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Caravan

+ {Richard Sinclair’s Caravan Of Dreams}

The Canterbury scene in England had spawned several creative bands, including mid-60s R&B/jazz outfit, the Wilde Flowers (a reference to wordsmith Oscar Wilde). Although no recordings were released at the time, the ever-evolving ensemble became the stamping ground for members of SOFT MACHINE (i.e. KEVIN AYERS, ROBERT WYATT, Hugh Hopper, etc.) and of course, CARAVAN. Early 1968, singers Pye Hastings (guitar and bass), Richard Sinclair (bass and guitar) and his cousin David Sinclair (organ), plus another Wilde Flowers member, Richard Coughlan (drums) formed CARAVAN. Discovered by Ian Ralfini while performing at London’s Middle Earth Club (they’d earlier debuted at their local Beehive Club), the quartet were signed to MGM offshoot, Verve Records.
Going for a more jazz-oriented, psychedelic sound, the eponymous CARAVAN (1968) {*8} soaked up critical appraisal and laid down the foundations and roots for progressive rock. With Tony Cox on production duties, tracks such as `Place Of My Own’ (a flop single), `Policeman’, `Cecil Rons’ (very PINK FLOYD-meets-The NICE), `Love Song With Flute’ (featuring Pye’s older brother Jimmy Hastings), `Magic Man’ (very MOODY BLUES) and the lengthy 9-minute finale cue, `Where But For Caravan Would I?’ found favour with the arty, college type. Unfortunately, when the UK branch of MGM closed towards the end of ‘68, so did the chances of the LP producing vast sales.
At the point of being penniless and, ironically, living in tents, CARAVAN were saved by new manager Terry King and rookie producer David Hitchcock, who obtained a new contract on Decca Records. IF I COULD DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, I’D DO IT ALL OVER YOU (1970) {*7} belied a quality set of melancholy prog-rock that extended the ideas of their original debut. The quirky title track and B-side opened the LP (and featured on BBC TV show, Top Of The Pops), while A-side `Hello, Hello’ (complete with hedge clippers!) was trademark CARAVAN, intimate and retro-delic. Ditto track 3, `As I Feel I Die’, an organ versus percussion piece to annoy any suburban neighbourhood. Augmented once again by Jimmy on flute and sax, `For Richard’ was part of a 4-segued, 14-minute jazz excursion that could’ve easily fitted into the SOFT MACHINE canon.
Hailed by the student/bedsit brigade, CARAVAN’s sophomore set also unearthed the equally epic (8 minute plus) `And I Wish I Were Stoned’ and `Within An Ear To The Ground You Can Make It’ – both saddled with prog-styled mini-excerpts. Admittedly, if they could’ve done it all over again, they would’ve included outtake, `A Day In The Life Of Maurice Haylett’ (a song dedicated to the road manager/sound engineer!).
Tolkien-like in nature (witness sleeve artwork for example), IN THE LAND OF THE GREY AND PINK (1971) {*9}, was undoubtedly their magnum opus; majestic instrumentalism incorporating shades of acoustic folk, jazz-rock and prog; Jimmy Hastings and 6th member/engineer Dave Grinstead augmented in the studio. Centrepiece `Golf Girl’ (which incidentally started off as “Group Girl”) could well’ve enjoyed a deserved chart run, while the same could be said for the equally wistful `Love To Love You (And Tonight Pigs Will Fly)’. While one can’t underestimate the contrasting charm of `Winter Wine’ and the title track, David Sinclair’s epic composition, the near-23-minute, side-long `Nine Feet Underground’ (predating GENESIS’s `Supper’s Ready’ by a year!), was jazz-meets-prog in full flow. However, this was sadly David’s swansong as he teamed up with ROBERT WYATT on his solo and MATCHING MOLE projects.
