Part I: Music In A Doll’s House
ZigZag: What about Dave Mason’s role as a producer?
Charlie Whitney: We’d met him when we did our first single, because he played on it. Now when we came to do ‘Doll’s House’ Jimmy Miller was producing us, but he began to get involved with the Stones— ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ —and I think he and Dave got together and Dave decided that he would like to take over producing the album, so he did. He had lots of ideas. For example, ‘Voyage’, all those feedback violins were his idea-backward Mellotron. You must remember that style was the thing for that time. A lot of people say that the album was overproduced, and I agree that for 1973 it sounds over-produced, but for 1967,1 think he was doing something that was valid for then.
ZZ: Were the ‘Theme From’ interludes his idea?
CW: No, that was our old manager’s idea, Gilbert.
ZZ: Miller was credited with co-production on a couple of the numbers. Was that the extent of his contribution?
CW: More or less, he became involved again, in the sense that he was with us in the studio, when we did the mix. I think he mixed ‘The Chase’.
ZZ: Was there a lot of difference between what you had played when you were The Roaring Sixties, and what you played when you became Family, at Kim Fowley’s suggestion I think it was?
CW: That’s right—it was his idea. The big difference was that we began to write. Up till then we’d take old blues things, and rearrange them. I’d always had the flash that I could write, but I could never get it out; once we’d started it was like diarrhea.
ZZ: Roger was credited as playing sax on the album. Did he do much?
CW: Not really. He never thought of himself as a sax player. His playing was very much a means to an end, because when the soul band vogue grew up— James Brown —it was nice to have two saxes, so we went along to Roger’s building site and said to him, ‘Do you want to join the band, but you’ve got to play the sax?’ and he said OK. It wasn’t a problem because Jim sang, and Ric sang, so there could be three voices, or Ric and two horns, or any mixture of that.
Roger Chapman: It was on ‘3xTime’ when we added some piano, and two honking out of tune saxes—well that’s me.
ZZ: How did the combinations of styles evolve on ‘3xTime’?
CW: That was actually how it was written.
ZZ: Now, wasn’t that album the first to be released in stereo only?
CW: No. I think there was a mono version, but it had to be pulled out because it was so bad. It kept jumping the grooves, so they withdrew it. There was some interesting things on the mono version, because in those days when you did the final overdubs to a song, since it was only four tracks you had to do your final overdubs— say a few bars of guitar — while they were actually mixing. So the guitar bits were different from mono to stereo, and some of it was much better on the mono mix. I think it was on ‘The Chase’.
ZZ: Was ‘The Chase’ an attempt to compare relationships between men and women to a bloodsport?
RC: Not really. It was just a hard luck love story. A chick who does a naughty on the geezer. It’s not a general picture, just that one type.
ZZ: ‘Voyage’ seems to suggest the outer extremes of tripdom.
RC: I know, but it never was intended to be like that. It was done when Charlie and I first started to write and I was going through a lot of changes, from working on a building site to being in a group, and a lot of it was random, so it may have seemed to be drug suggestive, but it wasn’t.
ZZ: What about the concert that you did at that time?
CW: It was going to be a tour. Tim Hardin just couldn’t do it. It’s a real shame but he just couldn’t do it. Apart from that tour which never happened, it was always things like Portsmouth Birdcage and a few gigs at all these little psychedelic clubs.
ZZ: Steve Miller was in the studio at the same time wasn’t he?
CW: Yeah, but we didn’t do much together. We’d go in and have a listen and they’d come in and listen to us, but that was it— we didn’t know them very well. By the time that we came to do the second album, Glyn Johns had just finished doing… ‘Sailor’ was it?
CW: Well he brought the acetate round here and played it, and there was that incredible instrumental at the beginning.
ZZ: Did you feel that people were maybe a little surprised when you did a song like ‘Mellowing Grey’, when your image had always been fairly violent?
CW: Well we never did ‘Mellowing Grey’ on stage, so the contrast wasn’t as clear as you suggest. We’d have loved to have played it on stage, but we never did.
