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Family farewell gig - 30 years ago today

In recognition of the 30th Anniversary of Family's last gig on 13th October 1973, Andy Jago has put together the following article for your enjoyment. I was one of the fortunate 800 at the final gig, entirely due to my mate Steve being at Leicester Poly at the time and able to get tickets..... Ah, nostalgia sure ain't what it used to be. Thanks to Andy.......

Monday October 13th 2003 is the thirtieth anniversary of Family’s last performance at Leicester Polytechnic. To mark the occasion Andy Jago has extracted and pieced together details from his old scrapbook reports to try and capture the emotion and excitement of one of Rock History’s unforgettable farewell concerts.

On Saturday October 13th 1973 Family, once described by John Peel as one of the most consistently rewarding and genuinely progressive bands on the planet, played their last ever concert together. A five man band formed in Leicester, the final gig was staged in the Hawthorn Building of Leicester Polytechnic. For it was here where the band had started out some years previous, going by the snazzy name of the Farinas. The intimate college hall had a capacity of 800 that prompted the band’s lead vocalist Roger Chapman to quip “We’ll fill that with our mates alone.” This was not only the last date of their twenty six concert Family Farewell Tour, which had started forty one days earlier at Great Yarmouth, but it was the end of the road for a band that had been together since 1967. A few line-up changes not withstanding, they had produced consistently good albums that had all charted, plus four Top 30 singles, but failure to break into the American market had forced the issue before stagnation set in. The tour had been undertaken with the band in exactly the right frame of mind – with no sense of sadness or remorse, and certainly with no pre-occupations of unfulfilled ambitions.

On the night queues formed outside in a disheartening drizzle as the unfortunates eyed the ticket holders enviously. Reports being that tickets were exchanging hands at more than five times the face value to those desperate to attend. Tony Ashton, the band’s newest recruit, rolled up with some drinking mates in an ancient yellow Daimler hired for the occasion. Inside Duster Bennet and a crew of musicians jammed a blues that cheered a hall full of folks no end. He was good and the crowd was in no hurry to say goodnight as they recalled him for an encore. After all, the sooner Family appeared, the sooner they’d go. The interval between the acts heightened the anticipatory enthusiasm as nervous chatter culminated into a buzz. Suddenly, without warning, pitch darkness fell on the small hall as the band filed on stage as ‘The Royal Grenadier March’ erupted through the PA, causing the audience to stamp in time, as they convinced themselves it was going to be one helluva goodbye. And they were right. From the subdued stage lighting the music wafted gently. Tony Ashton’s fragmented piano lines pittered into shape, Rob Townsend skimmed a delicate rhythm, short clipped notes from Charlie Whitney’s double necked Gibson, a piece meal bass rhythm from Jim Cregan. Then beams of blinding colour exploded, and Roger Chapman was up front, his hair flying to the sides, his left hand clinging to the mike-stand, and ‘Top of the Hill’ was slammed straight into the face of the audience. By the end of the song everyone was up and clapping, much to the disgust of the poor souls at the back who couldn’t see, but this was a celebration not a sorrowful last performance. Without any hint of nerves or hesitance the numbers streamed out with ease. The pastiche Americana ‘Its Only A Movie’ followed incorporating a mock film sequence with strobe flashing on Roger Chapman and Jim Cregan. Then it was ‘Checkout’, ‘Procession’ with a snatch of ‘No Mule’s Fool’ planted in the middle and ‘Buffet Tea For Two’. The unity of the band and the audience came over when the crowd virtually sang the whole of ‘My Friend The Sun’, prompting Chappo to shout “if you know the words to that then you’ve done better than I ever have.” It was then into ‘Sweet Desiree’ with thunderous drumming from Rob Townsend. After this the taut and funky ‘Burlesque’ with Jim Cregan bouncing from one side of the stage to the other, Tony Ashton slipping on the beer swilled stage as he played, and Roger Chapman, wearing a bowler hat thrown from the crowd, falling into the pit at the front of the stage. Undeterred he continued singing until he eventually returned to the stage with the help of those at the front. There was calm during the laid-back psychedelic ‘Peace Of Mind’ before the frenzied, archetypal 20 minute tour de force of ‘The Weaver’s Answer’ with a few diversions including ‘Hey Mr Policeman’. The set concluded with ‘In My Own Time’ with the crowd in full voice as they chanted the chorus lines over and over again. The atmosphere was so good that they turned the encore into an hour long rock ‘n’ roll jammin’ session. Tony Ashton played the keys like Jerry Lee Lewis which brought back to the stage Duster Bennet and his band. Tony Kaye of Yes and Ritchie McCracken, who had played with Rory Gallagher in Taste and Jim Cregan in Stud, also appeared on stage. ‘Oh Carol’, ‘Lets Have A Party’ and Huey Smith’s ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu’ were all knocked out as everyone went wild. At the end Roger Chapman, wearing a pair of strides at least two sizes too big, with a split from crotch to waistband, stood in the centre of the stage and raised his hand. Smiling he shouted “goodnight and goodbye” then walked away, behind the stacks of speakers and Family ceased to exist except as a memory.

