Tag Archives: Mike Wedgwood

Caravan – 1976 – Blind Dog at St. Dunstans’

Blind Dog at St. Dunstan's Album Cover

Blind dog at St. Dunstans’

(Repatoire 1976)

  1. Here am I
  2. Chiefs and indians
  3. A very smelly, grubby litle oik
  4. Bobbing wide
  5. Come on back
  6. Oik (reprise)
  7. Jack and Jill
  8. Can you hear me?
  9. All the way (with John Wayne’s single-handed liberation of Paris)

Okay, this is not prog! Not at all. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s bad or anything but there’s this thing with prog bands doing things that ain’t prog that somewhat prevents the seasoned progsters from approaching it with a clean mind. I know, I am one myself and it took some time for me as well to get used to the notion of acquainting, much less liking, the poppier dinosaur output that started to emerge from the mid-70’s onward. But don’t you dare dismiss it just because it isn’t prog, because that is obviously not the main factor that made certain records suck big time. Relative latecomers such as Rush and Camel carried on just fine into the 80’s for example, and even some of the Genesis stuff of the time qualify as well, despite it not being considered prog anymore. Likewise, the reason why Yes’s “90125” stinks is not because it isn’t prog but because it’s synth-disguised sleaze rock (or a pile of digital dung, whichever you prefer). In short, records rule or suck because of what they are, not because of what they aren’t.

And this record, well it doesn’t exactly rule but it sure is listenable and cheering in the best Caravan tradition and I suppose we have our favourite sissy boy mr. Hastings to thank for that. Dave Sinclair left the band once again and was replaced by Jan Schelhaas and the overall approach seem to somewhat hearken back to “Waterloo Lily” with all the funky electric pianos, clavinets and whatnots. But this time around it all seems to gel together much more fluently because the playing is actually suspended in compact and well-written songs in contrast to aimless jamming. For the first time however, I find it a bit hard to talk about the separate songs on this album but several of them sound almost like Steely Dan with all the gospelish harmonies and syncopated bass rythms, proving after all that Caravan are capable of being the funk soul brother, check it out now! This transatlantic feel is especially present on tracks like “Come on back”, “Can you hear me”, Jack and Jill” and the very Steely Dan-ish “Chiefs and indians” that would not have sounded out of place on an album like “Countdown to ecstasy”. Surely we’ve gone a long way from Canterbury by now. And the bass line in “Jack and Jill” is killer! Who said that white nerds can’t play the funk? Oh yes, I did. So I contradict myself? I am vast, I contain multitudes!

The opener “Here am I” is a cheerful light rocker that sounds suspiciously like Styx but, like in the case of Kansas, better because Caravan aren’t nauseating and Styx are (although it isn’t too hard to imagine it being ruined by Tommy Shaw). The highlight though, and the only track that somewhat stands out, is saved for last; The majestic “All the way” that continues the tradition of “The show of our lives” and even parts of “The love in your eye” with a mellow but stately, even Broadwayish, melody set to a carefully orchestrated arrangement with a bit of flute and woodwind here and there. I’d really like to see this used for a film score if it hasn’t been already, preferrably set to the final scenes of course. This is just about what I find myself able to write about this album though, since there’s not too much to write about. The melodies are all decent but nothing, apart from the closing track, stands out. But this was all but expected from what we have experienced from Caravan up until now, and the tendencies were there already on the previous album even if I must stress that they managed to expand on it on here. The songs are all compact and well performed and nothing sounds the least bit inadequate, as differed to songs like “Lover” on the predecessor.

So all in all, “Blind dog at St. Dunstan’s” is a decent but not terribly memorable album, clearly scented by its time period. Of course, noone should ever think about starting their Caravan collection with this one, but I’m keen to add that you shouldn’t end it with it either. Hang on to find out why!

Caravan – 1975 – Cunning Stunts


Cunning stunts

(Decca 1975)

  1. The Show of Our Lives
  2. Stuck in a Hole
  3. Lover
  4. No Backstage Pass
  5. Welcome the Day
  6. The Dabsong Conshirtoe
    • The mad dabsong
    • Ben Karratt rides again
    • Pro’s and con’s
    • Wraiks and ladders
    • Sneaking out the Bare Square
    • All sorts of unmemorable things
  7. The Fear and Loathing in Tollington Park