ZZ: Did Dave Mason ‘persuade’ you to do his song, ‘Never Like This’?
CW: That again was a Gilbert thing. He suggested that we do one of Dave’s songs. And Dave got it together. It ended up a bit like we were the session men to his song. We never got involved with it really.
ZZ: Whose idea was it for Ric to do the vocal on that?
CW: It isn’t Ric.
ZZ: Really. I could have sworn it was.
CW: No that’s Roger, and the high voice on ‘Peace Of Mind’ and ‘3xTime’ was Jim King. Jim was a very good singer. When we did it live, Roger probably sang the whole thing, which is why you thought it was him.
ZZ: Was there any argument as to where people should go in the Doll’s House on the cover?
CW: No. That was another Gilbert trip. We were really naive you know. If he said to me now that I was going to dress up in a red pyjama suit with a bowler I’d tell him to get lost, but then we were five greenies down from Leicester, so we said, ‘Sure Mr Gilbert’.
ZZ: Why up to ‘Fearless’ are you called John Whitney?
CW: My nickname has gradually taken me over. It’s an old Leicester nickname since I was about twelve. Only my parents call me John now.
ZZ: Whose idea was the metronome on ‘The Breeze’?
CW: Dave Mason’s, but it wasn’t a metronome— it was a drumstick on the side of a snaredrum.
ZZ: Were you aware of the sophistication in the music?
CW: Not really. We just went in and did it.
Part II: Down To London
After years of working around Leicester and points north, Family arrived in London to break into the big time. Contrary to the impression that may be gained from the music that was made during the period, the actual musicians were the only novel element around. The business side was still run by sharp agents, publishers and promoters, although there were some notable exceptions. To be successful still meant drinking in traditional music bizz haunts, clinching deals in cigar-smoke infested offices, and paying severe obeisance to the gods of Tin Pan Alley. And that world was in London.
ZigZag: As the Farinas, what sort of material were you playing?
Roger Chapman: When I joined it became two saxes, lead, bass and drums. We did blues, sort of Ray Charles material and then we grew into doing soul. We played mainly in colleges and clubs which we booked ourselves, and we had an agent in Manchester. We worked for about £ 30 a night. But as soon as we got this manager he was getting us £ 60 to £ 70 a night.
ZZ: What was it like to come to London? Was it a big upheaval?
RC: Well it didn’t happen overnight, because we had started to work down here a bit more, and by that time we had a new manager— John Gilbert —and we were all ready to do our album. We’d done a couple of gigs at the UFO at the Roundhouse, after the one in Tottenham Court Road closed, and we got very good reviews. Now, also at that time we’d just started to write our own material— we would still do a couple of blues songs but the change in our stuff happened at the same time that we started to work down here more.
ZZ: You must have recorded the single on Liberty at about this time.
Charlie Whitney: We there still living in Leicester and we were coming down to work with Jimmy Miller. Roger and I had written a couple of things, nothing really serious, just silly things. We came up with one side, and the other was just a straight blues. It was Family and Traffic on that record because all members of both hands played. It was done at Olympic on four track. The titles were ‘Scene Through The Eye Of A Lens’ and the other was called ‘Gypsy Woman’.
RC: Yes. It’s funny that you should mention it, because we were in the studio a few weeks ago, and George Ckiantz, our engineer, was bringing the tapes up from downstairs and he’d found it downstairs, and we had a listen to it. It wasn’t bad at all.
ZZ: But you didn’t get carried away by being in London?
RC: No, we were very staid in them days. We’d been on the road for some time and we’d been fairly popular from Newcastle down to Leicester. So in a sense we’d been through most of it— it was more a business decision to come down to get contracts and so on.
