Caravan to roll back the years with West Midlands performance this March
by Pete Clemons
Caravan are a UK band formed in Canterbury during the second half of the 1960s and who initially comprised of Pye Hastings on guitar and vocals, Richard Coughlan on drums, Dave Sinclair on Hammond Organ and Dave’s cousin Richard Sinclair on bass and vocals.
They were also augmented by Pye’s elder brother Jimmy Hastings who added to the bands overall sound immensely by way of alto sax and flute.
In fact the roots of Caravan can be traced back to a band called The Wilde Flowers.
And it was from the base point of the Wilde flowers that, in addition to Caravan, a host of other bands and artists such as The Soft Machine, Kevin Ayres, and Robert Wyatt first came to prominence.
Caravan are best recognized as being one of a number of bands from the Canterbury area who, at the time they first formed, wanted to write more than just two minute beat and r ‘n’ b songs.
And creating this band was a means of cutting loose and writing a unique style of original music.
It all started brightly enough for Caravan, in terms of album releases, as the band’s first two LP’s were showered with glowing reviews.
But it could have, so easily, all ended in tragedy during an early gig at the Marquee, London in 1969.
As once described by Richard Sinclair: "Pye came up to grab hold of the microphone and say "Hello!". All that came out to about 500 very damp and sweaty people was "Hellll!" He didn’t get the "lo" out. He fell backwards into the drum kit in a shower of sparks, like the biggest light bulb you’ve ever seen."
As for playing in the Coventry and Warwickshire area I have dates of Caravan playing in Nuneaton as far back as 1970.
Their most recent appearance was at the Coventry Jazz Festival of the August bank holiday Monday of 2004 where they performed in Castle Yard in the shadow of the old cathedral.
There were many other visits by the band in between those years.
Caravan were quite wonderful musicians and equally adept as writers but the band members individual music tastes and growing ambitions, ranging from rock and jazz and through to the incredibly ambitious, would at times collide and this would lead to constant change.
And this, I guess, is what happened to Caravan during a tumultuous period after the release of the ever popular third album ‘In the Land of Grey and Pink’ during 1971.
First Dave Sinclair left and then shortly after the bands next album, ‘Waterloo Lily’, both Richard Sinclair and Steve Miller – Dave Sinclair’s replacement - had gone.
Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlan rebuilt the band and took Caravan in a new direction.
The line-up expanded to a five piece and included Geoffrey Richardson on viola as well as the returning Dave Sinclair.
(Dave Sinclair would actually dip in and out of the band over the next 30 years adding that certain uniqueness to the overall sound).
So grand and melodic was Caravan’s music that it always gave the impression that it was created to be accompanied by an orchestra.
And so it was to be as this very thing happened on 28th October 1973 when Caravan shared the stage with The New Symphonia Orchestra at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London.
But the theme had been set for the remainder of the 1970s and early 1980s. Good solid musicians passing through the ranks producing a succession of equally impressive albums.
With each of the albums contained a diverse and varied range of songs that carried light and dreamy lyrics along with a spattering of humour.
Unusually though, Caravan’s 1982 release ‘Back to Front’, did just that. It reverted to a four piece but more than that.
It saw a reunion of the original foursome who created those first three ‘classic’ albums.
By that time each of the band members had ‘day jobs’ and apart from the odd gig, during the 1980s, Caravan appeared to have ceased as a band.
That was, however, until 1990 when Caravan, along with several other bands from the 1970s, were asked to appear for a forthcoming TV series called Bedrock.
The live recording took place at the Central TV Studios, Nottingham.
The only stipulation for this particular gig was that it had to be the classic line up of each of the bands who were to appear (as described in the very first paragraph above).
The success of that reunion led to a succession of further sold out gigs and then followed another period of quiet until 1995 when Caravan would resurface once more with a new album called ‘The Battle of Hastings’.
By now Jim Leverton had been recruited on bass as Richard Sinclair had moved on to his ‘Going Going’ / ‘Caravan of Dreams’ projects. Geoffrey Richardson had also returned to the fold.
There then came a quite delightful album titled ‘All Over You’. This was essentially ‘a delve into the archives’ which, in turn, produced an album of mainly acoustic re-workings of familiar tunes from the Caravan back catalogue.
Between 1996 and 2007 Caravan included lead guitarist Doug Boyle. This addition had a profound impact on the music in as much that spectacular guitar solos were added to the mix that, in turn, brought a whole new dimension to familiar old tunes.
A follow up to ‘All Over You’ titled ‘All Over You Too’ appeared in 1999. Again it raided the archives but this time, with Doug Boyle featuring, the songs were freshened up but had a more edgy feel to them.
In addition to some quite memorable gigs this period also saw the release of another new studio album during 2003 which was titled ‘The Unauthorised Breakfast Item’.
And still today Caravan continue as an active band, albeit sporadically as there have been quiet periods over the last 10-15 years. 2005 saw the beginning of health issues for drummer Richard Coughlan that had an effect on his drumming.
A new drummer, Mark Walker, joined the band in December 2010 although Richard still performed alongside on percussion.
Sadly, Richard Coughlan passed away during December 2013.
Pye Hastings said at the time: "Richard was a fine musician and will forever be remembered, not least by us, but by the fans all around the world."
2013, however, also saw Caravan at work on a new album which was sponsored through ‘crowd funding’.
That album’ titled ‘Paradise Filter’ was released early 2014. And a short tour was put together to support it. And yet another of, the nowadays, very occasional Caravan gigs appears in the region during early 2016.
Frustratingly, although they were reasonably popular, Caravan never quite gained the recognition that I felt the band so richly deserved.
Although they did have their moments some forty years ago when, arguably, they were up there with the very best that was around at that time.
The current line-up is Pye Hastings still on guitar and vocals, Geoffrey Richardson on guitar and viola, Jan Schelhaas on keyboards (Jan had been with Caravan during the mid 70s and rejoined the band during 2002), Jim Leverton on bass and Mark Walker on drums will be appearing at the Artrix, Bromsgrove during March.