Monday, November 1, 2010

About this page: Back in March 2002, I purchased a record album from the British rock group Family, a band best remembered by Americans - if remembered at all - as the band Rick Grech left to join the ill-fated supergroup Blind Faith. I had never heard Family's music before, and I could not find a listing for them in any of the record guide books I consulted (though I did find information about them on the Web). Since I first listened to Family, I have become a die-hard fan; I have obtained all of their albums, and I have posted comments about the group on various Internet message boards.

I have been surprised, though, how few Americans have heard of Family and how fewer still have listened to their music or know anything about the band. This page is an attempt to correct that situation. Here I offer reviews and analysis on the long play recordings Family released between 1968 and 1973, when they broke up. I hope to bring some insight and perspective on a band who neither deserved commercial failure in America in the late sixties and early seventies nor deserves to be forgotten today. I also hope to bring Family to the attention of rock fans, neophyte and seasoned alike, who have never heard Family's work but can now buy their recordings, thanks to compact disc reissues and Internet record shopping.

Or, to paraphrase Rick Grech himself, I only want to turn the whole world on.

(The original lineup of Family, 1968. Top row: Charlie Whitney, Rob Townsend, Roger Chapman. Bottom row: Jim King, Rick Grech.)

A disclaimer: This page is not an authoritative Web site with information on Family album and 45 catalog numbers, a history of concert performances, and the like. It is mostly a page of my critiques and evaluations of the group's long play recordings - that is, my own opinions. In addition to reviews of each of Family's seven albums, though, I do offer a brief history of the group's origins and the lineup, as well as anecdotes pertaining to their LPs and information that places their discography in some kind of context. I also provide lyrics pages for each album and for non-album tracks, the better to understand their tremendous songs. For more on that, see "Family Sayings: Lyrics," below.

For years, STRANGE BAND: The Family Home Page, maintained by one Patrick Little, was the authoritative and informative Web page on Family. The site was discontinued in the fall of 2008 when AOL elected to drop the service that made it possible, but Family Bandstand, a link to which is at the bottom of the page, has recovered much of the information formerly featured on Patrick's site. It's just as good a site if not better. Links to other sites on the band are available below as well.

(Family at the 1969 Isle of Wight festival. From left, Jim King, Rob Townsend, Charlie Whitney, John Weider, and Roger Chapman.)


Family Members: The lineup of Family constantly changed in the group's short recording career, but the core of Roger Chapman (vocals, percussion), Charlie Whitney (guitar, organ, banjo) and Rob Townsend (drums, percussion) remained the same throughout. The other members during the band's six years as recording artists (1967 to 1973) were:

Harry Ovenall (drums), left in 1967
Jim King (saxophone, harmonica, piano, vocals), 1967-1969
Poli Palmer (keyboards, synthesizer, flute, vibraphone, vocals), 1969-1972
Tony Ashton (keyboards), 1972-1973
Rick Grech (bass, violin, vocals), 1967-1969
John Weider (bass, violin, guitar), 1969-1971
John Wetton (guitar, bass, vocals), 1971-1972
Jim Cregan (guitar, bass), 1972-1973

The personnel changes become clearer with a full review of the Family catalog.


Family Background: Family started out as the Farinas, a rhythm-and-blues band in Leicester, England, founded by John "Charlie" Whitney and Jim King, who was the group's lead singer. Rick Grech became the bass player in 1965, and Roger Chapman soon joined to replace King on lead vocals. Harry Ovenall was the drummer, and it was he who had suggested the band's original name after going to the library in art college and, blindfolded, landing his finger on a reference to the Italian car designer Farina in a design book.  When Chapman joined, Jim King remained in the band  and concentrated on the saxophone (which was his specialty), the harmonica, and occasional piano duties. The arrival of Chapman was a pivotal moment in the group, as he began a songwriting and recording partnership with Whitney that would last well into the seventies - long after Family broke up.

Arriving in London around 1967, they changed their name to the Roaring Sixties, and dressed in twenties-style pinstripe suits. Working on demos with Kim Fowley, an American record producer living in London at the time, they changed their name to Family when Fowley commented that their style of dress made them look like a family of Mafia gangsters. They eventually ditched the suits in favor of casual dress. Family's appearances in Swinging London's club circuit impressed many a listener, including some of the biggest names in British rock. Said John Lennon of the band, "They've got a fantastic blend of sound, the best I have heard in a long time." Chapman became especially known for his gruff, bleating vibrato - his attempt to sound like a cross between Little Richard and Ray Charles.

In September 1967, the group released an obscure single for Liberty Records in Britain - "Scene Through the Eye Of a Lens," backed with "Gypsy Woman." (I have heard both songs, and though they are not widely available, I feel a need to comment on them here for the sake of completeness. "Scene Through the Eye of a Lens" is a fascinating yet restrained artifact of psychedelia that's very much in the vein of early Traffic, while "Gypsy Woman" is a straight blues number that demonstrates the "soul and roll" sound the original Farinas were known for back in Leicester.) Ovenall wanted and got another American producer, Jimmy Miller (best remembered for his work with the Rolling Stones) to produce the single and later credited Miller for the good feel that Family got when the band recorded the two songs.

Shortly after the release of this single, Ovenall left, dissatisfied with the non-blues direction Family were taking, and Rob Townsend replaced him on drums. For their debut album, Family moved to the Reprise label. Working with Traffic's Dave Mason as their producer, the group recorded their debut album, Music In a Doll's House, which was released in 1968, thus setting them off on their brief but fascinating musical odyssey.


The Family Catalog: Family recorded seven albums between 1968 and 1973; the first two titles were originally issued in the United States by Reprise Records, and the following five were issued in the U.S. by United Artists Records. In the United Kingdom, every album was issued on Reprise Records except for It's Only a Movie, released in the U.K. on Raft Records.

The compact disc reissues are less straightforward. The rights to the group's 1968 and 1969 recordings are owned by Dukeslodge Enterprises, the production company run by their original manager, John Gilbert (son of filmmaker Lewis Gilbert, who directed Michael Caine in Alfie).  When Family replaced Gilbert with Tony Gourvish and formed their own production company, they were able to get control of subsequent recordings. As a result, the group's first two albums, Music In a Doll's House and Family Entertainment, have been reissued on CD on labels different from those that re-issued the group's albums from the 1970s; the rights to the latter LPs are now owned by the production company of Roger Chapman. The recordings from 1968 and 1969 released separately as singles are rare, while separate single releases from the 1970s have been issued on the 1992 compilation As & Bs, and then later as bonus tracks on the original albums. In each case, Family's titles have passed from label to label in the compact disc age, and it would be foolhardy for me to comprehensively document each reissue.

To the best of my knowledge, Music In a Doll's House and Family Entertainment haven't been available in the United States since they were originally released on vinyl in the 1960s. The remaining five LPs were available in the U.S. from 1998 to 2003 on the Castle Music label, and they were subsequently reissued by Mystic Records in Great Britain and made available in the U.S.  As of 2015, I have no idea what labels offer which albums.  While it's hard to find any Family titles in American record stores these days - indeed, it's hard to find record stores in America or anywhere in the digital-download age - compact-disc editions of all of their albums can be found on Internet record retail sites and also on, with a little persistence.  All seven British vinyl editions (some American vinyl editions differ in song selection from their British counterparts) can be found sporadically on the 'Net or in independent record stores.

These reviews include neither the 1971 greatest-hits compilation Old Songs New Songs (which features remixed versions of some of their earlier songs) nor post-1973 releases such as posthumous greatest-hits compilations and radio concert albums. They also do not include As & Bs, as most of the songs from that album surfaced on the Castle Music CDs as bonus tracks. As I have already done with the first Family single, I account for the rare early singles that have fallen through the cracks, in subsequent commentary. I have tried to be as comprehensive as possible with regards to Family's discography in constructing this page, and I apologize if I have not accounted for everything.

