HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: October 2023. We had the great honour to talk with a legendary vocalist: Roger Chapman. He is best known as the frontman of Family, a highly influential psychedelic/progressive rock band of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Their “Fearless” (1971) and “Bandstand” (1972) albums are now being re-released in remastered and expanded editions by Esoteric Recordings. Roger has also been a member of Streetwalkers (featuring John “Charlie” Whitney of Family on guitar and Nicko McBrain -before joining Iron Maiden- on drums), collaborated with Mike Oldfield on “Shadow on the Wall” (1983) single and has an acclaimed solo career since 1979. His latest solo album is “Life In The Pond” released in 2021. Read below the very interesting things he told us:
What was the musical vision you had when you were making Family’s “Fearless” (1971) album?
Just to make a good album, I think (laughs). Just to be happy with the end result. There was no real musical vision, we just came and wrote songs and recorded them and hoped it was a good album. Of course, it was. All they were.
Do you think the new 3 CD expanded edition of “Fearless” by Esoteric Recordings is a good opportunity for younger listeners to learn about the music of Family?
Yes of course, it gives a different insight of what we did. Many years have passed since their first release. Hopefully, it will make many other people and the original people they bought the album anyway, more interested to listen to what actually was going on with Family at that time outside those albums.
“Fearless” was the first Family album featuring John Wetton (King Crimson –bass, vocals). What did he bring in the band when he joined?
Many! Obviously, his unique bass playing technique, because he was a great bass player. He also had a very good singing voice and he played piano and a little violin (laughs). That’s quite a lot, just to start. To be honest, we accepted him into the band because he came to the audition and he was a great bass player and a really nice man. A lot of other things, like the singing and piano playing came later when we all went into the studio. John, actually joined Family when we were halfway making the album anyway and he came and put his bass on after we put all the tracks down.
I love “Take Your Partners” from “Fearless”. What’s the story behind this song?
I showed my aggression (laughs). Just Poli Palmer (ed: vibes, keyboards, flute) and myself wrote that song. I suppose I just go into different phases: I can write a good, gentle lyric, but then I can write an aggressive lyric and that was an aggressive lyric.
Do you think it was a mistake not to release “Glove” as a single from “Bandstand” (1972) album? It’s one of the best Family songs!
I mean, I wish they had it done; it was one of my songs. I don’t think the band ever dreamt putting “Glove” out as a single. It’s only recently that I have heard this from one or two sources, besides yourself. We just thought that the songs were good enough to put on an album, but it was just one of ten songs. But obviously, “Burlesque” was the single and what they went for, because it was the most immediate, commercial-sounding song. Nobody ever mentioned anything about “Glove” being the single. So, I wish it had to be. Probably, it would be selling more (laughs).
You got Poli Palmer and Geoff Whitehorn (Procol Harum –guitar) on your latest solo album “Life In The Pond” (2021). Could you describe to us the writing and recording process of the album?
Poli and I, have always worked together over the past 50-odd years through one connection or another. Whatever band I am in, he is going to be a part of it, in one way or another, coming with his vibe playing and all his synths and things like these. So, Poli and I, have always been in contact. So, we just got together and I said: “I was writing at home”, that’s what I always do I suppose and I said: “Can I come down and work on some new songs that I am writing?” and he said: “Yes” and I went over to his home studio and we just started put things down on the first song which was “Dark Side of the Stairs”, actually. It just seemed obvious that we should do more writing together. So, I went back to his studio, obviously many times and we wrote the songs in his studio and then we recorded them together. Of course, none of us really plays electric guitar, anyway; I play acoustic. But we wanted to use electric guitar and Geoff really was the first choice because, Geoff and I, again work together for 40 years, in one way or another. I would say it was a natural choice to ask him to put some guitar on the songs.
“On Lavender Heights” from “Life In The Pond” is truly amazing! What inspired you to write this song?
I heard an old-fashioned, Victorian, dining room piano and it just inspired me to write lyrics around this type of sound, this type of piano. It’s very gentle, very melodic, really quite romantic and it just inspired me to write some lyrics around it.