Stars of Groupie
It was a natural result of the underground scene into which Family found themselves pitched, that documentation of some description would not be long in arriving, and one of its first manifestations was the book ‘Groupie’ by Jenny Fabian. It is a grippingly frightful account of the musicians that the author seduced/had an affair with, or in her own inimitably awful prose ‘had a scene with’. Writing with all the grace of a mutant elephant, Miss Fabian details her relationships with Syd Barrett of the Pink Floyd, Jeff Dexter, someone in the Fugs, members of The Nice, and of course, Family, cunningly called Relation. Most of her encounters with the band take place in their London house and the two members of the band who figure prominently are Ric Grech, and Tony Gourvish, then their personal manager, and now their fully fledged manager.
ZZ: I think that we are getting to the stage where we are going to have to talk about ‘Groupie’. Her picture of the house…
RC: That was a good house. In Lots Road in Chelsea it was. Gilbert lived around there so it was OK by us London was just London— we didn’t know the difference between one bit and the other. It was a big house and we just lived in it. It wasn’t like we came down to London and hired a house so that we could turn it into a house like what was in the book, although I suppose that it might have turned into that when we started to meet some people and started socialising a bit. It was bloody funny because everybody had a little number in their own rooms.
ZZ: Was it an accurate picture of Ric and Tony?
RC: Well I don’t know about their relationships with Jenny. I think it was exaggerated a bit. But from the flashes that I got it seemed fairly accurate Tony used to have this room tiny with a huge mattress that filled the room. When you entered you stepped straight onto the mattress and he had a sink hanging over the end. Of course, he had the tele so everyone used to gather in there.
ZZ: I wasn’ t thinking so much about his personal life but Tony emerges as a fairly amusing, high speed kind of bloke, razing around like crazy.
RC: I remember that Jenny used to ring up on a Sunday afternoon and old Tony would be a bit out of it. and she’d ask if she could come over and he’d go, ‘Yes if you bring me some drugs— if you haven’t got any drugs, don’t come over.’ But I think she enjoyed it, or at least they knew where they stood towards each other.
ZZ: She wasn’t a real groupie though was she?
RC: No. She was just a part of that whole underground scene— but she certainly wasn’t what I call a groupie.
Part III: Family Entertainment
ZigZag: When you came to make ‘Family Entertainment’ you must have felt that you would do things differently having accomplished ‘Music In A Doll’s House’?
Charlie Whitney: Certainly we did. We hadn’t known too much about making albums, and I suppose that the biggest feeling was that we had made all the songs in little blocks, and now we wanted to have a few blows—stretch out a bit. Another thing was that Gilbert had got Glyn Johns to engineer it, and he wasn’t too keen on working with Dave Mason, which left us to work with Glyn on our own. Gilbert had pissed off to Rome to do a film or something. After we’d recorded it we went off to Scotland or somewhere, and when we got back, Gilbert came round to the house with the acetate, and we were meant to have done the mix! We just played it and he mixed it.
ZZ: Yet you didn’t give him the elbow for some time after that.
CW: Wasn’t for the want of trying.
ZZ: “Second Generation Woman” seems very feeble to me
CW: On reflection the backing track does seem a bit weak, but it was Ric’s song and he was into his Dylan thing. It’s very hard to say about these decisions. “Observations” is my song and Jim King singing it is a joke—I think it’s terrible. He was a good singer, but it was all wrong. That was a terrible mistake.
ZZ: “Summer ’67” is a great song, but it differs from all those songs that tried to evoke that mood by being almost Arabic rather than Indian.
CW: That’s interesting what you say because the real reason that it wasn’t Indian was because I’m not that good a sitar player to play it, so I used strings. But the idea came from a tape I’d heard of Ravi Shankar with the All India Orchestra which was unbelievable.
ZZ: What was Nicky Hopkins like?
CW: He’s very good to work with. He’ll walk into the studio and you’ll play him the back track and he’ll ask what key it’s in, and he’ll get a piece of paper and he’ll go ‘Right. A minor’, he’ll get all the bars together, figure the whole thing out and he’s away. It’s frightening. To have that kind of ear. But actually Glyn brought him in—he really is fantastic. We didn’t have to ask him to redo stuff, because he did exactly what we wanted straight away.
