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Caravan - Canterbury Tales: The Best Of Caravan 1968-1975 CD (album) cover




Canterbury Scene

3.74 | 31 ratings

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4 stars I know this may sound heretical, but in some ways I don't really think of Caravan as a typical prog rock band. Yes, I know Caravan cut some definitive epics like Where But For Caravan Would I Be?, the whole Can't Be Long Now/Francoise/For Richard/Warlock suite and most particularly Nine Feet Underground, but I'll be damned if I don't love their shorter, whimsical folk/pop stuff every bit as much. Certainly Caravan's gift for melody and lyrics (in other words, these guys really knew how to write a "song") meant that their strengths differed from the other Canterbury groups with whom they are often lumped.

Take Place Of My Own, off the first album Caravan. What a wonderful haunting song, but it's four minutes long, generally adheres to the verse, chorus, verse format and while it does have a memorable Dave Sinclair keyboard solo, there are no complex chord patterns, radical arrangements or time signature/key changes to speak of. And it may just be my favourite Caravan song. And there's the jolly little ditty Hello Hello (off If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You), the ethereal, joyous The World Is Yours and most glaringly Love To Love You (And Tonight Pigs Will Fly) which could have been cut quite convincingly by the glam bands of the time. When I listen to these classic songs I'm amazed that Caravan didn't break into the pop charts in the late 60s/early 70s.

Now getting back to this double CD collection ... its material is culled from Caravan's first six studio albums (1968's Caravan through to 1975' Cunning Stunts) as well as the 1974 live album Caravan & The New Symphonia. It contains most of Caravan's best music during this era, although because there is an effort to give equal representation to most of the albums, some great songs have been left off in place of some weaker ones (I think I'd rate every song on the third album In The Land Of Grey And Pink above the best moments of Cunning Stunts). While the omission of Love Song With A Flute, Where But For Caravan Would I Be?, Winter Wine and Surprise, Surprise is probably just a little too much to take, most of the music here is top notch.

For me, the stars of Caravan were always the bustling underrated organist Dave Sinclair and the even less acknowledged frontman Pye Hastings (I don't mean to disrespect the fine work of bassist Richard Sinclair and stalwart drummer Richard Coughlan by the way). Hastings' withwrawn wisftul personality comes through the music as strongly as Dave Sinclair's strong keyboard work colours it. The dreaminess of pieces like the aching Place Of My Own and And I Wish I were Stoned/Don't Worry seem like an extension of Pye's introverted character, yet there's a fair amount of exuberant playfulness on Love To Love You, Hello Hello, Golf Girl (a Richard Sinclair tune that foreshadows Down On The Farm, the tune he cut on Camel's Breathless album) and The Dog, The Dog, He's At It Again. As the only real soloist in the band for its first three albums, Sinclair's chops come to the fore at various moments during And I Wish I Were Stoned, For Richard (which also had some great flute and sax work by Pye's brother Jimmy) and the pulsating 22 minute jazz-rock epic Nine Feet Underground, which is undoubtedly Caravan's deepest stab at prog greatness.

Unfortunately for Caravan, its classic line-up split up after the first three (virtually flawless) albums when Dave Sinclair left to join Robert Wyatt's Matching Mole and was replaced by Delivery's Steve Miller. Even though Dave would return after just one album, he had sparked off a game of musical chairs that saw Richard Sinclair depart for Hatfield And The North, with first John Perry, then (former Curved Air bassist) Mike Wedgwood while multi-instrumentalist Geoffrey Richardson also hopped on board.

Despite the changes the albums that followed Dave Sinclair's departure housed quite a few gems. These include The World Is Yours, which is yet another Caravan song that makes you wanna run in the street pretending its one of those three days a year in England when the sun actually shines, Memory Lain Hugh which sees Caravan actually try some guitar-dominated commercial rock (a la Bad Company and Steve Miller Band) for a while although the group's instincts eventually take over and the song ends in a dreamy flute solo and The Dog, The Dog, He's At It Again, which despite featuring Dave on synth for the first time, feels like a return to the earliest days of classic Caravan. Other notable moments are Be All Right/Chance Of A Lifetime and the A Hunting We Will Go suite.

The tracks from the live album also see Caravan in outstanding form although I'm not too sure about some of the arrangements on the earlier part of The Love In Your Eye and including a live version of For Richard (as brilliant as it is) is perhaps questionable when so many other great tracks have been left off. Still there's scarcely a weak moment on this collection although I'm not overly fond of the later rockier material like Headloss and Stuck In A Hole which were indicators that Caravan was headed for less exciting territory after the disappointing Cunning Stunts album (by the time of this release the band sounds like Wings!).

The frustrating thing about this compilation is that it probably had enough room to be an "all you'll ever need from Caravan" kind of release, but despite the numerous brilliant tracks, it still has its flaws. It will leave you wanting more, and any Caravan fan can truthfully vouch for the fact that the band has more to offer. You're better off checking out the full albums, but if you want convincing of Caravan's greatness, this collection will certainly do the trick. (Incidentally one of Asia's most fascinating groups - the 70s political psych/folk outfit from Thailand was also called Caravan). ... 75% on the MPV scale

Trotsky | 4/5 |


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