(Note: The reviews on this page for Family's five latter albums refer to the Castle Music reissues of the late nineties, which include non-album singles and B-sides as bonus tracks. Although Mystic Records in the United Kingdom reissued these LPs with even more bonus tracks later on, I refer to the Castle Music editions because they account for all Family non-album tracks, with one exception, issued from October 1969 to September 1973 - the Mystic reissues, alas, do not. Therefore, the Castle Music reissues should be considered the definitive ones. The excepted non-album track - the studio version of the song "Strange Band," released in August 1970 as the dominant track of an extended player - featured two songs from Family Entertainment as B-sides; it is likely, therefore, that the rights to this specific track are owned by Dukeslodge.)

(Family in 1970. From left, Charlie Whitney, Roger Chapman, Rob Townsend, Poli Palmer, and John Weider.)

Family Album Fun Facts

Music In a Doll's House is the only Family LP to feature a song composed by someone outside the band; "Never Like This," written by Music In a Doll's House's producer, Dave Mason.

The Beatles planned to call the White Album A Doll's House after the Henrik Ibsen play, but they had to abandon the idea when Family's debut album was released in Britain in July 1968. (The White Album was released that November.)

Co-production from Jimmy Miller on two tracks notwithstanding, Music In a Doll's House is the only Family LP credited to one producer. The follow-up, Family Entertainment, was jointly produced by Glyn Johns and John Gilbert. A Song For Me was self-produced by the group, and all successive albums were co-produced by Family and their recording engineer George Chkiantz.

The cover of Family Entertainment, depicting circus performers, was inspired by the sleeve of the Doors's Strange Days.

Bandstand is the only Family LP not to feature an instrumental track.

Most of Family's songs were written by the songwriting team of group leaders Charlie Whitney and Roger Chapman, but It's Only a Movie is the only Family LP comprised entirely of Whitney/Chapman compositions.

Ratings: The rating symbols, which follow each LP title, are as follows:

***** - Superb
**** - Excellent
*** - Good
** - Fair
* - Poor

Please note that no album here gets anything fewer than three stars - Family simply never made a bad album.

Music In a Doll's House (1968) ****

Song Selection: The Chase; Mellowing Grey; Never Like This; Me My Friend; Variation on a Theme of "Hey Mr. Policeman"; Winter; Old Songs New Songs; Variation on a Theme of "The Breeze"; Hey Mr. Policeman; See Through Windows; Variation on a Theme of "Me My Friend"; Peace of Mind; Voyage; The Breeze; 3 x Time

The most important artistes in rock history usually have established through their debut albums the identities that would subsequently define them for the rest of their careers. The Beatles clearly established themselves as rock and roll Mozarts with Please Please Me, and Steely Dan's Can't Buy a Thrill effectively set the image of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen as jazz-rock fusionists with a lyrically sarcastic sense of humor. Family were no exception in defining themselves on their first long player. On Music In a Doll's House, they took the opportunity to set a pattern of defying stylistic convention and ignoring traditional pop song form, and they rarely deviated from it in their time as recording artists.

Family's Music In a Doll's House fits together seamlessly, thanks in part to the careful direction of Dave Mason, but also because of the band's straightforward style; Roger Chapman's rough voice gave the lyrics a good deal of grit, Rob Townsend's powerful drumming produced a precise beat, and Rick Grech was a steady bassist who knew how to pace a song and kept Family from getting too pretentious.

Music In a Doll's House opens in a most unconventional way. The first song, "The Chase," depicts an affair as a fox hunt with the male participant as the fox; however dignified the music may be, the lyrics - terrifyingly performed by Chapman - spell out impending doom. It cuts directly into "Mellowing Grey," an orchestrated, hauntingly beautiful ballad that displays Chapman's rich vibrato; it's the kind of song one could easily imagine Johnny Mathis singing! Other standouts include "Old Songs New Songs," a funky blues jam with an astonishing saxophone solo from guest artist Tubby Hayes and some clever guitar from Charlie Whitney, and the lecherous white-soul tune "Hey Mr. Policeman," offering a beefy brass section, in which Chapman growls a request to see his girlfriend one last time before going to jail for an unspecified - but clearly hideous - crime.

Some of Doll's House admittedly sounds dated. "Voyage" has some interesting backwards violin from Grech, for example, but the lyrics and the electronic effects betray the song's age. Mostly, though, Family's first album is a solid debut that allows the group to bring its strange ideas to life and create a whole new kind of rock and roll, and they do so brilliantly. Family also displays a typically British sense of humor with brief instrumental variations of three of its songs, and the closing number, "3 x Time," starts with lyrics of wistful remembrance, continues with a demented jug band rave-up, and concludes with an irreverent sampling of "God Save the Queen," the British national anthem. (The album's sleeve, depicting a Victorian dollhouse with the band's members appearing in different rooms in ridiculous poses, is also a hoot!)

Music In a Doll's House (which got up to number 35 on the U.K. charts) was as important to rock in 1968 as that other debut album from that year conceived in a tiny abode, the Band's Music From Big Pink. Like the Band's freshman effort, Family's first album presented a much more thoughtful and musicianly alternative to the excesses of much of the rock of the late sixties (albeit in a much different direction from that which the Band pursued). With Music In a Doll's House, the members of Family took a first step into a world all their own.


Family Entertainment (1969) ****

Song Selection: The Weaver's Answer; Observations From a Hill; Hung Up Down; Summer `67 (instrumental); How-Hi-the-Li; Second Generation Woman; From Past Archives; Dim; Processions; Face In the Cloud; Emotions

After Music In a Doll's House, Family was quickly labelled as a "progressive" rock band, suggesting comparisons to groups like Yes and Genesis. Family's music was progressive in the sense that the group tried to expand the boundaries of rock and constantly sought to break new ground. Unlike most of the "progressive," or "art rock" bands that would sprout up in the early seventies, however, Family had no aspirations to classicism or highbrow pretensions. Their attitude was very much a rock and roll one, and their music remained firmly rooted in rhythm and blues - which veteran rock critic Dave Marsh called the taproot of all great rock.

As a result, Family Entertainment, the group's second album, moved toward more straightforward rock while keeping Family's musically adventurous spirit and penchant for eclectic lyricism intact. The group had largely abandoned psychedelia; the music on Family Entertainment included touches of folk and country, and the lyrics focused on aging, childhood daydreams, and rants against the power establishment, among other things. The LP's producers, the great Glyn Johns and Family manager John Gilbert, provided a more accessible and less contrived sound for Family than Dave Mason had, and it was also cleaner - though Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney would later lament that the sound on Family Entertainment was maybe a little too clean.

Family Entertainment shows these five musicians growing steadily. Chapman's vibrato vocals evolve into more of a bleated growl, Whitney's guitar riffs become more inventive, Jim King's saxophone is decidedly funkier, and the already excellent drummer Rob Townsend becomes even more so. The biggest surprises, though, come from Rick Grech; not only does his improved bass work stand out dramatically here, he also wrote or co-wrote four songs on the album and sings lead vocals - sometimes with Chapman, sometimes solo - on these songs. His clear, flawless voice provided an an exciting contrast to Chapman's primal shouting. Jim King contributes a lead vocal as well, on the Whitney/Chapman tune "Observations From a Hill," providing an example of how the group sounded before Chapman joined and when the band was still called the Farinas.