ZZ: Is that a mandolin, or a banjo on “Dim”?
CW: A banjo, speeded up. I played it.
ZZ: Is “Processions” the only number that you’ve ever written without the collaboration of other guys?
CW: No. There’s been a few. How that came to be put down solely to me I don’t know. There are some songs that Roger wrote completely, where I would just put in a chord or something, and there’ll be songs that I write, and he only writes a bit of lyric. But usually we just put it down as Whitney/Chapman.
ZZ: What’s that 46 in “Dim”?
Roger Chapman: It’s three doors away from 40, which was our house in Lots Road and the other lads were 46.
ZZ: It sounds like the 46th position from the A-Z of Spanking.
RC: Yes, it could well be that too. There was a bit of lechery down there. We were always in and out of the two houses.
CW: Christ yes. They used to run the electricity from our house to their house over the roofs.
RC: They used to have about three tents in the living room, didn’t they?
ZZ: Was “The Weaver’s Answer” about anyone in particular?
RC: No it was a story, and I don’t really understand how I got that together. I was working frantically, beating out my brains, to get it written out. And the next day we were going to Hull in the van and I finished it during the journey. I never had to do any more work on it.
Part IV: Managers
Tony Gourvish, Family’s manager—and almost the sixth member of the group, is a good snooker player and a competitive, if erratic golfer. On one occasion on the golf course, after his playing partner—on whom his hopes of victory rested—had hit a particularly bad shot, he turned to him and said, ‘I don’t want to undermine your confidence, but I want to change partners’. He had replaced John Gilbert as the band’s manager.
ZigZag: How did Tony become your manager?
Roger Chapman: Well actually he was the housecleaner. Tony came down with us from Leicester because he’d been friends with us up there. We were probably a bad influence on him because we were going down to London and we said to him that he could come down with us if he looked after the house—he’d have his own room, but that was his job. And after a couple of months he was coming on the road and helping us with the kit, and then he started to do work for Gilbert, who was then our manager, and he then became Gilbert’s personal assistant, and it got to the point where we wanted to give Gilbert the elbow, and Tony seemed the logical thing. He was a guy that we could trust. Thinking strictly in managerial terms he probably wasn’t the best we could do but as far as someone we could work with, and could trust, it was him and he knew a lot about the business by then, and that’s what we wanted more than anything—trust, there was so little of it then.
ZZ: What happened when you gave Gilbert the push?
RC: Oh, we went through it all. The glossy manager bit trying to sue us for 80,000, and when it finished up I think he owed us two grand. All the usually silly things. It was a big blow to his ego, being blown out by these snotty little Leicester louts. He couldn’t believe it.
Comings And Goings
Family have an engagingly unique way of recruiting new members, and a disarmingly straightforward attitude to departing members. The typical procedute for adding a new member goes something like this; find someone who is a friend, take him out for a few beers, and see how he handles an evening’s drinking and cavorting, make sure that, as a musician, he is sufficiently strong and individual that he is going to add to the music (rather than most bands’ approach which thrives on finding someone who is innocuous enough to fit in with whatever the other members want], and then ask him to join and treat him as an equal. When someone wants to leave, you try to understand his motivation, and wish him all the best, and like with Ken Whetton, you have him back on stage, as Family did at Alexandra Palace. A refreshing and unusual approach.
ZZ: Jim King left in October 1969. How did that happen?
RC: I’ve only seen him once on the last couple of years, but Charlie saw him on the train coming down from Leicester. He was with his folks heading down to spend a few days in the south. He’s not been working much at all. I think he’s been ill, but he’s coming out of it now. He was great-I hate to say it, but he was doing it before we’d ever thought of it. That was it really but so was his head, you just couldn’t catch up with him at all, that’s really why he split.
ZZ: You offered him back his job, didn’t you?
RC: No. No, it would never have worked. It’s sad really because such a lot of talent went to waste, but his brain stopped ticking over-I think he saw too many bad things, it was as though he had acid in him all the time. He had a down on things all the time; this was shit and that was shit, but in the meantime he still wanted to do it even though he thought it was bad. And he couldn’t make up his mind. He was mentally fighting himself all the time; and yet I suppose that’s why he played such amazing stuff.
