Caravan was originally formed in early 1968 from the ashes of the legendary Wilde Flowers. All four members of Caravan were, at one time or another, in that band. "Caravan" was however a big change in terms of musical direction. The earliest Caravan composition was a number entitled "Where But For Caravan Would I", co-written with Brian Hopper, which was 10-minutes long and had several sections in it. It appeared on the band's eponymous first album, the other tracks of which were lighter poppy songs with a little psychedelic touch.
Things became serious with the second album, "If I Could Do It All Over Again...". Here, most of the material was organised in suites, the most notable of which is surely the classic "For Richard", written by David Sinclair and dedicated to his cousin. Pye's elder brother, Jimmy Hastings, made a major contribution, on both saxophone and flute, as he would on most of Caravan's subsequent efforts, though he never was a permanent member of the band. The material was a very original mixture of styles, a very successful amalgam of pop, jazz and classic music, close in many ways to what other 'progressive' bands were doing at the time, but surely the most typically 'British' of all.
Caravan were lucky to have in their ranks two very talented and complementary singers, Pye Hastings and Richard Sinclair, and a keyboard player, David Sinclair, who could play lightning-fast fuzz organ solos, and write long, complex, and carefully arranged pieces of music. This recipe was used to great success on the next album, "In The Land Of Grey And Pink". Basically, the record was divided in two parts : the first side contained only Richard Sinclair compositions (with the exception of the very poppy "Love To Love You" by Pye Hastings), while the second was one long suite entitled "Nine Feet Underground", entirely composed by David Sinclair. This compositions remains the definitive statement of Caravan's originality. Once again, the soloing was shared between Sinclair's organ and Jimmy Hastings' wind instruments, while vocal parts were split between Pye and Richard. Quite simply one of the greatest progressive rock classics.
Apparently, Dave Sinclair felt that Caravan had reached its peak, so he left in August, 1971. The band would never be the same again, never achieving stability and progressively moving to more accessible and commercial material, under the influence of Pye Hastings, who always considered himself more a singer than a guitarist (he very rarely played solos).
Yet, Richard Sinclair's influence was clearly apparent on the first side of "Waterloo Lily", which marked a clear step towards jazz. The choice of pianist Steve Miller (not particularly keen on playing the trademark organ) as replacement for Dave Sinclair was already a sign, but with the guest participation of sax player Lol Coxhill and guitarist Phil Miller (Steve's brother) on the long jam "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 string arrangements and a wonderful flute solo courtesy of Jimmy Hastings.
Naturally, when Richard Sinclair and Steve Miller got the opportunity to join Phil Miller in a new band venture with drummer Pip Pyle, eventually leading to the formation of Hatfield And The North, they left Caravan, leaving Hastings and Coughlan to re-organize the line-up. Their first decision was to recruit a violin-player, Geoff Richardson, to bring fresh air in the band's sound, 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, proved temporary, and left after the subsequent tour, just before sessions for the fifth album were due to begin. Bassist John G. Perry joined in time, but as no new keyboard player could be found, Hastings and Coughlan asked Dave Sinclair to guest on the album, which he did, eventually staying (for purely financial reasons) for the promotion tour. Apparently, Sinclair began to feel comfortable within this new line-up, and finally decided to come back permanently.
"For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night" was a fine return to form, although it was a further step away from Caravan's classic style. Pye Hastings wrote all of the material, except for sections of the "A-Hunting We Shall Go" suite which closed the album, one of which was a cover of Soft Machine's "Backwards" (originally on the Third album from 1970). Although going in a more commercial direction than previously and lacking in real 'group' feeling, For Girls... was still quite good.
In October 1973, Caravan were asked to play one special concert at the Drury Lane Theatre in London, with backing from a classical orchestra. Excerpts of the set (which turned out to be under-rehearsed and not completely satisfactory) were compiled on the "Caravan and the New Symphonia", which was released in April 1974, a few weeks before John G. Perry decided to leave and was replaced by Mike Wedgwood, previously of Curved Air among other bands.
With that line-up, Caravan recorded "Cunning Stunts", which benefitted from a more democratic songwriting policy : David Sinclair wrote the long suite, "The Dabsong Con-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"; this left Pye Hastings with only two songwriting credits. Cunning Stunts marked something of a move away from Caravan's original 'British' style to a more 'Californian' approach to the production and arrangements, possibly under the influence of Steely Dan.
But just after the album's release, David Sinclair decided to leave once again, to pursue other projects which unfortunately came to nothing. He was replaced by Jan Schelhaas, a very good keyboard-player who, unfortunately, would rarely be given the opportunity to contribute to the writing. Consequently, the next album, "Blind Dog At St. Dunstans", was perhaps not as good as the previous one, although more consistent. Hastings composed everything bar one Wedgwood song. On the whole, the album was more pop-oriented, although it contained two medium-length suites, "A Very Smelly, Grubby Little Oik" and the lyrical "All The Way", which featured Jimmy Hastings on flute, clarinet and alto sax.