Over the years they had been one of the most consistent English bands in terms of musical ability and originality and this alone ensured them a rapturous reception from an inevitably nostalgic audience. It was an amazing, touching, raucous, fond farewell. The musicianship that night was quite superb, the whole band putting their heart and soul into the performance. Rob Townsend and Jim Cregan laying down a solid rhythmic line that gradually developed into a mighty wall of sound that was typical Family. Charlie Whitney’s guitar and Tony Ashton’s piano and keyboard work often soaring above the others, but concentrated on mainly driving the music along. Roger Chapman, the 31 year old vocalist and focal point of the band, was in excellent form with that unique built in tremor. He obviously had the audience with him from the word go, sending them and himself into a frenzy, keeping the roadies busy by his tendency to hurl mike stands and smashed tambourines from the stage.

As if to alleviate any stings of sentimentality the band may have felt, a celebration party followed at Leicester’s Holiday Inn attended by relatives and friends. The hotel management had rashly allowed the party to be held at the bar next to the swimming pool. With record company executives among the guests, proceedings began demurely enough. Although big stars like Marc Bolan, Mick Jagger and Slade failed to put in rumoured appearances, there was nevertheless, a strong contingent of celebrities who turned up to pay homage to the Leicester group. They included City footballers Frank Worthington and Len Glover, Deep Purple’s John Lord and Ian Paice, folk singer Ralph McTell, disc jockeys John Peel and Bob Harris, and Medicine Head vocalist John Fiddler. Tribute was paid to the band by Mr Des Brown, general manager of their record company, Warner Brothers, who presented the group with six gold discs that they had earned since 1967. He commented ‘Family had given untold pleasure to thousands of fans, and although they are calling it a day, their music will live on.” The festivities that followed ended in predictable inebriated style with most of the guests finishing up in the swimming pool fully dressed, including the waiters and manager who came to complain. John Fiddler had his spectacles retrieved from the bottom of the swimming pool by a minder from Warner’s who had the whole sub-aqua gear on. He was sitting in the deep end to rescue people who could not swim too well. Headless sardines floated past as somebody had thrown all the sandwiches in along with booze and bottles of bubble bath. Then, when it was all over, soon after the last sodden reveller had collapsed into bed, alarm bells rang out through the hotel. The bomb scare meant the building had to be evacuated. The guests, some still wet, filed out to stand bedraggled in the freezing dawn. It was the management getting their own back. And with that, the band checked out, ready to go to leave behind a music legacy that was to remain strong for decades to come.

Roger Chapman “I don’t begrudge what’s happened because it gave us what we wanted, which was a certain amount of self-respect. The only real ambition that I have ever had is to just make records and go round the country playing the songs on those records to people. If people can appreciate what we are playing and if they show their appreciation, then I couldn’t be happier. We never set out to try and be different, it was never calculated. We were just arranging music as we thought it should be done. It was as naïve and as honest as that. Nobody could get through to us, nobody could put us on their terms, whatever we did it was the way we wanted to do it. It’s great in some ways, but you come to certain levels where you have to work on someone else’s terms. We wouldn’t do that and there’s not many people in this business who can say that. No one can ever say we stooped. In a way we don’t know anybody outside ourselves. We know other people, but they’re people within our own committed circle. We set it up ourselves and it’s of our own making. We’ve been so frightened of success that it’s stopped us from reaching the ultimate. It’s like we’ve spent the whole time just looking up our own arse holes.”