ZZ: Why did Ric leave?
RC: Because he wanted to join Blind Faith-easy as that. Clapton on one hand, Winwood on the other, and Baker at the back. What a temptation. And he couldn’t resist it. It was like playing with his musical heroes. And those guys were. Steve had been his favourite since Spencer Davis, but I suppose he’s a favourite with most people.
Bands that spend a lot of time together often tend to build up masses of verbal shorthand, that gets refined over years of use into an almost unique language. Family are no exception, and their most famous word is Norman. Typical usage extends from general disapprobation of an activity or person, to more recondite examples, such as refusing an invitation to go out to a club with the disclaimer, ‘No, my name’s Norman’ We asked for an explanation.
RC: Oh Lord. We were on a gig somewhere, up in Doncaster— one of those places off the Al I think. And we left there and we were pretty hungry; and there was absolutely nothing open, only transport caffs, and we stopped at this little place that was just like a wooden shack. So we went in and we weren’t allowed to play in the games section because we weren’t members— It was called Normans, and the gaffer was called Norman. Actually, the whole thing was down to Willy Weider— because when the waiter brought the first order of food, Will goes ‘Yeah, that’s mine,’ and when we’d all finished, Poli realised that he hadn’t got anything, and it rapidly became obvious that Will had eaten both his own and Pol’s, and ever since then, to behave in a similar manner, has been known as doing a Norman. But it developed into ‘a cup of Normans’ meaning tea. The tea there was so bad that the name stuck— the whole place was really grotty, so that now if someone really bugs you he becomes a right Norman.
Part V: Fearless
Charlie Whitney: Roger Ball from the Average White Band.ZZ: Didn’t they get a bit pissed off at playing some of it—like that brass band stuff on “Sat’dy Barfly”?
CW: That wasn’t them on that track. It was just some guy who played the tuba. They played on “Take Your Partners” and “Save Some For Thee”.
ZZ: Was the co-production credit on “Fearless” because of George Ckiantz’ growing involvement?
CW: His involvement has been pretty much the same all along, but he does a good job, and we just thought that it would be a nice one to give him the acknowledgement.
ZZ: Why does John Weider [sic – Wetton] get credited with ‘guitars, vocals, contracts and keyboards’?
CW: When he joined he had so many contracts, he had a law suit going on with his old band and God knows what else about this and that, so it was just a joke about all the legal stuff he was going through at the time.
ZZ: The cover by John Kosh is amazing, as is his work on “Bandstand”. Have they ever won any awards?
CW: I think they both won awards. A lot of people complained at the time that it was wasteful, but we liked it, and it all came out of our money. The American one was better because it was printed on better paper and the design was printed more accurately. There was a lot of fuss. He went bananas because the design on the edge didn’t line up, he really went mad.
ZZ: It seems to me that your last two albums (“Fearless and “Bandstand”) were in a way, the culmination of what I’ve always regarded as Family’s style, which uses very broken structure to the songs, and employs a lot of pauses in the instrumental notes to give it that “fractured” feel. Do you think I’m talking rot, or have you been aware of the development of that style?
CW: I’m not really aware of it. I don’t consciously think of two verses here, middle and an end—I don’t see things as that, I see them in sections. What worried me about the time of “Song For Me” and “Anyway” was that there were a lot of moods but there was nothing anchoring it. So I’ve tried to get some basic rhythmic thing anchoring it and the top things can go through all their trips.
ZZ: You would also seem to be getting into sound effects judging from what I’ve heard of the new album.
CW: I’ve always been into that. Things that have really impressed me have been songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” and a couple of things that The Byrds did. (Maybe “CTA 102” or “The Lear Jet Song”) If there’s ever a chance to do that type of thing I’ll be into it.
ZZ: Is “Sat’dy Barfly” a dapper lad about Leicester?
