The band came together from the remnants of R & B bands, The Farinas and The Roaring Sixties. Formed originally by Charlie Whitney, Jim King, Tim Kirchin and Harry Ovenall in the early sixties. By 1967, Ric Grech had replaced Kirchin on bass and Roger Chapman was now the vocalist. The band moved to London from their Leicestershire base and were renamed Family following a meeting with famous record producer Kim Fowley. It is rumoured that Fowley suggested the name due to the bands on- stage appearances in double-breasted suits that made them look like members of the Mafia!!
Now willing to throw off the straitjacket of R & B and ready to embrace the freedom and influences that the exploding underground scene offered, their reputation as a live act grew due in no short measure to the wild man antics of Chapman. They recorded their debut single “Scene Through An Eye Of A Lens” in late 1967. Produced by the influential Jimmy Miller, it is a fine example of British psychedelia and the first time Chapman’s unique vocals were heard on record. Not that too many did hear as the record sold poorly and flopped.
The band signed to the Reprise label and they set about recording their first album during early 1968. By this time, drummer Ovenall had left and Rob Townsend was drafted in as replacement. “Music In A Dolls House” was released in July 1968 and received wide critical acclaim. Mostly produced by Dave Mason of Traffic, the album accurately captured their live show, and contains a number of tracks destined to become firm Family favourites such as “See Through Windows” “Me My Friend” “Old Songs New Songs” and “Peace Of Mind”. With Chapman’s odd vocals, ranging from gentle and almost whispered words, though to rasping strained exclamations, and with a most un- rock like line up of instruments, the album perfectly reflected their position as one of the more original bands of the Progressive Underground. The rich and varied sound helped by the inclusion of saxophones, cello, sitar, impressive violin and freaky effects is now acknowledged as a forgotten classic of British Psychedelic Rock.
The band did receive some unwanted publicity around this time as they featured in the novel “Groupie” by Jenny Fabian and Johnny Byrne with the thinly disguised pseudonym “Relation”
Continuing on an upward path that saw them now in the same league as Pink Floyd and Soft Machine, the band were anxious to return to the studio to record their next album, 1969’s “Family Entertainment” This album was a more straight forward affair with less experimentation and with the psychedelics reigned in. More of an out and out rock album than the predecessor, the musicianship is still there and the songs are tight but you cannot help but be a tad disappointed after the originality of the debut. Chapman’s voice still ensures that “Family” sound and strong tracks such as “Observations From A Hill”, the gentle “Face In The Cloud” with its haunting sitar, the rocky Beatles-like “Second Generation Woman” and the timeless “Weavers Answer” all help to deliver a fine album that made its mark on the UK chart with a number 6 placing.
With their success in the UK now established, the next step was the American market and in April 1969 the group embarked on what was to be a problematical tour. Shortly after the tour started. Ric Grech left the band to join Blind Faith and John Weider was recruited. With previous experience playing with the likes of Steve Marriott, The Pirates and latterly with Eric Burdon’s Animals, Weider proved to be a more than suitable replacement. While this on its own would have been enough to throw the band off its stride, more problems followed. As support to Ten Years After, they received little attention or applause and confrontations with the audience were common. They also had an incident with influential promoter Bill Graham who accused Chapman of hurling a mic stand at him. Although not the case, they were removed from the support slot for a while and, coincidently, were never to become more than a cult band in the States.
Following their return home, Jim King was forced from the band and talented multi- instrumentalist John “Poli” Palmer joined.
The next album, “A Song For Me” was released in January 1970. As this album was the first to feature the new influential band members, it was obvious that the sound of the band would change. With this album, Family served up a much heavier version of the “Family sound" but still used an interesting array of instruments to keep listeners on their toes. The opening track, “Drowned In Wine” contained some of the most agonised, bluesy vocals from Chapman, while the title song, clocking in at around ten minutes, had all band members trying to out do each other as they rocked out. The new sounds appealed to the fans as the album speed up to number 4 in the charts.
Now on a commercial and critical high, the band wanted to capture their astonishing live show on record. The next release was “Anyway” which had one side live and one studio. (You could do that in those days!). A decent enough record, it does give the feeling of a bit of a stopgap before the next “proper” release. Perhaps this is a bit unfair as the live side is good if a bit unfocused and the recording quality is, at best, average. The studio side works better and shows the band once again not afraid to use an imaginative selection of instruments. The stand out tracks are the live “Strange Band” and the impressive “Part Of The Load” For the third release running, the album charted, reaching number 7.
The band had a break from recording, continuing with their heavy touring schedule and a compilation album was put out. “Old Songs New Songs” was just that-previously recorded tracks with some remixed.
