Fam­ily

Suf­fer­ing from “pissy” pro­duc­tion, the funky, philo­soph­i­cal mini-prog LP track was re­worked and remixed un­til “it felt some­what dan­ger­ous”

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The mak­ing of “The Weaver’s An­swer”

Fam­ily’s sig­na­ture song was con­ceived in the sum­mer of 1968 dur­ing an overnight drive in the band’s tour van, a jour­ney hur­ried along by a se­lec­tion of late-’60s stim­u­lants. By the time the track was cut for their sec­ond al­bum, 1969’s Fam­ily En­ter­tain­ment, it had evolved into a de­fi­antly un­clas­si­fi­able five-minute epic. The soft, folk-prog in­tro and outro book­end a fe­ro­cious, mar­tial funk-rock tat­too, the verses punc­tu­ated by free­wheel­ing in­stru­men­tal solo­ing. Roger Chap­man’s char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally in­tense vo­cal, mean­while, is de­ployed to tell the ‘heavy’ tale of an old man call­ing upon the “weaver of life” to re­veal the cos­mic pat­tern of his ex­is­tence, end­ing with a plea to bring the ta­pes­try to an end now that he is el­derly and alone.

as it turns out, the band were un­happy with the ver­sion re­leased – with­out their ap­proval – on Fam­ily En­ter­tain­ment. “it’s a bit pissy,” is Chap­man’s reck­on­ing. a remixed ver­sion, with fresh over­dubs, ap­peared on the “strange Band” EP, in 1970, by which time multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist John ‘Poli’ Palmer had re­placed Jim King . This im­proved ren­di­tion gave Fam­ily a Top 20 hit, and ap­peared on the Old Songs, New

Songs com­pi­la­tion. On stage, mean­while, the song grew into a be­he­moth. “it was re­ally pow­er­ful stuff,” says Jim Cre­gan, who joined Fam­ily on bass in 1971. “it felt some­what dan­ger­ous.”

Fam­ily split in 1973 but re­united be­tween 2013 and 2016 with­out gui­tarist and “Weaver” co-writer John ‘Char­lie’ Whit­ney, who now re­sides qui­etly on a Greek is­land. “He’s very much un­der the radar,” says Chap­man. “Play­ing his bal­alaika some­where.” No fur­ther Fam­ily shows are planned, but a boxset of BBC record­ings is pend­ing, fea­tur­ing no less than seven ver­sions of “The Weaver’s an­swer”. “i ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber play­ing it on the very, very, very last gig in 1973, and think­ing, ‘my god, it’s the fi­nal time i’m go­ing to play this bloody song!’” says drum­mer Rob Townsend with a sigh. “Of course it wasn’t…” and a good thing too.

“it’s got such a great mod­ern funk groove on it,” says Chap­man, who still in­cludes it in his live set. “Once we get on stage we tear the arse out of it, even now. it’s a fan­tas­tic groove to play on, and peo­ple still dance to it. Just a bit less en­er­get­i­cally than they used to!” GRAEME THOM­SON

ROGER CHAP­MAN: i know ex­actly where i was when i wrote “The Weaver’s an­swer”. We had a gig up north and i fin­ished it overnight, in the van on the way. i was doz­ing, i woke up and just started writ­ing it. What state i was in is an­other story! it was back in the days when peo­ple used to stay up four or five nights on the trot. We didn’t re­ally let a day go by with­out some form of stim­u­la­tion, a bit of dope or this, that and the other. i started writ­ing and it all came tum­bling out. i had no sense of the mu­sic when i wrote it, and i don’t think there was much edit­ing or re­vis­ing. That was it, and it never changed. it was nor­mal for me to write quickly, i was quite pro­lific.

ROB TOWNSEND: Now i’m older, i look at the lyrics and think, ‘my good­ness, that’s re­ally quite deep and mean­ing­ful.’

CHAP­MAN: i don’t re­mem­ber think­ing about the con­cept be­fore­hand. Which is in­ter­est­ing, be­cause it’s a very clear idea. it’s ob­vi­ously about an el­derly man, sort of on his last legs – no com­par­isons, please! –

go­ing back into his life and think­ing about the things which made him who he is. Get­ting mar­ried, hav­ing chil­dren, grow­ing up, and into the sad­ness of old age. His wife has gone, and he is look­ing to fol­low her… and then the light in the dis­tance. i don’t re­mem­ber any per­sonal rea­son for writ­ing it, other than it was a bit far out. For a life story, it’s ac­tu­ally quite a short piece.