Family Entertainment opens with the sprawling but irresistible "The Weaver's Answer," a moving tale of an old man a few moments away from death getting to look at his life as a tapestry; the understated English folk arrangement and a blues-based rock undercurrent (with sax solo) set up a wonderful sense of tension. Other meldings of styles prove to be just as successful; "Hung Up Down" provides a madrigal melody juxtaposed against a heavy bass line and one of Chapman's nastiest larynx-tearing vocals in a song attacking the rich and powerful, while "From Past Archives" somehow manages to cut from a soft, slow melody to a hip jazz performance!

Other standouts are the charming country tune "Dim," about a blinded farm boy going into town for a good time, and "Processions," a childlike song about a small boy daydreaming of his life ahead while enjoying a day at the seashore. The best song here, surprisingly enough, is Grech's "Second Generation Woman," a fast heavy rocker that moves like a rocket sled on a rail and features a cheeky vocal from Grech about a woman who "smokes like a man, getting higher than I can" and "looks good to handle from a personal angle." This song sometimes draws comparisons to the Beatles's "Paperback Writer" in terms of tempo and arrangement. ("Second Generation Woman," in fact, had been released as a single in September 1968 with the non-album track "Hometown," a gentle Whitney/Chapman lament about the effects of modern urban redevelopment in Leicester, as its B-side.) "Emotions," the epic closing cut, features a fine piano performance from the great Nicky Hopkins in a song that recalls the Rolling Stones's similar "Salt of the Earth."

Family Entertainment was released in February 1969 and peaked at number six on the British album chart. At the time, Family's prospects for mainstream success, especially in America, seemed very bright. Ironically, though, they were quickly beset by misfortune. On the eve of their first American tour as a warmup act for Ten Years After, Rick Grech announced that he would be leaving the band for Blind Faith. Grech would stay on during part of the tour while a replacement was sought out, and John Weider would become Family's new bassist midway through the tour, but Grech's failure to give adequate notice effectively discombobulated Family at the worst possible time. Passport problems had caused the group even more trouble by the time they made their stateside debut at New York's Fillmore East on April 8, 1969, and they were well wound up from their recent mishaps. Their performance at the Fillmore East was so disastrous that Chapman threw a microphone stand in disgust - unintentionally in the direction of Fillmore East impresario Bill Graham. Chapman eventually lost his visa, forcing Family to leave the tour and return home. By the time 1969 was nearly over, Family had endured a nasty split from John Gilbert, had issued a single that only got up to number 29 ("No Mule's Fool," more of which in the next review), and had seen King leave the band shortly after starting to make their next album, leading many to assume that Family were through.

Had Family called it quits then, their record output up to that point would have been enough to earn them a respectable place in rock history. But not only were they not finished, they were just getting started!

(Editor's Note: After Blind Faith called it quits, Rick Grech played with various artists. He joined Blind Faith cofounder Steve Winwood and former Traffic saxophonist Chris Wood in drummer Ginger Baker's Air Force. In 1971, Grech then joined Winwood and Wood in a reformed version of Traffic; Grech's stint lasted for a couple of years before he was fired due to his increased drug use. Grech then mainly did session work before retiring from the music business in 1977 and returning to Leicester to sell carpet. He died in 1990 from liver and kidney failure following a brain hemmorhage at the age of 43, the result of alcoholism.)

(The original lineup of Family poses with the circus performers from the front cover of Family Entertainment in a poster distributed with original vinyl copies of the album. From left: Jim King, Rick Grech, Charlie Whitney, Rob Townsend [sitting in the drum], Roger Chapman.)


A Song For Me (1970)*****

Song Selection: Drowned In Wine; Some Poor Soul; Love Is a Sleeper; Stop For the Traffic (Through the Heart of Me); Wheels; Song For Sinking Lovers; Hey - Let It Rock; The Cat and the Rat; 93's O.K. J (instrumental); A Song For Me

CD Bonus Tracks: No Mule's Fool; Good Friend of Mine

When Family went into the recording studio in late 1969 to make their third album, with new members John Weider and Poli Palmer, the stakes couldn't have been higher; they had suffered various blows throughout the year, and it seemed as if the group was irrevocably damaged. Furthermore, this was to be their first self-produced LP. All Family had to do to prove that they had rebounded from their setbacks was to concoct a decent album. Instead, they went far better and surprised everyone by making one of the most astonishing rock albums of the early seventies.

Issued in January 1970, A Song For Me is an act of defiance from a band that refuses to surrender to the kind of adversity that would have devastated other groups and comes back stronger and sharper than ever. Family had formed a new production company to replace John Gilbert's management, and they gained a sense of freedom along with confidence in both their music and in taking full control of the recording process. The ten cuts on A Song For Me are an eclectic mix of country, folk, twelve-bar blues, and brutally hard rock in which conventional rock and roll boundaries are outlined and subsequently smashed. Weider's rough bass certainly helped, and Palmer contributed an awesome array of skills as a pianist, flutist, and vibraphone player, but the remaining original members were no less potent. Charlie Whitney's guitar slashed through chord changes with raw intensity, and Rob Townsend's drumming was nothing short of a major assault. But it was Roger Chapman, as usual, who outdid everyone; his voice had now mutated in a hideously wonderful screech that, to paraphrase Robert Christgau, could kill small animals at a hundred yards.

Independence is the main theme on A Song For Me, as the songs mainly deal with refusing to bow to conformity and accepting the risks of freedom as well as its rewards. (This had obviously been a recurring theme in Family's music, as a few of the songs here had actually been part of the band's legendarily powerful live set long before this album was recorded.) "Drowned In Wine," the opening cut, is an incredible band performance alternating between subdued, intense folk rock and slashing power riffs, accentuated by Chapman's scorching bleats and Palmer's overamplified flute. There are elements of danger throughout. "Some Poor Soul," in which Chapman displays his gentler side, depicts a nighttime rural landscape where the wildlife scurries nervously beneath the seemingly placid surface (nice acoustic guitar from Whitney); "Wheels," a song about trying and failing to achieve personal fulfillment, is highlighted by choppy guitar chords. The song is full of self-doubt, but without the self-pity. "Stop For the Traffic," by contrast, finds the song's narrator liberated by the sense of possibility as onlookers who "are smiling desperately" crave his carefree attitude, to the backdrop of echoey guitars.

As Family frees itself from the past, it offers stunning insight into the idea of doing so. "Song For Sinking Lovers," a tale of regret and separation from a woman, bristles with a strong country-rock arrangement that climaxes with a heavy rave-up between Whitney's banjo and Weider's violin. But Family mostly looks ahead here musically, changing tempos and styles within songs more radically than on previous albums. They also change moods by directly cutting from one song to another, as in following a short nightclub jazz song, "Hey - Let It Rock," with the hard rockabilly song "The Cat and the Rat," as well as adding instruments in a seemingly implausible manner (vibes in the steaming blues rocker "Love Is a Sleeper").

The absolute masterpiece on the A Song For Me LP is the title song, which is one of the nastiest hard rock performances ever committed to disc. Throughout the song's nine minutes, against the backdrop of a blistering electric riff, Whitney sprays notes from his guitar like bullets from a machine gun while Weider's violin passages rush out like ghosts from a haunted house. As Palmer bangs on his piano with full force, Townsend's drums explode all over the stereo spectrum. Topping it all off is Roger Chapman's incendiary vocal, shredding whole verses while drowning out everyone else. As "A Song For Me" progresses, the initially medium tempo picks up for a rousing finish comparable to the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" of a year later.

If there's one flaw in A Song For Me, it's the somewhat muddy production, owing to Family's difficulties with studio technology as first-time producers. The decision to record the guitar, bass, and drums together as a three-piece set complicated the mixing stage as well. This, however, is a mere quibble; A Song For Me (which peaked at number four on the U.K. album chart, the best showing there for the group) remains an explosive document of a group determined to overcome adversity. It is more than a great album; it is an indisputable classic.