Are you satisfied with the response you got from fans and press for “Life In The Pond” album?
Yes. I’m not completely satisfied. I mean, we ‘ve got some great reviews on it, I have to say. Really splendid reviews from all over the world, a lot in America, which is unusual for me, because Americans don’t usually like my kind of music. I only say this because they don’t buy my discs (laughs). Whether it was released there or not, I don’t know. We got very good response in promo time from reviewers and things like that, although I don’t know how many it actually sold; a few thousand, I would say. Nothing in millions and all that, just a few thousand copies, I think. You know, they will all want to enjoy music one day (laughs).
Are you proud that “Music in a Doll’s House” (1968) is considered a classic album?
Of course! Blimey, yeah! I mean, I’m really very lucky to be a musician. For my whole life, I ‘ve worked to something I love to do and it’s my hobby, my life. My life doesn’t extend very much outside of just writing and playing music and hasn’t been for 60-odd years and I think I’ve very-very lucky to have that. I have many highlights in my life, but “Music in a Doll’s House” is probably the first one, because it was the first album I was involved in and with Family of course; we had a few proud moments together and then I have since, as well, but I don’t want to boast about things.
My favourite Family song is “Me My Friend” from “Music in a Doll’s House”. Could you tell us a few words about this song?
(Ed: He sings the melody) Again, Thodoris, it’s such a long time ago. It was just my call for natural life idea. I don’t really write love songs or hate songs. They are just thoughts that come into my head at the moment, but it was obviously about friends and not a particular friend I would think. Again, I don’t really remember that thought in that sense: It starts with calling our friends, really. I wrote poetry. Everything I write doesn’t always relate to me. I write a song about our little sphere, our world and topics and things, as I write politically, too. It’s just my thoughts on everyday worldly things and what was passing me at the time. I hope that explains, really.
Had you realised when you recorded “Music in a Doll’s House” that your compositions and arrangements were very unusual for most listeners at the time?
No (laughs), in a word. We just rehearsed in a rehearsal room in Leicester; Leicester is the town where Family were originally from. The band would get together and we rehearsed new songs that probably John Whitney (guitar) and myself had written. We would just rehearse those and go in the studio and play them, really. We never thought we were doing anything different. What probably started it -because we were basically a 4 or 5-piece jazz group- and all of a sudden, John Whitney and I, we started writing songs. So, I suppose because we had new songs, therefore we had to arrange them ourselves as opposed to copying; because we were playing other songs, we just copied the original arrangements of other people’s songs. But now we had to arrange our own songs, so, we had nowhere else to go except our own mentality and thoughts. No, we never thought we were doing anything different, at all. No. We just did it, I suppose. We just created them in our own small world.
How important was the contribution of Dave Mason (Traffic –guitar) as producer in “Music in a Doll’s House”?
Very much. Before that, he was a friend, anyway. He was in Traffic, with Stevie Winwood, and the two bands were friendly with each other, anyway. We were all from Midlands of England: They were from Birmingham, we were from Leicester. We had a sort of outlook which was similar. So, Dave was brought in by our management as our producer. Well, it was good to have a friend come in and help us through. Especially, being for the first time in a studio making an album you need somebody who has the experience of recording and Dave came in and we were lucky to have him.
Do you have any memories from the Rolling Stones concert at the Hyde Park that Family also performed, just a few days after the death of Brian Jones?
Yes, I do have a few memories. One of the most memorable things was when Mick Jagger came on stage and let all the butterflies out, which was a nice thought, but it didn’t end very well because a lot of butterflies collapsed, fell and died. Anyway, that’s another story. I remember it, because it was quite a fire for ourselves. I was also pleased to watch King Crimson live, that I love. We were all on the same bill together. I think it is one of the highlights of my life, it was a really good concert to all concerned, except for Brian, of course. Anyway, that’s about the story.
How did you feel when Ric Grech (bass) left Family to join Blind Faith (featuring Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Ginger Baker) ?
