Tag Archives: Pye Hastings

Big in Japan – Part I : Ain Soph

The music of the Canterbury Scene reaches out to people through time and space and has far reaching influences on other musicians. Some of these influences travel across to the other side of the globe from where the music originated. Over the course of a few posts, I will take a brief look at a few Japanese bands inspired by the Canterbury scene. More than simple imitations, these bands feature highly skilled musicians with a deep respect for their inspirations.

Ain Soph - Hat and Field (1986)

Ain Soph is one of the most obviously Canterbury inspired bands from the Japanese prog rock scene. They started out as a prog band in the 70s and the earliest available recordings from them are late 70s live demos released in the early 90s in the release Ride On A Camel. Could it be a reference to the band Camel? In 1980, they released a highly acclaimed debut album called A Story of Mysterious Forest and in 1986, their even more acclaimed (I believe) Hat and Field which is an obvious reference to Hatfield and the North, both in title, album cover and to some extent the music they play. One of the album’s songs is called “Canterbury Tale (For Pye Hastings & Richard Sinclair)”. It makes me wonder if Pye or Richard ever heard it?

If you find these references obvious to the point of being a little painful, don’t let it turn you off their music which is surprisingly beautiful and “genuine” for a Canterbury band so far away from Canterbury.

For those curious enough to check it out, here’s a small sample, the album’s opening song “The Swan Lake”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKJ2y8qlkf8

Enjoy! :)

Caravan – 1973 – For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night

For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night is the fifth album by Canterbury scene band Caravan and was released in 1973 on Decca’s Deram Records label.

Production

The album was recorded between April and August in 1973 at Decca TollingtonPark Studios and Chipping Norton Studios in London. Engineers were Kevin Fuller and Derek Varnals from Decca and David Grinstead from Chipping Norton. Producer was David Hitchcock. In a 2010 interview with Prog Sphere, frontman Pye Hastings had the following to say about the album.

 

Pye: Dave agreed to record “Plump in the Night” as a session player for a fee because he didn’t want to re-join the band at the time and needed some quick cash. We had previously recorded the album without keyboards with the intention of adding them later. Dave obliged but the recording lacked feeling and commitment. In the meantime we had a tour to do which again Dave agreed to do for a fee. Upon return we recorded the same numbers immediately, having ironed out all the bits that weren’t working, and got the backing tracks done in one take. Clearly this was the way forward. Great fun. I have never stopped writing and had this batch of songs ready as soon as Richard and Steve left the band. Something positive usually comes from a disruption, like line up change.

>> Source

 

Track listing

[cc_full_width_col background_color=”f1f1f1″ shadow_color=”888888″ radius=”6″]All songs written by Caravan except Backwards.

Side A

  1. Memory Lain, Hugh (4:54)
    • Pye Hastings
  2. Headloss (3:25)
    • Pye Hastings
  3. Hoedown (3:10)
    • Pye Hastings
  4. Surprise, Surprise (3:45)
    • Pye Hastings
  5. C’thlu Thlu (6:10)
    • Pye Hastings

Side B

  1. The Dog, the Dog, He’s at It Again (5:53)
    • Pye Hastings
  2. a. Be All Right/b. Chance of a Lifetime (6:38)
    • Pye Hastings
  3. a. L’Auberge Du Sanglier (1:00) / b. A Hunting We Shall Go (2:45) / c. Pengola (0:35) / d. Backwards (4:54) / e. A Hunting We Shall Go (Reprise) (0:32) [total: 9:46]
    • a. Pye Hastings / b. Pye Hastings / c. John G. Perry / d. Mike Ratledge / e. Pye Hastings

Note that later CD releases typically have bonus tracks in addition to the 7 tracks from the original release.

