Caravan was originally formed in early 1968 from the ashesof the legendary Wilde Flowers. All four members of Caravanwere, at one time or another, in that band. "Caravan" washowever a big change in terms of musical direction. The earliestCaravan composition was a number entitled "Where But ForCaravan Would I", co-written with Brian Hopper, which was 10-minuteslong and had several sections in it. It appeared on the band'seponymous first album, the other tracks of which were lighter poppysongs with a little psychedelic touch.
Things became serious with the second album, "If I Could Do ItAll Over Again...". Here, most of the material was organised insuites, the most notable of which is surely the classic "ForRichard", written by David Sinclair and dedicated to his cousin.Pye's elder brother, Jimmy Hastings, made a major contribution, onboth saxophone and flute, as he would on most of Caravan'ssubsequent efforts, though he never was a permanent member of theband. The material was a very original mixture of styles, a verysuccessful amalgam of pop, jazz and classic music, close in many waysto what other 'progressive' bands were doing at the time, but surelythe most typically 'British' of all.
Caravan were lucky to have in their ranks two very talentedand complementary singers, Pye Hastings and Richard Sinclair, and akeyboard player, David Sinclair, who could play lightning-fast fuzzorgan solos, and write long, complex, and carefully arranged piecesof music. This recipe was used to great success on the next album, "In The Land Of Grey And Pink". Basically, the record wasdivided in two parts : the first side contained only Richard Sinclaircompositions (with the exception of the very poppy "Love To Love You"by Pye Hastings), while the second was one long suite entitled "NineFeet Underground", entirely composed by David Sinclair. Thiscompositions remains the definitive statement of Caravan'soriginality. Once again, the soloing was shared between Sinclair'sorgan and Jimmy Hastings' wind instruments, while vocal parts weresplit between Pye and Richard. Quite simply one of the greatestprogressive rock classics.
Apparently, Dave Sinclair felt that Caravan had reached itspeak, so he left in August, 1971. The band would never be the sameagain, never achieving stability and progressively moving to moreaccessible and commercial material, under the influence of PyeHastings, who always considered himself more a singer than aguitarist (he very rarely played solos).
Yet, Richard Sinclair's influence was clearly apparent on thefirst side of "Waterloo Lily", which marked a clear steptowards jazz. The choice of pianist Steve Miller (not particularlykeen on playing the trademark organ) as replacement for Dave Sinclairwas already a sign, but with the guest participation of sax playerLol Coxhill and guitarist Phil Miller (Steve's brother) on the longjam "Nothing At All", which along with Richard Sinclair's composition"Waterloo Lily" filled most of side one, the music wasn't really Caravan anymore. Neither were Pye Hastings' short poppy songs.The only link with the band's previous records was the long,multi-part suite, "The Love In Your Eye", which featured stringarrangements and a wonderful flute solo courtesy of Jimmy Hastings.
Naturally, when Richard Sinclair and Steve Miller got theopportunity to join Phil Miller in a new band venture with drummerPip Pyle, eventually leading to the formation of Hatfield And TheNorth, they left Caravan, leaving Hastings and Coughlan tore-organize the line-up. Their first decision was to recruit aviolin-player, Geoff Richardson, to bring fresh air in the band'ssound, an addition which was initially not very well received by fans(Richardson later added flute and guitars to his instrumentation).Two other new members, Derek Austin and Stuart Evans, provedtemporary, and left after the subsequent tour, just before sessionsfor the fifth album were due to begin. Bassist John G. Perry joinedin time, but as no new keyboard player could be found, Hastings andCoughlan asked Dave Sinclair to guest on the album, which he did,eventually staying (for purely financial reasons) for the promotiontour. Apparently, Sinclair began to feel comfortable within this newline-up, and finally decided to come back permanently.
"For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night" was a fine returnto form, although it was a further step away from Caravan's classicstyle. Pye Hastings wrote all of the material, except for sections ofthe "A-Hunting We Shall Go" suite which closed the album, one ofwhich was a cover of Soft Machine's "Backwards" (originally on theThird album from 1970). Although going in a more commercial directionthan previously and lacking in real 'group' feeling, ForGirls... was still quite good.
In October 1973, Caravan were asked to play one specialconcert at the Drury Lane Theatre in London, with backing from aclassical orchestra. Excerpts of the set (which turned out to beunder-rehearsed and not completely satisfactory) were compiled on the "Caravan and the New Symphonia", which was released in April1974, a few weeks before John G. Perry decided to leave and wasreplaced by Mike Wedgwood, previously of Curved Air among otherbands.
