Gig review: FAMILY – Shepherds Bush Empire, London – 2 February 2013

Family - London, 2 February 2013

Not just a reunion, more a polishing of the Family’s silver, ‘An Evening With Family’ proved what all die-hard fans always knew, Family made some timeless music.

And if the underlying question to this two night stand at the Shepherds Bush Empire was whether they could still cut it or not, any doubters were suitably kicked up the ass with a two sparkling performances that saw a splendid and expanded 9 piece ensemble (ie. Family plus the In-Laws) bring out the full melodic beauty and dynamic splendour of their back catalogue, via some stunning arrangements.

Family - London, 2 February 2013

Roger Chapman inevitably cut a pivotal figure, but it was also the sumptuous melodies, intricate playing and subtle dynamics that lingered in the mind, long after the closing notes of the third encore ‘Sweet Desire’.

Put simply, this was a triumphant return, which though markedly different from the past, brought real weight and substance to bear on some enduring material. Some of the songs were premier performances, while other stage favourites were imbued with an unexpected sprinkle of musical maturity.

The evening opened with some deep blues from Papa George and a glorious ramble from footie legend Frank Worthington, before the band slipped into the vibes led ‘Top of the Hill’.  They further reinvigorated themselves with a funky jammed out ‘Part of the Load’, the uplifting melody of ‘Ready To Go’ and the ascending, mesmerising sweep of ‘Burning Bridges’.

It was a reunion with a difference and while it was sad that Charlie Whitney passed up the opportunity to rejoin Chappo and cohorts, his music still rang out loud and clear. This was no more so than on the delicate ‘Between Blue & Me’, a song that was prefaced by Chappo calling out to his former partner.

Family - London, 2 February 2013

Then there was the transformation of Poli’s original fleeting instrumental ‘Crinkly Grin’, into something with symphonic presence, with doubled up vibes and sax lines, alongside Geoff Whitethorn’s precision guitar.

At the centre of all this glorious music stood the imposing figure of Roger Chapman, who having cut a restrained, if not ironic figure on the first night, was back to his belligerent self on the second.

His unique vibrato is more of a gargled growl nowadays, but his phrasing remains impeccable as he matched his lyrical brilliance on the unexpected big band swagger and beautiful horn refrain of ‘Sat’d’y Barfly’ and the thunderous rhythms of ‘Hung Up Down’.

Family - London, 2 February 2013

Rob Townsend was rock solid as ever, while vibes player Poli Palmer added light and shade with some delightful flurries on vibes.  Jim Cregan initially cut a musically peripheral figure, but soon matched his flamboyant stage apparel – or ‘gipsy gear’ as Rog would have it – with some deft acoustic guitar on ‘No Mules Fool’ and some trademark Whitney double neck guitar either side of the first encore.

The additional band members known as The In-Laws, included Nicky Payn who brought echoes of both Jim King and Poli’s early Family work with a colourful melange of tones on horns, harp, flute and percussion. His repertoire included a sax solo to replace the original vibes on the climactic ‘In My Own Time’.

The epic ‘The Weaver Answer’ was the perfect encore, followed ‘My Friend The Sun’, with its shared ‘call and response’ harmonies, leaving Roger to add a poignant roll call of past and present Family members on the cheery ‘Sweet Desiree’, to cap a truly memorable night.

Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Simon Dunkerley

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