One of the seminal British ‘head’ bands of the 70s, Caravan hailed from the Kent cathedral town of Canterbury and would eventually clock up a 35-year career.
Guitarist/singer Pye Hastings met drummer Richard Coughlan in the mid-60s and both played in aspiring pop group, Wilde Flowers. The band was something of a training camp for Canterbury bands, and also included future Caravan members Richard Sinclair and his cousin, David, plus Soft Machine‘s Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers.
Hastings, Coughlan and the Sinclairs formed Caravan Mk I in 1968, landing a deal with MGM’s Verve Forecast imprint after Island’s Chris Blackwell turned them down. Already penniless they wrote songs while living in tents pitched outside Graveney Village Hall.
Meeting roughly where English psychedelic whimsy collided with the era’s more progressive tendencies – keyboard solos and tricky time signatures a speciality – Caravan were never a commercial threat.
Yet, more playful than such contemporaries as Soft Machine they carved out their own niche, even notching up near-hit in 1970 with If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You.
Caravan’s third album, In The Land Of Grey and Pink (1971), found a perfect balance between folksy blue-sky pop and their desire to strike out down twisty lanes of jazz improvisation.
Dave Sinclair’s Hammond and amplified Mellotrons were the star turn, especially on the freewheeling Winter Wine, but the medley Nine Feet Underground – all 22 minutes of it! – was British prog rock at its blowsy, summery zenith.
By 1972 Hastings and Coughlan were the sole remaining survivors of the original line-up. They recruited new musicians and soldiered on under the aegis of manager Miles Copeland.
For Girl’s Who Grow Plump In The Night (1973) showcased new viola player Geoff Richardson and found David Sinclair back on the payroll. The LP contained some of Hastings’ best work.
In the same year, conductor Martyn Ford paired Caravan with the New Symphonia Orchestra for a live album. John Peel once ventured that merging rock and classical music was like “grafting a tomato onto the back of a hair brush”, but A Mirror For The Day and Virgin On The Ridiculous proved otherwise . . .
In the end, too many line-up changes, poor management and – inevitably – punk pretty much sealed their fate. The members of Caravan disappeared to become pub landlords, haulage contractors, driving instructors and jobbing muso’s.
35th Anniversary reunion concerts in 2003 proved they were not forgotten. Drummer and founding member Richard Coughlan passed away in 2014, aged 66.