Tag Archives: Steve Miller

In memory of Steve Miller

Yesterday (Dec. 19th) would have been the 68th birthday of keyboardist/pianist Steve Miller (1943 – 1998). In 1966 he formed the band Delivery in which his younger brother Phil played guitar along with Pip Pyle on drums and Jack Monk on bass. Lol Coxhill would later join the line-up and the group became the backing band for Carol Grimes. Since then, he had a brief stint in Caravan as well as musical collaborations with musicians like Lol Coxhill and Mark Hewins. His last album was Miller’s Tale by the Steve Miller trio and Lol Coxhill.

Sadly, in early 1998, Steve was diagnosed with cancer. A benefit gig was held later in summer at the London Vortex Jazz bar which featured reformations of Delivery and Miller’s jazz quartet as well as improvisations by Mark Hewins and Elton Dean.

Mark has been so kind as to share with us a video recording from that evening. The video shows a moment on stage, I assume between songs, when Steve improvises a little tune on the piano. The quality of the picture is not good, but the music is beautiful.

Embedly Powered

via Flickr

 

We all knew it was Steve’s last gig before he was taken from us..

On stage here as he improvises a moment, so sublime, so.. Steve.

 

Source : Mark Hewins @ flickr

 

Sadly, Steve’s battle with cancer ended on Dec. 9th that same year. May his memory and music live on.

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)

Caravan – 1972 – Waterloo Lily

Waterloo Lily

(Deram 1972)

  1. Waterloo Lily
  2. Nothing at all /It’s coming soon / Nothing at all (reprise)
  3. Songs and signs
  4. Aristocracy
  5. The love in your eye / To catch me a brother / Subsultus / Debouchement / Tilbury kecks
  6. The world is yours

Caravan goes m3t4lzzz!!1!11 OMG!! WTF!!1!11!112233

No, of course they aren’t, that would be crazy! But nonetheless, this here album greets you with one of their heaviest tracks ever, with a mean descending riff that in the hands of a much more caveman-like band, keen on ledding zeppelins and blacking sabbaths rather than caravanning through Picadilly, would turn into a potential metal feast. What actually happened on this album was that David Sinclair left the group to be replaced by Steve Miller (no, not that Steve Miller) which steered the band in a somewhat different direction. He obviously preferred electric piano over the trusty organ and there is a much stronger funk/jazz-fusion influence on here than on the previous albums. Some may like it because of that but me, I don’t really care too much for it. You know what happens when white dudes try their hands on funk, don’t you? “Come taste the band”, that’s what happens! Get me Glenn Hughes for personal execution!

Okay, it’s not that Miller managed to ruin the experience or anything. Some of these tracks not only managed to carry on the Caravan tradition of meek baroque pop, but also expand on it and in the process Pye Hastings really started to make good use of his voice, thin as it may be. The lead-in title track, if we may get back to that one, already betrays said funkster tendencies with a bouncy singing part that continues the tradition of “Golf girl” only to give way for a tricky, almost Crimsonian, riff passage. Best album opener since their debut, says I. Have you noticed how peculiar the bass guitar sounds on this album, by the way? That punchy attack working almost entirely in the middle range rather than the bottom. Maybe that helps boosting the funk experience which is carried on to the following track “Nothing at all” which is basically a blues jam and little more. Improvised solo passages abound and it’s probably competent and all that but it doesn’t do much for me. Neither do “Songs and signs” which is just an uninspired pop shuffle.

“Aristocracy” works better though, since it’s built on an airy scat-sung melody that’s reminiscent of the “If I could do it all over again…” vibe, but over an almost proto-disco rythm this time around. Could and should have been a radio hit! But it is the closing “The world is yours” that claims the prize for being the best compact pop tune on the album. The melody, intelligently weaved into the slightly prolonged chorus measure, is so simple but oh so effective! Pye shuffles his way through the song with really catchy and rythmic chord-riffs and no funk anywhere to be found!

And finally we’ve got the by now obligatory epic that precedes it, “The love in your eye”, which begins on a really humble note with the quiet but pretty verse lines, but soon picks up steam and emerges into an string-peppered bridge that gives it an almost ELO-like feel. Off we go into a dexterous flute solo, interspersed with orchestral breaks, and then some keyboard solos stacked on top of each other. It all concludes with a reprise of the verse and a – once again – funky, albeit obviously inspired and playful piano/wahwah guitar interplay. The first part of the track is arguably the best, as it’s slowly starting to betray the lush pop tendencies of late-period Caravan, but taken as a whole it’s not really worse than “Nine feet underground”. Especially since it’s ten minutes shorter and thus maybe more digestible for those not prepared for yet another onslaught of keyboard noodling.

My final verdict is that “Waterloo Lily” is much of a transitional album for Caravan. Not bad by any means, but overall somewhat let down by the excursions in terrains they were not very well suited for (and that were not very good in the first place, but that’s a personal opinion). Thankfully, Miller left right after this album which again left the ivories vacant. Read on to find out for whom!