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- In The Land of Grey and Pink
Review No: 253
Pye Hastings: Electric and Acoustic guitars, Vocals
David Sinclair: Organ, Piano, Mellotron, Harmony Vocals
Richard Coughlan: Drums and all sorts of Percussion
Jimmy Hastings: Flute, tenor Saxophone, Piccolo
Dave Grinstead: Cannon, Bell, Wind (That’s
what it says on the album sleeve)
In the early Sixties there was a stir going on musically in the brand new world of Pop and Rock music around the area of the quiet Cathedral City of Canterbury in Kent. The catalyst for all of this, which was to be wittily called “The Canterbury Sound”, stemmed from a band calling themselves The Wilde Flowers (appropriate sixties misspelling like The Beatles and The Byrds). Formed in 1963, the band imploded in 1967, splitting into two major factions, one side, the more avant-garde jazz/rock fusion minded musicians Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper and Kevin Ayers, going off to form Soft Machine, which later begat such bands as Gong, Kevin Ayers and The Whole World, Matching Mole, etc., while the other more pop/rock members Richard Coughlan, Pye Hastings, David Sinclair, and his bass playing cousin Richard Sinclair, went off and formed Caravan.
The four members of Caravan went off and did what every self respecting band did in that much beloved era, went into retreat in the country, “To get it together”. After a year camping just outside nearby seaside resort Whitstable, rehearsing every night in a nearby church hall, and fighting off starvation, they became one of the tightest little musical outfits in the British Isles without even playing a gig.
In 1968 they were snapped up by American record label Verve, who released their first album Caravan (1968). This went completely unnoticed by the record buying public, which is hardly surprising as nobody had heard of them, and there was next to no publicity as Verve went bust anyway.
This was all put right when, with great enthusiasm, the
giant Decca records signed up our young heroes to a recording contract,
and not only prepared them for their second album, but sent them out on
the road to get them in the public eye.
This included not only playing any place that would have them, but at such major events as the Kraalingen Pop Festival at Rotterdam in Holland in front of 250,000 people on the same bill as Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, and Frank Zappa. Admittedly, Caravan was on first on the second morning, so most of the people were probably asleep, but some of them must have taken notice as Holland has always been a stronghold for Caravan fans.
Caravan’s second album, the wonderfully titled “If I Could Do it Again I Would Do It All Over You” (1970), was released to a far greater fanfare and critical acclaim, enabling the band to enlarge their following and develop their natural talents. After six months on the road promoting the album, the band was ushered back into Air London studios under the inspirational eye of young producer David Hitchcock to record a follow up album. When the band came back out of the studio and released the results to its waiting public, they had come out with what many people consider to be a seminal moment from the early Seventies.
“In the Land of Grey and Pink” (1971) has one of the most unique and instantly recognisable sounds in the history of rock, perhaps a little whimsical for some, but then that is a lot of its charm. In those fondly remembered days of innocence, anything written by any member of the band was considered a band composition, and song writing royalties were equally shared amongst the band members - a far cry from today’s mercenary contracts.
On “In the Land of Grey and Pink”, what you actually get is three of Richard Sinclair’s finest ever songs, one from Pye Hastings (according to Pye that was fair enough as he had written most of the first two albums), and then side two of the vinyl album was taken up by the one twenty-two minute opus Nine Feet Underground, which came in five separate movements, with four bridges, and was mainly written by David Sinclair, with the others linking all the parts together, and adding bits here and there.
The album opens with Golf Girl, a wonderful song of love about Richard Sinclair’s future wife (there were no songs of war, hate or politics in the Caravan repertoire, just songs of idealised life that we can all relate to in our happier moments). This song should be played regularly in all of the area’s many golf bars, as no song could improve the atmosphere in a bar more.
Golf Girl is followed by another Richard Sinclair song, Winter Wine, a song of fairytales and dreams which weaves along perfectly with the feeling of well-being laid down by the first song.
Next up is the Pye Hastings’s composition Love To Love You (And Tonight Pigs Will Fly). The lyrics to this very hummable song are extremely naughty, not smutty or crude, just enjoyably naughty.
The title track, another Richard Sinclair number, is a nursery rhyme set to music as if sung to children, including one of the most beautiful piano solos ever put down on tape and lyrics that would soften the most jaded soul’. “Not leaving your Dad out in the rain, those nasty grumbley Grimblies, and cleaning your teeth in the sea,” the song’s final verse, is sung in bubble as you would to sing to a six month old baby; quite delightful.
The album’s epic Nine Feet Underground is a stunning display of exactly how well the members of Caravan had mastered their chosen instruments, including the duel lead vocals of Pye Hastings and Richard Sinclair. Obviously, it is mainly David Sinclair’s keyboards that are in the fore through out, deservedly so as he was on a par with any player of his day. The piano, Hammond organ and the mellotron are all given thorough workouts in the space allowed in Nine Feet Underground’s twenty two minutes, but this does not detract from the jazzy bass work of Richard Sinclair, the melodic lead guitar work from Pye Hastings, or the rock solid drumming of Richard Coughlan. There is also room for Pye’s brother Jimmy Hastings to come in and add some flute and tenor saxophone.
Although the album was not a great commercial success at the time, it has never been taken out of print and sells steadily to this day. Decca has just released a re-mastered version with thirty minutes of extra music, including two tracks that were recorded at the time but had to be left off because of time limitations, demo versions of two of the Richard Sinclair songs, plus an alternative ending to Nine Feet Underground where Caravan proves that they could rock as hard as any of their contemporaries if they wanted to.
The commercial failure of the album was to lead to great internal stresses within Caravan, and David Sinclair was to pack up his keyboards and leave almost immediately, going off to search for his musical ideal with Robert Wyatt in Matching Mole. Cousin Richard lasted one more album, Waterloo Lily (1972) before he cast off to roam afield in the musical world, later forming Hatfield and the North, before joining Camel.
Caravan stumbled on, but was to never match the magnificence
of In the Land of Grey and Pink, only reforming for one off gigs in the
nineties for financial reasons.