Roger Chapman: No, it’s a dapper 1958 spade driving around Chicago, more than Leicester. I really dig all that Coasters stuff—their imagery. Finger popping stud with a big car. That thing about spats is that they’re dapper, not now so much. Maybe it was Leicester because I remember the guys we used to knock about with—with mohair suits and a couple of chicks on the game.
ZZ: One of the best tunes on ‘Bandstand’ is ‘Coronation’ and it’s credited to Whitney/Chapman/Whetton. Can you tell me what everybody did?
CW: Ken wrote section two. I wrote the opening part and we got together to write section three, and Roger wrote the words. I find it a lot smoother, more back to ‘Entertainment’, and ‘Doll’s House’, but the biggest thing was that I think we started to get the mixing together.
ZZ: Where did you get that photo that adorns “Bandstand”, where you all look as though you’re waiting in a hospital for news of a good friend’s brain transplant?
CW: It was taken at Olympic studios, and there were a lot of hassle because of that, because everyone looked so pissed off.
ZZ: Was the character in ‘Burlesque’ another dapper type?
RC:I don’t think so. I only did half the lyrics on that one and tidied up the rest. That was basically Charlie’s idea—the guy wears spats. Rita and Greta were a couple of old rags that Charlie used to get together with at the Burlesque in Leicester.
ZZ: There’s a couple of songs on ‘Bandstand’ about very beautiful and superior women—I’m thinking of ‘Broken Nose’ and ‘Glove’. Do you have a fascination with those sort of women?
RC: There’s a difference—in one song he pulls, and in the other he gets a punch in the nose. One he scores and one he don’t.
ZZ: A very profound difference.
RC: ‘Glove’ is really about nervousness. He sees his chance and wonders whether he can get it together, and the other is just a young lech, kind of sneering every time she walks by. You know you see them all the time on building sites yelling out.
ZZ: “The day that I stopped loving you/was the day you broke my nose” is a great couplet.
Part VI: Writing (And Singing) Words
ZigZag: Did you start writing lyrics before you started to work with Charlie?
Roger Chapman: Yeah, a bit, but it was a different generation of lyrics, ‘Baby, That’s Alright’—very different.
ZZ: Why do some of your lyrics rhyme and some don’t?
RC: I’ve no idea—-just that it seems to make sense at the time. When you start to put it down you pursue a train of thought and just ramble on.
ZZ: Do you work in the Bernie Taupin tradition of jotting down a lyric and handing it to Charlie to see if he can write anything?
RC: That has been done sure, and it happens the other way too. Charlie has a sequence,and I’ll work on the words, or we may do bits and pieces at various times.
ZZ: Is there any special reason why the words that are printed on the sleeve often seem to bear only the most tenuous relationship to what you sing?
RC: I wasn’t aware that they did differ all that much. I can remember a track on the live side where I forgot the words and sang the same verse all the way through.
ZZ: You take the words down off the rough mix, don’t you?
RC: Yes I do, but sometimes I improvise a bit and forget to change the words that we send off to the publisher, and the other thing is that coming from me they pass through about four of five different pairs of hands, before they finish up on the album, so anything could happen, and very often bloody does.
ZZ: Yes indeed. For some bizarre reason one of the songs on ‘Family Entertainment’ has quotation marks, most odd.
RC: That was probably us throwing moodies in there, so that we can get people like you wondering why we’ve done it.
ZZ: A lot of your images seem to deal with landscapes, and weather.
RC: Sure, I like working with those images. Don’t ask me why. ‘Strange Band’ is a lyric that I feel very pleased with. It’s not about anything—just this desert, strange people and strange things happening—but in a very lonely way, a very desolate way.
ZZ: I think that three of your most accomplished lyrics recently have been ‘Spanish Tide’, ‘Burning Bridges’ and ‘Coronation’. Were they written before hand perhaps, because they have an extraordinary unity and coherence.