With that line-up, Caravan recorded "CunningStunts", which benefitted from a more democratic songwritingpolicy : David Sinclair wrote the long suite, "The DabsongCon-Shirt-Toe", and the opening song "The Show Of Our Lives"(sung beautifully by Mike Wedgwood), with his colleague John Murphy;Wedgwood himself wrote two, more commercial tunes, the romantic"Lover" and the more energetic and 'funky' "Welcome The Day"; thisleft Pye Hastings with only two songwriting credits. CunningStunts marked something of a move away from Caravan's original'British' style to a more 'Californian' approach to the productionand arrangements, possibly under the influence of Steely Dan.
But just after the album's release, David Sinclair decided toleave once again, to pursue other projects which unfortunately cameto nothing. He was replaced by Jan Schelhaas, a very goodkeyboard-player who, unfortunately, would rarely be given theopportunity to contribute to the writing. Consequently, the nextalbum, "Blind Dog At St. Dunstans", was perhaps not as good asthe previous one, although more consistent. Hastings composedeverything bar one Wedgwood song. On the whole, the album was morepop-oriented, although it contained two medium-length suites, "A VerySmelly, Grubby Little Oik" and the lyrical "All The Way", whichfeatured Jimmy Hastings on flute, clarinet and alto sax.
In November-December 1976, Caravan went on an extensiveBritish and European tour to promote a compilation, "The CanterburyTales", released by Decca. David Sinclair briefly rejoined on thisoccasion, sharing keyboard duties with Schelhaas, most notably on therevived "Nine Feet Underground". The French leg reunited Caravan with two other Canterbury veterans, Soft Machine andKevin Ayers. This would be Mike Wedgwood's last tour with the band -he soon left to settle in America, and was replaced in February 1977by Dek Messecar, a former member of Darryl Way's Wolf.
With production credits by Tony Visconti, "Better By Far"was released in September 1977. Unfortunately, its title was noindication of its musical quality, as it was for the most part acollection of very catchy poppy tunes, with only a couple of moreambitious tracks. On the whole it left listeners wondering if thiswas still the same band which had released the landmark early-70'salbums... However, Caravan kept touring in Britain and Europethroughout 1977. But a European tour in early 1978 would turn out tobe the last for almost two years. The company run by the band'smanager, Miles Copeland, went bankrupt, and Caravan was leftto face huge debts. There was nothing left to do but break up theband. In 1978-79, Pye Hastings worked on solo projects, RichardCoughlan played in local Canterbury bands, Geoff Richardson workedextensively with the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and John G. Perry, whileboth Schelhaas and David Sinclair joined Richard Sinclair in Camelfor the "Breathless" tour. Eventually, Schelhaas stayed in Camel(until 1981) and the Sinclair cousins left.
In October 1979, Caravan reformed with the same line-up asbefore, with the exception of David Sinclair, back home once again.The following year, "The Album" was released, and was largelyin the same 'pop' direction as the previous one, although this timethe writing was more collectively shared. It included several songsfrom David Sinclair's unfinished solo project, undertaken in themid-Seventies, in particular the moving "Piano Player".
More British and European touring followed, until plans for yetanother album developed. Apparently, Richardson and Messecar weren'tavailable to take part, so Richard Sinclair was summoned back, thusre-creating the 'magic' original line-up. The result, "Back ToFront", has its moments, on tracks such as "Back To Herne BayFront", "All Aboard" or "Proper Job", but also contained some ratherweak songs.
There was no touring in support of the album, although Caravan reformed for two gigs at the Marquee in July 1983(with a line-up of Hastings, Richardson, Schelhaas, Sinclair andCoughlan) and the following year for a reunion gig at the CanterburyFestival. Apart from those Caravan was not to be heard ofagain until 1990... As a matter of fact, the band was asked toreform, under its original form (plus Jimmy Hastings), for a TV showscreened by Central TV. After a warm-up gig in Canterbury, the bandrecorded a performance that consisted mainly of compositions fromtheir classic albums, "If I Could..." and "In The Land...", includingboth "For Richard" and "Nine Feet Underground" in their entirety. ACD from this gig was released in 1993 on Demon Records.