Replacing him with ex-Delivery organist Steve Miller (alas, not “The Joker” man) and of course, retaining Pye’s brother, CARAVAN repressed their prog roots on 4th LP, WATERLOO LILY (1972) {*6}. To suit the jazzier style of Miller (who contributed `Songs And Signs’), CARAVAN had indeed shifted into another gear, although Hitchcock was still at the controls. Another track accented by Miller was the group-penned, `Nothing At All’, a 10-minute improvisation that fused liquid-light bop and electric jazz. If there was one piece (although it incorporating several other tunes), `The Love In Your Eye’, was sheer jazz-blues meeting somewhere between MILES DAVIS and WEATHER REPORT.
However, Miller’s stay was brief when he re-joined Delivery, while “musical differences” led to Richard Sinclair leaving to form HATFIELD + THE NORTH. Replacements came by way of little-known Derek Austin (keyboards) and Stuart Evans (bass), but their tenure was brief when Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlan brought in multi-instrumentalist Geoffery Richardson (viola), John G. Perry (bass, vocals and percussion) and CARAVAN’s prodigal son, Dave Sinclair (keyboards & ARP synth). With 90% of the songs stemming from Pye, FOR GIRLS WHO GROW PLUMP IN THE NIGHT (1973) {*8}, was musically steps ahead of their previous effort (the original sleeve artwork was knocked back by the record company for its depiction of a pregnant naked woman!). Virtually on the crest of a West Coast wave, segued opening pieces `Memory Lain, Hugh’ and `Headloss’ (complete with woodwind and brass orchestra conducted by Jimmy!), pulled out all the stops, fusing, as it did, heavy prog lines and sonic, contemporary folk. `Hoedown’ also delivered a punch, but it was the freewheeling complexities of titles like `The Dog, The Dog, He’s At It Again’ and the 10-minute, John Barry-esque `L’Auberge Du Sanglier… A Hunting We Shall Go…’, that won over audiences again.
Towards the end of 1973 (on the bequest of Hitchcock), the ambitious quintet played a concert (October 28th) in London’s Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, side by side with conductor Martyn Ford and 39-piece orchestra arranger Simon Jeffes (the latter was soon to front the PENGUIN CAFÉ ORCHESTRA). Credited as CARAVAN & THE NEW SYMPHONIA (1974) {*4; now *6}, these recordings were released. A hit or miss affair, it showcased most of their previous set with a few freshly-penned numbers (`Virgin On The Ridiculous’ and `Mirror For The Day’); the belated CD (*) re-master collected the full concert with tracks prefixed & suffixed onto the original listing. Perry subsequently departed and ended up with poppy outfit, Quantum Jump, who had a novelty UK hit with `The Lone Ranger’.
With a new bassist and songwriter Mike Wedgwood (ex-CURVED AIR) on board, CARAVAN aimed their sights at the North American market by way of major concerts and a 5th studio LP, CUNNING STUNTS (1975) {*5}. Displaying a distinct lack of anything even remotely stunning (although the wry spoonerism must’ve caught out a few punters), this average set delivered a smoother, AOR sound. Signed to B.T.M. (aka British Team Management) –
controlled by Miles Copeland (brother of the POLICE’s Stewart), the album scraped into the UK Top 50 (No.124 in America). If forced to choose the album’s better tracks, one would have to go for `The Show Of Our Lives’, `Stuck In A Hole’ and `No Backstage Pass’, while the 18-minute `The Dabsong Conshirto’ duly meandered into mediocrity.
BLIND DOG AT ST. DUNSTANS (1976) {*3} was met with similar degrees of disdain, although commercially they were surprisingly bubbling somewhere under the Top 50. New keyboard player Jan Schelhaas (ex-GARY MOORE Band) was more or less the catalyst, his jazzed-up instrumentation did little to get CARAVAN back on the right track. Uniquely-titled `All The Way (With John Wayne’s Single-Handed Liberation Of Paris)’ was chosen as a single (backed by Wedgwood’s only cue `Chiefs And Indians’), but basically the LP could be put down as one of Hastings’ sub-standard dirges, `A Very Smelly, Grubby Little Oik’. Standing next to CARAVAN’s best-of compilation, CANTERBURY TALES (1976) {*8}, it just stinks.