In June 1971, John Weider left and was replaced by John Wetton. Two albums were recorded with Wetton. “Fearless” in 1971 and “Bandstand” in 1972. “Fearless” was an outstanding release. Varied and expertly played throughout. New man Wetton’s debut was a success with his vocals on the track “Save Some For Thee” particularly impressive.1972’s “Bandstand” saw the band at its most mainstream yet. As always the musicianship was high, but the tracks were more conventional and commercial. The album contained the hit single “Burlesque” and the single that should have been a hit “My Friend The Sun” Chapman is at his most restrained throughout and the album has more than its share of ballads. Both the albums had respectable showings in the chart, reaching 10 & 15 respectively and even creeping into the US Top 200. During Wetton’s time with the band, they also released their best selling single “In My Own Time”
That was the last of Wetton’s involvement with Family. He left to join King Crimson in July 1972 and Jim Cregan was drafted in and by the end of that year, Poli Palmer had also left to be replaced by Tony Ashton.
“Its Only A Movie” was the last Family release in 1973. It was a dull affair showing the band to be just passed its prime. No longer innovative, the band seems to be going through the motions and it is a sad final document for the band to end on.
Following a farewell tour, they played their final show in their hometown of Leicester in October 1973.
Chapman and Whitney formed “Streetwalkers” in 1974 releasing a number of albums.
Chapman has since enjoyed a successful solo career, most notably in Europe, with 24 solo albums to his name.
Whitney now lives in Greece and concentrates on Bluegrass and Folk music.
Jim King is still involved in music but no longer performs.
Ric Grech played in Blind Faith, Ginger Baker’s Airforce and with Traffic. In 1974 he formed another “Supergroup” called KGB with Mike Bloomfield and Carmine Appice. He died in 1990.
Rob Townsend joined Medicine Head after Family and is a long time member of The Blues Band.
John Weider joined Stud upon leaving and continues to record and release music, most recently in a New Age style.
Poli Palmer has played on many albums as a session player, including releases by Pete Townsend, Peter Frampton and Linda Lewis.
Jim Cregan was in Cockney Rebel and a long time member of the Rod Stewart Band. He recently teamed up again with Roger Chapman to appear live and produce Chapman’s album “One More Time For Peace”
Tony Ashton enjoyed huge success with the single “Resurrection Shuffle” with Gardner and Dyke. Always in demand as a session player he recorded many albums. He died in 2001 from cancer.
Despite a number of chart albums and singles, Family were never big players in the Progressive rock scene. Their unforgettable live shows were sensational and the early albums showed remarkable creativity as they exploited the musical freedom the times allowed. The lack of success in the States however, ultimately hurt their reputation.
Never given the acclaim of their contemporaries like Traffic, The Moody Blues or Jethro Tull, their first three albums helped define the music of the time as much as any band.
The track here is the rare first single "Scene Through The Eye Of A Lens" from 1969
This information is provided as a brief overview and not as a definitive guide, there are other sources on the net for that. If however you have a story or information that is not generally known we would love to hear from you. Content@rokpool.com
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Steve Harley, born Stephen Malcolm Ronald Nice, and is an English singer and song writer. He was born on 27th February 1951 at Deptford, London. He gained international fame while working with the rock band Cockney Rebel and he still works with that band. During his childhood, he suffered from polio and in the hospital he heard Bob Dylan who inspired him.
He started working in clubs and bars and joined the band Odin. He met Jean-Paul Crocker when he was working in Odin and later founded Cockney Rebel in '72. They released their debut album ‘The Human Menagerie’ in 1973. In the following year they released their second album ‘The Psychomodo’, but parted in the same year. After that separation, Steve continued the band with the drummer Stuart Elliot and renamed the band as Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel.
Steves most successful single 'Come Up and See Me Make Me Smile' whilst being a massive Worldwide hit has proved to be a bit of a burden too...as he says "everyone thinks I only wrote one F....ing song!"
Albums included in the 70's were 'Here Comes The Sun' and 'Mr Raffles'. In the 1980 he relocated himself to the United States.
During the early days of 1990, he brought out a number of solo albums. His songs 'Make Me Smile', 'Tumbling Down', and 'Sebastian' featured in the Todd Haynes’ rock musical Velvet Goldmine in 1998. Other albums include ‘Hobo with a Grin’, ‘The Candidate’, ‘Yes You Can’, ‘Poetic Justice’ and The Quality Of Mercy.
This information is provided as a brief overview and not as a definitive guide, there are other sources on the net for that. If however you have a story or information that is not generally known we would love to hear from you. Content@rokpool.com.