I’m well aware that this is where a lot of fans lose interest in Caravan but I really don’t see how that could be explained judged strictly from the music on “Cunning stunts” (allegedly a wordplay on “stunning c u n t s”, something they had proved themselves rather fond of. Wordplays, I mean. What did you think?). You see, I’m gonna skip ahead here and state that I really dig this album and claim that it’s not an iota worse than, say, their debut or “If I could screw you all over again, I would”. (Hey, don’t blame me! They started it!). Maybe it has something to do with prog starting to decline or maybe it’s their overall turn towards lush pop, but I don’t buy that. See, the structuring of this record doesn’t really differ from any previous Caravan album and they still manage to deliver a lengthy epic towards the end, and as for the decline of prog, well, that doesn’t explain the popularity of such records as “Going for the one”. No, allow me to speculate that it’s basically ignorance that keeps even fans away from this, and it was indeed released in the shadows of both the marvellous predecessor two years earlier, as well as their concerto performance that followed so it’s understandable that it couldn’t live up to the expectations. But it deserves a chance and you should grant it, or else I’ll be forced to dock off a point from my rating of you and we’ll see how fun that is!

It opens on a really grand note with “The show of our lives” that almost manages to out-Queen Queen. That ascending chorus is really something, and newcomer Mike Wedgewood does an outstanding job in contributing the vocals. Yes, forgot to tell you; Since the last time he replaced John G. Perry on bass guitar and occasional vocals, as on this one. The grand piano and all those ethereal gospel stunts (cunning stunts indeed!) make for an almost celestial atmosphere. I can picture the song ascending and spreading out like a giant feathery cloud in the sky, can you? It’s followed by the bouncy pop-rocker “Stuck in a hole” which isn’t brilliant but a good McCartney-like relief in the process. “Lover” however, is a duffer and this is all Wedgewood’s fault. He seized his chance to slip in some stuff himself, one of which is this sugary soul ballad. It’s not suitable for Caravan at all, and I’d even say that it’s not suitable for anyone. It sounds like something Glenn Hughes would sneak onto a contemporary Purple record. (This is the second time I’m forced to mention him in a Caravan review! Why won’t he leave me alone? Get that bastard out of here! He’s a criminal! He kills good bands for no reason!)

Anyway, it’s followed by another highlight in “No backstage pass” in which Pye shows off just about everything; His ever-growing songwriting skills, likewise growing singing abilities and tasteful guitarworks. This is probably one of his best guitar solos, reminding of both Steve Hackett and Andy Latimer, the latter especially thanks to the scat singing that joins in halfway through. And the main melody is top-notch, soothed by his tender vocals. Then it’s time for another Wedgewood-penned thingie, this time better though, being a chugging funk sendup (and yes, I know what I’ve said about funk but this one at least has a decent melody) named “Welcome the day”. Nothing special but a nice breather before the main course is served.

Yeah, you guessed it. They were still not through with side-long multipart epics, although they would be after this one. “The dabsong conshirtoe” ends that grandiose tradition on a really high note, I say. Basically it’s a bunch of half-baked songs stitched together, but then again, what Caravan epic isn’t? No part overstays its welcome which means the song never has the chance of becoming boring. It begins as a lightweight, almost Hollywoodish, ballad that soon gets mixed up with a rocking brass-driven section during which Pye really shines as a singer. It kinda reminds me of late-period Beatles (which is one of the finest awards you can get), and we all know how the second half of “Abbey Road” was put together, right? Half-baked songs hastily glued together, and if it worked for them, why wouldn’t it work for anyone else? Because everyone else are inferior, that’s why. But Caravan proved to be talented enough to pull it off. After a brief orchestral break it then finds its way into the obligatory flute passage, probably one of their absolute best and most melodic ever. And the good thing is that it returns after the jazzy solo passage, which by the way is really nicely executed too. It all comes to a conclusion with a lengthy riff-fest dissolving into a total cacaphony of snippets taken from just about everywhere. Kinda like the coda of “I am the walrus” or something. Do you think Beatles would have made a good Canterbury band? Man, this is my number one bet for the best Caravan epic ever, and this alone is a reason not to disregard the album. Oh yeah, the album ends with a minute of instrumental country-rag which is nice and all, but not terribly worthy of being written about more than this.

So, you see, the race wasn’t run for the band even in the steadily darkening mid-70’s, not yet. The tendency to streamline the sound to the more accessible genres of the time was starting to make itself visible, and I’m not talking about the orchestrated lush pop here, rather the sugary ballads and soul/funk/disco/whatever influences. But they were still brave enough to hang on to their own standards and besides, Pye’s songwriting was definitely on a roll, and anyone who can apply to the formula of generic pop and still come out with winners, is definitely worthy of praise.