(The Castle Music compact disc edition of A Song For Me includes their single from the fall of 1969, "No Mule's Fool," a song about a boy and his mule taking it easy on a hot day, and its B-side, "Good Friend of Mine." These two Family recordings were the first to feature John Weider and the last to include Jim King.)

(The gatefold of A Song For Me, showing large and inset photos of the group in the recording studio. Top, from left: Charlie Whitney, Roger Chapman, John Weider. Bottom, from left: Rob Townsend, Poli Palmer. Top inset photos, from left: Palmer, Townsend. Bottom inset photos, from left: Chapman, Weider, Whitney.)


Anyway (1970)***

Song Selection: Good News Bad News*; Willow Tree*; Holding the Compass*; Strange Band*; Part Of the Load; Anyway; Normans (instrumental); Lives and Ladies

*Denotes live track

CD Bonus Tracks: Today; Song For Lots; Today (edited version)

Family had originally intended to follow up A Song For Me with a double live album, but they decided against it. Apparently, the problems were that their concert performances were rather undisciplined, sounding even more so on tape, and the sound quality seemed too rough to justify a two-record concert set. Also, they felt that any live versions of songs like "The Weaver's Answer" and "Drowned In Wine" would pale in comparison to the studio versions. Family ultimately compromised by deciding to assemble a single album - side one would feature live performances of four songs that, with one exception ("Strange Band," referred to earlier), were unavailable in studio form, while side two would contain four new songs from the studio. Hence Anyway, released in November 1970.

As the title suggests, Anyway was more or less assembled capriciously, but that's to be expected from a band that characteristically changed direction at whim so often. Quite frankly, though, that's what made Family so great. Issuing a record with concert performances at this juncture, in fact, turned out to be perfect timing, since it was the lineup of Chapman, Whitney, Townsend, Weider, and Palmer that was the most successful one for Family live. The studio recordings, however, show the band's music getting weirder, as the group was becoming increasingly experimental.

As expected, the live recordings - taped at a performance in London's Fairfield Halls venue - sound rather fuzzy, and the band goes off on many a tangent. So what? These recordings are a pretty good summation of Family's live act, as well as their ability to change gears at the drop of a hat. "Willow Tree" goes from piano-backed R&B balladeering to straight jazz (with a stunning violin solo from John Weider), and "Holding the Compass" provides some intense folk-tinged country. However, "Good News Bad News" and "Strange Band" capture the fury of Family's live performances, offering hard rock verging on heavy metal powered by Whitney's guitar chords and Townsend's strong drumming. Chapman is all over the map vocally here; he bleats, screeches, wails, and hollers in vocal styles that would scare banshees. And, as the lyric sheet to Anyway proves, he didn't even bother to get the words of the band's own songs right. Lyrical accuracy is immaterial, though; the mere power Chappo (as we Family fans call him) displays in his voice proves his abilities as a rock and roll singer in spades.

Chappo's singing, however, was only part of the story; watching him on stage, an experience you obviously can't get from listening to Anyway, was always known to be half the fun. Chapman would move around like a possessed scarecrow, throwing microphone stands and smashing tambourines with a ferocity that must have terrified Joe Cocker or even Roger Daltrey of the Who.

The studio cuts are a mixed bag of experimentation suggesting that the listener is eavesdropping on a Family session as the group tries out new ideas. Irregular chord sequences intersect with abruptly changing tempos, all accentuated by odd arrangements. On "Part of the Load," piano notes sound disjointed, and the guitar is uneven; the song is anchored by a steady bass line and concludes with a heavy drum shuffle. The title song features exotic tuned drums (known as boobams) and percussion (a bass drum? a timpani?) that sounds like the muted strike of a sledgehammer, while the instrumental waltz "Normans" includes a violin from Weider that scratches somewhat haltingly. Some of this worked, like Townsend's spectacular backbeat and Whitney's distorted guitar (sounds like it's being transmitted through a Leslie speaker to me) on the antiwar song "Lives and Ladies" - some of it didn't. What did work, though, laid the foundations for what was to come on Family's next album, Fearless. If there had been any doubt beforehand that Family was different from other groups, Anyway erased it completely.

"Strange looking band were we. . . . "

(The Castle Music compact disc edition of Anyway includes their April 1970 single "Today" and its B-side, the Elton John-esque "Song For Lots," as well as an edited version of "Today" intended for radio DJ's. The slide guitar on "Today" is incredibly similar to the slide riffs that would become a staple of George Harrison's solo career. Could it be that the ex-Beatle got the idea from this song? Hmmmm. . . .)


Fearless (1971)*****

Song Selection: Between Blue and Me; Sat'd'y Barfly; Larf and Sing; Spanish Tide; Save Some For Thee; Take Your Partners; Children; Crinkly Grin (instrumental); Blind; Burning Bridges

CD Bonus Tracks: In My Own Time; Seasons

This album, released in October 1971, is the masterpiece, the best album Family ever made. My opinion is admittedly biased, as this was the first Family album I ever got (on vinyl, no less), but I stand by it. Everything the group had become known for over the previous three years - curious arrangements, abrupt tempo changes, imaginatively abstract lyricism, stellar musicianship - clicked together here like a well-made combination lock. The group's quest for innovation paid off handsomely on Fearless, with the band offering its tightest, most cohesive performances and an adventurous sampling of different rock styles. Like A Song For Me, Fearless is superb from beginning to end, but Fearless is better - albeit only slightly better - for two reasons. One is Fearless's superior production, owing to the band's greatly improved command of technical skills in the recording studio. The other factor was the result of their latest personnel change.

In June 1971, John Weider, having grown tired of playing the bass as his principal instrument, left the group. He was quickly replaced by an ambitious 22-year-old musician named John Wetton, whose steady, economical pacing anchored the music with great subtlety. Also, Wetton was an accomplished singer in his own right, offering a magnificent, unencumbered voice that stood out on its own and blended wonderfully with Roger Chapman's voice - no small achievement - in harmony arrangements. Chapman remained the center of attention, though, as his primitive bleating and the undeniably powerful passion that fueled it continued to make for decidedly uneasy (but still intriguing) listening.

Fearless documents Family boldly blazing through treacherous terrain. In addition to Wetton's bass and his and Chapman's vocals, Charlie Whitney's guitar navigates twisting (and twisted) chords, Rob Townsend's drumming eases the band through slow tempos and propels them through rapid ones, and Poli Palmer contributes complex piano performances along with intricate vibraphone playing. (Plus, for the first time on a Family LP, synthesizers.) Family wastes no time in setting their course, as demonstrated on the opening cut, "Between Blue And Me." The gentle riff from a solitary guitar pulls you in as Chapman's intially gentle and earnest voice sings of longing for a lost friend. As the sound slowly builds, with a bass and bongos slipping into the mix, images of a vast, empty sea swell in the lyrics and the music. Then the unexpected happens - a searing electric riff breaks the receding calm, and a cacophonous rhythm conjures up stormy, churning waters. The lyrics - now delivered by Chapman in a hideous screech - speak of betrayal and abandonment with tension that could snap at any moment - but doesn't. It is oddly exhilarating and terrifying at once - powerful, chilling music that slowly grabs you and doesn't let go.

