April 25, 2023

Despite it sounding dated to twenty-first century ears, there is plenty of creativity and originality on show in Anyway and it is an album well worth exploring. 

Have you ever had that experience where you think your vinyl turntable speed is off? Maybe the belt has slipped and it’s going to grind to a halt? Well, that’s what I immediately thought had happened thirty seconds into this album (despite listening to it on a CD!) as Roger Chapman began singing. His use of vibrato is startling and slightly disorientating at first. At the one minute mark Chapman ups the volume and the vibrato enough to make Maria Callas turn in her grave. Yes, Family are a bit of an acquired taste, both for their singer and their rather odd form of music, which superficially could be called progressive rock but seems to be made up of a curious mix of psychedelic and proto-heavy rock with folk and jazz elements too. Even the instrumentation is a little odd – keyboardist Poli Palmer also contributed flute, and even more unusually, bass player John Weider also plays violin, although hopefully not at the same time.

Anyway was the band’s fourth album, released in 1970, the same year their third LP, A Song For Me, had been a top ten hit. The band was clearly on a roll. Its eight tracks are split between four live songs (side one on the original vinyl) and four studio recorded efforts (that made up side two).  The polite silence that greats the start of each of the live songs is not apathy from the audience but inquisitiveness since they are brand new songs. Any sane person would wonder what the point was of recording half the album of new material on stage and half in studio, but the only potential answer that can be found in the excellent accompanying essay is from Chapman who unconvincingly states ‘maybe it saved us going back into the studio again’.

Chapman goes on to confess that Good News, Bad News and Holding The Compass were being written and rehearsed in the changing room prior to the gig! So, was it good news that opener Good News, Bad News was being written moments before its premiere?  As a complex multi-part eight-minute song then the answer is inevitably ‘no’ when comparing it with the versions on the second CD that we’ll come to later. Nevertheless, it remains an impressive song and probably the best on the album. It has a heavy bluesy riff, a good melodic hook line, and an enjoyable jazzy electric piano solo. However, not having had time to smoothen the edges, it does come across as a bit disjointed. Despite this, the audience, which was silent at the start, bursts into heartfelt applause at the end. Willow Tree is much more laid back, a little like The Band in the main vocal part, although it has a chaotic and proggy instrumental section too. Charlie Witney moves from electric to acoustic guitar for Holding The Compass, another song with a strong American feel to it, although the influence is more of a Country style this time. Strange Band is introduced as the song that will be the group’s new single. It’s an entertaining violin-driven tune but not exactly a commercial song that would appeal to a broad audience.    

The new songs written in the studio begin with Part Of The Load, a heavy blues funky piece, almost a template for the style Trapeze would build their career on several years later. The title track is a bizarre number driven by acoustic guitar and a lot of percussion but without actual drums. It has the same soundscape as Zeppelin’s The Battle Of Evermore which was written a year later.  Normans is another violin-led instrumental piece. It doesn’t quite conjure up imagines of 1066 and arrows in the eye, probably because it was inspired by Norman’s – a café somewhere near Doncaster on the M1! Closing the original album is the six and a half minutes of Lives And Ladies, which like Good News Bad News is another standout track. It’s the most overtly progressive piece, with Chapman giving an impassioned vocal performance.

Strange Band was re-recorded in the studio for release on an EP along with two tracks from the group’s sophomore album, The Weaver’s Answer and Hung Up Down. All three tracks are included here as bonus material. Not surprisingly, it was the excellent and much more commercial ‘The Weaver’s Answer’ which got most of the airplay.  

The second CD in this set contains two BBC recordings, both under the John Peel umbrella. The first is a three-song John Peel Session, transmitted on 5 September 1970. The choice of Good News, Bad News, Lives And Ladies, and Holding The Compass is a good one. More interesting though are the nine tracks transmitted with a live audience on 27 September 1970 as part of the BBC John Peel Concert series. It’s worth noting that both of these broadcasts were prior to the actual release of Anyway. The three tracks of the John Peel Session get a further run out in the BBC Concert and in all cases, you can sense they are in a more rounded form compared to what was eventually released on Anyway. Good News, Bad News and Lives And Ladies both come across as more urgent and heavier too, although the recording quality on the Concert is sadly not the best. The unexpected highlight of the BBC Concert is the ten-minute version of The Weaver’s Answer where the band get into a good groove with a lengthy jam.  Wheels from A Song For Me is another highlight, again with good instrumental jamming. You certainly do get a good feel for what a good live act Family must have been.

Esoteric Recordings is often rightly praised for resurrecting worthy music of the less successful groups of the ‘60s and ‘70s. In the case of Family, the scenario is slightly different since they were very successful at the time – Anyway peaked at number 7 in the UK album charts in the last week of November 1970. That same week, Deep Purple in Rock was a place above it and Led Zeppelin II a place below it; Paranoid was number 9 and Atom Heart Mother number 13! So, how is it that Family fell into oblivion after sharing such exalted company? The fact that they split up in 1973 didn’t help but perhaps they were just too much of a strange band and their music simply didn’t survive changing tastes. Despite it sounding dated to twenty-first century ears, there is plenty of creativity and originality on show in Anyway and it is an album well worth exploring.