On the 25th November, 1972, a rather nervous trio played their first time at the shopping centre in Pennant Hills, Sydney, for a group of about 30 people. No one at that stage ever suspected that they were watching the birth of what was to become Australia’s most well-known and most popular Gospel group, “Family”.
The ‘Trio’ didn't get their name until the next day when they were performing at the University of Queensland when the MC wanted to introduce them. He suggested “Family”. So they went along with it.
The Truscott brothers, Ian and Phil, came from Maryborough, Queensland. Phil learned violin and Ian, piano. During the teenage years they played in rock groups, playing lead and bass guitar.
Finishing school, Ian moved to Brisbane to study medicine at Queensland University, and was soon joined by Phil, who studied violin at the Conservatorium.
Meanwhile, Ian Smallbone had been playing in several popular Gospel folk groups in Brisbane coffee shops. With his latest group having just broken up, Ian Smallbone heard Ian Truscott sing a solo at a coffee shop. "He had an incredibly high voice”, recalls Ian. The two started singing together and formed a trio with a friend, Ron Greig. Later, they asked Phil to play bass. Ron was the lead singer, and things went along fine until one night Ron couldn’t come. Although terrified, Ian, Phil and Ian went on anyway, with Phil singing Ron’s bits.
Ron later left the group, and the “Other three”, who had only ever considered themselves as backing singers to Ron, embarked on their own course… “Family” was born. Family would play up to 13 shows over a weekend. Twenty minutes here, twenty minutes there. Cutting their teeth.
Phil Truscott remembers it being about six months from the band forming to it having its first big hit. Their manager, David Smallbone, had been promoting them to one of the record bosses telling him, "These guys could make it, they could do something and be something special.” They kept saying: "Not gospel. We can't do anything with a gospel group". But once they toured with Burt Bacharach the bosses relented and agreed to a one-album deal, even though it came with a twist.
A week after the manager of the record company said he would give Family a go, he went to the USA and there he heard a song called “Hallelujah Day” by Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five. He came back to Sydney and threw the record on David's desk. He then played it to Family and said, “We're going to put this one out as a radio single on your album and see how it goes.”
In 1973, Family’s single “Hallelujah Day” went to #6 in Brisbane, #22 in Sydney and #38 in Melbourne. That was when things really began to take off.
Not long after recording their first album in Easter 1973, “Family” received the offer to be support act with composer Burt Bacharach for his national tour in May 1973. The band's South Australian promoter Richard Berry, of Solsound Promotions recalls, "They were singing in a coffee lounge and Burt Bacharach walked in, he was on tour, and that's when they were invited to be his support act.”
Phil Truscott's recollection is a little different. He remembers Family's former manager, David Smallbone, who is Ian's brother and worked in promotions for Channel 7, got talking to Burt Bacharach's promoter. He went to see Bacharach's promoter in Sydney and said: “Can I put this group on a tour with Burt?” And he said: “Yes”.
Family were big stars in their day. Girls loved them because they were young, hip and handsome. Television stations loved them because they were family friendly with clean reputations. And promoters loved them because they filled venues.
Phil Truscott commented, ”Probably one of the more memorable occasions was when we first played at the Sydney Town Hall. I remember going out onto the stage and the screaming was unbelievable. I physically looked around and thought, 'Are The Beatles here?’”
They have filled the Dallas Brookes Hall in Melbourne on a number of occasions, a feat that even secular artists from overseas had difficulty in doing. Family was also involved in promotional work for World Vision Australia.
Family had 9 commercial hit songs, their own record label Rhema Artists, released 18 albums, played every major venue in each mainland Australian state, including the Sydney Opera House multiple times. Along with their numerous Australian Tours, FAMILY toured the USA twice, Papua New Guinea 3 times and New Zealand 4 times.
Family was one of the more controversial groups of their time. They might have been ‘clean-skins’ and Christians, but they were also pioneers, and pioneers often experience bumpy beginnings.
Richard Berry reflected, “Some mainstream artists and fans had problems accepting Family because they performed Christian songs, while the Christians didn't always accept them because part of the band's list of tracks included mainstream hits. Ironically, that controversy was also the band's recipe for success.”