Charlie Whitney “What pleased me is we’ve never sold out, we’ve always played music. We never treated it as a product and I think that’s probably been to our detriment. If we had carried on as Family in England there was only one way to go, and that was down. We weren’t getting to America and it just became a bit pointless really. You definitely need the States. I thought we could have got off on the Elton John tour in 1972 where I don’t think we played a gig to less than 10,000 people. Whether Family could have carried on if we’d got America together I just don’t know. The DJ’s were incredibly into the band, it just needed one thing to break and we’d have done it.”

Rob Townsend “I was devastated when it was all over. The three of us had been together for seven years. We still enjoyed playing together, that’s the shame of it. At the time we split, I’d say it was the happiest Family had ever been.”

Ray Fox-Cumming, New Musical Express, “In seven years they deserved more success than they actually got. Shame, but thanks anyway for some beautiful music.”

Carol Osborn “Family, a group who emerged from the noise and brouhaha of the underground movement when progressive meant underpaid and underplayed, proved they had the talent and stamina to earn the title of one of Britain’s top bands.”

Michael Heatley, editor of History of Rock, “Erratic but inspired, the group produced a brand of uniquely English progressive rock that has never remotely been emulated. To borrow an earlier album title, Family Entertainment was more than guaranteed.”

Brian Hogg “Family’s legacy still continues, in the end it’s the quality of the music that counts, and quality is something Family had plenty of”.

Bob Harris, from his autobiography The Whispering Years, “Family were once my favourite live band, I must have seen them play dozens of times. Roger Chapman is, without doubt, one of the all-time great lead vocalists. I’ve never seen him give less than a hundred per cent.”

John Peel “Family are very possibly the only band in our midst to have remained entertaining without having comprised their musical ideology. They have amused and diverted us without having sacrificed one jot or tittle of their coherence. In doing these things, they have won a large and enthusiastic following without ever having lost their basic good nature and their very real modesty. Family are dead, long live Family.”

Post Family, Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney moved into the more traditional R&B territory and stayed together as a song writing partnership for another four years. In 1974 they released the album Streetwalkers under the banner Chapman and Whitney with invited guest musicians involved in the recording. After this project they formed a stable band and adopted the name Streetwalkers. Together they released three good albums, of which Red Card charted in 1976, plus a live double album, and continued to carve a name for themselves with some storming shows without fully capturing the wider public’s imagination. The group disbanded in 1977.

Roger Chapman launched his solo career in February 1979 with the release of his debut album Chappo. A nationwide tour to promote the album received rave reviews, but it was in Northern Europe, particularly Germany, where his career seriously took off and pushed him into the high exposure category his talents warranted. In 1984 he enjoyed huge success with Mike Oldfield’s ‘Shadow On The Wall’ single. To date he has released 14 studio CDs plus a various number of live and compilation recordings. Although past 60 he continues to tour Europe and selected venues in Britain with his band The Shortlist, and 2004 sees him celebrate 25 years as a solo artist with an extensive Silver Anniversary Tour planned for the Spring. Despite his continental success he has remained living in South West London with his second wife, Leonne.

Charlie Whitney now lives modestly in Wimbledon and plays with a blues / bluegrass combo, Los Racketeeros. After Streetwalkers split he formed Axis Point with Rob Townsend, keyboard player Eddie Hardin, ex-Spencer Davis Group, and bassist Ritchie ‘Charlie’ McCracken who had performed on stage at the last Family gig. Together they released two albums but nothing much came of them and Charlie slipped quietly away into obscurity.

Rob Townsend was only 26 when Family split and went to work with John Fiddler’s Medicine Head, who were produced at that time by Tony Ashton. The band enjoyed several hit singles before they disbanded in 1976. Townsend then worked with Kevin Ayres before teaming up once again with Charlie Whitney in Axis Point in 1979. After this he worked with guitarist Dave Kelly which led to him joining The Blues Band and subsequently the Manfreds, both bands comprising Paul Jones and other ex-members of Manfred Mann. He has played with these groups since 1982 and is busy also working as a session drummer. Has remained firm friends with Roger Chapman but has neither performed nor recorded with him since Family’s last gig.

