Caravan 90Under-rated mellow proggers turn in a highly rhythmic set that features some classic tracks. This band is a must for fans of Pink Floyd and Camel.

Label: Salvo
Time: 12 tracks / 72 minutes (+ 12 minute interview on DVD)

Sometimes the list of those who have ‘made it’ in music is criminally unjust and the select group of prog fans in the know will attest that Caravan should be high on that list. The band’s unique sound deserves a far wider audience and anyone who has not heard them has been deprived of a real joy.

1973’s For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night is among my all-time favourites, because it has an ideal mix of strong melodies, compelling rhythms and a beautiful texture to the sound, its key features being Dave Sinclair’s mellow organ tone, Geoffrey Richardson’s electric violin and flute, Pye Hastings’s dreamy vocals and some deftly orchestrated moments. Each element blends with the rest to create a creamy, delightful sound that is quite unique to the band.

Thankfully, this live set starts off with For Girls’ essential opening of the “Memory Lain, Hugh/Headloss” suite. Ex-Camel keys player Jan Schelhaas almost replicates the organ sound on his keys, but using synth gives it that extra zinging edge.

The band made its name in an era when long tracks were in vogue. Caravan has always been on the edge of this by either playing short tracks that fit together, or long tracks made up of distinct sections. However they do it, the combination of rhythm changes and strong tunes makes these tracks addictive. The exemplary example of this is the eighteen-minute “Nine Feet Underground,” which is a pleasure from start to finish.

Caravan has always displayed an understated humour. Titles on this set, like “And I Wish I Were Stoned,” the new “Fingers in the Till” and “The Unauthorised Breakfast Item,” keep that going. On “Golf Girl,” Richardson plays a spoons duet, accompanied on washboard by drummer Mark Walker; on the lightly surreal “Hello Hello,” about a man clipping his hedge, he plays garden shears. Maybe that lighter, self-deprecating side of Caravan lost them some fans in the early years, when intensity and earnestness marked out most prog acts.

As you would expect from a band with 25 albums behind them, there are virtually no weak tracks and the only disappointment is the way that, with age, Hastings has lost strength in his higher register and struggles with pitch on some notes, particularly on “Fingers in the Till.” Offsetting this, there is a mass of instrumental play and some exceeds earlier versions.

Originally recorded for TV, this set was filmed in a studio of just 98 square feet, where no one was more than ten feet from the band. This means that the recording quality is high and the show is unusually intimate. Center-stage, new drummer Walker wears a constant grin, clearly thrilled to be part of such a terrific musical experience. Seeing his joy helps to make it extra pleasing to watch.

Caravan also deserves credit for not only coming out of retirement and producing this with just over a day’s rehearsal, when snow held them up, but also for knocking out two new tunes in that time.

For a live CD set, their LIve at Fairfield Halls is probably the best you will get; but as a DVD combination pack – and for great value – this is probably essential for fans, while for newcomers, it could be the doorway to a whole new catalogue of listening pleasure.


Derek Walker
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