In The Land of Free, we still keep on Rockin'

Plain and Fancy

"I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free"

Nikos Kazantzakis

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Family - Anyway (1970 uk, extraordinary progressive rock with folk shades, bonus tracks edition)



"Well Anyway". Imagine the scene as in a stoned dressing room haze, the conversation has just gone on a tangent, to the point of no return. The time honoured way back to reality was to utter the immortal lines; "Well anyway!" Family violinist Willy Weider was apparently a master of the phrase and in the fullness of time the album title was born. In many respects "Anyway" is the kind of album that encapsulates the highs and lows, and both the magical moments and frustrations of a band that refused to be ordinary.

As with the its predecessor, "A Song For Me", "Anyway" offers a few gems amongst some interesting studio material, and on the edge live performances. Some songs such as "Part Of The Load", are career highlights while other such as "Good News - Bad News" and "Holding The Compass" are the best album cuts, while the live take of "Strange Band" made its debut prior to being recorded as part of a three track, chart bound EP The live bonus tracks give a meaningful insight to an inspired live band who enjoyed nothing better than stretching out.

Often described as uneven, on balance "Anyway" appears to be a continuum of ideas, and adventure, crammed into a jazzed up heavy duty, jagged sounding Folk Rock idiom. The obvious focal point is Chapman's rasping throaty growl, but there are other major musical building blocks such as Charlie Whitney's crashing chords, Rob Townsend's cymbal splashes and percussive rhythm patterns, Poll's unique use of vibes, flute and Maestro effects box and of course the majestic violin of John Weider. On top of that, unlike on previous studio efforts when the band had gone into the studio to record material they had worked on the road, the Fairfield Halls recording consisted of 4 tracks that they had only just written.

As Charlie Whitney explains; "We just went for it at the time. We were performing songs as a one off, when really what we should have done was record maybe 5 or 6 gigs and picked the best of the bunch. But we didn't really want to re- issue old stuff again, so it boiled down to the four songs on the album." Poli remembers the fraught circumstances of the recording. "/ don't think we even had time to rehearse the songs, we just bluffed our way though.

The engineer George Chkiantz was going to set up the recording gear in the back room, but the fans were already coming in before the gear arrived! He had arranged for an 8 track I think, and finally by the tine all the flight cases arrived, we didn't really have time to do anything." If the old maxim that you can smell the audience reaction, is anything to go by then by the time of "Strange Band", the band had hit their stride. That's not to say the live set offers any half measures.

The opening "Good News - Bad News" is a characteristically dynamic piece that somehow manages to encompass Charlie's crashing chords, Chapman's unique vocal phrasing and bleat and some almost introspective acoustic passages, and Poll's subtlety distorted vibes, courtesy of his Maestro gizmo. And all this was stretched over the kind of stop start rhythm that made Family so unique. The contrast between the heavy choruses and light verses is more pronounced than ever.

Poli says it was sometimes a case of; "belting the audience over the head in the live situation, and then sometimes going to the opposite extreme, by getting them to strain their ears to hear". .-MI of this could happen in one song. "Good News - Bad News" is a glorious example of Family at their most uncompromising and it's a fine album opener. In contrast, the gentle "Willow Tree" sounds almost like light relief. The band meanwhile still had things to sort out moments before they were to record the new song live.

Poli again; "On that number there was another little thing we had to sort out. Charlie had swapped to bass and John Weider was on violin and on the gig they would use the same amp. When it came to mixing it down, we didn't have a great sound. There were 8 tracks to play with and with two of the instruments going into one Marshall stack, you ended up with nothing on one track. So we had to mix both instruments on to one track "Willow Tree" was a moody piece anyway, but it could obviously have been better." "Holding The Compass" is a prime example of Chapman's unique way of phrasing.

A completely new song, "Compass" doesn't really benefit from a strong chorus, and the metre doesn't lend itself to instant recall, but by the time Chapman has delivered the chorus "Holding the compass ain't the way I've got to roam, you know it takes me straight home" and he's repeated a few words, you are hooked. Significantly the number has made a re-appearance in Chapman's recent trimmed down "semi unplugged" band along side other folky material such as Weavers Answer". ''When we played it live, we had hardly rehearsed it", says Rob Townsend. "Me and Charlie were standing in the wings waiting to go on, and I said, what shall we do? Charlie said "Holding The Compass", We'd hardly played it, and of course Charlie's attitude was 'you'll get it, don't worry.

In the event I only ended up playing tambourine and bass drum on it. The point is the chaotic live recording worked out OK, but it was typical of the band. We'd always try something new and not worry about it, and then move on to something else." "Strange Band", announced as the new single is classic Family and features probably the only vibes solo on a Rock hit record. Set against Welder's harsh violin and some bruising chords, Chapman bleats out the usual eclectic lyrics with harshness that recalls "Drowned in Wine".

The music is hard hitting, and audience reaction suggests Chapman was in his frenzy mode. As ever with Family there are no half measures and there's a palpable sense of relief in the climactic Chapman scream at the conclusion. Lovely stuff! If anything the studio material is a step forward for the band. "Part of The Load" sounded great at the time, and in hindsight was to become one of Family's highlights. The gentle bass intro, vibed chords, and Chapman's bleat are completely unique.