In November-December 1976, Caravan went on an extensive British and European tour to promote a compilation, "The Canterbury Tales", released by Decca. David Sinclair briefly rejoined on this occasion, sharing keyboard duties with Schelhaas, most notably on the revived "Nine Feet Underground". The French leg reunited Caravan with two other Canterbury veterans, Soft Machine and Kevin Ayers. This would be Mike Wedgwood's last tour with the band - he soon left to settle in America, and was replaced in February 1977 by 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 no indication of its musical quality, as it was for the most part a collection of very catchy poppy tunes, with only a couple of more ambitious tracks. On the whole it left listeners wondering if this was still the same band which had released the landmark early-70's albums... However, Caravan kept touring in Britain and Europe throughout 1977. But a European tour in early 1978 would turn out to be the last for almost two years. The company run by the band's manager, Miles Copeland, went bankrupt, and Caravan was left to face huge debts. There was nothing left to do but break up the band. In 1978-79, Pye Hastings worked on solo projects, Richard Coughlan played in local Canterbury bands, Geoff Richardson worked extensively with the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and John G. Perry, while both Schelhaas and David Sinclair joined Richard Sinclair in Camel for 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 as before, with the exception of David Sinclair, back home once again. The following year, "The Album" was released, and was largely in the same 'pop' direction as the previous one, although this time the writing was more collectively shared. It included several songs from David Sinclair's unfinished solo project, undertaken in the mid-Seventies, in particular the moving "Piano Player".
More British and European touring followed, until plans for yet another album developed. Apparently, Richardson and Messecar weren't available to take part, so Richard Sinclair was summoned back, thus re-creating the 'magic' original line-up. The result, "Back To Front", has its moments, on tracks such as "Back To Herne Bay Front", "All Aboard" or "Proper Job", but also contained some rather weak 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 and Coughlan) and the following year for a reunion gig at the Canterbury Festival. Apart from those Caravan was not to be heard of again until 1990... As a matter of fact, the band was asked to reform, under its original form (plus Jimmy Hastings), for a TV show screened by Central TV. After a warm-up gig in Canterbury, the band recorded a performance that consisted mainly of compositions from their classic albums, "If I Could..." and "In The Land...", including both "For Richard" and "Nine Feet Underground" in their entirety. A CD 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 then grew tired of playing mostly old material, and started work on a solo album. Richard Sinclair concentrated on his solo activities with his band Caravan Of Dreams. Eventually, Hastings dropped his solo project and decided to record a Caravan album instead. After taking part in the Mirage tour in December 1994, Pye, David Sinclair and Jimmy Hastings joined forces with Geoff Richardson, Richard Coughlan and veteran British bassist Jimmy Leverton to record "The Battle Of Hastings", a nice collection of poppy tunes retaining the classic 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 Geoff Richardson started work on a new album which was to contain acoustic versions of Caravan classics. It was eventually released as a band effort (although David Sinclair and Richard Coughlan only appeared on one or two tracks each, the remainder of the album using sequencers 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 reality in October/November of 1996. Unfortunately Geoff Richardson couldn't escape his busy touring schedule with French singer Renaud and was 'replaced' by guitarist Doug Boyle (ex-Robert Plant Band), while a percussion player, Simon Bentall, was also added. The setlist for the short tour included classics as "Nine Feet Underground", "For Richard" (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 Of Hastings. In September 1997, Caravan hit the road again for a London gig and a mini-tour of the Netherlands, this time with Richardson as well as Boyle and Bentall. On this occasion, "Place Of My 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 and Holland. Hastings has left that project aside for now to record a second volume of reworked Caravan classics, released in autumn 1999 under the title "All Over You Too". In addition to his fellow band members (this is Doug Boyle's studio debut with the band), this features Hugh Hopper, whom he'd played with in the Wilde Flowers and on Hopper's first solo album 1984.
The year 2000 saw the beginning of renewed activity - on the live front, the first edition of the Canterbury Festival, followed by a 5-date UK tour and Caravan's first concert in France for twenty years, in November at the Bataclan; and the release of a superb double-CD anthology, "Where But For Caravan Would I", including unreleased and rare material - announcing an ambitious reissue programme of the band's Decca/Deram catalogue by Universal. In February 2001, all the albums from "If I Could..." to "Cunning Stunts" were reissued with a wealth of bonus tracks and carefully remastered sound. Standouts in the programme were "For Girls...", with 25 minutes of never heard studio recordings by the 'lost' line-up with Derek Austin and Stuart Evans; and "...New Symphonia", restoring the full concert with the non-orchestral first set and the encore, "A Hunting We Shall Go". One year later, the eponymous debut (with the much better-sounding mono mix) 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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