JOHN ‘POLI’ PALMER: it’s a moral­ity-tale opera. your life is be­ing wo­ven. Chappo’s lyrics could be quite pi­caresque, lennon­style word plays, but there’s no chance that you can miss the mean­ing of this song. There’s no am­bi­gu­ity. i know Roger used to get some very strange mes­sages back in the day, from peo­ple try­ing to ex­plain what they got out of it. it could get pretty weird.

CHAP­MAN: Char­lie and i were al­ready work­ing on a bit of mu­sic, so i took the words back to him and we came up with the song. We’d sit to­gether and work through it, as i had to sing the melody. Char­lie can’t sing to save a car­rot! i bent the melody around the chord se­quence. Thank­fully i had a pli­able voice, a good range, so i could do melody quite well.

JIM CRE­GAN: The nuts and bolts of Fam­ily were Roger and Char­lie. No doubt about it. Roger didn’t ever want to sound like any­body else. if it was too straight­for­ward he wouldn’t want to do it; he had to bend it just enough so it would be dif­fer­ent. Char­lie is one of the great un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated mu­si­cians of that gen­er­a­tion. His chord work and his writ­ing are like no­body else’s. He has a mu­si­cal point of view that i only ap­pre­ci­ated when Fam­ily re­formed, and i was brought in as the gui­tar player. Fig­ur­ing out what Char­lie was do­ing on “Weaver” was re­ally quite dif­fi­cult. The har­monic struc­ture was amaz­ing. There was al­most noth­ing de­riv­a­tive about him, he was an orig­i­nal thinker. Roger is like that, too.

CHAP­MAN: We started re­hears­ing “Weaver” and quite quickly took it on to the stage. Ev­ery­one went, “yeah!” We were com­fort­able play­ing it. it went down well.

TOWNSEND: We thought it was pretty spe­cial, and we played it in ev­ery con­cert at that time. We changed our set a lot, but “Weaver” seemed to be a con­stant.

TONY COX: Fam­ily’s man­ager, John Gilbert, was the son of the film di­rec­tor lewis Gilbert, who was well con­nected, quite af­flu­ent and so­phis­ti­cated. He had signed the band to Reprise in la. He was a bit of a bump­tious twit, and Fam­ily were pretty pro­vin­cial guys. John ap­peared in my of­fice one day and said, “When we make the new al­bum, maybe you could do some ar­range­ments?” mike Batt had done them on the pre­vi­ous lP. Be­fore they started work­ing on it, i went down to a re­hearsal room in the arts The­atre in soho to hear the songs. They were ex­tremely loud, and “The Weaver’s an­swer” just seemed like a racket! it was an on­stage favourite. in those days, am­pli­fi­ca­tion was crude, and it was all pretty chaotic. i re­mem­ber Char­lie Whit­ney stick­ing his fingers in weird places and mak­ing strange chords he didn’t know the names of. They made a very full sound, there was a lot go­ing on in the song, and i couldn’t see any space [ for or­ches­tra­tions].

CHAP­MAN: in the stu­dio, the guys put the track down and i went in one late morn­ing to sing. i’d been up, or out, all night, and went straight there with­out any sleep. That’s when the vo­cal was done. it was very pos­si­bly one take. i didn’t go in for the dub­bing-in stuff much. i was quite ca­pa­ble.

TOWNSEND: Glyn Johns was en­gi­neer­ing, co-pro­duc­ing.

CHAP­MAN: Glyn was fine, he was a suc­cess­ful man and a great pro­ducer. But the man­age­ment was order­ing Glyn about, say­ing this, that and the other. COX: We were record­ing Fam­ily

En­ter­tain­ment at Olympic. i re­mem­ber

“It’s a moral­ity-tale opera. Your life is be­ing wo­ven… There’s no am­bi­gu­ity” JOHN ‘POLI’ PALMER

them all jump­ing around in the con­trol room when we did the In­dian strings on [al­bum

in­stru­men­tal] “Sum­mer ’67”. That was a great suc­cess, ev­ery­one was very pleased with it. I’m not sure they were so happy with “The Weaver’s An­swer”…

CHAP­MAN: We were trav­el­ling all the time, do­ing gigs. I don’t think we felt we’d fin­ished all the tracks, but we got back, and the al­bum was fin­ished. Mixed. Done. We thought, ‘What the fuck is all that about?’ We weren’t happy, and we blew Gilbert out not long af­ter that. It was tin-pot Tsar Of Rus­sia shit.