Personnel

[cc_half_col_left background_color=”f1f1f1″ radius=”6″ shadow_color=”888888″]Guest Musicians

  • Rupert Hine
    • A. R. P. Synthesizer [tracks A1/A2/B2a] / Congas [B2b]
  • Frank Ricotti
    • Congas [A2/A3/B1]
  • Jill Pryor
    • Voice [A5]
  • Paul Buckmaster
    • Electric Cello [B2a]
  • Jimmy Hastings
    • Flute / brass Arrangement & conductor [A1]
  • Tony Coe
    • Clarinet / Tenor Sax [A1]
  • Tommy Whittle
    • Clarinet / Tenor Sax [A1]
  • Harry Klein
    • Clarinet / Baritone Sax [A1]
  • Pete King
    • Flute / Alto Sax [A1]
  • Barry Robinson
    • Flute / Piccolo Flute [A1]
  • Henry Lowther
    • Trumpet [A1]
  • Chris Pyne
    • Trombone [A1]

Orchestra arranged by John Bell and Martyn Ford and conducted by Martyn Ford[/cc_half_col_left]

[cc_half_col_right background_color=”f1f1f1″ radius=”6″ shadow_color=”888888″]Caravan

  • Pye Hastings
    • Vocals / Acoustic Guitar / Electric Guitar
  • Geoff Richardson
    • Viola
  • David Sinclair
    • Organ [Tracks A1/A2/A5/B2b/B3] / Piano [B3d] / Electric Piano [A3-B1] / A. R. P Synthesizer [A2] / Davoli Synthesizer [B1/B2a/B3d]
  • John G Perry
    • Bass Guitar, Vocals [A3/A4/B2a] / Percussion
  • Richard Coughlan
    • Drums[/cc_half_col_right]

[cc_clear]

On-site Reviews

External links

 

Caravan – 1973 – For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night

Cover Album Art for For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night (1973)

After the release of Caravan’s Canterbury landmark album In the Land of Grey and Pink, creative differences in the group started pulling the band apart. First to leave was keyboardist David Sinclair to be replaced by Steve Miller. On the band’s fourth album from 1972, the band was basically split into two working pairs, Richard Sinclair and Steve Miller doing their more jazz inspired thing and Pye Hastings with Richard Coughlan writing more of the kind of rock tunes Caravan were known for. As a result, the band’s fourth album, Waterloo Lily, didn’t feel entirely cohesive and after it’s completion, Richard and Steve would leave Caravan and go on to other projects like Delivery and (for Richard) Hatfield and the North.

On For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night, keyboardist David Sinclair was asked to participate and agreed to (re)join (after a short stint with Matching Mole) as a paid session player as he was in need of some cash. Also joining the ranks were John G. Perry on bass and shared vocal duty and multi-instrumentalist Peter Geoffrey “Geoff” Richardson on viola who has stayed with the band since. The man at the helm was, once again, singer and self-proclaimed chord basher Pye Hastings who wrote the vast majority of the music.

Album review

The result, For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night from 1973, is a much more cohesive effort than their previous album, Waterloo Lily. With the jazzy experiments of Sinclair and Miller gone, the band adopted a rockier and more guitar dominated sound with various other noticeable instrumental differences such as the lovely addition of Geoff’s viola. The music they play is remarkably seductive and peppered throughout with feelgood sounds and lyrics on topics like love and sunshine. It may sound a bit wishy washy, but they managed to pull it off remarkably well and the whole album is full of hooks. A good example of the catchy feelgood music you’ll find on the album (and perhaps the song which is likely to first get stuck on a first time listener’s mind) is Caravan’s classic The Dog, The Dog, He’s At It Again, Pye’s tribute to sex – which I promise you is more charming than it sounds.

ttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeGbAz8Ri1U

I consider the last half of the album to be the strongest and, as we get close to the end, the band plays along with an orchestra for an epic finish; a medley of beautiful instrumental pieces including Soft Machine keyboardist Mike Ratledge’s wonderful composition Backwards. If only Caravan and the New Symphonia sounded this good!

Final words

Not every song reaches the same level of excellence, but there really isn’t a bad track on here. To me, the album has great replayability as I find myself returning to this more than any other in the band’s discography. I suspect some Canterbury enthusiasts well versed in the avantgarde may initially consider this batch of Caravan’s later rock sounds to not be experimental enough for their liking. For their sake, I hope not because they’d be missing out. Like John G. Perry said in his interview with Aymeric from Calyx, I consider this album to be almost on par with the band’s classic In the Land of Grey and Pink. Depending on my mood, it may even be my favourite!