Terrible! We were on our first tour of America, on the first gig and we were in the lobby of the hotel waiting to go to the gig which was the Fillmore East in New York and our manager told us in the lobby that Ric was gonna leave, which wasn’t a good thing on our first gig. Of course, we blew it on the gig, we were all depressed and we had a terrible show and we were a great band; we were a really good live band. But because of that, it hit us so hard that we couldn’t really play a proper show. So, it hit us really badly. It was really wrong in time the way it was done towards us, you know, they way we all learned about it. It’s not a good moment in my life or any of others’ lives.
You met Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow –guitar) once at the Speakeasy Club in London. What did he ask you?
I met Ritchie a few times, I think. I think I met him in LA. We were usually all so stoned that I’m not very sure (mad laughs). They were two or three of the guys, Deep Purple, they were doing well, but they were desperate to write a hit single. They asked me: “How do you write hit songs?” and it was such a strange question. It was supposed to be Ritchie that asked me, I thought it was Jon (ed: Lord), the keyboard player, but maybe it was Ritchie. Anyway, good chaps and a great band, again. Friends from that era, you know. I didn’t know what to say, really. I said: “I don’t write hit songs. I would love to think that would be hit songs. I just write songs and if they are hits, it’s fantastic”. I am a musician, not some kind of country/western boardroom writer. I don’t do that. I just write based on a poem. I like to think myself as a poet and I like poetry, really. I don’t write hit songs. If they were, they were good.
Do you think Family would have been more popular in the United States if the Bill Graham incident hadn’t happened?
Possibly, but the thing is that Bill never really had anything against us. Again, that was the gig that our management, just before, told us that Ric was leaving us. This was the gig that I was expressly talking about it earlier. Of course, we were seriously broken and I think I was angry and we were playing shit, that band was just playing shit, we couldn’t really get any groove going on the songs together. I think I was getting mad, let’s put it that way, and I threw things on the stage and I nearly hit Bill Graham with that (ed: the microphone stand). It didn’t actually hit him, but of course he went mad and he was the biggest promoter in the States at that time and I don’t think it helped. I still blame the Ric Grech incident for all that. It just ruined our name and everything in the States. Not a good subject, really.
Did you get on well with Peter Grant when he was tour manager of Family?
Very much, so! He was a really good man. I still have big appreciation for him, because I‘ve loved the way he managed Zeppelin. I just think, if only we have had a manager that was as good as that, I bet we would have been as big as Zeppelin. But unfortunately, we didn’t. But he was a great manager for them. There were very few good managers; very few who actually gave their heart and soul to the band they managed, to the musicians that they ‘ve managed. But he was one of the few that really gave everything, shared everything with them. Honestly, he really made them what they were and what they still are. So, I enjoyed him really managing us. He tried as hard as he could. We were in a lousy state when Ric left within a week as we were into the States and a new bass player came in, which was John Weider (ed: On Peter Grant’s recommendation). We started the band again while we were supposed to be hitting big in the United States. It all didn’t work very well, but Pete was great. He was a great asset for us for the short time we knew him.
The myth says that The Jimi Hendrix Experience were afraid to follow Family at festivals. Was there any kind of competition between the two bands?
No (laughs). We were all just really good friends. To be honest, they used to ask if we could support them because then, in particular, we had a really great show. We supported Jimi because it was very difficult to follow Jimi. But at the same time we were a great band in our own right and we could clear the stage as well as anybody. But, I won’t say they were afraid at all. They were giants and we were minnows. They were whales and we were minnows, if you understand my terminology. We were little fish, they were big fish, is what I’m trying to say. No, you couldn’t really blow Jimi off the stage. He was genius personified, you know. They were really good guys, the guys I ‘ve worked with, on and off. We did some pieces in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. They were really good friends. No-one could blow them off, figuratively. We were hard to follow, but not by Jimi Hendrix. Be kind (laughs).
How did it happen to have Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Experience –drums) playing drums on your “Mail Order Magic” (1980) album?