Phil Truscott commented, ”We believed it was the right thing to do because we wanted to sing not just for churches. I never felt it compromised my Christian values. Why would it? Music's music. It was invented by God anyway so it doesn't matter. We did take a stance. Anything anti-gospel we wouldn't do. But love songs… What's wrong with that? I mean, we all fall in love.”
Chris Foley, who also recorded on Rhema Records some years later commented, “Family were able to do what few other Christian music groups of that era could do - cross over into the ‘mainstream’ scene. They were a straight-out Christian band but major radio stations including 4BC and 4IP had them on high-rotation play because they were just brilliant. Family's three-part harmonies were something else, out of this world really. Right up there with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the folk rock supergroup.”
On stage, Ian Smallbone did much of the talking and played piano, blues harp, tambourine, recorder, solina/mellotron and guitar.
Ian Truscott played guitar, piano, solina/mellotron and jumped around a lot on stage. He also wrote quite a few of Family’s songs.
Phil Truscott played the bass guitar and violin occasionally. He also ‘played the fool’ at times to liven up their concerts. Phil also worked with David Smallbone in Rhema Artists label with bookings and promotion.
Family’s blend and intense harmony earned them the distinction of being one of Australia’s top harmony groups. The electric presentation and committed desire to communicate their Christian faith have afforded them some rare opportunities, including an invitation to sing for the Australian Prime Minister. They have also filmed two of their own television specials for national networks as well as being guests on every major TV show in Australia.
They released three albums overseas, two in the U.S. and one in England. In the U.S. they were known as “Family Tree” on Pat Boone’s, “Lamb and Lion” Records.
Productive and creative times followed the band from 1973 to 1980, when they initially broke up. Their life wasn’t always glamorous. Sometimes it was sleeping on couches and playing to small groups. Other times it was riding in vans for days, dreaming of seeing their family and wishing for some ‘normality’.
Retirement from touring was brief. The boys pursued careers in the corporate and professional worlds. They watched their children grow up a little. They made sure their wives were happy.
Phil Truscott commented, ”We were sick of it. We had families and were always away. We had an official ‘breaking-up’ tour at Sydney's Town Hall. But later, someone said, 'Come back and do a tour’. Family owned part of the company, Rhema Records. It had financial troubles, so Family came back together again in 1983 and made more money from 1983 to 1993 than we had made ever. I don't know why that was.”
That period saw the band play shows spasmodically. A few shows here and a few shows there. The “Celebration 20 Collection” CD was released in 1992 as part of Family’s 20th anniversary.
Material for this history was taken from a number of sources:
• The FAMILY website maintained by Chris Fauchon
• KEYSTONE magazine Winter 1978 issue. The article “FAMILY - This House Runs On Sunshine” written by Don Gillespie.
• The Courier Mail Queensland 12 May 2013 Online News
The FAMILY Trio celebrating Ian Truscott's 70th birthday - June 2023
L to R: Phil Truscott, Ian Smallbone and Ian Truscott. Their earlier years photo above corresponds to their names listed.
Click on the "Celebration 20 Collection" album to access songs.
Family finally made it to the full front cover of a magazine in 1980. It took a threatened trio break up to do it! Click on KEYSTONE cover to read more.
01 Family - Volume 1 1973
02 The Word Becomes Music 1974
03 Postcard To Home 1974
04 Family’s Favourite Hymns 1974
05 The Family Three 1975 UK release
06 The Family Three - “One Fire”
1975 USA release
07 The Family Three - “If We Abide”
1975 USA release
08 Family - Volume 5 1976
09 The Best of Family 1977
10 Fine Love 1978
11 Fine Love 1978 USA version
12 Family Sings Scripture Songs
1979 USA release
13 Key Of Love 1980
14 Key Of Love 1980 USA version
15 The Very Best of Family 1983
16 Family Mini Album 1984
17 Tribute To David Truscott 1984
18 Anthology 1984
19 Family Scripture Songs 1986
20 Celebration 20 Collection 1992
21 Complete Collection 2003
Click on the photo above to read about the Adelaide concerts and schools ministry in February 1974.