A Short Bio:
Peter Geoffrey Richardson is in many ways the least known member of Caravan. Ask anyone for a typical line-up and you'll invariably get the answer of Hastings, Hastings, Coughlan, Sinclair and Sinclair. This of course mirrors the 'classic' original line-up and includes Jimmy Hastings who was never an official band member. It also takes no account of the fact that Richardson appeared on six Caravan studio albums (plus live releases), which only excludes the first four and Back To Front.
Richardson's arrival in the summer of 1972 certainly didn't meet with the fans' universal approval but this was more to do with the fact that they were still trying to come to terms with the loss of Dave, then cousin Richard Sinclair within the space of a year. Add to that the fact that Richardson was picked to play viola in a band dominated up to then by Dave Sinclair's keyboard work, and you clearly have a recipe for anxiety and concern. Richardson readily admits that things were not easy : "There was real resentment at the time and there were dodgy reviews in the press as to the effect the viola was having on live performances. I was seen as the poor man's Jimmy Hastings and some fans never accepted me".
I recall those same feelings as a Caravan 'fanatic' in those days, but accepted Hastings' explanations that the band just had to move on and seek new directions. In retrospect I would argue that Richardson became an absolutely essential element within Caravan. His stage presence, his excellent and diverse musicianship, his loyalty to the band and to Hastings, ensured that Caravan survived and then became an institution, to the point that the name and band live on into the 1990's. Once again, his positive, upbeat attitude has helped in the making of a great album in The Battle Of Hastings and the new one, All Over You. Not only that, Richardson is one of us : he liked them and their music before he joined!
Geoffrey Richardson was born in Hinckley, Leicestershire in 1950. His grandfather on his mother's side worked for the Co-operative Society and was also a music teacher and pianist. Geoff's father worked for the Electricity Board and was a semi-professional multi-instrumentalist playing guitar, clarinet and banjo in the 'Syncopated Players', with brother Reg on drums. Quite naturally Richardson started on a musical path and at eight years of age took up the violin and, moving on to Secondary Modern School, became leader of the orchestra. "I packed it in at 12 but my parents were very good about it". He then moved to Grammar School where acceptance was hard to find and he suffered from a certain amount of bullying. Richardson had however been learning to play the guitar bought for him by his parents : "I was asked to play at the local folk club sometime in 1964 and I played Woody Guthrie numbers. Some of the pupils saw me and overnight I was in! I was like a butterfly coming out of a chrysalis, seen as groovy and cool!".
Despite Richardson's musical proficiency it was not possible to take music at school, so for 'A' level he studied Maths, Physics and Chemistry. He then did a Foundation Course at Nuneaton School of Art, followed by the Manchester College of Art and Design. At this time - 1967 - he was playing 'folk' guitar around the clubs in the Midlands and Manchester performing material by such luminaries as John Renbourn and Bert Jansch for the princely sum of twelve pounds a night. Industrial Design was not to his liking so, as a true hippy, he dropped out and returned to Nuneaton. During the period 1969 to 1972, Richardson was at Winchester School of Art studying painting and printmaking and he achieved a First Class Honours Degree.
In his first year at Winchester, he formed a band called Red Acid with a friend. The line-up of guitar, drums, sax and clarinet was augmented by Richardson on violin and occasional bass. In November 1970, the band members travelled to Southampton in the hope of seeing Caravan play live. Richardson continues, "I bought If I Could Do It All Over... in a shop there. Unfortunately we went drinking before the gig, got pissed and missed the concert !". However the Caravan influence was well established and Red Acid started covering Caravan's songs, in particular "If I Could...". They also did a version of "In The Court Of The Crimson King"! The band never aspired to write its own material, nor to seek a recording contract : "We restricted live performances to the local area and only ventured as far as Southampton. The band were serious about the music, but at the same time we had a great laugh".
Richardson also did performances, the most lucrative being the invitations to play at exhibitions of art work by College staff : "I would go up to London for all these private viewings, and play my viola in the corner of the room. I was 'paid' in pints and drawings, many of which are worth a lot of money now".
The link with Caravan was now coming ever closer and was cemented through a meeting with Steve Borrill, bass player in Spirogyra, a British folk band, from Kent University. Steve was a friend of Red Acid's drummer and he was impressed by Richardson's playing : "He told me Spirogyra were losing their violonist and offered me the job when I finished at Winchester. In the summer of '72 I moved down to Steve's house and slept on the floor inbetween rehearsals for a British tour. At the point the band broke up and for two weeks I was left high and dry".
At the very same time, Caravan were looking for replacements for departing members Steve Miller and Richard Sinclair : "Pye Hastings came round to Steve Borrill's house in Canterbury and said he'd like to audition him for the vacant bass position. He also said, 'Bring your mate', when he heard I played viola. It actually transpired that he'd already heard of me and was keen to try me out. I'd only played viola for a year. We rehearsed without a keyboard and I was knocked out by the results. I was flattered to be signed on for a two-week stint for the sum of thirteen pounds". With the addition of Derek Austin on keyboards and Stu Evans on bass, Caravan began rehearsals in Graveney Village Hall (where else?), followed by the first gig in October at Berne in Switzerland : "It went down really well, although for me it was a baptism of fire. It all felt so huge, and here I was a professional musician paid twenty-five pounds a week!".
By February 1973, the band were embarking on a tour of Australia and New Zealand along with Slade, Lindisfarne, Status Quo and Black Feather : "It was a strange but exciting tour. Some of the bands like Status Quo were rather lively and there was some trashing of hotels, but we were the good boys!". On return from tour it was evident that personality clashes were threatening the stability of the band : "Pye is in charge and Derek was becoming rather assertive, so I suppose he had to go. Stu was a modest chap and I'm still not sure why he left".