[rating:5] (5/5)

In the Land of Grey and Pink – 40th Anniversary Edition

I’d waited so long for this album. When I checked the mail yesteday, I’d sort of given up hope, but there it was – finally! A neat little package from amazon containing this year’s most exciting release thus far, the 40th anniversary edition of Caravan’s classic album In the Land of Grey and Pink. In addition to a remaster of the original album, this deluxe edition has several extra bells and whistles including numerous bonus tracks (four of them previously unreleased), a couple of videos of the band performing for german television in 1971 including a version of Winter Wine which was never broadcast and some new mixes by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson.

All this is a real treat to any Caravan fan and I got it cheap too (about 12 pounds I think) so it’s easily my best music buy so far this year. My only gripe with the release is that Steve Wilson’s two complete album mixes, the 5.1 surround mix and the new stereo mix, are both on disc 3 which is a DVD. I don’t listen to music on DVDs .. aside from the DVD rom on my computer, my only player is my xbox360. I like to digitize my music and listen to it on my computer and making MP3 copies of the material on the DVD disc is proving to be a real hassle. Why couldn’t they just release Wilson’s new mixes on CDs? Maybe someone else will be able to get those MP3s if I can’t ..

I’ve yet to really sit down and listen through the whole of the new stereo mix, but what I’ve heard sounds good and actually clearer than the “old” remaster featured on disc 1. I don’t have surround, so the 5.1 Surround mix will have to wait.

Some added trivia! Among the bonus tracks, there’s also a version of Nine Feet Underground in which Steven Wilson has stripped Richard Sinclair’s vocals from the track and replaced them with his own .. ballsy move, Wilson. Very ballsy! I’m still a bit confused on how I feel about that, but considering it’s only one of the five versions of the song from the release and considering the work he’s done for us all to enjoy with his mixes, I guess it’s alright, even if it’s not the sort of thing I would have done. If anyone’s curious about whether or not Wilson does a better job at it than Sinclair, I’d say he does not, but it still sounds alright.

So, conclusion : Get it! It’s well worth it and when it comes to the DVD related problems I and likely others are or will experience, maybe we can help eachother out.

Caravan – 1994 – Cool Water

Caravan - Cool Water (1994)

Cool water

(Pony Canyon 1994)

  1. Cool Water
  2. Just The Way You Are
  3. Tuesday Is Rock And Roll Nite
  4. The Crack Of The Willow
  5. Ansaphone
  6. Cold Fright
  7. Side By Side
  8. You Won’t Get Me Up In One Of Those
  9. To The Land Of My Fathers
  10. Poor Molly
  11. Send Reinforcements

This anachronism in the recorded history of Caravan was released in 1994, but all of the songs were recorded as a follow-up to “Better by far” in 1977 and for some reason shelved for almost 20 years. I’m gonna take the liberty to rewrite the history here and place it where it belongs chronologically, since Pye obviously decided not to tamper with the tapes at all when he finally decided they were release-worthy. A little revisionism hasn’t hurt anyone. Yet. And what’s 20 years in the cosmological perspective anyway? The Caravan fans of Alpha Centauri sure would care less when gazing towards us through the light years of distance. I hope they will catch this review though.

I hope you will too, dear earthling, because even if it’s basically a collection of more or less raw demo recordings, at least the first seven tracks that apparently have been subjected to some production enhancement, it’s at least as worthy a listen as “Blind dog”. And for one thing, guess who’s back: Richard Sinclair! Not that his presence makes him that much justice since Pye is the one and only voice present on here. These cool waters ain’t running through no land o’ grey’n pink, fo’ sho’! It’s still an interesting listen on a song-for-song basis, and it has its shares of ups an downs. One serious down, and I do mean serious, is the bloody atrocious “Tuesday is rock and roll nite”. As you might read out from the title, awful in itself, they are trying their hands on good old-fashioned rock’n roll, and as you might guess, it results in a major facepalm. Hearing our favourite sissy boy proclaim “rock’n rooouuull, yeah” in the weakest and most wimpy intonation possible is the core definition of inadequacy. Yes, they had incorporated more rocking elements in their songs before, but they always adopted it to their own style. This time however, they try to step out of that style in favour of something they were simply unfit for. You gotta hear it at least once of course, just to witness why Pye is the last go-to-guy on earth when it comes to gaining knowledge about where tonight’s rockin’ is at.