Having thrown down the gauntlet, Family take the opportunity to display an earthy sensibility in a variety of unorthodox fashions throughout. "Sat'd'y Barfly" is a stunted ragtime romp in which Chapman, doing a good imitation of Rod Stewart, sings with bravado of visiting a seedy bar on the wrong side of town, getting drunk, and picking up a woman; the muted brass and sly maracas help add to the intrigue. By contrast, "Save Some For Thee," a song about enjoying the "living for free," finds Chapman and Wetton sharing lead vocals along a piano riff that starts strong, slows down, then starts up again - pop style without the pop sound. (It ends, curiously, with a marching-band brass and drum ensemble!) Palmer gets to sing his own composition "Larf and Sing," delivering lyrics about aging and isolation brilliantly against a Latin-tinged guitar and his own dexterous flute. It all leads up to a hilarious group harmony on the choruses, offsetting the fatality of the verses.

Family really let loose, though, on the incomprehensible "Take Your Partners" - a backward drum intro ushers in a tight jam, with Whitney and Wetton playing a smoldering blues riff in perfect synchronization, while a strange synthesizer line fades in and out of the background. Finally, the band steps aside and allows Chapman to scream out what is all but a declaration of war: "God knows I'm hip, but I ain't yours or his - everybody's ass is up for kicks!" Subsequent lines make less sense - Chapman's admonition "Here, boy, have a snake / That's where you're sleeping and I'll wake / But don't strut me and my way" has defied explanation for years. On the other hand, Chappo can sing "Can you lend me thirty quid for petrol?" and make it sound like great rock and roll, so who am I to wonder what the hell he's talking about?

While Family has a lighter side on Fearless, it is by no means soft. The bewitchingly terrifying "Spanish Tide" is ostensibly a folk rocker, but don't expect James Taylor. A haunting harpsichord introduces the song, the acoustic guitars dissolve into melancholia, and Wetton's bass digs a trench for the rhythm to move through, complemented by Wetton's desparate vocal. By contrast, "Children," a pleasant ballad, is more optimistic, and Chapman shows unexpected gentleness in his delivery, but the halting rhythm undercuts the sweetness of the words. Family puts other so-called "progressive" rock bands to shame as well with Poli Palmer's "Crinkly Grin," a jazz instrumental led by Palmer's vibraphone. It doesn't go off into the wilderness like the classical workouts of, say, Emerson, Lake and (Carl) Palmer do; it lasts 65 seconds before fading out. You're left wanting more of it, not less.

The culmination of Family's intense experimentation on Fearless comes in the two final tracks. "Blind" rushes out with plodding, slashing meld of guitars and bass while the drums swing from left to right. As the arrangement - if it can be called that - picks up steam, Chapman roars in, screeching out lyrics warning the blind and the deaf of all the pain and suffering they'd be witness to if they could see or hear. As the band continues its assault, Chapman offers a warning to those in power responsible for the world's ills that their time is going to come. The closing song, "Burning Bridges," presents a creeping guitar line with a slow Gothic overtone, and Chapman's voice eerily resembles that of Peter Gabriel as he sings of being taunted by spirits even as anonymous holy men exploit his faith in God. The song says as much about organized religion as all of Jethro Tull's morality-play songs put together. Small wonder that Tull leader Ian Anderson himself, like many others, considered Family criminally underrated.

Fearless is a challenging and demanding work that lives up to its title; Family was not afraid to go where other bands dared not tread, even as the group remained true to its rhythm-and-blues roots. In short, it's a re-affirmation of everything rock and roll is meant to be. The sleeve was no less innovative; it featured computer-generated portraits of the band members along the edge of a page diagonally cut in serpentine fashion, with four layered and similarly cut pages visible underneath showing the pictures melding into a blur. (Of course, Castle Music was unable to replicate this with the CD edition.) The album not only peaked at number fourteen in the U.K., it even made a dent on the Billboard charts in the U.S. After the first Family LPs issued in America by United Artists, A Song For Me and Anyway, failed to chart, Fearless bubbled at the bottom of the Top Two Hundred album listings (peaking at number 177) and got radio airplay from intrigued DJs. Finally, Americans - albeit a handful of them - were beginning to listen.

(The Castle Music compact disc edition of Fearless may not have the bold sleeve layout, but it does have two bonus tracks - Family's cutting July 1971 single "In My Own Time" and its B-side, "Seasons," a whimsical account of the seasons of the year. It was their first Top Ten single in the United Kingdom [highest chart position: number four].)

(The original die-cut sleeve for the Fearless album on vinyl. I have one in my collection!)


Bandstand (1972) ****

Song Selection: Burlesque; Bolero Babe; Coronation; Dark Eyes; Broken Nose; My Friend the Sun; Glove; Ready To Go; Top of the Hill

CD Bonus Track: The Rockin' R's

Fearless was a difficult album for Family to top, but that didn't stop the quintet from trying. For their sixth album, Bandstand, the group attempted a tougher edge to their sound; they experimented more with synthesizers, sought a grittier yet polished feel that suggested a sophisticated Rolling Stones album (talk about contradictions in terms), and, for the first time, introduced a female backing vocalist into the mix. The woman in question was Linda Lewis, a high-pitched London R&B diva of West Indian heritage who at the time was the girlfriend of Jim Cregan, who would soon become Family's fourth and final bass player. Lewis's five-octave range made her stand out considerably here, and she provided a formidable backdrop for Roger Chapman on this record.

The final outcome of all this innovation produced both mixed results and mixed reviews. Many critics and fans regard Bandstand as being superior to Fearless, but I don't hear it myself. Not that I'm suggesting that Bandstand is anything less than a solid album, of course; Family came up with some really tough playing here, Poli Palmer concocted some wonderfully subtle synthesizer lines as well, and the group's sound was crisper than ever. The whole, however, falls short of matching Fearless in terms of consistency. There are some undeniably weak moments here, and not every song on Bandstand is as memorable as those that grace Fearless or A Song For Me. But it's still Family as the group's fans know them, no small accomplishment.

The album's sleeve was a similarly tremendous feat. Bandstand featured a cover depicting the image of - and die-cut in the shape of - an antique television set with the band onscreen posing in a dimly lit recording studio; opening the layered page revealed the television set's mechanism underneath. Again, this was impossible to replicate to the letter on CD, though Castle Music did a good job coming close.

Bandstand opens with "Burlesque," a gut-busting tune that was also a big U.K. hit single.  It shows Family adapting a happy-go-lucky boogie stance similar to that of the Faces (Chapman: "We were definitely starting to drink"), with lyrics about gorgeous women and good times. (The song's title comes from a club Chapman and Charlie Whitney frequented in Leicester.) As with Fearless, Family then go off on many variations of their music. "Coronation," which John Wetton helped Chapman and Whitney write, is a powerful midtempo rocker sketching the restlessness of the dweller of a disheveled apartment, propelled by Rob Townsend's superb backbeat. Also standing out is "Ready To Go," an upfront rock number in which Chapman pokes fun at the band's critics in the British rock press.

The heaviest number by far, though, is "Broken Nose," an angry sexual rant that sticks out here like, well, a broken nose. The lyrics tell a tale of disgust rooted in the tensions and class differences between the rich female protagonist and her hapless working-class boyfriend (she broke his nose!). Chapman shouts, screams, stutters, and preens throughout, aided and abetted by Wetton's bubbling bass, Townsend's intense drumming and Palmer's angry synthesizer playing. It is Linda Lewis, though, who stands out here, giving Chapman support but seemingly ready to drown him out in a rock and roll battle of the sexes (Mr. Riggs, meet Ms. King!). This track would have scared the Stones, and probably did - because unlike Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who grew up as nice middle-class boys in Kent, Chapman and Whitney were blue-collar blokes from Leicester with chips on their shoulders.

