Reviews:


Mike Prete    14-August-2002 Biography

Caravan was formed in Canterbury, England in 1968 by Pye Hastings (guitar/ vocals), Dave Sinclair (keyboards), Richard Sinclair (bass/vocals) and Richard Coughlan (drums). The four had previously played at various times with the local Canterbury band that started it all, The Wilde Flowers, which also featured future Soft Machine members Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers and Hugh Hopper. The band's 1968 self-titled debut saw the first signing of a UK band to the American MGM/Verve label. The band's second album, If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You was released in September 1970 and would mark the start of their classic period.

September 1971 saw the seminal release of In the Land of Grey and Pink. By now a loyal fan base was developing and they were playing some prestigious gigs in front of audiences with upwards of 250,000 people. At this crucial point, Dave Sinclair decided to leave, and went on to form Matching Mole with former Wilde Flowers mate Robert Wyatt. Delivery keyboardist Steve Miller came in as a replacement for Dave, recommended to Richard Sinclair by Phil, Steve's guitarist brother. This lineup was not a favourite with fans who saw a change to a jazzier feel based around Steve's piano-oriented keyboard style. This style dominated the next album release, Waterloo Lily, released in May 1972.

With the departure of both Miller and Richard Sinclair after the release of Waterloo Lily, auditions were held and Stuart Evans and Derek Austin went on the road with the band. Not fitting in with the traditional Caravan sound, tensions lead to their departure shortly after heading into the studio to record demos for the next album. Enter bassist John G. Perry, Geoffrey Richardson on viola and the return of David Sinclair for the recording of For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night. This album marked another change in the band's sound, this time more towards straight symphonic rock. This lineup also recorded the live album Caravan and the New Symphonia. These would pretty much be the last solid releases from Caravan in the studio.

Mike Wedgewood replaced Perry on bass for Cunning Stunts in 1975. While the side-long Sinclair-penned "Dabsong Conshirto" was a strong piece, the first half of the album was definitely a low point for Caravan, and marked the beginning of a series of mediocre releases and lineup changes leading to the reunion of the original members on Back to Front.

Many different compilations and live albums were released in the subsequent twelve years before a new studio album, 1995's Battle of Hastings. Richard Sinclair had left again, replaced by Jim Leverton. With the addition of second guitarist Doug Boyle and percussionist Simon Bentall, Caravan is still active today, playing many live dates and rumored to be preparing a new studio album for release in 2002. Decca/Deram has also remastered the albums from If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You through Cunning Stunts with a myriad of bonus materials, copious liner notes and impeccable sound quality. They will also be appearing at NEARfest 2002.




Mike Prete    14-August-2002 If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You

One of the preeminent statements of the Canterbury scene, If I Could... is classic Caravan all the way. This album sees the band at their apex of pop, psychedelia and progressive rock. With long jams and fuzzed-out organ dominating the work, If I Could... has a relatively raw sound that is at times similar to their contemporaries Soft Machine (Third was also released in 1970). The usual mellow and whimsical tracks are present here as well, along with the always enchanting vocal combination of Richard Sinclair and Pye Hastings.

"And I Wish I Were Stoned" and the classic "For Richard" are extended pieces dominated by the psychedelic jamming and fuzzed organ sound, as well as memorable melodies and are filled with great complex playing, the former having one of the most incredible guitar solos. The title track shows the band at their usual whimsical best, with a light jazzy touch and pop feeling, and shows why the band was just as comfortable on Top of the Pops as they were cranking out ten minute epics. "Hello, Hello" is one of my favorite pieces; it is another light and jazzy song with an intoxicating vocal melody.

The bonus tracks here consist mainly of demo versions of album songs, as well as the previously unreleased "A Day In The Life Of Maurice Haylett" which would have fit right in on the album proper. This is a simply amazing album that I cannot recommend enough.




Mike Prete    14-August-2002 In the Land of Grey and Pink

One of the finest examples of the Canterbury sub-genre, In the Land of Grey and Pink is Caravan at their peak, capturing both their jazz-tinged, virtuositic jamming and charming English whimsy. Magical tales of faraway lands and golf balls falling from the sky, while rather absurd, add to the band's naive charm. This album displays more of the band's poppy tendencies, although with interesting folk-like instrumentation and usually within long flights of instrumental ecstasy. The more overtly jazzy rhythm section of Richard Sinclair and Richard Coughlan keep a strong, yet open base over which Dave Sinclair reigns supreme with blazing Hammond organ. Intoxicating, ethereal melodies abound, often sung by the soft and mesmerizing voice of Richard Sinclair.

The band is at their best when melding both the pop and instrumental aspects together, and the two extended songs on the album are the highlights. "Winter Wine" drifts along as if a dream with a more acoustic nature and melodies evolving over its length. The real treat though is the side-long closer. "Nine Feet Underground" takes all these elements to epic proportions, with endless, dynamic, Hammond-drenched keyboard passages and stunningly beautiful vocal passages.

The bonus tracks on the remaster are rather interesting, with an unreleased track and radically different versions of "Golf Girl" ("Group Girl") and "Aristocracy", the latter of which was to appear on Waterloo Lily. This outstanding classic comes with my highest recommendation.