Caravan continued to play gigs for the next two years,touring in the U.K. and Italy mainly. Apparently, Pye Hastings thengrew tired of playing mostly old material, and started work on a soloalbum. Richard Sinclair concentrated on his solo activities with hisband Caravan Of Dreams. Eventually, Hastings dropped his solo projectand decided to record a Caravan album instead. After takingpart in the Mirage tour in December 1994, Pye, David Sinclair andJimmy Hastings joined forces with Geoff Richardson, Richard Coughlanand veteran British bassist Jimmy Leverton to record "The BattleOf Hastings", a nice collection of poppy tunes retaining theclassic Caravan sound (organ, violin, flute, sax and Hastings'inimitable vocals), released on HTD Records in September 1995.
When plans for a tour had to be shelved, Pye Hastings and GeoffRichardson started work on a new album which was to contain acousticversions of Caravan classics. It was eventually released as aband effort (although David Sinclair and Richard Coughlan onlyappeared on one or two tracks each, the remainder of the album usingsequencers and drum machines) under the title "All Over You".Songs from the 'classic' era (1968-73) were given a 'modern'treatment with varied results.
Plans for a series of live appearances eventually became a realityin October/November of 1996. Unfortunately Geoff Richardson couldn'tescape his busy touring schedule with French singer Renaud and was'replaced' by guitarist Doug Boyle (ex-Robert Plant Band), while apercussion player, Simon Bentall, was also added. The setlist for theshort tour included classics as "Nine Feet Underground", "ForRichard" (in its new controversial arrangement), "Place Of My Own","The Dog, The Dog, He's At It Again", "Hoedown", "Memory Lain, Hugh"and "Behind You" along with most of the songs from The Battle OfHastings. In September 1997, Caravan hit the road again for aLondon gig and a mini-tour of the Netherlands, this time withRichardson as well as Boyle and Bentall. On this occasion, "Place OfMy Own" was deleted from the setlist and replaced by "Cold As Ice"from "The Battle Of Hastings".
In 1998, Pye Hastings started work on a solo project, with Caravan continuing to play the occasional gig in Britain andHolland. Hastings has left that project aside for now to record asecond volume of reworked Caravan classics, released in autumn1999 under the title "All Over You Too". In addition to hisfellow band members (this is Doug Boyle's studio debut with theband), this features Hugh Hopper, whom he'd played with in the WildeFlowers and on Hopper's first solo album 1984.
The year 2000 saw the beginning of renewed activity - on the livefront, the first edition of the Canterbury Festival, followed by a5-date UK tour and Caravan's first concert in France for twentyyears, in November at the Bataclan; and the release of a superbdouble-CD anthology, "Where But For Caravan Would I", includingunreleased and rare material - announcing an ambitious reissueprogramme of the band's Decca/Deram catalogue by Universal. InFebruary 2001, all the albums from "If I Could..." to"Cunning Stunts" were reissued with a wealth of bonus tracksand carefully remastered sound. Standouts in the programme were"For Girls...", with 25 minutes of never heard studiorecordings by the 'lost' line-up with Derek Austin and Stuart Evans;and "...New Symphonia", restoring the full concert with thenon-orchestral first set and the encore, "A Hunting We Shall Go". Oneyear later, the eponymous debut (with the much better-sounding monomix) and the "Live At Fairfield Hall" previously released as "The Best Of Caravan Live" in France only, followed.
Live activities in 2002 included an Italian tour in April and North American festivals in June/July. All the while Caravan had been busy working on a new studio album which was to include a majority of songs penned by Dave Sinclair. However in October, a press release announcing the departure of Dave came as a shock. Once again Pye and Dave disagreed on the musical direction, and once again Jan Schelhaas declared himself available to replace him. The new album eventually appeared in 2003 as "The Unauthorised Breakfast Item", consisting mostly of Pye Hastings songs with one contribution each by fellow bandmembers Doug Boyle and Geoff Richardson, plus one Dave Sinclair song, "Nowhere To Hide", from the initial sessions. Caravan's first studio album of new material since 1995's "Battle Of Hastings", it received critical acclaim and has since been promoted by extensive touring worldwide (Europe, USA, Japan etc.).
Caravan has been off the road since the Summer of 2005, mainly due to Richard Coughlan's health problems ("a form of rheumatoid arthritis"). No activity is expected until the Spring of 2007, as Pye Hastings is currently living in Scotland for professional reasons. Of the band members, the busiest are Geoff Richardson and Jim Leverton, who are touring as a duo, supporting John Lees' Barclay James Harvest on their UK tour in the Autumn of 2006.
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