Family still manage to produce enjoyable light tunes on Bandstand. "Dark Eyes," a Chapman-Palmer composition, is a pretty piano ballad employing Palmer's flute, as well as harmonies suggesting Crosby, Stills and Nash. The soul-based "Glove" is the opposite of "Broken Nose," with Chapman's clumsy narrator picking up a sophisticated lady's glove and earning with his chivalry the right to walk with her for awhile. The greatest song on this album, though is "My Friend The Sun," probably the most beautiful rock ballad Family ever recorded. Chappo's voice displays a sensitivity rarely heard since Music In a Doll's House, and he's backed by the most understated acoustic guitar ensemble ever performed on a Family LP (joined by a violin and/or an accordion midway through and Wetton's backing vocals toward the end). The song itself is about how better times are always ahead even in the aftermath of one's darkest hour. It's Family's equivalent to the Beatles's "Let It Be."

So what's wrong with Bandstand? Well, the song "Bolero Babe" is a little too slow, and "Top of the Hill," the closing cut, takes a bit too long to reach the top of the hill. Some of the arrangements on the album could have been tighter, and John Wetton, after being such a vital presence vocally on Fearless, doesn't sing lead anywhere here; his talents were clearly being underemployed on this record. Although Bandstand was still a great album and proved to be considerably ahead of the rest of British rock, there were small signs that Family's consistency was beginning to wane a bit - an observation not lost on Chapman and Whitney.

Dissatisfied with his marginalized role in the group, Wetton left Family right after Bandstand's release in the U.K. in September 1972, eventually joining King Crimson as a frontman. Jim Cregan replaced him, and the group then toured America (with Linda Lewis, of course!) as the warmup act for Elton John on his fall 1972 North American tour, which included two Canadian dates in Toronto and Montreal - their only two concerts in Canada. Bandstand, meanwhile, only reached a lackluster number fifteen on the British album charts and was considered a commercial disappointment. Ironically, it was a relative success in America, where it peaked on the Billboard charts at number 183 - better than expected! The exposure from their tour with Elton John certainly helped, as did radio airplay and United Artists Records's promotional efforts (which Rob Townsend, for one, greatly appreciated). Family now had a cult following in the United States, and it seemed like they were on the verge of making it big there at last. Then, when the group returned home in November 1972, Poli Palmer left to form a new band with Rick Grech (even though he and Palmer were never in Family at the same time), but that effort became stillborn. Palmer was soon replaced by keyboardist Tony Ashton.

The two recent personnel changes caused some disruptions in Family, and after the failure of a single released in April 1973 ("Boom Bang," more of which in the next review), Chapman and Whitney were left wondering what to do next. Their ultimate decision would surprise everyone.

(Family had mostly kept singles and albums separate from each other, as was the custom in the U.K. in the sixties and early seventies, but by this point British rock was adapting to the American custom of including singles on albums, and Family released "Burlesque" as a 45. The Castle Music compact disc edition of Bandstand includes as a bonus track the non-album B-side of "Burlesque," "The Rockin' R's," a terrific tribute to the fifties American rock and roll that influenced Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney. It's similar in style to Elton John's "Crocodile Rock.")

(Editor's Note: The John Wetton of Family and King Crimson was the same John Wetton who played bass and sang lead for the eighties supergroup Asia. So in 1982, after buying all those Blind Faith records thirteen years earlier, Americans were once again buying records from an all-star British rock quartet whose bass player was known for his gig in Family. History does indeed repeat itself.  Wetton died of cancer in 2017.)

(The original die-cut sleeve for the Bandstand album on vinyl. I have this one, too.)


It's Only a Movie (1973)***

Song Selection: It's Only a Movie; Leroy; Buffet Tea For Two; Boom Bang; Boots 'n' Roots; Banger (instrumental); Sweet Desiree; Suspicion; Check Out

CD Bonus Tracks: Stop This Car; Drink To You

Rocky Marciano, Dick Van Dyke, and Cary Grant had all known when to quit; so, it proved, did Family. By the middle of 1973, Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney felt it was time to dissolve their group, largely for three reasons. First, there was the lineup; there had been five personnel changes up to that point, meaning that there had been as many replacements as there had been original members. Chapman and Whitney feared that, with so many member turnovers, Family might soon turn into a parody of themselves; indeed, they were becoming notorious for being unable to hold onto a bass player for more than two albums. Secondly, their songwriting was beginning to get formulaic, and they felt that their most innovative ideas had been exhausted. (Chapman: "The choruses came more and more. As you write [songs] you can't help but standardize yourself.") Thirdly, they realized that achieving mainstream success in America was a pipedream; though they stirred some interest in the U.S. with Bandstand and their gig with Elton John and had gained a small (but loyal) American audience, that audience was too small to sustain them stateside. And so Family would call it a day - but not before recording a final album and supporting it with a farewell tour.

That album, It's Only a Movie, is Family's loosest and most relaxed work. With nothing more to prove, Chapman, Whitney, and Rob Townsend decided it was time to have fun with the music and stop being so damn serious. New members Jim Cregan and Tony Ashton were certainly game as well. This time Family went back to the roots of rock and roll, finding their inspiration in the carefree sounds of ragtime, Dixieland, and country, with a little New Orleans soul thrown in. It was an affectionate exploration of the various forms of American popular music that had always intrigued and inspired them. At times this record sounds like a mediocre Band album, and other times it recalls Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection LP (which, to be honest, is the same thing as a mediocre Band album). But because this is a Family LP, It's Only a Movie also throws in a couple of curves as well to keep the music interesting.

When I first heard It's Only a Movie, the group member who stood out the most to me, surprisingly, was keyboardist Tony Ashton. Ashton, like Cregan, had been recruited to help Family honor concert commitments, and although he probably knew that his gig with Family would be a one-album deal, he plays on this album with more effort and panache than he really has to. Ashton, who sadly died of cancer in the spring of 2001 at the age of 55, was a rowdy pianist who could play great boogie riffs and handled ragtime, honky tonk, and Old West saloon styles with skill and flair. I maintain that drummer Rob Townsend was the group's only virtuoso, but Ashton gave Townsend a pretty good run for the money on this record!

Alas, the same can't be said for bassist Jim Cregan. Cregan has primarily been a rhythm guitarist for much of his career - he was Rod Stewart's rhythm guitarist (and occasional songwriting collaborator) from 1977 to 1995, by the way - so although he could easily adapt to the bass because it is a rhythmic instrument, his bass playing is somewhat pedestrian. There are no bass lines on It's Only a Movie that stand out the way bass lines on previous Family albums do. To be fair, though, Cregan did get the job done by giving the songs on It's Only a Movie consistent, if unspectacular, pacing.

For all its charms, though, It's Only a Movie has one bad song, so I'll dispense with that right away. "Boom Bang," the first of two singles on the album, is a lyrically vulgar rocker dealing with various ways male members of different species get sexually aroused. Chapman delivers a fiery vocal here (elsewhere on the album, he's considerably restrained), the band offers up a solid arrangement, and Linda Lewis provides some incredible backup vocal pyrotechnics, but it . . . just . . . doesn't . . . work. It's a good performance that can't save a bad song. Call it dysfunctional Family.

The rest of It's Only a Movie, though, is an enjoyable hoot. Many of the songs are about ambition and frustration, and Family arrange them quite nicely with a basic roadhouse band sound delicately embellished by horns and strings. The LP starts off with the title song, a tale of an old-time movie director making a Western and being unable to develop the story properly. Ashton's smoky saloon piano and various sound effects - gunshots, horses - provide a nice, jokey Old West atmosphere. Whitney's heavy electric riff carries a good deal of "It's Only a Movie," and the humorous spoken-word narration that interrupts the lyrics shows just how befuddled everyone involved with this imaginary Western is.