The live bonus track version comes in at nearly double the original recorded time, and finds the band in jam mode with two guitar breaks the second of which comes close to Zappa in both tone and style. Chapman throws in an exclamatory wail and the whole thing comes back to the verse. The lyrics are an original take on life on the road, and perfectly complements the fractured stop-time music. "Part of The Load" was written when we were in the States", explains Roger. "It's the usual stuff about the boredom of being on the road, about the moodies you throw, the people you miss etc.

The song was about coping with that and owning up to the fact that it's part of the job." Both versions are superb and show the band at the top of their game. The title track is an altogether different affair being almost a return to the sound experimentation found on "A Song For Me". Essentially an acoustic piece with an eastern flavour that is in part reminiscent to the acoustic feel of Led Zeppelin, "Anyway" is also full of strange percussion. "We recorded at Olympic studios", explains Poli. "It was a big place that also did cinematic stuff. So there was a full cinema screen for the conductor and someone had hired in some weird things that we decided to use. The percussion effects on that track were done by Boo Bams, sort of conga type things, but tuned congas as vibes, They had a piano keyboard about 6 inches wide, to be played like congas, but they are actual notes. I was halfway down the stairwell with the boo bams", laughs Poll. "/ think Charlie and Roger started the thing as a simple tune on guitars, Rob added congas and we continued to put colours on the top of it. That's what you do as a band as you grow and develop, you add tonal colours, and different layers." And so we come to the instrumental "Normans". Firstly the title. ":Norman" is the term used by a member of the band who didn't like a person or thing.

More specifically Roger explains; "We were on the Al going to a gig and stopped at a small place, a wooden shack. They wouldn't let us play the games in the place because we weren't members. The guy who ran the place was called Norman. Weider also ate Pali's food on one occasion when the waiter asked who's is this?" This in turn became known as "Doing a Norman", and later it also became "A Cup of Norman's" (tea). The tea of course was crap, so the name stuck." The actual piece is a jovial affair enjoying a recurring Weider's fiddle led, waltz time signature with middling piano. "/ think we decided that everyone was to solo on that, even Roger", says Poli. "There was a sort of classical part, flute and piano parts and even Chappo's part on the outro which was a sort of "lala " yodel at the end. We all wanted to try something. I think "Normans" is the sort of piece that made Family unique, in that we were always trying new stuff". The instrumental cuts straight into a Neil Young "Harvest" style groove, before settling for a kitchen sink and all, kind of suite. Essentially an anti war song, the piece labours over three major passages before settling into a melodic conclusion.

As a concluding piece to the original album, "Songs & Ladies" - reprised complete with extended guitar outing on the live bonus track, is one of a handful of tracks that come in as near misses. Overall the live-recorded debut of four new songs was as extremely adventurous as it was the typical taking of a risk by a band that knew no artistic boundaries. The bonus cut of "Strange Band" has a rough at the edges live feel with Chappo's vocals mixed well to the fore and the lyrics are for once distinguishable.

Weider weighs in with more violin, Poli adds vibes, and this nicely ragged version shows what a great live band Family were. The following nine and a half minute jam on "Part Of The Load" is bliss for any Family fan as the extended piece offers a chance for everyone in the band to stretch out. The closing version of "Lives And Ladies" benefits from a tougher mid number section on which Charlie and Poli build up a head of steam as they swap guitar and piano lines. More significantly for the future, Roger brings a mix of delicate emotion, pith and pathos to the lyrics, through his growing ability to phrase.

Where once he would attack a piece belligerantly, on this bonus version of "Lives And Ladies" he suggests he's maturing as a vocalist by occasionally holding back on his delivery, and teasing out the nuances through his vocal swoops. While "Lives" may not be one of the fans favourite songs, it was an attempt at greater coherence, that was to find fruition in the following year. For the best was just about to come in the shape of "Fearless".
by Pete Feenstra


Tracks
1. Good News-Bad News - 8:06
2. Willow Tree - 4:39
3. Holding the Compass - 4:28
4. Strange Band - 3:34
5. Part of the Load - 4:41
6. Anyway - 3:28
7. Normans (Palmer, Weider, Whitney) - 4:21
8. Lives and Ladies - 6:35
9. Strange Band (Alternative Live Version) - 2:31
10.Part of the Load - 9:43
11.Lives and Ladies - 8:03
All songs by Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney except track #7.

Family
*Roger Chapman - Vocals, Percussion
*Charlie Whitney - Electric, Acoustic Guitars, Bass
*John Weider - Acoustic Guitar, Bass,
*Poli Palmer - Percussion, Keyboards,, Vibes
*Rob Townsend - Drums, Percussion

More Family
1967/69 Music in a Doll's House / Family Entertainment 

Free Text

4 comments:

Jagged said...

Thank you. I did not have this, now I do, thanks be to you.

Peace

Remy said...

Thank-you Marios. Great album!

Jonman said...

Lives & Ladies is actually one of my favorites. I hate music critics.

Brain Police said...

Thx Marios, I didn't have this one yet.