Fortunately, none of the other tracks comes close to this puddle of embarassment (which sure would be an achievement in itself) but there are still some rather bland funk workouts present. “Ansaphone” doesn’t do much, neither harm nor impact, and “You won’t get me up in one of those” is at least memorable in its bouncy rythm pattern that betrays some new wave influences. “Cold fright” even approaches disco which is perfectly understandable, given the times and all, but not terribly interesting melody-wise. We’re given a few slow-paced ballads as well, several of which are based on the same 6/8 rythm which gets tedious after a while. “To the land of my fathers” is little more than pure atmosphere and “Side by side” is mainly a re-write of “Better by far”. “Crack of the willow” at least boasts a really good synth line but the real highlight out of these is the title track. “Cool water” is a really pretty barroom lounge-jazz shuffle, with a hushed atmosphere perfectly fit with the lyrics taking place at the closing hour of a night out during which a drunk and exhausted Pye wishes for nothing more than some cool water. Haven’t we all been there? The one thing that bugs me though, is the fact that it’s placed as the opening track when it more than anything should have been put last. It’s just designed to be closing whatever comes before it and the only rational reason I can think of why it opens the album, is that they made a mistake in the sequencing process. All in all, it’s a perfect afterparty track to play when arriving home late at night and settling down in the couch with a girl under your arm. God I hate being single. I want a girl, now! (Yeah, as if a girl would be into Caravan, much less reading long-winded reviews of them! If you are though, and look like Kate Bush, PM me.)

What convinces me even more that the positioning of that track was a mistake is the fact that it’s followed by “Just the way you are”, which is an obvious successor of “Feelin’ alright” and thus a much more apt candidate for opening the album. A bouncy pop shuffle in the best Badfinger tradition, only catchier. “Poor Molly” continues the transatlantic popster tradition in a compact Steely Dan-fashion. Play this back to back with “Tuesday is rock’n roll s h i t e” and spot the difference. The closing “Send reinforcements” is once again mirrored in the previous album, this time in “Nightmare” which means it’s perfectly good in itself.

As you can see, there was little progress made in the making of this could-have-been album so on one hand it might have been just as well that it wasn’t released in time, especially since their previous album wasn’t exactly successful in the eyes of the world. On the other hand, you should really give it a try, if only for the selected few tracks that are truly worthy. And, by all means, for the valuable lesson of “Tuesday is rock’n roll tripe”.

Caravan – 1977 – Better By Far

Caravan - Better By Far (1977)

Better by far

(Arista 1977)

  1. Feelin’ alright
  2. Behind you
  3. Better by far
  4. Silver strings
  5. The last unicorn
  6. Give me more
  7. Man in a car
  8. Let it shine
  9. Nightmare

Would you believe me if I told you that our supposedly washed-out heroes from Canterbury actually managed to squeeze out one of the best pop records of 1977, of all years? Well, maybe you would and you should too, because despite what the critics or the chart statistics or the nerds at Progarchives will tell you, “Better by far” surely is better by far. Just like on “Blind dog”, all of the tracks are relatively short but I dare say that this time around they are also diverse and built upon simple but catchy melodies which will stay with you a long time after you turn it off.

If anyone’s interested I can start with telling you that Mike Wedgewood was replaced by Dek Messecar on bass guitar, which may or may not have a part in the fact that the funk’n soul elements present on here are nowhere near as obnoxious or good-for-nothing as on “Blind dog” or “Gunning c u n t s”. No wait, get outta here, Ted Nugent! Because essentially, the word of the day is power pop of the kind Big Star and Badfinger popularized (and that Beatles, Kinks and Byrds originated) and it kicks you right between the eyes from the very beginning. “Feelin’ alright” sounds like a bona fide McCartney-penned Beatles tune circa 1965 and drags you with it in its truly uplifting catchiness and sets the tone for the whole record which rarely lets down this magnificent opening even a single bit on its way. “Behind you” showcases Caravan as fully capable of adopting a barroom rocker to their own harmful setting, and I can’t help but sense a striking resemblance to whatever hard rock bands like UFO or Whitesnake did around this time. Of course, Caravan wouldn’t touch metal with a ten foot stick but the vibe is there, man! The vibe is there! Not a highlight though, but essentially they pull it off.

The lighter side of things are represented by the title track with a really pretty guitar line and the song itself could be seen as succeeding where “Lover” failed. Not overblown by some uncalled for soul gymnastics, just a mellow and humble ballad distinguished by said guitar melody. Even better in that respect is the folksy Kinks-like “Give me more”, greeting us with a neat whistling synth melody setting the scene in which Pye encounters a whore and proceeds to abuse her with certain bondage devices. Oh yes, you thought he had reached the limits of decency with that dog that was at it again four years ago? Forget that! His eagerness to show off his gigolo skills has only increased over time. I wonder if we’re supposed to draw any conclusions from the album cover? Or the orgasmic wailings of Vicki Brown in the chorus? Whatever may be, it’s still a nice song. As is the closing epic “Nightmare” that somewhat presages the lush symphonic indierock sound that Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips successfully would adopt in the 90’s. I could easily see those fragile vocal deliveries performed by Wayne Coyne. And “Let it shine” which precedes it is yet another Beatlish pop tune, spiced with a Harrison-like guitar line that enhances its already sunshiny atmosphere.

In the midst of it all we also have the strange funk sendup “Silver strings” that is done completely Bowie-style, which may be a result of the record being produced by Tony Visconti. The drums sound almost pre-programmed in the trademark ‘Berlin’ kind of way and the bass line is weirdly deconstructed, and over it all we have a minimalistic guitar pattern that wouldn’t sound out of place on “Heroes” or “Low”. And what about the Traffic-meets-Supertramp, although less bloated, “Man in a car”, with its crawling pace and hazy psychedelic vocals? Man, this is one mixed bag! But I consciously saved the best for last in this review. Apparently, Caravan felt they had to reconnect with their roots somehow and decided to throw in an instrumental and slightly updated Canterbury tribute, and to pay their respect to the queer community, dub it “The last unicorn” (ok, that last part may be subject for speculation). And might I say, it ends up being their best instrumental number ever, as well as one of their best songs altogether! It’s simply breathtaking from beginning to end, starting with some gently strummed chords and Richardson’s contemplating viola (he is the author of the piece, by the way), leading into a beautiful synth/recorder break that out-Camels Camel in just a few seconds. And then it throws itself headfirst into a rapid jazz-rock fiesta a’la National Health/Hatfield & The North, where Pye fires off what must be his finest guitar solo ever. Then everything settles down into the opening chords over which a tear-jerking flute waves goodbye. I dare say that this is the single best song of 1977, even with albums like “Going for the one” being in the competition, and that says a lot! Its only flaw is that it’s too short. I would want it to go on for ten minutes or so, but then again, maybe not. The best songs always leave you craving for more, right? A prog masterpiece in pocket format, hands down!

So it turns out that Caravan really was a force to reckon with after all, even in the darkest depths of prog degeneration towards the end of the decade, which some of the other giants couldn’t even handle. That speaks tons of their endurance and creativity, and not least of how they successfully managed to transform into a pop act instead of trying to force upon themselves some prog formula just for the sake of it. But on the other hand, they always had it in them, didn’t they?

Caravan – 1970 – If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You

If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You is the second album by Canterbury scene band Caravan and was released in 1970 by Decca. The album is generally regarded as a classic, both from Caravan’s discography and from the Canterbury scene in general.