The album's two best songs are about the desire for something better in life and to put down some kind of roots, even if it's not necessarily possible. "Buffet Tea for Two," finds Chapman's narrator walking out on a worn-out relationship with a woman and starting over; some strident guitar, moderate orchestration, and Ashton's dexterous ivory tickling give the song a laid-back LA rock feel. "Boots 'n' Roots," presumably about a traveling hobo in the American hinterlands, starts with Ashton's piano before abruptly starting over with a new arrangement, which features some tart guitar playing with each note bristling against one another; it melds well with Chapman's deadpan vocal. (The horns at the beginning that sample "Wait 'Til the Sun Shines, Nellie" are a nice touch!)

Much of the remainder of It's Only a Movie is good, inconsequential fun that shows Family lightening up more than they'd ever done before, except maybe on a couple of their earlier singles. "Banger," a safe-sounding instrumental with a risque title, suggests a late-night jam session in some Bourbon Street club. "Sweet Desiree," the second single on the album, is slow Dixieland with some boisterous harmonies and callback vocals, with a bit of hot funk thrown in at the end, and the similar "Suspicion" is an effervescent tune that sounds like what Loggins and Messina might have come up with if they hadn't been so mellow. The closing tune, the appropriately titled "Check Out," is a sharp rocker about an escaped convict on the lam; a crunchy guitar riff powers the song, with Ashton's bright organ and Linda Lewis's soaring backup vocal helping it glide along. Then it builds up in intensity toward the end, and just when you think it's coming to a grand finish, it fades out instead. Typical Family.

It's Only a Movie was a respectable way to bow out, and Family's farewell tour in the fall of 1973, which featured some exciting shows, topped off their career with panache. The very last concert was held in - where else? - Leicester on October 13, and those who saw it clearly remember Family going out with a bang (though the band members themselves probably don't remember it so clearly).

Following Family's demise, Chapman and Whitney reunited to form a new group with a different sound - Streetwalkers, which had a more R&B flavor to it and included some album-radio polish. That group broke up in 1977, and Roger Chapman was a solo artist from then until his retirement in 2009. (He came out of retirement in 2010.) Whitney and Townsend have played in various small bands since the late seventies, and Whitney issued his first solo album in 1999. Whitney was in a folk/blues group, the Whitney/Roberts Combo, which has since disbanded; Townsend joined a group simply called the Blues Band, featuring former Manfred Mann lead singer Paul Jones as a frontman. Jim King died in February 2012 at the age of 69.  At no time before the end of 2012, though, had Family regrouped in any way. Unlike most bands, Family had not taken the chance of reuniting and ruining people's memories of the group by coming up with a mediocre record or stage show (which, of course, would only be guaranteed a listen because of the Family name). And the memories we have of Family are all good ones, because the group called it quits before they outstayed their welcome like, say, the Beach Boys.  However, two reunion shows with the lineup that toured the U.S. as Elton John's opening act in 1972 - sans Charlie Whitney - were performed in February 2013, along with a third show in August 2013, to great fanfare; they played two more shows in Leicester and in London in early 2014, along with some shows in 2015.  In December 2016, they played their last reunion shows ever, including a show in their hometown of Leicester on December 22.  (Examples of the 2013 shows can be seen on this site's "Family Reunions" page.)  Chapman, Jim Cregan, Poli Palmer and Rob Townsend decided to play these concerts when it became apparent that they were all eager to do so, and the February 2013 concerts were held in conjunction with the release of the Once Upon a Time box set of re-issues (see below under "Extended Family").

And the music? Much of it still sounds fresh and innovative today, and it left a impact on the musicians who heard it, like Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, for one. Family's legacy is probably best summed up by Roger Chapman himself:

"We never set out to do anything, we didn't try to be different, it was never calculated. We were just arranging music as we thought it should be done. It was as naive and as honest as that."

(The Castle Music compact disc edition of It's Only a Movie features the two respective B-sides of "Boom Bang" and "Sweet Desiree," "Stop This Car" and "Drink To You." Both are fun numbers that reflect the good-time vibes of the last Family recording sessions. "Stop This Car" is a straight country tune, with pure Nashville-style production. "Drink To You" is a power-pop song with a killer guitar riff and some tough harmonica; Jim Cregan wrote it and sings lead.)


(Family on the British pop show "The Old Grey Whistle Test, November 1971.  From left, John Wetton, Charlie Whitney, Roger Chapman, Rob Townsend, Poli Palmer.)

Family Matters

Have any observations (from a hill) about Family that you'd like to share? Or do you just want to larf and sing? Please send any comments you have to Steven Maginnis - that would be me - at and I'll try to answer you if I can. I'm ready to go!

(Family, 1972. From left, Jim Cregan, Rob Townsend, Roger Chapman, Poli Palmer, Charlie Whitney.)


Family Viewing - A Video Addendum

In June 2003, Bob Fowler, a fellow American Family fan that I met online on the message board at Roger Chapman's official Web site (a link to which is at the bottom of this page), was kind enough to send me a compilation videocassette of some of Family's television and stage performances. The clips feature performances of songs just as potent as they are on record, but the real gems here are clips from their appearances at the Kralingen festival in Rotterdam in June 1970 and the Glastonbury festival in June 1971, where they played two of the dirtiest, nastiest versions of "Drowned In Wine" caught on camera. In both performances, Roger Chapman's vibrato mutates into a scorching melisma drenched more in mud than in Beaujolais. These clips capture the thunder of Family's live act right down to Chapman's menacing stage persona and fiery vocals. Also included here is a television performance of "The Weaver's Answer" from the German pop music show "Beat-Club." Here, the song achieves the violent, nasty sound the group attempted to get in the recording studio. Poli Palmer substitutes a scathing flute solo for Jim King's saxophone on the original record, Chapman's voice roars with greater fury, and Rob Townsend's aggressive drum fills sound like the work of two drummers playing simultaneously; on a skimpy Ludwig drum kit, Townsend devastates drummers with larger sets. Another performance of "The Weaver's Answer" on this tape from the Isle of Wight music festival in August 1970 is somewhat less focused but no less ferocious.

Also included on this videotape are Roger Chapman's recent solo performances, including a concert on German television from 2000 in which Chappo sings with the same passion from his Family days and still screeches with the same energy. All of his songs from this gig were from his solo albums, showing that Chapman was by no means a slave to complacency or nostalgia. In 2009, he announced his retirement, and his (supposed) last concerts took place in his hometown of Leicester on December 18 and 19 of that year. But as of now, he's out of retirement, and of course he took part in the Family reunion concerts of 2013. If you get a chance to see him perform, seize the day!

These two videos are two of Family's earliest television performances - "Me My Friend," from French television, and "Dim" from the British show "How Late It Is."

("Me My Friend," French TV [INA], 1968, courtesy of

("Dim" - "How Late It Is," 1969)

Here is the video of Family's performance of "The Weaver's Answer" from German television that I referred to above, along with the 1970 Rotterdam performance of "Drowned In Wine."

("The Weaver's Answer" - "Beat-Club," 1970)

("Drowned In Wine" - Rotterdam, June 27, 1970)

For your viewing pleasure, here are two more videos. The first one is a clip of the band performing their big hit "In My Own Time," while the second is a September 1971 performance of "Holding The Compass" from "Beat-Club" (minus Rob Townsend, who was unavailable).