Again, Mitch and I, were just really good friends. Mitch was at the house where I was writing my own songs. I used to demo at Boz Burrell’s (ed: King Crimson, Bad Company –bass) house. We were all friends, we used to hang out together and went to the same pubs. Boz had a very nice house with a nice studio in it and we all used to go around there late at night doing nightly recordings. So, I was demoing my songs in Boz’s house, then the same guys would come with me in studio. Mitch was one the guys, with Poli Palmer as well. All kinds of people. A bunch of guys, we were all friends, we were all musicians. We could come and write and record things through the night. In a casual sense, he was part of my songwriting team.
Is it flattering that John Peel was a huge fan of yours? He even invited you at his wedding!
Again, John and I were friends. I mean, he liked me because I was a Leicester guy and I want to think of myself as reasonably normal. Yes, we were good friends and I don’t know… All these guys you are talking about are my friends, Thodoris. I don’t think of them as workmates, we were friends together. So, it’s normal if I have got married when John was alive, sure I would have invited him to my wedding (laughs).
How emotional were for you the Family reunion concerts at the Shepherds Bush Empire in 2013?
Oh, very much. I think there were a couple of moments on stage when tears started welling up; just the memories of the things. It was nice to do and I’m glad that we only did it for a short time, because it did mean to the world, really, too much. The music of Family is pretty esoteric anyway, so I suppose it only needed to just play a few concerts and I’m glad we did. I don’t think we should have pushed it any further. But yes, they were very emotional.
I think Streetwalkers’ “Red Card” (1976) is a very underrated album. Would you like to tell us a few words about this album?
Yes, what is funny about that is that we finished up as a 5-piece band, but when we went to rehearse the songs, we had a piano player with us, who had worked with ourselves in things previously. So, when we rehearsed the songs in the rehearsal studio, the day before we were going to the studio to record, the piano player’s manager said: “My piano playing guy wants so many thousands of pounds or he is not going into the studio with you tomorrow”. So, we went: “Well, you can fuck off!” because we didn’t give a shit, anyway. It’s not really a good attitude from one musician to another. So, we told him to fuck off and we remained five: two guitars, bass, drums and myself. We went into the studio and made a great album. I think it made us more positive as a band to execute it and actually the album did very well over here, in the UK. Later, we went out and toured with it in Europe. Actually, Streetwalkers did quite well in Europe live, because again we were a very good live band. Yeah, it was a good album.
In 1976 Streetwalkers toured with The Who in the UK. What was like to be on the road with such a great band?
(Laughs) Again, you talk about my friends. Well, fantastic and of course they liked Family and I hung out with a couple of other guys from The Who at times. Yeah, it was always very nice to be asked by friends who appreciated our band and it was enormous to walk on stage with them and we supported them in huge concerts. Yeah, it was so well. All these people you are talking about are pals of mine, one way or another.
Do you have any contact with Nicko McBrain (Streetwalkers, Iron Maiden -drums) nowadays?
Very rarely. Over the past 30 years, I probably met him about 3 times and probably in airports. We were going to one gig and he was going to another. He seems OK, he settled down and lived in the States for many years, I think, got married, became religious, which I was quite shocked at with Nicko, because he was never religious in Streetwalkers (laughs). Again, I’m pleased to see he did very well with Maiden. But we are not in too much contact.
Did you enjoy collaborating with Mike Oldfield in “Shadow on the Wall” single (from “Crises” -1983)?
Of course! Of course, because he did me an enormous favour, being such a hit in Europe. Again, it was very nice of Mike to ask me to come and help on his album and things and we did it well. Again, he is a guy I don’t really see very much. I ‘ve met him in the studio a couple of times, but I ‘ve not really seen him over the years very much. That was great! He did me a great favour, actually and I will never be grudging him. “Shadow on the Wall” is a great song and I did a great performance on it.
Did you have a good time performing with Family at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970?
