From prog and folk to jazz and rock’n’roll, Family packed a lot into their original eight-year run from 1966 to 1973. Reunited since 2013, they’ve decided to call time after 50 years. Tonight’s second of two sold-out shows at the Empire is part of their farewell run, but there’s no sense of melancholy in the air. Vocalist Roger Chapman, vibes player John Palmer and guitarist Jim Cregan might be the only founding members onstage, but the band are in fine mettle and they merrily romp through a two-hour set of songs from the vaults.
Chapman’s voice is undeniably growing thin, so he may have picked the perfect moment to bow out, although in response to tonight’s energised reception, he hints that this may not be the very end of the road after all.
They start smoothly with Top Of The Hill, but soon build the intensity with Drowned In Wine, and thereafter they rarely ease off the accelerator. The live sound is less abrasive than the old studio versions, and the early psychedelic influences have been swapped for a much more groove-oriented approach to the music.
On keys, Paul Hirsh takes a jazzy solo in Burning Bridges, while his bluesy riff in Sweet Desiree recalls The Troggs’ Wild Thing. Gary Twigg’s bass drives both Hey Mr Policeman – which Chapman dedicates to “all the old fuckers out there” – and Sat’d’y Barfly, giving both tracks a 70s funk makeover. Guitarist Geoff Whitehorn, from Procol Harum, helps Chapman out with some of the high notes – the singer really has to stretch at the climax of The Weaver’s Answer.
However, Man Of The Match has to be Nick Payn, a regular fixture in Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. Whether on harmonica, flute or saxophone, he knocks every solo for six, blowing up a tempest under the honky-tonk of No Mule’s Fool, another tune that has travelled an impressive distance from its studio roots.
“This one got called 1, 2, 3, Noise at rehearsals,” declares Chapman ahead of See Through Windows, while there’s a good-natured debate about what key they’re supposed to play Processions in. One of the mellower tracks in the set, it gives Cregan a chance to claim the spotlight, and the acoustic format is kinder to Chapman as it means he doesn’t have to compete with the entire band going full tilt.
They encore with no less than five tracks, including a brisk romp through Check Out, the folky My Friend The Sun, and the swagger and sass of Burlesque. They then bring the curtain down with a bombastic take on Between Blue And Me that builds to a rapturous crescendo. If this is Family’s farewell, they’re going out rocking.