Family Biography

Highly respected and nostalgically revered, Family was one of Britain’s most memorable progressive rock bands of the late 60s and early 70s. They were led by the wiry yet vocally demonic Roger Chapman (8 April 1942, Leicester, England), a man whose stage presence could both transfix and terrify his audience, who would duck from the countless supply of tambourines he destroyed and hurled into the crowd. Chapman was joined in the original line-up by Ric Grech (b. Richard Roman Grech, 1 November 1946, Bordeaux, France, d. 17 March 1990, Leicester, England; violin/bass), Charlie Whitney (b. Richard John Whitney, 24 June 1944, Skipton, West Riding of Yorkshire, England; guitar), Rob Townsend (b. 7 July 1947, Leicester, England; drums), and Jim King (b. 5 May 1942, Kettering, Northamptonshire, England; flute/saxophone).

Family’s roots can be traced back to 1962 where Leicester Art College students Whitney and King formed the R&B-based Farinas, with Harry Ovenall (drums) and Tim Kirchin (bass) completing the line-up. Grech replaced the latter in 1965, and when Chapman was brought in as lead vocalist the following year the band’s sound began to expand beyond their basic R&B roots. The quintet changed their name to the Roaring Sixties and developed a gangster image thanks to their preference for double-breasted suits. Further change ensued in 1967 with the arrival of Townsend in place of Ovenall, and the adoption of a more relaxed dress code. Producer Kim Fowley gave the quintet their new name, dubbing them ‘the Family’ because of their Mafioso image. After recording an obscure single (‘Scene Through The Eye Of A Lens’/‘Gypsy Woman’) for Liberty Records, Family released their first album in 1968. Released on the Reprise Records label, Music In A Doll’s House was given extensive exposure on John Peel’s influential BBC radio show, resulting in this Dave Mason -produced collection becoming a major cult record. Chapman’s remarkable strangulated vibrato caused heads to turn. It was an extraordinary debut album, and the band’s image received a further boost (of sorts) when fan/writer Jenny Fabian published the paperback Groupie, a salacious account of the underground club scene in London in which a barely disguised Family played a prominent part.

Following the release of their second and most successful album, Family Entertainment, Family experienced an ever-changing personnel of high pedigree musicians. Ric Grech departed to join Blind Faith in 1969, being replaced by John Weider (b. 21 April 1947, Shepherd’s Bush, London, England), who in turn was supplanted by John Wetton (b. 12 June 1949, Willington, Derby, Derbyshire, England) in 1971, then Jim Cregan (b. James Cregan, 9 March 1946, Yeovil, Somerset, England) the following year. Poli Palmer (b. John Michael Palmer, 25 May 1943, Evesham, Worcestershire, England; ex-Deep Feeling and Blossom Toes) superseded Jim King in 1969 who was ultimately replaced by Tony Ashton (b. Edward Anthony Ashton, 1 March 1946, Blackburn, Lancashire, England, d. 28 May 2001, London, England) in 1972.

Throughout this turmoil Family maintained a high standard of recorded work and had UK singles success with ‘No Mules Fool’ (number 29, 1969), ‘Strange Band’ (number 11, 1970), ‘In My Own Time’ (number 4, 1971), and the infectious ‘Burlesque’ (number 13, 1972). Probably their finest single release, ‘My Friend The Sun’, failed to dent the charts. This was proof that the charts at that time had nothing to do with the quality of the songs therein. Their catalogue should be viewed album by album, as it still remains one of the strongest of the era. Their third album, 1970’s A Song For Me, contained the blistering ‘Hey - Let It Rock’/‘The Cat And The Rat’ and the excellent opening track ‘Drowned In Wine’. Anyway was a live album, and although badly recorded it remains a vital record with stand-out performances of ‘Lives And Ladies’, ‘Strange Band’ and ‘Good News Bad News’.

Family was probably at its popularity peak when 1971’s Fearless came out, and the album showed how democratic the band had become with diverse input from Poli Palmer and his stunning barbershop quartet song ‘Larf And Sing’. Similarly evocative were the rowdy ‘Take Your Partners’ and ‘Sat’d’y Barfly’. Bandstand was another commercial winner with the previously mentioned gem ‘My Friend The Sun’ and the hit ‘Burlesque’. Other lively classics on the album included ‘Broken Nose’ and ‘Ready To Go’.

Family disintegrated after the release of 1973’s disappointing swan-song, It’s Only A Movie, although this album did contain two gems, ‘Sweet Desirée’ and the title track. Chapman and Whitney departed to form Streetwalkers before the former established a popular solo career. A long lost live album from Family’s tour in 1971, recorded at London’s Rainbow Theatre, was released as part of the enterprising independent label Mystic Records’ reissue program. Most of Family’s catalogue was reissued by Mystic with extra tracks and outtakes in 2003.

While Family’s stage performances were sometimes erratic and unpredictable, the sight of Roger Chapman performing their anthem, ‘The Weaver’s Answer’, on a good night was unforgettable. Chapman has a voice that can shatter a beer glass and crack ceilings.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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