If album titles be their forte in the past, who could forgive them for BETTER BY FAR (1977) {*2}, a dismal effort for Arista Records that sunk the wheels of CARAVAN even deeper into the prog-rock quagmire. Former DARRYL WAY’S WOLF bassist Dek Messecar had replaced Wedgwood, but there wasn’t really much to say about the former’s contribution, `Man In A Car’, or indeed Hastings’ stab at the single charts via the awful title track. The onset of punk and new wave obviously did nothing for their cause, although Pye bravely struggled on.
Also recorded in 1977 but shelved until 1994, COOL WATER {*4}, found new depths to Hastings and Co’s raw pop-rock structures. Unproduced, the 4 or 5 minute tracks were best represented by `Poor Molly’, `Just The Way You Are’ and the opening title track.
When Dave Sinclair returned to fold to replace Jan and Dek, things looked a little sunnier for CARAVAN, when they inked a deal with Terry King’s independent Kingdom imprint. As the title suggests, THE ALBUM (1980) {*3}, was as boring as the comeback itself, only 45s such as `Heartbreaker’ and `Keepin’ Up De Fences’, salvaging some respect.
It was plain to see that Pye Hastings had to do something – and quickly. When all four original members reconvened for a few select concerts to promote “real” comeback set, BACK TO FRONT (1982) {*5}, many thought this could be the turnaround. Kicking off with Richard Sinclair’s `Back To Herne Bay Front’ (a tale of seaside holidays where the set was recorded) and eventually following on with cousin David’s more cosmopolitan look at life (on `Videos Of Hollywood’), it was clear that Hastings had kow-towed to any self-indulgent inflictions. The early CARAVAN of old was apparent on David’s `Proper Job – Back To Front’, while Hastings took the band on the usual journey of pedestrian pop (i.e. `Take My Breath Away’ and `Bet You Wanna Take It All – Hold On, Hold On’).
But that was it, no more CARAVAN, until that is… the original 4-piece reconvened yet again (with retainer Jimmy) for an ITV late night “Bedrock Series” special on 24th July 1990. This in turn led to a LIVE (1993) {*6} hour-long set, featuring ye olde cues like `Nine Feet Underground’ and `For Richard’ in near entirety.
While the early 90s had seen the band supported by the likes of crusty progsters, OZRIC TENTACLES, the ghost of CARAVAN continued unabated courtesy of a 1992 set, RICHARD SINCLAIR’S CARAVAN OF DREAMS {*4}, notable for guest spots for Hugh Hopper and Pip Pyle.
Minus the aforementioned Richard, but with Geoff on board again, CARAVAN were back for THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS (1995) {*6}, a return to their prog-jazz roots. Inside a proverbial time-warp of sorts, the quartet (augmented by Jimmy) performed best on gems such as `Liar’; it was clear to see that CARAVAN were enjoying this resurrection. For the remainder of the 90s, this line-up produced a triumvirate of revamped live recordings: ALL OVER YOU (1996) {*5), CANTERBURY COMES TO LONDON – Live From The Astoria (1997) {*6} and ALL OVER YOU… TOO (1999) {*4}, the latter two with the addition of young lead guitarist Doug Boyle, bassist Jim Leverton (ex-JUICY LUCY, SAVOY BROWN, BLODWYN PIG, etc.) and percussionist Simon Bentall.
In 2004, CARAVAN – at this stage featuring Pye, Richard C., Dave, Geoffrey and Doug – issued yet another comeback set of new material. THE UNAUTHORISED BREAKFAST ITEM {*5} – based on a previous fracas with cafe staff at 2002’s NEARFest in Trenton, New Jersey – was geared towards the smooth, AOR-jazz fan, rather than a prog-luddite in his late 50s.
In the wake of his passing, Richardson, Hastings, Schelhaas, Leverton and drummer Mark Walker combined for what just might be, CARAVAN’s signing off set, PARADISE FILTER (2014) {*6}. One could never underestimate this class act, and with catchy cues such as `All This Could Be Yours’, `I’m On My Way’, `Fingers In The Till’ et al, prog-rock and the Canterbury scene were still genres to crowdfund, pledge and support.
© MC Strong 1994-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS Apr2012-Sep2018

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