60s Today contributor Ian Mole recalls the experience of seeing Family live in 1969.
Newcastle City Hall, early February 1969. The gig was running late and the MC told us that due to lack of time not every band on the bill would be able to play, so did we want to see Moby Grape or Family? Moby Grape were something of a cult band from the States and I’d really liked their song ‘Can’t Be So Bad’ on the CBS compilation ‘The Rock Machine Turns You On’. As it happened, Family were going to play at the Top Rank Suite in Sunderland the following night, whereas this was Moby Grape’s first, and, as far as I know, last ever tour of the UK, so there was no contest.
We had to shout for which group we wanted and I was annoyed when Family got the vote. Family duly came on and had to tune up to chants of “Moby Grape, Moby Grape!” from a sizeable section of the audience. Vocalist Roger Chapman clearly felt awkward but he tried his best to get into it. Chapman’s distinctive guttural vibrato was only one of the factors that made them a joy to hear and I ended up seeing them four times during 1969. Their line-up at the City Hall show was Roger on vocals, Rob Townsend on drums, Charlie Whitney on guitar, Ric Grech on bass and violin, and my favourite – Jim King on sax.
Next time I saw Family was nearly six months later at the Bay Hotel in Sunderland on 21st July, and it was put on by a local promoter Geoff Docherty. By that time John Weider had joined them on bass and violin after Ric Grech had left to join Blind Faith. It was a hot and sweaty summer night and there was a good crowd packed in there. They played a selection of songs from their first two albums, ‘Music in a Doll’s House’ and ‘Family Entertainment’. I thought Jim King was the definition of cool and I loved his solo on ‘The Weaver’s Answer’, the first track on the latter album. It cost 10s 6d (53pence) to get in.
After the gig John Weider emerged, sat by the dancefloor. He ended up chatting to an acquaintance of mine and clearly found our local style of dancing amusing. It was a kind of hopping freak-out style and I’m just glad nobody had a video camera back then.
Just a month later, on 22nd August, I saw them again at another Sunderland venue called the Fillmore North. The crowds coming to see Geoff’s shows had outgrown the Bay Hotel and the Locarno/Fillmore was a much bigger venue. It was 12s 6d (63 pence) to get in.
One of the support acts was a solo singer-guitarist called Bridget St John. Geoff had to get on the stage and tell some noisy people up on the balcony to keep their voices down. Rob Townshend did a lengthy and enjoyable drum solo every time I saw them. Drum solos were a regular feature of rock gigs back then and could be mighty boring, but I suppose it gave the rest of the band a chance to have a towel down or whatever.
The last time I saw them was at the same venue on 17th October, and this time they were supported by Man, who’d had a single that year called ‘Sudden Life’, which was very popular in Sunderland. Every time the DJ put it on there was much of the aforementioned nutty local dancing, and I was in the middle of it usually. That night, though, they seemed very nervous and didn’t come across well with the audience. At one of these gigs, I was upstairs and was a bit surprised to see Roger Chapman queuing up to buy a hamburger. Somebody dared me to touch his arm so I did. He never noticed. I was only 15.
After Family broke up in 1973, the new band Chapman-Whitney’s Streetwalkers arose from the ashes. I saw them at the Who’s gig at Charlton’s football ground on 31st May 1976. I wasn’t familiar with their songs at Charlton, apart from the oldie ‘Burlesque’, which rocked out as great as ever.
I also saw Roger perform with a completely new band at Under the Bridge in Fulham in 2014, and he was still sounding great. Again, the only song I recognized was the evergreen ‘Burlesque’.
Ian Mole is a teacher of English to overseas students and a walking tour guide in London, specializing in music-related tours.