19 November 2017
As prog stands for ‘progressive,’ Caravan’s 2017 iteration ought to be the highly-evolved by-product of 49 years of progress. LTW’s Jon Kean went to Bath’s Komedia to test this hypothesis.
My mate Uncle Fester (not my uncle and not his real name) first enticed me to a Caravan gig in 2003. He leant me In The Land Of Grey And Pink and Caravan And The New Symphonia, told me to have a listen and to decide whether I fancied the hour-plus drive to Bristol on a work night. To be honest, I was climbing the walls and would have travelled twice that to hear John Cage’s 4’33” on a loop, just for the company.
That aside, I couldn’t resist the composition and the musicianship that I encountered on CD. The nearly fifteen minutes of For Richard and the twenty-two minutes of Nine Feet Underground were symphonic. They made me wonder what kind of rocker Tchaikovsky would have made if he was still around in the ’70s (aged 134 when recording For Richard). When I first saw them live, I thought them vintage and virtuosic, so when Fester and I repeated the outing, fourteen years wiser and more rugged, had they increased in value as bona fide antiques?
There has to be a reason (beyond the breadline) for still going out on the road when you’ve lived through double-EU-faff and can think in pre-decimal currency. That reason has to boil down to joy as a dominant ingredient. There’s no-one more joyful in Caravan than most recent addition, Mark Walker. It’s not because he bucks the age description above, it’s just because he spends every minute of a gig looking happier than a prosecco-sipping, pampered pig in a porcine poo jacuzzi – utterly privileged to be there, and to have epic drum lines such as on their second song, Headloss.
His presence signifies a lingering tinge of fond melancholy within the band, caused by the death of original drummer, Richard Coughlan in 2013. They have a ready-made tribute in the aforementioned For Richard, which they performed as a ‘concatenation’ (admirable vocab, these chaps) with Love In Your Eye. They then played their deeply-moving Roger-Waters-style tribute to Coughlan, Farewell My Old Friend, from their most recent offering, 2013’s Paradise Filter.
Geoffrey Richardson was Caravan’s other obvious focal point. Despite Pye Hastings’ vocals and central, lynchpin stance, Richardson was their de facto front man. As well as being Caravan’s between-songs raconteur, he was forever swapping instruments – a hive of engaging activity, whereas everyone else staunchly uni-tasked. He flitted dextrously from viola, to flute, to guitar, to mandolin, via penny whistle, to electric spoons on their kinky, euphemistic hit, Golf Girl. Written in 1971, this song epitomises Caravan’s sense of fun, as well as their visionary status; 46 years on, PVC clothing still isn’t within the dress code of most golf clubs, although some have generously permitted women.
Who Do You Think You Are? was ironically undersold as “Number fifteen in the UK charts once upon a time,” and was miles better than the Spice Girls’ version. Love To Love You had all of the unrequited love that Donna Summer’s near namesake lacks, and I’ll Be There For You was Pye Hastings’ tender tribute to his long-suffering wife (who marshalled the merch stand masterfully), with ne’er a hint of The Rembrandts.
When even prog’s sprogs are greying and thinning, the majestic statesmen of Caravan remain as vibrant and substantial as they’ve ever been. I believe in progress.