Caravan is one of the flagship bands of “Canterbury” progressive rock, a quirky, intelligent branch of English pop music history which has built a devoted following over the past three decades. The music by Canterbury artists is influenced as much by church hymns as jazz, r&b, and British Invasion pop, lending it a very recognizable, distinctive sound.
Caravan formed in Canterbury, England during the late 1960s. Its origins lie with the local band The Wilde Flowers, formed in 1964 and featuring Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, and Hugh Hopper, future founders of The Soft Machine, and guitarist Richard Sinclair. When drummer and vocalist Wyatt wanted to concentrate on singing, Richard Coughlan joined as percussionist in 1965. Soon after, Ayers’friend Pye Hastings became second guitarist.
After surviving periodic turnovers in membership of The Wilde Flowers, the band suffered a major setback when Wyatt, Hopper, and Ayers quit to form the Soft Machine in late 1966. Pye Hastings became vocalist while Sinclair’s cousin David joined as organist. Early in 1968, after several months of inactivity, the quartet renamed itself Caravan and began rehearsing and writing songs. Occasional live performances built a word-of-mouth following.
As Caravan’s profile grew slowly and steadily, it was soon offered a recording contract with Verve Records. The band members couldn’t afford to live in London so they pitched tents outside their rehearsal hall in Canterbury. Caravan’s self-titled debut album, released in late 1968, reflected a warm and accessible yet still experimental sound that bridged the gap between psychedelic rock and the emerging progressive rock sound. BBC DJ John Peel championed the band. Unfortunately, Verve closed its English branch soon after releasing the album; subsequently, its sales suffered from lack of promotion.
Caravan soon got new management and a recording deal with the better-established Decca Records. The title track to its second album If I Could Do It All Over Again I’d Do It All Over You was a minor British hit single, featuring a brief but brilliant organ solo, and Richard Sinclair was honing his songwriting chops as well as becoming a second lead vocalist. Richard explained the band’s collaborative songwriting process to Melody Maker, “You could say Pye does most of the writing, but when he does something, we all put our ideas into it. Being good friends, we understand what he means.”
The band followed with In The Land of Grey and Pink, balancing its ability to write extended, progressive suites as well as concise, witty pop songs. Unfortunately, at the band’s creative and commercial peak, David Sinclair left to join Robert Wyatt’s new band Matching Mole. He explained to Melody Maker, “I left Caravan” … because of musical stagnation. After three years of playing with the same band I felt the need to expand into other directions.” Pianist Steve Miller and several horn players replaced David to give the band a jazzier sound. While the resulting album Waterloo Lily has its fine moments, it reflects the turmoil within the band and alienated a segment of Caravan’s fans. Hastings recalled, “Caravan was beginning to lose the ‘Caravan feel.’ With Steve we were getting more involved with the solos than the songs.”
Unsatisfied with the band’s new direction, Richard Sinclair left Caravan in 1973 to form Hatfield and The North with former Gong drummer Pip Pyle and Matching Mole guitarist Phil Miller. Matching Mole having disbanded, David Sinclair was persuaded to rejoin Caravan when Steve Miller left. Multi-instrumentalist Geoff Richardson was added to the fold for For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night, a return to form for the band. Because the album featured an orchestra to good effect on some songs, the band and producer David Hitchcock staged a concert in London with The New Symphonia Orchestra.
That performance, released as Caravan & The New Symphonia, was well received, although the band was
Members include Doug Boyle (joined c. 1996), guitar; Richard Coughlan (born September 2, 1947, in Herne Bay, Kent, England), drums; Jimmy Hastings , saxophone, flute, clarinet; Pye Hastings (born Julian Hastings, January 21, 1947, in Taminavoulin, Banff shire, Scotland; married Cathy Ross [a publicist] c. 1968; son, Julian), vocals, guitar; Jim Leverton (joined c. 1995), bass; Dek Messecar (bandmember c. 1977-81), bass, vocals; John G. Perry (bandmemberc. 1973-74), bass; Geoffrey Richardson ,(joined band c. 1972), viola, flute, guitar; Jan Schelhaas (bandmember c. 1975-78), keyboards; David Sinclair (born November 24, 1947, in Herne Bay, Kent, England, left band c. 1971, bandmember c. 1973-75, rejoined band c. 1979), organ, piano; Richard Sinclair (born June 6, 1948, in Canterbury, England, left band c. 1973, rejoined c. 1981-93) bass, vocals; Mike Wedgwood (bandmember c. 1974-76), bass, vocals.
Formed c. 1968 in Canterbury, England; released first album Caravan on MGM/Verve Records, 1968; recorded for Deram Records, c. 1970-4; recorded for BTM Records c. 1975-6; recorded for Arista Records c. 1977; disbanded c. 1981; original quartet reunited c. 1982; released Back To Front 1982; original quartet filmed Bedrock TV Special c. 1990, recorded for HTD Records c. 1990s.
Addresses: Record company —Cuneiform Records, P. O. Box 8427, Silver Springs, MD 20907.
disappointed with the results. In the liner notes to Canterbury Tales, Richard son reminisced, “The gig seemed a bit tense and over-organized. I felt really constrained since it was a performance and didn’t have any spontaneity.”
Cunning Stunts, from 1975, followed Caravan’s first American tour. That album and its follow-up Blind Dog at St. Dunstan’s featured a more pop-oriented approach. In late 1977, when the band’s record label, Arista requested new material and several band members were unavailable due to other commitments, Hastings persuaded Richard Sinclair to rejoin the band. Over an album’s worth of songs were recorded but remained unreleased for over a decade as Caravan was among several acts Arista culled that year, considered unprofitable.
The band was inactive for most of the eighties. The four original members of Caravan briefly reformed for an album, Back To Front, and several concerts. The quartet played live sporadically throughout the eighties and was featured in 1990 on a British television “Bedrock” special.
Throughout the nineties, Pye Hastings, when not working full time as a plant hire manager, has been leading Caravan for new studio recordings and live performances. Recently Caravan has released two albums, All Over You, a disappointing collection of re-recordings of classic material, and The Battle of Hastings, new songs that prove that the band is still a vital musical force. Richard Sinclair briefly led Caravan of Dreams, who recorded a fine album in 1991, before becoming a carpenter. He occasionally releases albums and plays concerts.
Richard Sinclair takes much pride in the town of Canterbury and the music that he had an active role in shaping. He was quoted in Facelift, : “I think it has gota particular sound…. We’ve sung it in our schools here… I was part of the c. of E (Church of England) choir: up to the age of sixteen I was singing tonalities that are very English. Over the last three hundred years, four hundred years, maybe, and even earlier than that, some of the tonalities go back…. People say ‘what is the Canterbury scene?’ I think you have to come to Canter buryand seeandhear it.”
(with Pye Hastings, Richard Sinclair, and Richard Coughlan), The Wilde Flowers (ree. 1965-69), Voiceprint, 1994.
Caravan, Verve, 1968, reissued HTD, 1997.
(By Kevin Ayers), “Singing A Song In The Morning”, Harvest, 1970.
If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You, Deram, 1970, reissued, Mantra/Decca, 1995.
In The Land of Grey and Pink, Deram, 1971, reissued, Mantra/Decca, 1995.
Waterloo Lily, Deram, 1972, reissued, Mantra/Decca, 1995.
For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night, Deram, 1973, reissued, Mantra/Decca, 1995.
(with Pye Hastings), Hugh Hopper, 1984, Columbia, 1973, reissued Cuneiform, 1998.
Caravan & The New Symphonia, Deram, 1974, reissued, Mantra/Decca, 1995.
Cunning Stunts, BTM, 1975, reissued HTD, 1996.
Blind Dog At St. Dunstan’s, BTM, 1976, reissued, HTD, 1996.
Better With Far, BTM, 1977.
The Album, Kingdom, 1980.
Back To Front, Kingdom, 1982.
BBC Live In Concert (ree. 1975), Windsong, 1992.
Live (ree. 1990), Demon, 1993.
Cool Water (ree. 1977), HTD, 1994.
Canterbury Tales: The Best of Caravan 1968-1975, Polygram Chronicles, 1994.
(by David Sinclair), Moon Over Man (ree. 1978), Voiceprint, 1994.
All Over You, HTD, 1997.
The Battle of Hastings, HTD, 1997.
Songs For Oblivian Fishermen: The BBC Sessions (ree. 1969-73), Hux, 1997.
Ether Way: The BBC Sessions Volume 2 (rec. 1974-76), Hux, 1998.
“In The Land of The Grey and Pink” (ree. 1971) on Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era, Rhino, 1998.
By Richard Sinclair
Hatfield & The North, Hatfield & The North, Virgin, 1974, reissued, Caroline/Blue Plate.
Hatfield & The North, “Let’s Eat (Real Soon)”, (ree. 1974), on Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era, Rhino, 1998.
Hatfield & The North, Rotter’s Club, Virgin, 1975, reissued, Caroline/Blue Plate.
Hatfield & The North, “Halfway Between Heaven & Earth”, Over The Rainbow, Chrysalis, 1975.
(With Robert Wyatt), Rock Bottom, Virgin, 1975, reissued, Thirsty Ear, 1998.
Camel, Rain Dances, Janus, 1977, reissued Deram, 1992.
Camel, Breathless, Arista, 1978, reissued One Way, 1994.
Camel, Echoes, The Retrospective (ree. 1973-1991), Polygram, 1993.
Alan Gowen, Phil Miller, Richard Sinclair, and Trevor Tompkins, Before A Word Is Said, Europa, 1980, reissued, Voiceprint, 1996.
(With National Health), Complete (ree. 1976-82), East Side Digital, 1990.
(With National Health), D. S. Al Coda, Europa, 1982, reissued, Voiceprint, 1996.
(With Phil Miller), Split Seconds, Reckless, 1987.
(With David Sinclair), Richard Sinclair’s Caravan of Dreams, HTD, 1992.
(With Todd Dillingham), The Wilde Canterbury Dreamy voice- print, 1994.
Richard Sinclair and Hugh Hopper, Somewhere In France (ree. 1983), Voiceprint, 1996.
R.S.V.P., Sinclair Songs, 1996.
Frame, Pete, The Complete Rock Family Trees, Omnibus Press, 1993.
Joynson, Vernon, Tapestry of Delights: The Comprehensive Guide to British Music of the Beat, R&B, Psychedelic, and Progressive Eras 1963-1976, Borderline Productions, 1995.
King, Michael, Wrong Movements, A Robert Wyatt History, SAF, 1995.
Martin, Bill, Listening To The Future, The Time of Progressive Rock 1968-1978, Open Court, 1998.
Schaffner, Nicholas, The British Invasion, McGraw-Hill, 1981.
Thompson, Dave, Space Daze: The History & Mystery of Electronic Ambient and Space Rock, Cleopatra, 1994.
Facelift, Issue 6; Issue 7; Issue 11; Issue 15.
Goldmine, October 6, 1989; April 10, 1998.
Melody Maker, August 15, 1970; January 2, 1971; July 15, 1972; July 7, 1973; November 17, 1973; April 27, 1974.
Ptolemaic Terrascope, January, 1992.
Record Collector, June 1992.
Where But For Caravan Would I?,(September, 1996).
www.alpes-net.fr/~bigbang/calyx.html, September26, 1998.
car·a·van / ˈkarəˌvan/ • n. 1. hist. a group of people, esp. traders or pilgrims, traveling together across a desert in Asia or North Africa. ∎ any large group of people, typically with vehicles or animals traveling together, in single file: a caravan of cars and trucks. 2. Brit. a revreational vehicle; a trailer or camper. ∎ a covered horse-drawn wagon: a gypsy caravan. ∎ a covered truck; a van.
So caravanserai Eastern inn. XVI. ult. — Pers. kārwānsarāī (sarā(ī) palace, inn), but the various early forms repr. more or less closely F. caravanséraï, etc.