Yeah, lots of girls (laughs)! Yes, lots of very nice girls. Well, they wanted us to be on this with Dylan and The Band (ed: in 1969, when Family also performed), Jimi, all the amazing bands at the time, The Who -blimey!-, even Joni Mitchell. To be honest, we enjoyed going there just to be out to see all the other artists. Probably, I enjoyed that much, more than actually playing. I remember more about seeing the artists than I do about playing the gig. But we had a good time. We were bound to have a good time, again, because we were a good band. It was great to see those other people like Dylan, The Band, Joni Mitchell, Jimi, even Miles Davis! Ridiculous! Ridiculous musical people! So yes, wonderful times!
(Mad laughs) No, really! No! He is a good chap, you know, a very nice chap. But it’s an interview. We are just musicians. No, it wasn’t a big deal. It’s always nice to be asked as it’s nice to be asked by yourself. It wasn’t a big deal such a thing.
Did you like other bands of your era like Soft Machine?
I would take them or leave them, to be honest. I mean, I really loved Cream, more that kind of jamming, jazzy rock type of thing; Miles Davis of course, but I don’t really know that band too much, to be honest.
In August, you performed at the John Wetton Memorial Gig along with many other great musicians. Could you describe to us the atmosphere of that evening?
It was very nice. I’ve never heard of the venue before (ed: Trading Boundaries in East Sussex). Of course, all the people that were involved had been part of John’s life as he had been included in various bands. It was a nice, warm feeling towards a very nice, gentle and great musician that he was. It was a nice feeling, a nice thing. You get sentimental as well about it because if you knew John, you would think of the tragedy that he was gone so early. Yeah, it was a nice evening.
I’ve seen some photos from the 80’s of you with Fish from Marillion. I’ve talked with him and he is a great conversationalist. What did you discuss with him?
Oh, I’m not sure I should tell you (laughs). We discussed curries, Indian food, amongst many other topics. That’s it for now. You can’t go on with that, really (laughs).
Do you recognise your influence on Peter Gabriel’s works?
Not too much, to be honest. There is maybe an early similarity, vocally; maybe some writing. I think all of us were a little bit the founding men. But at the same time, he is such a great musician himself, he is more than capable of writing his own genius music. I like him a lot, actually. I liked him all the time he was with Genesis. I liked Genesis when he was with them, but I didn’t like them as much when he left. That’s not to say anything bad about Genesis, but I prefer their music when he was with Genesis.
John Lennon famously had an obsession with Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. Had you ever been obsessed with another artist’s song?
Oh, I didn’t know that John Lennon had an obsession with “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. Myself, had an obsession with “Rubber Soul” (ed: The Beatles’ 1965 album). If you listen to the UK radio tonight (ed: 31st October) at 8:00, I have actually done an interview where a guy has asked me to pick my 20 favourite songs from my life… a long time. I don’t know really, it’s a difficult question. But I’m not obsessed now with a particular song, no. I like many songs by other artists. I mean, I listen to Tom Waits a lot, I still listen to Muddy Waters a lot, I listen to Howlin’ Wolf a lot, I listen to Fiona Apple, I still listen to Joni Mitchell. I don’t listen to much modern music, I have to say. The most modern music, I suppose, I listen to it, is country/western and not the country/western that is really played like the rock bands did in the ‘70s (laughs). I don’t have a particular favourite, just various artists that I still enjoy.
Looking back do you wish Mike Oldfield got the job as the bass player of Family when he auditioned?
(Laughs) No, as he would never ask me to be on his albums. I mean, he told me that when I was in the studio when we were making “Shadow on the Wall”. He said: “Did you know, I tried to be auditioned?” I said: “No! Not at all!” I didn’t know his name then, he was just an unknown quantity. By the time, I recorded with him (ed: 1983), he was a giant in the music business. A funny moment, a good moment.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr. Roger Chapman for his time! I should also thank Billy James for his valuable help.
Buy Family’s “Fearless” album here: https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/family-fearless-3cd-expanded-edition/
Buy Family’s “Bandstand” album here: https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/family-bandstand-cd-edition/
Buy Roger Chapman’s “Life In The Pond” here: https://www.amazon.com/Life-Pond-Roger-Chapman/dp/B0947L3PQ4
Roger Chapman Appreciation Society website: http://www.chappo.com/