state of the guitars department. So now they’re gone: in seven years they deserved more success than they actually got. Shame, but thanks anyway for some beautiful music.
– Ray Fox-Cumming.

One response to “Observations From A Hill”

  1. Mick White Avatar
    Mick White

    Hi, I’m trying to find the source of the quote below, which is a review of FAMILY’s 2nd album “Family Entertainment” (March 1969?)

    “Unless you are irritated by one of the singers who has a vibrato like an ewe in the lambing season,
    this should delight everyone who likes intelligent underground pop.”

    Many thanks,

    Mick White

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *