A veteran of the Canterbury scene, Caravan has always presented a variety of styles within its music, blending psychedelic rock, jazz, classical, folk and maybe a touch of music hall in the humorous moments. The grand sweeping prog of Nine Feet Underground or the jazz-rock of For Richard might be confined to the live sphere now, but at heart the band has always had a penchant for slightly psychedelic soft-rock tunes, often with a whimsical slant to them. It is this approach that the group follows on this release, in that still legendary colourful vein.
This, the band’s fifteenth album since it was formed in the hazy daze of 1968, was created under the blanketing shadow of the Corona virus pandemic as restrictions allowed Caravan to gather in the summer of 2021 at Rimshot Studio, Bredgar near Sittingbourne to record the album in what the band refers to as the old-fashioned way. “Sitting round in a circle having eye to eye contact, a large sound room was required,” Pye Hastings, the band’s de facto leader and last remaining founding member, explains. “I much prefer this method because you can bounce ideas off each other as they occur, and voice encouragement when the whole thing begins to click. And it is much more rewarding to be able to throw insults at each other in person rather than down a telephone line or via email. This is something we are all very experienced at, believe me!” The line-up of the band changed recently as bass player Jim Leverton moved on to pastures new. Up until then, the band had been settled for a while with Pye on vocals and guitar, long term member Geoff Richardson on viola, mandolin, and guitar, along with keyboardist Jan Schelhaas and drummer Mark Walker but they are now joined by guest bassist Lee Pomeroy, who has worked with Take That, ELO, Rick Wakeman, Yes ft. ARW, and It Bites amongst others, along with Canterbury scene stalwart, and Pye’s brother, Jimmy Hastings on flute. (Lee will also play bass on the band’s upcoming concerts but further than that is impossible to commit too – he’s a busy and in demand lad!)
None Of Your Business, Caravan’s first album since Paradise Filter in 2013, features ten tracks comprising nine new songs plus an instrumental track influenced, to some extent, by the events and restrictions placed on society over the last year and a half. Unlike pronouncements by some of their contemporaries, the members of Caravan are warm and sensitive to those caught up in dealing with the pandemic. The songs Spare A Thought and Every Precious Little Thing look forward to things returning to normal. “’Spare a Thought’ is a song that I hope will jog people to remember those unfortunate people caught up in the pandemic,” Pye says. “‘All those people who denied refers to the idiots who don’t follow the scientific advice. I get angry about that and the line ‘Sure are interesting times’ refers to an old Chinese saying: ‘may you live in interesting times’” The whimsical side of the band comes out on Down From London and If I Could Fly, and the caring and empathic strand on the already mentioned Spare A Thought and Every Precious Little Thing, which are both touching and heartfelt. Pye explains his lyrics on these songs; “sitting in front of a blank screen with a pandemic raging all around, it was hard not to be influenced by the dreadful events going on. The lockdown certainly focused the mind when it came to writing the lyrics.”
For the most part the songs on this release are at the poppier end of soft rock, but never losing the psychedelic glow that is the band’s signature. If you listen carefully though, other elements come in to focus. For example, there’s more than a hint of rustic country music on If I Was To Fly. “Back in 1970 we played a three-day festival in Rotterdam alongside bands including the Byrds, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Soft Machine, Pink Floyd plus many more but stuck right in the middle on the third day was Mungo Jerry who played ‘In the Summertime‘- the crowd erupted and they were without doubt the hit of the day!” explains Pye. When I played ‘If I was to Fly’ to the band I said “Think, Jug Band” and because I was so impressed by the power of that simple song at the festival, I wanted to doff my cap to that style of music. The guys in the band are such good musicians that they knew exactly what I was after, and the track was recorded in the first take.” It does have the rawness and sway of that style of music, but in a refined English way. It never becomes “yee haw” but hints at it. The overall feel of the music though is that of being reflective, good humoured, and jolly without being flippant.
The final track is an atmospheric instrumental with the fun title of Luna’s Tuna. It features some sterling viola from Geoffrey Richardson, but as on the other songs no one musician dominates. A great feature of the album is the ensemble playing, with the musicians blending and complimenting each other. The songs are tastefully arranged, which is typical of the bands more recent releases, with a pleasant catchiness that reflects their neat cleverness. The production creates quite a warm feel on this release. The albums cover and artwork has been created by renowned illustrator Bob Venables, who has created covers for Gentle Giant amongst others, along with work on book covers, advertising and the like.
This is a stylish, refined and often sophisticated album of concise proggish music that is stamped with the classical Caravan psychedelic sound but soundly immersed in the contemporary and its challenges. The lyrics ultimately present a positive outlook, which matches the music’s colour and dynamism. It may not have the sprawling, propulsive grit of some of Caravan’s prime prog rock output, but there is much here to admire, and the music seems more cohesive and focused compared to the last few releases from the band. An enjoyable, succinct and engaging release.
1. Down From London (4.03)
2. Wishing You Were Here (3.55)
3. It’s None Of Your Business (9.40)
4. Ready Or Not (4.45)
5. Spare A Thought (4.06)
6. Every Precious Little Thing (4.25)
7. If I Was To Fly (3.23)
8. I’ll Reach Out For You (8.07)
9. There Is You (4.26)
10. Luna’s Tuna (3.14)
Pye Hastings – guitar, vocals
Geoffrey Richardson – viola, mandolin, guitar
Jan Schelhaas – keyboards
Mark Walker – drums
Lee Pomeroy – bass
Jimmy Hastings – flute
Release date: CD format on 8th October, 2021
Vinyl LP, on 8th November, 2021
Label: Madfish Music
A video for If I Was To Fly is viewable here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0oz9s70FCg