Family, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

5.00

 

Even more than fellow travellers Traffic, Family were in danger of being written out of the annals of British rock history or just remembered for the handful of off-kilter, intriguing hits they scored in the early seventies. 

A stupendous 14-disc box-set entitled Once Upon A Time, released by Snapper Music, should help put that right and enable long-standing fans who fell under their spell at the Isle of Wight Festivals of 1969 and 1970 to replace their dog-eared vinyl. It has also provided the perfect opportunity for an eagerly-anticipated reunion four decades after their last concert. With devotees of the underground Leicester group travelling from as far afield as Austria and the US, the demand for tickets was so strong that a second, heavily-touted, night was quickly added.

Fittingly introduced by Leicester City legend Frank Worthington, they launched into the vertiginous "Top Of The Hill" from the Bandstand album, which made the most of John 'Poli' Palmer's deftness on the vibes and frontman Roger 'Chappo' Chapman's formidable vocals, and instantly recaptured the magic of their glory years.

Aided by five superb supporting musicians billed as the 'In-Laws', the four main Family men, Chapman, Palmer, drummer Rob Townsend and guitarist Jim Cregan, resplendent in red neckerchief and matching shoes, cherry-picked their way through their rich and diverse catalogue, particularly excelling on the funky "Holding The Compass" and the groovy "Ready To Go", as well as several selections from the fondly remembered Fearless album which formed the centrepiece of a magnificent set.

Chapman's unique vibrato has often been compared to Joe Cocker's, yet he remains a more nuanced vocalist and has a commanding presence reminiscent of the late Alex Harvey, while the debt Peter Gabriel and Fish owe to him became more obvious as the evening progressed. A many-faceted group with an oft-changing line-up, Family operated at the rockier end of psych-prog, with a hefty dose of blues and jazz thrown in, but occasionally explored a gentler, more pastoral vein, as demonstrated on their wonderful 1969 single "No Mule's Fool", another highlight, or the second of two encores, the blissful "My Friend The Sun".

The towering Chapman also brought a Brecht-like quality to the raucous "Burlesque" and the epochal closer, "In My Own Time". They returned for "The Weaver's Answer", their insightful signature song, reprised by the good-natured, fifty-something crowd, and 'Sweet Desiree', with the frontman name-checking former bandmates, dead, otherwise engaged, or simply enjoying the good life on a Greek island, in the case of guitarist and co-writer Charlie Whitney. With a seven album catalogue to revisit, this most engaging and fulfilling of reunions could run and run.

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