Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley
November 9, 1974
Photos by David Miller
Text by Michael Collins Morton
Caravan began in Canterbury, England, in 1968, with Pye Hastings on guitar and vocals, David Sinclair on keyboards, Richard Sinclair on bass and vocals, and Richard Coughlan on drums. (Jimmy Hastings, the brother of Pye Hastings, was never an actual member of Caravan, but he played flute and saxophone on many of their recordings.) All four musicians of Caravan had, at one time or another, been members of The Wilde Flowers, a band that also included three future members of The Soft Machine: Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, and Hugh Hopper. The first album by Caravan, Caravan, was released on Verve Records in 1968, and featured eight tracks written by the band, including their first single, "Place of My Own."
If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You, the second album by Caravan, was released on Decca Records in 1970. Among the tracks featured on the second album was "For Richard," a long piece written by David Sinclair and dedicated to his cousin, Richard Sinclair. "For Richard" quickly became a standard element in performances by Caravan, and was regularly featured as a showpiece at the end of their usual set. By the time of their second album, the band had received strong praise in the musical press and was working steadily, appearing at clubs and universities throughout the UK.
Geoffrey Richardson, David Sinclair
In 1971, Caravan released a third album, In the Land of Grey and Pink, on Deram Records. It featured "Nine Feet Underground," another long piece written by David Sinclair, which took up an entire side of the LP and joined "For Richard" as a frequent offering in their performances. In the Land of Grey and Pink was highly regarded by critics and dedicated fans, and further enhanced the musical standing of Caravan as one of the leading bands in the field of British prog rock, but it failed to push them into the big time.
Pye Hastings, Mike Wedgwood
The lack of wider acceptance caused a certain degree of frustration among the members of Caravan, and David Sinclair chose to leave the band in August, 1971. (He soon teamed up with Robert Wyatt in a new band, Matching Mole, and briefly played with another band, Hatfield and the North.) The loss of David Sinclair, whose advanced talent on keyboards (especially his skill on the organ) had been a key part of the particular sound for which Caravan had become known, was a major setback for the band. Steve Miller, another musician from Canterbury, and formerly a member of Delivery, was brought into Caravan to play keyboards. His jazzy style, which favored piano over organ, set the tone of the fourth album by Caravan, Waterloo Lily, which was released in 1972.
The lineup heard on Waterloo Lily did not last, and by 1973, when Caravan released a fifth album, For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night, Richard Sinclair had departed, David Sinclair had returned, and Geoffrey Richardson (viola) and John G. Perry (bass) had joined. Also in 1973, on the evening of October 28, Caravan gave a special performance with the New Symphonia Orchestra at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in London, which was recorded and released as Caravan and the New Symphonia in April of 1974.
David: A friend of mine recently asked me if I had ever heard of a song titled, "The Dog, the Dog, He's at It Again," by a group called Caravan? I jumped at the opportunity to tell him that not only did I know of the band and that song, but that it is from one of my favorite albums and I had seen them perform live!
I remember how thrilled we were when we found out that Caravan would be playing at the Keystone, a club in Berkeley. Bands like that usually opened for the big acts that played the giant halls. That is how we saw Gentle Giant and King Crimson, among others. The bad news was that they were playing the very next night after George Harrison did two concerts in Oakland. We saw both shows that George Harrison performed. Caravan also played two sets, one at 11 PM and another at 1 AM! We saw Fairport Convention the night after Caravan, so it was a real marathon.
The Keystone was a small club. It was standing room only on the main floor, so we were able to get close to the band. It wasn't crowded, so I could move around a bit and take photos from different positions. That was a real treat. The only problem was that the stage had a pole right in the front that blocked the view. I remember having difficulty maneuvering around people to get some shots without the pole.
Caravan played a lot of music from For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night, which I was very happy about. I was impressed with how polished they were, and the power of their live performance. Richard Coughlan worked up a real sweat. David Sinclair's organ playing was loud, and dominated at times, but the guitar of Pye Hastings was just as powerful. It was an excellent show.
My memory of the event has faded, but I do remember that we went to the back of the club, where the band was waiting behind a closed door. We saw Geoff Richardson and asked him for his autograph. He was extremely friendly and invited us into the dressing room to meet the band. I remember feeling nervous as we walked in and saw the rest of the band sitting around with some girls. I saw Pye Hastings sitting on a bench. I watched him unstring his guitar, wipe it down with a cloth, and put it away in its case. I was struck at how carefully he did this. We went around the room and got their autographs. The overall silence was a bit uncomfortable. I felt that maybe we weren't all that welcome.