RC: ‘Coronation’ started off as ramblings and some of that -a couple of verses – was done before, by getting into a certain mood all based around one chord. I can’t really play guitar, but I work on chords and they either hit me or they don’t, and I got into a Staple Singers kind of thing, with this seventh added on, and the mood of it just set me off. But “Spanish Tide” was a very bitty thing. Charie had two or three lines, and probably Ken shoved a few in, and when I got them they seemed maybe a bit too lopsided and I tried to bridge it, but it still was a bit scrappy. ‘Coronation’ started off from the flat that I lived in, and I was generally in a bit of a blue mood, and those little things build into a ramble and then I can construct them to fit around a sequence.
ZZ: When you write lyrics, do you think of what would sound good or what’s got style on its own?
RC: I don’t consciously think of singing them but since I’m a singer, I’m pretty sure that anything I write will feel comfortable when I come to sing it. I’ve never had to rewrite, to make it sing better. I’m writing with my own phrasing in mind anyway.
ZZ: Are there any lyrics that you like especially?
RC: Hendrix—I really like his words. There’s a line of his, ‘Well I stand up next to a mountain/And I chop it down with the edge of my hand’—that’s so strong, and there’s another one about hippies.
ZZ: “If Six Was Nine”.
RC: Yeah, what a fantastic song. And what he had is what music is all about, putting allusions into music. All the o ther people are straightforward choices — The Beatles, Dylan. I love Dylan’s humour, if that’s what it is. Leiber and Stoller—the best working class lyrics. Do you know a song called ‘Three Cool Cats’? It’s beautiful and very simple—three cool cats met three cool chicks walking down the street, eating a packet of potato crisps—and that kind of thing sets me up with an image that I can relate to.
ZZ: Apart from the obvious ones, can you think of any unpardonably bad words?
RC: Oh, quite a few. I ain’t into Marc Bolan’s Iyrics—I think he’s unpardonably bad. He’s got a lot of bottle though, because I’m sure that he thinks they’re unpardonably bad. He isn’t stupid enough to write lyrics like that and think they’re any good.
Success for an artist can mean many different things—the opportunity to continue making music which is satisfying, getting that music appreciated by as wide an audience as possible, enjoying the leisure to forge new material, or at its crassest level, making lots of money.
And while by most of these standards, Family have been successful, it has been a Phyrric success because it has eluded them in the USA. Why, remains a mystery, for the band have everything that is needed to become widely appreciated in the States: tons of good material, an exciting stage act, and mystique. And the irony of it is that they probably will be successful after the Americans have lost the chance to enjoy them live. Still, it’s their loss.
ZZ: The book ended with the band going off to America for that disastrous tour. Can you tell me what happened?
RC: Well, Ric split which created a few difficulties, but we were there for about eight weeks, and we had a few nice gigs; what really ruined it was the disaster on the first gig, because we got an elbow at the Fillmore. We had a row with Graham, and although he didn’t actually go round putting the heavy word out about us, he was such a force in those days, that a lot of other promoters took their lead from him, and after the row, he raced down to the front and took all our publicity material down. And all the business people who had come to see us at that gig, who normally, if it had gone all right, would have helped us, got put off. I’m sure he didn’t do it maliciously—he just ain’t that sort of guy—he’s hard, and a very good businessman, but he wouldn’t do something like that. He isn’t vindictive—just very hard.
ZZ: How did the row flare up?
RC: I was doing one of my numbers with the mike, and he’d just arrived at the side of the stage to see the last number and it came as a complete shock to him. It was like someone jumping on your back in a dark passage—even if it’s a friend, you react, and it just blew his head off, and he raced down the corridor and started ripping posters down.
ZZ: How did it affect your subsequent tours?
RC: Not much I don’t think. The tour that we did after that one, we did some dates for him and he would come up beforehand and hint that there wasn’t to be any moving of the mike stand— which created a few problems for me, because it took me mind off singing, since I had to remember not to do it. And during the last tour with Elton John, he came up to me and asked me about it. He said, ‘Every time I read about you I read that there’s this thing going on between you and I’ and he begrudgingly added about the gig, ‘Very good,’ which was nice of him.
