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Caravan - Caravan CD (album) cover




Canterbury Scene

3.69 | 503 ratings

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4 stars Review Nš 250

Caravan was one of the most formidable progressive rock acts to come out of England in the end of the 60's. Still, the band has never achieved the great success that was widely predicted for them at the beginning of their career. They were never much more than a very successful cult band at home, really. Apart from a brief moment in 1975, they were barely a cult band anywhere else in the world. They only ever charted one album in their first six years of activity, but they made a lot of noise in the English rock press, and their following fan base has been sufficiently loyal and wide to keep their work in print. But, despite all I said before, they were nevertheless considered a key part of the Canterbury scene, blending psychedelic rock, jazz and classical influences to create a very distinctive progressive rock sound.

"Caravan" is the eponymous debut studio album of Caravan and was released in 1968. The line up on the album is Pye Hastings (lead and backing vocals, guitars and bass guitars), David Sinclair (backing vocals, organ and piano), Richard Sinclair (lead vocals and backing vocals, guitars and bass guitars) and Richard Coughlan (drums). The album had also a participation of the brother of Pye Hastings, Jimmy Hastings (flute), as a guest musician.

"Caravan" has eight tracks. All tracks were written by Pye Hastings, David and Richard Sinclair and Coughlan. The first track "Place Of My Own" starts with a powerful intro and a sad, yearning, organ dominated motif, after which the fragile, almost childlike vocal of Pye Hastings intones a lyric and melody of the most heartfelt beauty. There's an instrumental passage on the song that features what just might be one of the most glorious organ solos on the album. Then, we have a perfect chorus again, quieter and more subdued, with a louder reprise. The second track "Ride" was built around a very 1968 eastern inspired melody line interspersed with loud instrumental breaks in which Richard Sinclair shows what a bass legend he truly is. The third track "Policeman" shows even more the pronounced vocal talent of Richard Sinclair. It's an early example of his perky, charming and very English compositional style that would grace the future works of Caravan. His cousin David shines, as always, on his mighty organ. The fourth track "Love Song With Flute" is another glorious Pye Hastings song. It has the hallmarks of Caravan's best songs, a slow minor keyed intro, a simple and divine vocal melody building up to a satisfying, resolving chorus with gospel like vocal harmonies and a big ever so slightly dischordant, crescendo. The track then moves with a lovely flute solo by the guest musician Jimmy Hastings. The fifth track "Cecil Rons" begins in free form. It evolves into a tone bass driven in one verse that alternates a nursery rhyme with manic exclamations and an atypically atonal vocal line from Pye Hastings. But, Caravan can never resist to the big chorus in an absolutely perfect contrast with the chaos around it. A kind of a waltz coda from totally different world closes the track, the like of which Caravan never attempted again on their following works. The sixth track "Magic Man" is a delicious and a very beautiful simple song in waltz time with a chorus you will never forget. It makes an amiable lyric reference to their Canterbury buddies, Soft Machine, and features David Sinclair at his very best. It represents the most beautiful moment on the album, a truly magic moment. The seventh track "Grandma's Lawn" represents Richard Sinclair's second showcase in terms of vocals. It's a big propulsive gem of a track in a similar vein to Syd Barrett's unreleased classic song "Vegetable Man". The echo effect on the vocals is just right for the cavernous general mood of the song. The eighth track "Where But For Caravan Would I?" encapsulates all that is great about the rock in the beginning of prog. In fact it's the best track on the whole album. The quiet verse melody is glorious. After two and a half minutes, the song explodes into an amazingly riff over which David Sinclair rocks and grooves. The harmony vocals take the tune even further past sublimity. The riff returns, faster then slower, and the song ends on jarring, repeated guitar dischords and a massive crash on Richard Coughlan's ever awesome drums. Unremittingly complex yet bursting with infectious melody, this is the sound of a great progressive band at the height of its powers.

Conclusion: For their first album, Caravan was surprisingly strong. While steeped in the same British psychedelia that informed many of the bands in those days, Caravan relates a certain freedom of spirit. Caravan's debut straddles the fence between psych and prog. I think this album was always underrated. It has a lot of beautiful psychedelic songs and represents a perfect example of the music in the end of the 60's and of what would be the prog and the beginning of the classic golden era of the prog rock music in the glorious days of the 70's. In fact only the lengthy final track "Where But For Caravan Would I?" really goes further than simply flirting with prog. This is clearly a great prog track. I always considered Caravan the best and most representative band of the Canterbury scene. Their five first studio albums are all excellent and represent a great intro into this sub-genre of prog. This is definitely an album not to be missed, really.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

VianaProghead | 4/5 |


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