by Henry Edwards
Crawdaddy, Apr. 2, 1972
“When Roger Chapman’s body and voice vibrate he is not putting it on. He does not put his arms in the air for any theatrical reason. It’s more like his limbs are being snatched at by some power outside him. The concert hall managements do not try any harder than the band’s own manager to stop him smashing equipment. He won’t stop because he’s not putting it on for effect. It is not even particularly spectacular. Roger just does it. In fact he smashes a lot more stuff than the audience ever sees, including his own limbs.”
– United Artists promotional material
Roger Chapman and his band Family have recorded five albums and seven singles. Chapman has become a star in his native England. Three of his singles have scored high on the English charts. But America has never embraced him. Now. Family is on a new label and has just released an album entitled Fearless. United Artists has brought the English star into New York for a two-day whistlestop to meet the press in the hopes that the press would finally drum up interest in the group’s next American tour. Rumor had it that Chapman would be a strange and difficult chap to deal with. That surprised me. After all, Fearless had not been difficult to deal with. It did not seem the work of a difficult man. Fearless is an album whose major concern seems to be music and not noise. Chapman’s piercing voice possesses one of those engaging quivers that rivets the listener to the material at hand. The album contains a number, “Larf and Sing,” which can only be construed as Family’s tribute to the Swingle Singers, and it also contains a truly haunting song entitled. “Between Blue and Me.” The album is the work of an eminently listenable English band. Chapman, sprawled on his bed at the City Squire Inn, did not look difficult. He stared out the window at Broadway. He was wearing a teeshirt and jeans. A button advising the world to smile more was pinned to his belt. Hardly the choice of a difficult man. I ask Chapman about the United Artists’ publicity pitch. “We just get up on stage, and I sing as well as I can,” he comments. “I like to prove to myself and to other people that I sing well. I like to enjoy myself. What I do on stage depends upon how high I get while I’m up there. But I don’t break instruments. We’ve always been concerned with musical values.
Chapman speaks in a quiet voice. He has a gentle smile. He’s a real pussycat. Why hasn’t his band ever caught on in America? Chapman is philosophical: “I just don’t know,” he says wistfully. “Does it seem like strictly European music to you? We just haven’t had too many offers in America even though our albums have all done well in England. Our first American tour was a disaster. We had a lot of hangups. People left the band. There were hassles all over the place. We were never able to settle down. We bombed out badly. We had a lot more peace of mind the second time around.” On the first tour. the day before the band was supposed to play the Fillmore, Family’s bass player Rick Grech announced that he was leaving Family to play with Blind Faith. At the Fillmore, Chapman tossed around a mike stand which almost hit Bill Graham. Grech was replaced on the tour by John Weider of the Animals. Weider, who is a violinist and acoustic guitarist, had to struggle to master the bass on such very short notice. On their second tour, some publicists insisted on associating Chapman’s Family with Manson’s family. “Anyone who is as small-minded as that has to be a prick,” Chapman says succinctly. “We didn’t learn about it until we got to Boston and a DJ friend told us all what had been going on. There was a very big attempt to put it down.” Yes, Chapman is honest. direct. and cooperative. However. his words imply that hassle and Family are not unfamiliar to each other. There are some acts that always seem to have trouble getting together. I ask him if his band had trouble laying down the tracks of his new album. “We went into the studio with some basic ideas and did our arranging once we were there,” Chapman relates. ‘Two weeks before we went into the studio we auditioned for a bass player. We actually worked in the studio for two weeks before we had a bass player. We need three months on the road to get our material together. We had to do that three months work in the studio in three or four weeks time. Our problems were just trying to play together. After the album was completed and we listened to the acetates, we got into a car and drove half a mile and we began to freak. We drove back to the studio and sat there for twelve hours. We had become paranoic. We were suspicious about certain tracks. Finally, we didn’t change a thing, the tracks we didn’t like are the ones that are beginning to do something.”
Make up your own minds about Family’s “paranoia.” I decide to escort Roger on a fantasy trip. “What happens if you do become a super-star?” “As a band we’ve always done exactly what we’ve wanted to do. We’ve lived I he way we wanted to live and that way is pretty much the same way as anybody else. And still. there are always people wailing to put you down. We’ve been token advantage of. There are so many hassles. We’ve been done out of bread. Managers have lied to us. Therefore. the only way for us to function is do what we think is best to do. No one is going to make us do anything we don’t want to do. I’d like us to gel accepted as a band. We all think we’re a really good band and we respect our own music. and it gels to be a drag when your own identity is not known to others. I don’t think we will become super-stars; we’d gel paranoid long before that happened. We want people to buy our records and come to our concerts. but finally, the music is the only really important thing.” Any short introductory interview always has two obligatory questions: drugs and the rock as revolution routine.
Drugs? “If you can handle them. they’re cool. I have the utmost confidence in myself that I can handle what I start up with.” Rock as revolution? “That’s somebody else’s bag and we do not play in other people’s bags. We write, arrange. and play our music, and thai’s what we do and what we think about. It’s a selfish attitude, but I flat’s the way it is.”
Chapman is so forth right and decent that it becomes almost obscene to prod him any further. We both stare out the window at dirty, busy Broadway. “If’s good to be here,” Roger remarks softly. “It’s good to be anywhere.”