ZZ: Is it as important as everyone says to succeed over there?
RC: Yes, it’s everything. But I don’t know why we didn’t take off. We were going to do a tour with Deep Purple recently, but we hardly got any support from the record company, so we had to pull it out. ‘Bandstand’ did quite well— about 180 thousand—and we were building up quite a good following—it wasn’t huge, but it was there—DJs like us, probably because we haven’t been big live over there, and they’ve heard a few tales about us, so that since they like the music and there’s a bit of an aura it could have helped. But you have to go out on the road—especially a band like us. It’s the only way to get through to the audience, it doesn’t really matter what people in the business think of your records, you’ve got to give the audience something.
Part VII: Friends Forever
Family radiate—and it is the corniest thing that you could ever read—a true Family feel, as I hope our photos and conversation reflect. The overriding impression that one gets from meeting and talking to them, and watching them in the dressing room after a gig, is of an extraordinary closeness between them all. And that feel must have accounted for something—although I don’t know what—in the music. And although the band is to break up, it will still be there in the future
ZigZag: What’s the tie-up between you and Linda Lewis?
Roger Chapman: She was on Warners too and things weren’t working out too well for her, and then Tony asked us if we’d mind if he managed Linda and we thought it would be a good thing for him to have a sphere outside of us, and we had known Jim before that, because he used to play with Poli, and Jim and Linda’s relationship was there, and then Ken left, so Jim joined because he was a friend, and the whole thing seemed to have grown closer naturally, it just grew up. And she’s also on our label, Raft.
ZZ: There seems to be this feel to a lot of what the band does—a real Family?
RC: Yes it’s like what I said earlier— we’re a little island stuck in the middle of this amazing business, which on balance has been a great thing—a terrific source of strength.
The Break Up
Of all the recent splits and partings that seem to have fallen on the business like a summer stormcloud, the news that Family were to break up came as the saddest, and yet as the most promising, because there can be no doubt, on the evidence of their last three albums, that the fierce streak of originality that has characterised all their music is still in full flow. What is sad, I suppose, is that they had to dismantle such a richly productive ensemble, because of the public’s indifference; what is heartening is that the elements have not been lost.
ZZ: Do you plan to go back to the States this year?
RC: No, because we’re going to split soon.
ZZ: What! You mean split up. That’s terrible.
RC: Well we want to spread it out a bit. We’ve been committed to it for so long, especially me and Charlie and Rob as well. All our committments have always lain in Family, and we feel we have to commit ourselves to ourselves a bit more. I wake up every day and I think “What’s Family going to do?”
ZZ: Do you think that if you’d been more successful, you might have got the space to relax a bit.
RC: I think we’re in a bit of a lethargic state at the moment. We dig gigging together and we have some really nice gigs together, but Tony has got his production thing and Jim’s got his things with Linda, and we’ve got Family which isn’t working and the business senses it. The music is still there, but for four years, we’ve stayed the same, and haven’t overcome the hassles whatever they are—not musical, but the other ones. We’ve always been six people, Tony Gourvish being the sixth, because he isn’t like a ten percent manager, and in the business where groups are such a big business that is a very freaky situation. We’ve made ourselves a little bit of an island, and we aren’t able to get into the other part of it. It’s a bit like England is to Europe—there’s this little stretch of water that keeps them apart.
ZZ: I think the old creative punch is there.
RC: Oh sure. But we want to go to America. We don’t want to go in style. We just want to go there and play, and we can’t, which is stupid. We had the tour, and nobody to back us, and without that backing you can’t afford to do it. It costs a lot of money—and that’s the frustrating state we’ve been in for four years.
ZZ: But then again, if success comes too easily, it can have a disastrous effect, because a band like The Faces have dried up as far as I can tell, and that’s because of the ease with which they make their music successful.
RC: But they’re only playing to an image—I don’t think they play on a musical level, and I think that they’d be the first to admit it. But we’ve always been determined to play good music.