Jim Cregan went on to produce records for his then girlfriend, Linda Lewis, who had supported Family on their 1972 Autumn tour. They later wed but the marriage ended in divorce. Together they toured the USA and Japan with Cat Stevens in 1974 before Cregan joined Steve Harley’s Cockney Rebel. He then teamed up with Rod Stewart’s band in 1977 and has worked closely with him ever since. Now lives in Los Angeles as a songwriter / producer but will be teaming up once again with Roger Chapman when he plays in The Shortlist on the 2003 pre-Christmas Tour.

The ebullient Tony Ashton, ace looner and constant drinker, spent most of his time after Family as a session musician, TV and radio jingle writer and producer of other artists. When Deep Purple split he teamed up with his good friends Ian Paice and Jon Lord to form the band Paice Ashton Lord in mid-1976. The line-up, completed by future Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden and bass player Paul Martinez, disbanded after one record ‘Malice In Wonderland’. During the 1980’s he went through some very hard times due to ill health and lack of work, but by the 1990’s he had established himself as an accomplished artist with several exhibitions in various European countries. Continued to play music when the opportunity allowed and work on musical projects, most notably Eddie Hardin and Pete York’s ‘Wind in the Willows’, until his untimely death on May 28th 2001 in London aged just 55.

Anthony 'Duster' Bennett, the support that night, was a highly regarded British Blues musician having played with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. He was also a brilliant harmonica session player. On March 26th 1976 he was killed in a car crash aged just 29. In April 2003 a 41 track CD entitled Bright Lights Big City was released to capture his best work. It features Duster along with his best friend, Peter Green, and Top Topham and is regarded indispensable for anyone even remotely interested in Brit Blues.

Sunday Sept 2 Britannia Theatre, Great Yarmouth
Tuesday Sept 4 Free Trade Hall, Manchester
Wednesday Sept 5 Town Hall, Birmingham
Thursday Sept 6 Locarno, Stevenage
Friday Sept 7 City Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Sunday Sept 9 Fairfields Hall, Croydon
Tuesday Sept 11 Colston Hall, Bristol
Thursday Sept 13 de Monfort Hall, Leicester
Saturday Sept 15 Dome, Brighton
Sunday Sept 16 New Theatre, Oxford
Thursday Sept 20 Empire, Liverpool
Saturday Sept 22 Rainbow Theatre, London
Sunday Sept 23 Floral Hall, Southport
Tuesday Sept 25 Empire, Edinburgh
Wednesday Sept 26 Apollo, Glasgow
Thursday Sept 27 City Hall, Sheffield
Friday Sept 28 Capitol, Cardiff
Sunday Sept 30 Hard Rock, Bournemouth
Tuesday Oct 2 Locarno, Portsmouth
Wednesday Oct 3 Top Rank, Southampton
Thursday Oct 4 Orchid Ballroom, Purley
Friday Oct 5 Brunel University, Uxbridge
Saturday Oct 6 Aston University, Birmingham
Monday Oct 8 Top Rank, Swansea
Friday Oct 12 University, Bradford
Saturday Oct 13 Polytechnic, Leicester

Special thanks to Simon Bell and to Peter Leay, Phil Holt, Rosalind Russell, Jeff Ward, Pete Makowski, John Peel, Jerry Gilbert, Bob Harris, Tony Stewart, Nick Logan, Penny Valentine, John Bungey, Carol Osborn, Brian Hogg, Michael Heatley and The Leicester Mercury from whose reports this article was edited and compiled.

Also to all the subjects who were Family - Roger, Charlie, Rob, Jim and Tony plus Poli Palmer, John Wetton, John Weider, Jim King and Ric Grech for they, through their collective ideas, ideals and musicianship brought untold pleasure on record and on stage to countless folk, both in Europe and America, and thirty years on, continue to do so. For they shall remain Fearless.


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