It took time for Richardson to feel an equal partner in the band : "By the time of the first American tour in 1974, I was on a par and it was helped by the fact that the tour went so well". Richardson now began to diversify and work on a Kevin Ayers album was followed by recordings with Café Jacques and Penguin Café Orchestra. The popularity of the band was also beginning to falter as the recording of Better By Far approached". Around this time, Miles Copeland our manager was disparaging to say the least and advised Caravan to 'shape up or f... off', boasting that he had loads of young groups and didn't need our stuff". The advent of punk had really hit the band. Richardson continues, "I began to find time to play with other musicians and was earning proper session money : John G. Perry and Rupert Hine had put work my way. I decided to leave Caravan and on April 14th 1978 I told Pye that I was going. There was nothing personal and I hadn't fallen out with the band : the time seemed right".
Sometime in 1976, Miles Copeland advised Richardson to start up a group with Curved Air singer Sonja Kristina and drummer Stewart Copeland (who was Miles' brother). "We rehearsed for a while in Hampstead but it was not working out : Stewart had just started playing the drums and it seemed unlikely that the group would work out. It's just possible that if I'd hung in there, I might have been offered the job of guitarist with the Police!". Session work continued, as well as work with the Buzzcocks and Captain Sensible. Busy as he was, Richardson rejoined Caravan for The Album, which was engineered by a friend - Stephen Tayler. "It was an irresistible thing to do". Richardson was involved in a number of live dates with Caravan before moving off again.
At this point, Geoff and I discussed a number of issues relating to his work with Caravan, in particular his influence on the musical direction of the band. "I was never interested in challenging Hastings' position as leader of the band, but kept chipping away to get some of my ideas accepted. First it was the flute in 1974, which I hadn't played much before, and then it was a Fender Jag guitar in 1976. Pye wasn't keen on me playing it but I dug in! I sort of persuaded Pye to let me have a go at songwriting, although it's really not my forte. My first piece was "Fear And Lothing In Tollington Park Rag". I also did the vocal on "Golden Mile" which was written by John Atkinson, with whom I was in a band called The Purple Hipsters during the period 1979-81". During this time, Richardson also produced an album of local groups, the album title being First Offenders.
We also discussed Richardson's role on stage and the fact that he gradually became the front man. Those who recall the band playing "Hoedown" live will know what I mean ! "There was never any intention for that to happen. I agree I'm more extrovert so it just happened but, more important, Pye was happy with that : there was this good balance between us. I enjoy live performances, touring and life on the road".
As far as favourite Caravan albums go, Geoffrey's first choice is For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night. "With regard to individual tracks, I prefer the 'floaty' ones such as "Nine Feet Underground" and "Place Of My Own"...". While agreeing that Caravan were a 'snip' away from achieving greatness, Richardson acknowledges their weaknesses : "We were too 'alternative' and inconsistent and I suppose the songs were too whimsical".
Richardson continues to be extremely busy. Soundtrack and session work continue to flow in : "I had a studio and publishing company with Peter Veitch in Milton Keynes, but unfortunately he died in 1990. I like working with singers and I am open to all kinds of music. I feel I am at my best when I am helping others to achieve something". Richardson has spent a great deal of time touring, particularly with Murray Head, Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Bob Geldof. "Bob has stopped all music at present. He is a great bloke and great fun to work with : he is fair - a good intelligent man. He has real presence and personality". Richardson has also worked for many years with the Penguin Café Orchestra. "I really enjoy it : it is such an important part of my musical life and I feel I own the music spiritually. Working with Murray Head is also part of my life. He is an old friend, still riding high in France. I just can't exist playing without him!".
This all begs the question of how he manages to fit everything in : "It's a nightmare : sometimes I have actually cried because I had to turn things down; say a thousand pounds of work gone in one phone call. I had managed to fit in a US tour with the Penguins, followed by dates with Murray Head and then a Penguins' European tour leading up to Christmas, but the first two were cancelled. Then February looked impossible with rescheduled tours coinciding, and in March I was supposed to be working with Jim Leverton and possibly Noel Redding! The problem of scheduling hurts the wallet and hurts the heart".
Richardson also continues to keep his hand in at the Winchester College of Art, working two days a term. "The students know I'm a musician and many of them like Caravan's music!". Asked if the time will come when he will take things easier, Geoffrey answered, "One thing keeps leading to another and I'm getting busier. Mind you, I wouldn't mind a full-time job at Winchester College!".
Despite Richardson's other commitments, Caravan remain dear to his heart, helped by the close relationship he has with Hastings. This augers well for his future involvement with Caravan. He is keen to keep playing live and recording with them. He thoroughly enjoyed working on Battle Of Hastings, the 'acoustic based' album, All Over You, its more electric follow-up All Over You Too, and the concerts given by the band in England and Holland since he rejoined in 1997. Richardson contributed an instrumental piece to the latest Caravan album, The Unauthorised Breakfast Item (2003). His own album, Viola Mon Amour is to be re-released with the addition of two songs, both of which were completed round at Hastings' house with Julian engineering.
In 1998, Richardson was seen and heard playing alongside Steve Hillage in Rachid Taha's band, for a project named "1,2,3 Soleil", also involving well-known French/Arabic singers Khaled and Faudel, which got a lot of media attention in France. This big concert involved a 30 piece string orchestra, playing a fusion of Arabic-style and modern Western influences. The resulting live album was a major commercial success.
[Most of the information on this profile comes from Ralph Cross's Caravan newsletter, with adaptations and updates from Calyx]