TOWNSEND: We went up north for a week or so, and when we got back they’d mixed the al­bum. A cou­ple of mixes we weren’t very happy with, and one of them was “The Weaver’s An­swer”. We thought we could get more out of this song. I hes­i­tate to say it was in­sipid… but the mix didn’t en­hance it. It al­ways ran­kled.

CHAP­MAN: “The Weaver’s An­swer” was just a bit… pissy. We were a good, en­er­getic rock and R&B band, and they thinned it down to make it more ra­dio playable. It wasn’t the way we wanted our mu­sic to be pre­sented. It all got thinned out, var­i­ous riffs got el­bowed, they put flutes on things. What the fuck? We don’t do flutes!

COX: My men­tor at the time was John Barry, and he sug­gested a for­mula that he of­ten used to cut through a lot of racket,

which is to have two flutes and two pic­co­los play­ing in thirds and oc­taves. He said, “That will cut through bombproof steel!” So I took his ad­vice on the in­stru­men­ta­tion.

CHAP­MAN: Com­mer­cially, I sup­pose you would have to say that they were right.

Fam­ily En­ter­tain­ment was a big al­bum for us all over the shop, and “Weaver” was a big favourite on the al­bum.

TOWNSEND: Some time later the record com­pany wanted to put out a new sin­gle. We wanted a song called “Strange Band” as the fea­ture track, but they said, “No, we want ‘The Weaver’s An­swer’.” We said, “You can have ‘Weaver’ if we remix it,’ which is what hap­pened. Things were added. Whit­ney added gui­tars. We gave it back to the la­bel, and they wanted it as the A-side. We said no, we wanted “Strange Band”. So they de­cided to put three tracks on the sin­gle, in­clud­ing “The Weaver’s An­swer”. It came out as a three-track EP, but the me­dia picked up on “The Weaver’s An­swer”, it got air­play and went to No 11.

PALMER: I re­mem­ber we did a Top Of The Pops ver­sion, where we recorded a new back­ing track with an elec­tric flute solo, with a lot of de­cay­ing echo on it.

CHAP­MAN: It be­came a stan­dard for Fam­ily. Peo­ple went for it. It be­came quite a pop­u­lar piece, sales wise and fan wise. It turned out to be a se­ri­ous stage num­ber.

CRE­gAN: When I ar­rived in the band it was the big hit. I’ve played it as both a gui­tar player and a bass player, and it’s great fun. On stage, Roger could get re­ally out of his con­scious mind on it. He’d be over­taken by the mu­sic. He once threw his mic stand off stage and it missed the pro­moter Bill Gra­ham by a cou­ple of inches. He would de­stroy a tam­bourine, just smash it to bits against the mic stand.

TOWNSEND: The song is quite tightly struc­tured, but the solo­ing is free. Even­tu­ally, in con­cert, Poli was do­ing vibes on the solo and Whit­ney put wah-wah all over it. It got wild.

PALMER: There was a lot of Grate­ful Dead­style jam­ming, with lots of long so­los. Nowa­days, with the ad­van­tage of age, we’re prob­a­bly play­ing it bet­ter than we ever did. More dy­nam­ics. It’s not a mil­lion miles from how the song started.

CHAP­MAN: It’s quite a dif­fi­cult song for mu­si­cians. Ev­ery­body has to put their think­ing cap on, melod­i­cally and with the chords. It’s all quite un­usual. You have to se­ri­ously be on top of it to keep it groov­ing.

CRE­gAN: It’s such a great track – and, typ­i­cal of Fam­ily, it doesn’t be­long in any genre at all. It’s its own beast. It doesn’t fit into any­body’s ta­pes­try but our own. Fam­ily At The BBC, an eight-disc boxset, is re­leased by Snap­per Im­print Mad­fish in De­cem­ber; Roger Chap­man tour dates at: www.Chappo.com; The Blues Band, fea­tur­ing Rob Townsend, have a new al­bum, When The Rooster Crows; for in­for­ma­tion on Cre­gan And Co visit: www.cre­ganandco.com

“It all got thinned out, riffs got el­bowed, they put flutes on things…” ROgER CHAP­MAN

The orig­i­nal Fam­ily lineup: (l-r) bassist Ric Grech, John ‘Char­lie’ Whit­ney, Rob Townsend, Jim King and Roger Chap­man, 1968

Over­taken by the mu­sic: Roger Chap­man at the Brondby Pop­klub in Copen­hagen, 1969

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