Mike Prete    14-August-2002 Waterloo Lily

Marking the height of Caravan's jazz influence, Waterloo Lily steers away from the traditional sound of the group and more into straight jazz-rock with the addition of Steve Miller and the more jazz-oriented leanings of Richard Sinclair. This new facet of the band's sound is emphasized on "Nothing At All," with a more refined improvisational nature. While there are some great moments, the track also suffers from a fair share of meandering and some nasty fade-ins and fade-outs. This was probably the result of splicing together bits and pieces of a jam session with Phil Miller.

"The Love in Your Eye" is easily the high point of the album. This epic suite integrates a symphonic leaning into the current jazzy direction utilizing strings and brass as well as woodwinds, all with a subtle intensity. The traditional Caravan sound is most present on the title track and "Aristocracy," combining the whimsy and playfulness with intense jamming and a softer, more melodic side.

While being reviled by many for being "boring jazz-rock," there is plenty here to appeal to fans of their previous work. This remaster also has completely new bonus material: two tracks with just Pye Hastings with acoustic guitar, as well as the full-band track "Looking Left, Looking Right." There is plenty here for the Caravan enthusiast.




Mike Prete    14-August-2002 For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night

A marked change from the jazz-rock-heavy predecessor Waterloo Lily, For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night sees the band adopting a more streamlined symphonic rock approach. This is easily attributable to the departure of Richard Sinclair and Steve Miller, who were replaced by John G. Perry and Dave Sinclair respectively, and the addition of Geoffrey Richardson on viola as well as Sinclair's use of synthesizer. Gone are the whimsical, jazz-tinged, or Hammond-drenched songs of before, now replaced by a driving symphonic rock. Although this produced an interesting change, it's just not what I want to hear from Caravan. There are plenty of other bands doing the same thing, and for the most part, doing it better. "Memory Lain, Hugh/Headloss" and "L'Auberge du Sanglier/A Hunting We Shall Go" are very good symphonic rock pieces in their own right, and there is no lack of energy or strong playing. But Perry's nasal vocals, while not the focus on most tracks (thankfully), make me wish for the return of Richard Sinclair.

Like all the other Decca/Deram remasters, this album features a plethora of bonus material. But unlike the other albums, this is mostly comprised of demos that aren't much different than the final versions, but have the notable interest of being the only recordings with interim members Stuart Evans (bass) and Derek Austin (keyboards).

For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night is not a bad album taken by itself, but the band's traditional Canterbury sound stopped here. For a more representative look at the band during their prime, check out the three preceding albums.




Mike Prete    14-August-2002 And the New Symphonia

With their newfound symphonic direction, the decision to record with a full symphony orchestra was probably the next logical step for Caravan. Recorded live at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane on October 28th, 1973, the new Decca/Deram remaster presents this concert in its entirety, where the previous release only contained the tracks recorded with the orchestra, and also lacked the encore of "A Hunting We Shall Go."

The first three tracks consist of the warm-up section of the concert, with just the band. These spirited renditions have some life in comparison to the studio versions. The full concert begins with three new pieces and the classic "Love in Your Eye," which with its original orchestration would be the perfect piece to showcase here, but is sadly ruined in parts by the addition of Perry's caterwauling in the background. The new pieces aren't all that strong either, and foreshadowed the lackluster output that was still to come. The band does redeem themselves in the end with intense renditions of "For Richard" and "A Hunting We Shall Go," making this a fairly necessary release for fans of the band.




Mike Prete    14-August-2002 Songs for Oblivion Fishermen

Songs for Oblivion Fishermen is a compilation of live material recorded for various BBC programs during the 70s. Caravan, like most of the other jazz-influenced Canterbury bands, tended to incorporate intricate jamming and improvisations into their work, which easily carried over to the live arena, making this album a nice companion piece instead of just a re-hashing of their studio material.

Considering that the songs on this release are most of the band's best, there is nothing that really stands out as everything is solid. The balance between the shorter, poppier songs and the extended suites is perfect. There is also a nice balance between the different lineups of the group, with the first six songs coming from the original lineup, and the last six from the For Girls... era. There is one previously unreleased song, "Love Song Without Flute."

My one complaint is that this doesn't really flow like a real live album. All the pieces come from different live studio appearances without an audience, with different lineups. Nonetheless, this collection, comprised of some of their strongest material, would make a good introduction to the band.




Jeff Melton 04-November-2001 In The Land Of Grey And Pink

The third album by the original quartet (Hastings, Coughlan, Sinclair, Sinclair) is the culmination of jazz and rock ideas budding from the band's last album, If I Could Do It Again, I'd Do It All Over You. Richard Sinclair was at the forefront vocally with three of his trademark songs ("Golf Girl", "Winter Wine" and the title track) showing how far the group had advanced. In fact each of these is somewhat of a signature set for the group and 1971. Pye Hastings is suspiciously less prominent on this album with his sole composition and single, "Love to Love You". Keyboardist, Dave Sinclair's magnum opus, "Nine Feet Underground" is the centerpiece of the album spotlighting his vintage organ and piano sound as well at the band's penchant for changing tempos. Jimmy Hastings, the guitarist's older brother excels on flute on the album too (why he wasn't a permanent member is a mystery to me). The newly remastered version of the album comes with jewel-encrusted tracks such as Sinclair's "I Don't Know Its Name" which would have merged in nicely with his other songs on the album. Also included is a looser version of "Aristocracy" which would be tightened up on the band's subsequent album. In the Land ... is one of the most cherished albums in my collection and provides the basis for my fascination with all things Canterbury. It is simply one of the top albums of the English progressive rock movement notwithstanding and one of the band's three key defining works.



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