At some point later, I remember that we were talking to Geoff Richardson again, just before the band was ready to go on for their second set. Geoff was very talkative and kept the conversation going as he made his way to the stage. I was afraid that the band might get mad at us for delaying him. He was every bit the gentleman, and finally excused himself by saying, "Sorry, mates, I gotta go to work." We stood in amazement as they launched into their second set of the evening. It was just as powerful as the first.
Their next album, Cunning Stunts, had a song titled, "No Backstage Pass." I wonder if we were the inspiration for that song?
I was looking forward to this concert. We saw them at Keystone Berkeley during their first USA tour. I remember watching Caravan from the right side of the stage, and then later in the evening wandering over to the left side (actually dancing my way over during "Hoedown," which was in an odd time signature like 7/4). They were brilliant. David Sinclair was very impressive in the way that he played the keyboards, at times really driving things with his solos which were were grounded in classical and jazz theory. You could tell that he had listened to a lot of great music (and created it, too). The long "Nine Feet Underground," which he wrote, is a brilliant multi-layered piece with a couple of sung parts, but is mostly like a moving vehicle shifting gears, and sometimes flying in slow motion as a distant synthesizer appears on the horizon. I really got the feeling of how it might feel to fly like a bird. The contrast between nearness and distance really made this band sound amazing.
The writing of Pye Hastings was emotionally very strong, with wonderful words, and his singing really put a unique imprint on their creativity. He also was powerful when he cut loose with his electric guitar solos. Richard Coughlan was a powerful anchor and a nonstop drummer. Although I was a bit disappointed that John G. Perry was no longer in the band, Mike Wedgwood was an equally strong bassist who sang well and also played congas.
"For Richard" was a highlight, as were all the tracks from the recently released For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night (or as Geoff Richardson jokingly mispronounced it, "For Girls Who Grow Plums in the Night"). Geoff Richardson's viola playing (he also played a guitar) was a wonderful addition to the sound. Caravan always had great melody lines played on viola, flute, or saxophone in strategic places, and each instrument had room to stretch out at times. The improvisation element was very prominent. Canterbury bands had so much inventiveness, intellect, and chops. Precise, but when it was called for, they could hang loose as well.
The Caravan performance was over the top wonderful, and after a long, cathartic set (or two?), they left the stage and went back toward the dressing room. We kind of ambushed Pye Hastings to ask for an autograph, and he actually invited us into the tiny dressing room. I wanted to ask him about the history of his twelve-string guitar that only had six strings strung, but I felt that it might be a bit forward to ask him about it. Geoff Richardson was extremely friendly and talkative, and I remember that they all joked when we asked whether Hatfield and the North were going to tour in the USA. They said, "How come everyone is always asking about Hatfield and the North?" Richard Coughlan and David Sinclair were drenched with sweat and not in the mood to talk, but they did sign autographs.
This was a great concert and I sound like a broken record, but I feel lucky to have had the chance to see them. Caravan never settled into a stale formula. (I remember one reviewer describing them as "craftsmen.") I appreciated the friendly, playful, yet emotionally serious moods they conveyed. The way they could shift from heart-wrenching minor key melodies to dissolve or modulate into blissful major keys took true skill and talent. It was a pleasure to hear them.
Michael: Keystone Berkeley was, without question, the smallest venue that we ever visited in those days. Seeing a performance there was almost the same as seeing a performance in your own living room, which made it thoroughly special. It turned out be a good venue for Caravan. They were straightforward musicians, not generally given to any overt displays of showmanship, so a small venue was completely suitable for their music.
Because the club was so small, and because the crowd on that evening was so scanty, we were able to stand close to the stage. We were only several feet away from the musicians. (Which was advantageous for David and his camera.) It was quite different from most of the shows that we attended, with hardly any feeling of separation between the band and the audience. Being so near to the action in that situation, I probably felt slightly less awe than usual toward the musicians, but it was much easier to see how they actually played their music, which was an interesting experience.
The members of Caravan were not showoffs, but they did offer a high degree of musicianship during their two sets. They clearly were strong players, each one with a particular talent, but they also played extremely well together. It seemed that every song was a kind of adventure, musically exciting and endlessly inventive. Their music was fluid, witty, and thoughtful, and had a certain quality that was distinctly English. The long pieces, such as "For Richard," were extraordinary.
When the musicians left the stage, we followed them back to the dressing room (I do not remember whether it was at the end of the evening or after the first set), and to our surprise, they allowed us to come inside. In keeping with the general smallness of the club, the dressing room was diminutive. There barely was enough space for all the members of the band, and with the three of us also in there, it got a bit crowded. I remember talking to Geoff Richardson, who gently corrected me when I referred to his viola as a "violin." I also remember seeing Pye Hastings, quietly sitting with his guitar, cleaning it thoroughly with a cloth. He and the others appeared to be totally spent from their performance.
More about Caravan at David's Rock Scrapbook
Next: The Sensational Alex Harvey Band