Monday, February 15, 2016

Leicester town

Rear: Whitney, Weider, Palmer. Front: Townsend, Chapman

[Image source:; photo from Disc (Jan 24th, 1970), an interview with Roger Chapman answering awkward questions]

My friend he's a tailor
Up in Leicester town

Leicester is, as we can hardly forget with its team currently atop the Premier League, a city. But it's also a county town, it has a town hall, and the expression "Leicester town" is traditional and still used. It's in Shakespeare (Richard III), and in ballads:

Now Wolsey was, in olden time,
    A man of high renown;
And I went forth to seek his grave,
    Close by fair Leicester town...  (Samuel Bamford, 1829)

When he arrived at Leicester town he went into an inn,
He called for an ostler, and boldly walked in;
He called for liquors of the best, he being a roving blade,
And quickly fixed his eyes upon the chambermaid... ("The Leicester Chambermaid", Anonymous)


My friend he's a tailor
Up in Leicester town
He works his own shop there
And I know he's all right now
He's got his way of thinking
Knows that I've got mine
There's mostly only one thing
We agree on all the time

We love our lives and our ladies
And we're sure that you love yours
We want to care for each other
That's what we're here for
He loves his lady and baby
And I'm sure that you love yours
So don't go pulling your switches
We don't need your wars

(Family, from "Lives and Ladies" by John "Charlie" Whitney and Roger Chapman)

The final track on Anyway (Nov 1970) is a double song on an anti-war theme. It begins with "Masters of War", then goes into a great, angry guitar solo*, then without changing rhythm subtly changes its mood to something more homespun and intimate, and starts over again with "Lives and Ladies".

Family's right-heartedness - a very masculine right-heartedness, certainly - had great authority for me as a teenager. And I still think of Family, along with Charles Dickens, as the moral teachers of my youth, far more than any real schoolteachers or dons.  This song, as Roger Chapman said in a pre-release interview, was not at all radical, it appealed to a wide social consensus: his mate was running a small business. Obviously Chapman's pals - the salesman and the tailor - in "Lives and Ladies", were portrayed in a pointedly un-rock'n'roll manner.  (Though as a matter of fact the salesman was the "Williamson" who co-wrote "Strange Band" with Chapman during an impromptu jam in his front room.) Chapman himself had been a musician for a decade, but a notably down-to-earth one.

A critique of "Lives and Ladies" could start from the observation that it came out of a nation who were scarcely threatened by any immediate prospect of war. More to the point, the song believes that if we care for each other then we can't be, by that innocent form of life, in any way promoting war. It imagined the world as unglobalized. Only a few people, at that time, certainly not me, had any inkling that the innocent pursuit of a caring domestic life in Britain had impacts elsewhere that might promote environmental damage, injustice, poverty and conflict. War has its masters, no doubt, but war is also what happens when ordinary people who would like nothing more than to be left alone to care for each other are so desperate and so frightened that they have to fight.


*Those of us who admire Charlie Whitney as one of the greatest of rock guitarists aren't usually thinking of his solos; he was much more than a soloist, he was a musician. But Family's later albums did produce a sequence of wonderfully constructed and subtle solos, of which this was the first:

1. Lives and Ladies (Anyway, 1970)
2. Take Your Partners (Fearless, 1971)
3. Glove (Bandstand, 1972)
4. Ready to go (Bandstand, 1972)
5. Buffet Tea for Two (It's Only a Movie, 1973)

[Image soruce:]



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