Caravan to end the week. One of the most influential of the Canterbury Sound bands of the late 1960’s, they continue to perform, although there have been several personnel changes over the years, as well as the loss of sound founding members. Still, they are an important band whose contribution to the Progrock genre cannot be taken lightly.
The group’s original members, David Sinclair, Richard Sinclair, Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlan had all been in the Canterbury-based Wilde Flowers, albeit not at the same time. Richard Sinclair had been an early member, but left in September 1965 to study at college. Hastings had replaced Robert Wyatt as the group’s singer and Coughlan as drummer in the band when Wyatt, who performed both roles, formed Soft Machine. David Sinclair joined the group in late 1966, but after future Soft Machine member Hugh Hopper left the group in June the following year, they began to run out of momentum and broke up in October 1967.
Coughlan, Hastings and the two Sinclairs subsequently formed Caravan in 1968. “We all had the same goal” recalled Richard Sinclair, “to make our music, write it ourselves, and make a living from it.”The band rented a house in Whitstable, Kent for six months, where they began to write and rehearse new material. They also borrowed Soft Machine’s PA for rehearsals while that band was on tour with Jimi Hendrix in the US, as Caravan did not have enough funds for their own equipment. They were forced to leave in June and ended up living in tents and rehearsing in a local church hall. By October, they had attracted the interest of music publisher Ian Ralfini, who signed them to the American record label, Verve Records, and became the first British act they signed. Verve subsequently released the band’s debut LP, Caravan (1968), later the same year, but a few months later moved out of the UK record business and dropped the band.
After a series of gigs in London, including the Speakeasy Club, the band were introduced to Terry King, who became the group’s first manager. David Hitchcock, who had been working in the art department of Decca Records, asked the company’s president, Hugh Mendl to sign the band. They began recording their second album, If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You (1970) in September 1969, while continuing to gig on the university circuit, and appearing at festivals alongside Pink Floyd, Yes, The Nice and Soft Machine. Recording If I could … continued in February 1970, with the 14-minute track “For Richard”, showing the band’s contrast in styles and jazz-rock influence. The album was released in August, alongside an appearance at the Plumpton Festival with Van Der Graaf Generator, Yes and Colosseum. The accompanying single “Hello Hello” helped them land an appearance on the TV show Top of the Pops, performing the album’s title track.
Caravan had started to build a live following by mid-1970, including an appearance at the Kralingen Pop Festival in the Netherlands to an audience of 250,000 and the 10th Plumpton Festival. In autumn 1970, Caravan began working on one of their most critically acclaimed albums, In the Land of Grey and Pink (1971). The balance of songwriting changed from the previous two albums, with Richard Sinclair taking a more prominent role. His song, “Golf Girl” was originally written about his then girlfriend (and future wife), but the lyrics were rewritten in the final version. The group decided to follow up “For Richard” with a suite of short sections of songs written by David Sinclair, that the rest of the band worked on and linked together to form a side-long track, “Nine Feet Underground”. Although, the track was recorded in five separate stages and spliced together, the band performed the suite live as it was finally presented on the album, and it remained a popular track in their live set. The album was released in April 1971, and though it did not chart, it has remained in print ever since, and has been remastered for CD several times, notably a digital remaster in 2011 by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson. “Nine Feet Underground” in particular was a regular fixture on late-night FM radio during the early 1970s.
Despite the critical success of In the Land of Grey and Pink, the group were disappointed by its lack of commercial success, believing that Decca were not promoting the band properly or investing enough money. In August 1971, David Sinclair accepted a job with former Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt’s new band, Matching Mole. Reflecting on the decision to leave, Sinclair later said “I felt the whole thing was going a bit stagnant … I wanted to play with other people, but had to accept that with Caravan it was either all or nothing.” Hastings remembers that “Dave’s departure was a serious blow.”
And, if you’re following along, this concert from May of 1971 fits right into the above timeline. In any event, turn it up and enjoy. John Peel is on hand to do the announcing. A good time all around.