Last week Wombat-man (Mr. Hyde on stage and Dr. Jekyll off that’s Roger Chapman) together with boy-wonder, Rob the faithful young percussionist and the gang were putting the final touches to their new album at Olympic studios under the watchful eye of George the mad Armenian producer and Tony ‘nice one’ Gouvish their hatchet man.
The one track I heard ‘Larf And Sing’ was once more testimony to their perfectionist attitude and was I am reliably informed merely one of the new elements of soft-rock and ‘barber-shop harmonics’ to be found amongst the usual vocal traumatics and electronic storms on the new album. At least partially responsible for bringing about the latest adrenalin rush is their new-member bass player John Wetton.
“The most obvious thing about John when he came to our auditions was that he was very nervous and a very good bass player,” said Roger blandly. “It has only materialised subsequently that he plays nice guitar and bit of tasty piano. Most important of all we felt that we could get on with him as a bloke. He’s fitted in amazingly quickly on the few gigs we’ve played and in the studio we’ve been getting tighter than ever before.”
Rob Townsend who has been the foundation stone for their rhythm section for so long was equally enthusiastic about his new partner in rock and reiterated upon the new feeling of musical unity.
“I’m not putting down Johnny Weider but he was never a bass player in the strict sense of the word,” said Rob. “He was a guitarist who adapted to bass for our purpose but often he was having to play bass parts on his guitar and that made it very difficult for me to hold the rhythm section together. I mean that was just what it felt like – that I was the rhythm section at times!
“Our producer George Schkintz’ first words to us on recording this album were ‘I’m looking forward to working for Family with a bass player for the first time’. That’s really how we feel about ‘Ken’ (There are two many John’s in the team for him to bear his real name although no one seems sure why he became ‘Ken’) and I’ve been feeling happier than ever before on the few life gigs we’ve played.
“To give you some idea of how solidly we are knitting together, one of the things we always do before getting into some takes is to do a warm-up in the studio. Just an improvised jam. We did one with John the other evening and it was so damn good that we’ve kept in on the record – ‘Take Yer Partners’.”
The album is called Fearless very much in the same tradition as Anyway because one of the over worked group adjectives for anyone who pulls a stroke on them is ‘fearless’ and it is also noteable for an extremely well thought out sleeve in which the photographs of the individual members are super-imposed upon each other until they became a kind of multi-identity kit. As you can gather I cannot explain it but it is worth seeing – a double take job.
Meanwhile back at the world’s most unflash man with the possible exception of Pete Townshend (more of him later) Roger ventured his opinion on whether the group would alter its musical approach on the forthcoming tour with their new member.
“We never really change – we just write new songs,” said Roger cutting the wool out of that one. “In some ways I might like to go out and perform completely new material as a new group but we really don’t have the bottle for that. The customers are going to expect some of our better known work and we will be playing those.
“I’ve no doubt John is going to make a difference to us over a period of time but it will take a while before he finds where our heads are at on a composition level and we find his. What ever we do someone is going to try and put us in a bag. We’ll do what we have always done which is what we like!”
On the subject of the new album it is always interesting to find that if something special is going down that the word infiltrates back along the grapevine within the internal offices of Olympic and people start dropping in for a sneak preview.
Finally I broached the perrenial subject of America and the fact that the band had not yet managed to capture the imagination of that market – one of the very few if not the only band to command so huge a following here and in Europe but not the States. Was it their fault and were they still interested in the subject.
Answer was of course that, yes they were, but only on their terms. No surrender at present from the most uncompromising of our bands even with the new magic ingredient ‘gentle’ on this forthcoming album out at the end of this month.
As parting gesture Rob very kindly gave me a sneak preview of his latest toy which is an excruciatingly high pitched siren which he blew into my ear at close quarters.
“That’s on the album too!” he confided.
© Keith Altham, 1971