The Weaver's Answer
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"The Weaver's Answer" was composed by the two leaders of Family, guitarist Charlie Whitney and lead vocalist Roger Chapman, in the late sixties. It was performed live frequently before being properly recorded in the studio. Family also performed "The Weaver's Answer" for BBC Radio 1 in September 1968. Family Entertainment was issued the following February.
Once it was widely available on record, "The Weaver's Answer" became Family's signature song, becoming their most popular stage number. When the band performed their final concert on October 13, 1973, "The Weaver's Answer" was the last song in the set.
"The Weaver's Answer" is one of Family's more straightforward songs; it's about an old man asking for the "weaver of life" to show him "the patterns of my life gone by upon your tapestry". As the song gets underway, the old man recounts his childhood, his first love, and the day he took a wife; he wonders aloud how it looks on the fabric from the weaver's loom. He goes on to ruminate about his sons and how they grew into adulthood to take wives of their own.
After an instrumental break (see below), the old man grows more sorrowful, remembering the day his wife died and being unable to see his grandchildren after age has robbed him of his sight. Suddenly, he regains his sight to see the weaver's loom drawing closer. Realizing that he's about to see his life as a tapestry, the old man understands the reason why - because he's about to die.
Some Family fans have suggested that the "weaver" is the Lord, but to state that the "weaver" is the Christian God is unlikely. The weaver is thus an unspecified poetic device; the weaver's answer is, in fact, death itself. "The Weaver's Answer" portended a trend toward songs about mortality such as "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Öyster Cult.
Commenting on the meaning in his own web guestbook, Roger Chapman said "The 'Weaver' in question comes from mythology, folklore and a bit of acid! Include any Marvel hero, Aesop's Fables, anything simply written with a moral and a story I could understand and make sense of. All the stuff I was interested in as a kid, read about and later included in my story telling."
The mythological origins of the 'weaver' can be found in the story of Arachne and Athena: http://www.greek-gods.info/greek-gods/athena/stories/athena-arachne
This story also features in the song 'The Goddess and the Weaver' recorded by Australian pagan folk rock band 'Spiral Dance. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VQvW3cLNXg&playnext_from=TL&videos=bNtd1wmTeV0)
As with Family's 'The Weaver's Answer, the Spiral Dance lyrics also suggest that the "weaver" is connected with processes of life and death, where Athena comes to earth to view the "sins and the secrets of the gods" on the tapestry that Arachne has woven depicting their lives.
In the context of pagan symbolism, the mortal 'weaver of life' Arachne, and the goddess Athena who controls the loom, could be interpreted as representing the 'bright goddess' of fertility and physical life, and the 'dark goddess' of the realm beyond the physical world out of which all is born and ultimately returns to in death, in a continuous cycle of regeneration and renewal.
Musically, there is also some similarity between underlying rhythm and chord structure in the Spiral Dance 'weaver' song and Family's 'the Weaver's Answer. In a podcast interview the singer and composer, Adrienne Piggot, mentions having been influenced by British bands such as Jethro Tull and Fleetwood Mac, so it's possible that Family may also have been an influence. (Podcast of interview available at: http://www.spiraldance.com.au/)
As performed by Family and produced by John Gilbert and Glyn Johns on Family Entertainment, The Weaver's Answer is a stately, polite rock song slowly and quietly opened by Whitney's guitar and Ric Grech's violin. The drums of Rob Townsend come into the mix to propel the song at a faster tempo, with Grech's bass providing a strong undercurrent and Chapman's vocals giving a desperate voice to the old man's sentiments. The music gets heavier and more intense while remaining understated, slipping into an instrumental break punctuated by Jim King's brooding saxophone and Whitney's biting guitar. The song slowly continues to build into intensity, with Chapman's bleating vibrato becoming inescapable and unsettling, up to the revelation of the old man's death. With that the song slips back to where it began, with Grech's violin more prevalent as it represents the old man's passage into the next world.
Charlie Whitney and Roger Chapman were never satisfied with how "The Weaver's Answer" came out in the studio, finding the arrangement too mannered. When bassist/violinist John Weider and multi-instrumentalist John "Poli" Palmer respectively replaced Grech and King, Family redid The Weaver's Answer as a loud, violent song in concert. Palmer offered a fiery flute solo in the instrumental break that replaced King's saxophone, and Whitney's guitar became more vicious; both of these changes in the arrangement brought the song into Jethro Tull territory. The most notable differences were Chapman's voice, as he punctuated his delivery with bloodcurdling screams, while Townsend's drum patterns became more devastating. Subsequent personnel changes after 1971 forced Family to alter this arrangement slightly - Weider's departure that June precluded them from employing the violin that had become integral to the song - but "The Weaver's Answer" never lost its popularity with Family fans.
In June 2006 Roger Chapman performed the song with a new orchestral arrangement. It was specially written by the German composer and arranger Ingo Laufs for the open-air concert Bridges to Classic at Haendel-Festival in Halle/Germany.
The Weaver's Answer still gets airplay in Great Britain, most notably on Bob Harris's weekend broadcasts on the BBC's Radio 2. Though it is a natural "classic rock" number, Family's signature song gets little airplay in the United States - an indication of the band's lack of success in that country.
- Family Bandstand (includes video of The Weaver's Answer live)