Production

The album was recorded in Tangerine Studios in London between February and May 1970. Engineer was Robin Sylvester while production was credited to the band and their manager, Terry King. In an interview with the Marmelade Skies website, Richard Sinclair stated that “on the album it says the group and Terry King produced it but really it was Robin’s influence in there. He was the engineer, he did all of the recording. He was a musician and he had ears, so the album had a much more musicianly quality to it.”

Trivia

  • The cover picture, which shows the band posing by a chestnut tree, was taken in Holland Park in London.
  • The album’s title and title track (if I could do it all over again, I’d do it all over you) is a quote from comedian, actor, musician, poet and more, Spike Milligan.

Track listing

[cc_full_width_col background_color=”f1f1f1″ shadow_color=”888888″ radius=”6″]All songs written by Caravan.

Side A

  1. If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You – 3:07
    • Pye Hastings
  2. a. And I Wish I Were Stoned / b. Don’t Worry – 8:20
    • Pye Hastings
  3. As I Feel I Die – 5:06
    • Pye Hastings
  4. a. With an Ear to the Ground You Can Make It / b. Martinian / c. Only Cox / d. Reprise – 9:54
    • Pye Hastings

Side B

  1. Hello Hello – 3:45
    • Pye Hastings, David Sinclair
  2. Asforteri – 1:21
    • Pye Hastings
  3. a. Can’t Be Long Now / b. Francoise / c. For Richard / d. Warlock – 14:21
    • a. David Sinclair / b. David Sinclair / c. David Sinclair, Richard Sinclair / d. David Sinclair
  4. Limits – 1:35
    • Pye Hastings

Personnel

[cc_half_col_left background_color=”f1f1f1″ radius=”6″ shadow_color=”888888″]Caravan

  • David Sinclair
    • Hammond organ/piano [tracks A1/A2b/A4e/B1], harpsichord [track 4b]
  • Pye Hastings
    • 12 and 16 string electric guitars, vocals [tracks A1/A2b/A3/A4/B2-B4]
  • Richard Coughlan
    • Drums
  • Richard Sinclair
    • Bass guitar, vocals [tracks A2a/B1][/cc_half_col_left]

[cc_half_col_right background_color=”f1f1f1″ radius=”6″ shadow_color=”888888″]Guest musicians

  • Jimmy Hastings
    • Tenor saxophone [track B3c], flute [tracks A4c/B3abc/B4][/cc_half_col_right]

On-site Reviews

External links

 

Caravan – 1969 – Caravan

Caravan is the eponymous debut album of the Canterbury scene band Caravan. It was first released on the label Verve in January 1969.

Production

The album was produced by Tony Cox and was recorded in Advision Studios in London in September and October in 1968.

Track listing

[cc_full_width_col background_color=”f1f1f1″ shadow_color=”888888″ radius=”6″]All songs were written by Caravan except where noted.

Side A

  1. Place of my own (4:01)
    • Pye Hastings
  2. Ride (3:42)
    • Pye Hastings
  3. Policeman (2:44)
    • Richard Sinclair
  4. Love song with flute (4:10)
    • Pye Hastings

Side B

  1. Cecil runs (4:07)
    • Pye Hastings
  2. Magic man (4:03)
    • Pye Hastings
  3. Grandma’s lawn (3:25)
    • Richard Sinclair
  4. Where but for Caravan would I be (9:01)
    • Pye Hastings, Brian Hopper

Personnel

[cc_half_col_left background_color=”f1f1f1″ radius=”6″ shadow_color=”888888″]Caravan

  • David Sinclair
    • Organ, piano
  • Pye Hastings
    • Guitar, vocals
  • Richard Coughlan
    • Drums
  • Richard Sinclair
    • Bass, guitar, vocals[/cc_half_col_left]

[cc_half_col_right background_color=”f1f1f1″ radius=”6″ shadow_color=”888888″]Guest musicians

  • Jimmy Hastings
    • Flute [track A4][/cc_half_col_right]

On-site Reviews

External links

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.