("In My Own Time" - 1971)

("Holding The Compass" - "Beat-Club," 1971)

What could be better than a video of Family performing a song? How about a TV special of Family performing five or six songs? The clip below is the television special "Family: Doing Their Thing," featuring the classic 1970 lineup in a live performance before a studio audience, taped on September 25 of that year. This twenty-two-minute performance features "Good News Bad News," "Drowned In Wine," a medley of "Processions and "No Mules Fool," "Strange Band," and "Holding The Compass." Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney provide the volleys that gave Family's music its mighty roar, and John Weider proves that a violin is a rock and roll instrument too. There are no spoken introductions are expressions of gratitude here; the band is too busy rocking out. :-) Courtesy of

In January 2013, Roger Chapman and Rob Townsend gave an interview in advance of Family's February 2013 reunion shows in part to promote Once Upon A Time, a fourteen-disc box set containing every Family recording ever commercially released along with other goodies (more about which in the "Extended Family" section below). They explain Charlie Whitney's absence from the reunion and throw out some anecdotes, including revealing commentary about the Anyway LP and how the live songs were recorded under-rehearsed.

In February 2019, Poli Palmer spoke to Madfish Records about the label's new deluxe set of Family's BBC Radio sessions, Family at the BBC, the details of which are below in the "Extended Family" session.  He has some wonderful anecdotes about the old days as he goes over this very limited-edition release.
All videos are from YouTube.


Family Sayings - Lyrics

From 2002 to 2010, this page was on a now-antiquated Blogger page format. The advent of a new Blogger format allowing separate pages to complement the main page has now afforded me to do something I could not do with my original page - feature the lyrics to all of Family's songs. Family recorded 76 songs (and eight instrumentals) over the course of six years, and the group's unique lyricism has always been a hallmark of their style. I have eight separate lyrics pages, one page for each album and an eighth page for non-album tracks. (Family recorded no fewer than thirteen songs that did not appear on their original long players but were issued instead as singles and on extended players.) While lyrics to Family's songs can be found elsewhere on the Web, this site features all of them, and some alternate lyrics are also included in the interest of completion. 

The lyrics are mostly derived from lyric sheets included on Family CDs, but the words to the thirteen non-album songs are based on listener's transcriptions, a couple of which are my own. As some of the lyrics to these songs can be difficult to make out, there are possibly a few errors in these transcriptions, and I apologize in advance if some of the words are wrong. If anyone spots an error and knows the right word(s), please feel free to contact me with a correction.

Expletives in these lyrics have been deleted, though not at the request at the record company; it's just a matter of personal taste, and you can figure out the offending words when you read the lyrics anyway.

Note: Although Family were British, American spellings were used on these online lyric sheets. I'm just more comfortable with American spellings.

(The final lineup of Family, 1973. From left: Rob Townsend, Tony Ashton, Jim Cregan, Charlie Whitney, Roger Chapman.)



I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped make this page possible in one way or another: Patrick Little, whose excellent Web page on Family served me well as a primary source of information; Mick White, a musician and writer who e-mailed me with some greatly appreciated corrections on Family's output; Terry Kohn, my writing professor in college, who made me realize that writing was what I wanted to do with my life; Bob Fowler, for the wonderful videotape; and Paul Volpe, my high school chum, with whom I had many a conversation about rock and roll and who is the reason why I still go on about the subject today. Most of all, I'd like to thank every fellow member of my former and present writers' groups for their input on all my pieces, whether about Family or anything else - you know who you are! :-)

My mother got exasperated with me for monopolizing the computer while I labored to assemble this page and get it just right. A great deal of gratitude goes to her for her patience and understanding.

Special thanks to Blogger for providing me the opportunity to establish this page for free. Also, I'd like to thank current pop groups for reminding us all why we need another band like Family today.

Finally, thanks to the seven surviving alumni of Family, including Harry Ovenall, and to the memories of Rick Grech (had I not heard of him, I might never have heard of Family), Jim King, Tony Ashton, and John Wetton for all the wonderful music they created between 1967 and 1973, which I continue to listen to today. I drink to you!


Extended Family

Although this page does not include reviews of post-1973 releases, there are numerous posthumous albums I'd like to direct your attention to:

Live - This album, released by Mystic Records in the United Kingdom in September 2003, is a document of Family's November 1971 tour of Britain to promote Fearless. On this page is a link to a review from the online magazine In Music We Trust, written by . . . me. You can access it here.

BBC Radio, Volume 1 - 1968-69 - Released by Hux Records in the United Kingdom in June 2004, this album features sixteen songs Family performed for various pop shows on BBC's Radio 1 station between September 1968 and July 1969. Except for the July 1969 performances, which featured John Weider in place of Rick Grech, these recordings feature the original lineup. Many of these songs were composed with Grech and/or Jim King in mind and performed on the BBC before Family properly recorded them for disc, so many of these performances sound different from the officially released versions. Also included here is a stunning cover of J.B. Lenoir's "I Sing 'Um The Way I Feel." More information on this release is available here.

BBC Radio, Volume 2 - 1971-73 - Released by Hux Records in the U.K. in September 2004, this album features fourteen songs Family performed on various pop shows on BBC's Radio 1 station from March 1971 to May 1973. Although not as consistent as the earlier CD - these appearances on Radio 1 cover a period in which Family endured most of their personnel changes - it contains several interesting variations on their best-known songs that are definitely worth a listen, and an intriguing medley of "Processions" and "No Mule's Fool" is included. More information on this release is available here.

BBC Radio, Volume 3 - 1970 - This Hux Records disc, released in the U.K. in August 2009, features rare BBC Radio 1 performances from January 1970 and September 1970, including Poli Palmer's debut with the group. Among the surprises are Palmer's instrumental "Here Comes the Grin" and a jam titled "Blow By Blow," both available here for the first time anywhere. Most of the original BBC Radio 1 tapes that comprise this collection were "wiped" (Britspeak for "erased"), and so this album was derived from private off-air recordings. As this was done in 1970, sound quality is substandard, but it's still worth a listen, as many of the songs featured here have arrangements different from the studio versions on the original Family LPs. More information on this release is available here.

Once Upon a Time - This box set brings together the Family catalog for the first time ever in a strictly limited edition complied with Roger Chapman's cooperation, limited to 2,000 numbered copies and individually signed by Chapman. It includes all seven Family albums (plus one anthology) in mini-LP Japanese-style gatefold sleeves, the Live album, two compact discs of previously unreleased alternative versions and rarities, three CD singles reproduced in original picture sleeves, and - wait for it - a 72-page hardback book about the band that features many previously unseen photographs and memorabilia reproductions.  When it was issued, it sold for £125, or US$200.  Also available is a box set of the four original albums of Chapman's and Whitney's mid-seventies band Streetwalkers, on CD.  This set has since gone out of print, and this information remains on this site for documentary purposes only. If you can find an aftermarket copy, you're the luckiest person on earth.

Family at the BBC - To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Family's first album, Madfish Records issued in late 2018 an exquisite set that goes beyond Hux's 2004 and 2009 releases.  It compiles all of the recordings of Family's BBC sessions, with twenty previously unreleased tracks, spread across seven compact discs with a DVD of their television appearances - all bound in a 48-page hardcover book of pictures of the band.  The price of this superb package? £85 (US$110.88).  Needless to say, this is a very limited edition - only 2,000 copies available.  If you can afford it, get it - go here to order.
Family Ties

Here are links to other Family-related sites:

The Family MySpace Page - The band is represented by a page on one of the most popular social networking services on the Internet. The site includes photographs, videos (some of which are also featured here), a brief history of the band, and audio clips.

The Roger Chapman Official Appreciation Society - Chappo and his official site are still going strong. It provides the latest news and information on all things Chappo; a full discography is included.

The Roger Chapman Family Page - Chappo also has a MySpace page, with song clips and pictures. He's been on MySpace since November 2006.

Family Bandstand - This page has effectively replaced Patrick Little's original Family fan site, importing much of the information from that discontinued page. In addition to videos and sound clips, you will find a chronological summary of the group's history, the latest news, an online CD and videodisc store, photos, press clippings, and other features.

(This page was last modified on May 21, 2021.)