Blog

So What’s Your Favourite Caravan album?

in Blog, Prog Rock, UK Prog by Mike Warth

There’s been some interesting discussion recently in The Sound Machine on the subject of that enduring prog-rock band Caravan and what might be considered their best album.

I was first introduced to the band shortly after the release of their self titled debut album from 1968 when a school mate of mind lent me his copy. (Thanks Dave). It soon hit me just what a terrific album it is with the haunting opening track Place Of My Own still sitting highly on my list of all time fave songs. Here was an album of creative and beautifully crafted tracks in a style unlike anything I had heard before including Love Song With Flute, Cecil Rons and the gorgeously laid back Magic Man. It culminated in Where But For For Caravan Would I? which introduced us to what would become something of a trademark of the band, the lengthy, largely instrumental piece. This is undoubtedly a very special album, an astonishing debut and a strong candidate for their best.

So how to follow this up! Well their next offering was again most impressive and is highly favoured by many as the best. The snappily titled If I Could It All Over Again I’d Do It All Over You is in itself a gem of an album, twisting and turning as it does through a set of highly melodic songs and instrumental delights with David Sinclair’s keyboard work becoming a distictive element of the Caravan sound. The album closes (more or less) with the extraordinary For Richard which sits fimly as a fans favourite and which climaxed many a live performance.
So we all asked the question – could it actually get any better? Well to me and many others the answer is yes. The third album In The Land Of Grey And Pink is rightly regarded by many (including me) as a masterpiece. Here we have strong songs like Golf Girl alongside the longer tracks with staggering instrumental work particularly in Winter Wine and the popular live favourite Nine Feet Underground whose keyboard melodies continue to send shivers up my spine on every listen. In fact every track is brilliant with great vocals from Pye Hastings and Richard Sinclair, those keyboards and the wonderful bass playing of Richard and drumming of the late but great Richard Coughlan. With the usual fabulous contribution of Jimmy Hastings on flute and sax here is an album of sheer delight from start to finish.

As a side note here I was fortunate to see the band play at The Stables in Milton Keynes in 2013 where alongside a number of their classic tracks plus most of their latest release Paradise Filter they actually played both For Richard and Nine Feet Underground and bloody brilliantly!!

So have we now tidied up the answer within these three albums? Well actually not quite. The fourth album Waterloo Lily saw a change in personnel with the departure of David Sinclair and the arrival of Steve Miller and whilst not regarded in the same class as the previous albums it does include in my opinion one of their greatest tracks The Love In Your Eye. This is another lengthy piece with time changes and mood swings aplenty topped off with a beautifully engineered echoed keyboard section which with Richard’s superb bass is another track that turns me into an emotional wreck.

Few will call it their favourite album but the next For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night certainly has its fans. Back comes David Sinclair along with Geoffrey Richardson on viola (a mainstay in the band since) and again we are treated to lengthy instrumental passages such as A Hunting We Shall Go along with popular favourites to this day such as Hoedown, Headloss and Memory Lain Hugh. A fine album without doubt but to me not quite up there with the first three.

The Live album followed noteable for the inclusion of two great songs Virgin On The Ridiculous and Mirror For The Day that never did appear on any studio albums. This was followed by surprisingly the bands highest chart placed album, Cunning Stunts, which has its moments noteablyThe Dabsong Concerto but to my mind is the least interesting so far. It certainly didn’t feature too much in our discussions.

Blind Dog At St Dunstans was next. This was made up of a decent collection of Pye’s songs without too much instrumental emphasis as was Better By Far which is worthy of mention however for another great track in Nightmare, a favourite of the band’s and one still in their set list. Also on this album was a Geoffrey Richardson instrumental The Last Unicorn with some superb viola playing by the man himself.

This was now 1977 and nine albums down the line. The band called it a day soon after but reappeared in 1980 with a new album entitled The Album. It has little to commend it but the next effort Back To Front with the reformed original line-up is certainly worth a mention including two beautifully quirky Richard Sinclair tracks, Back To Herne Bay Front and AA Man plus the appealing Videos Of Hollywood. Certainly an album worthy of attention. Later releases such as The Battle Of Hastings, The Unauthorised Breakfast item from 2003 and the aforementioned Paradise Filter show that Pye is still capable of knocking up a good tune but none of these would feature in the best album stakes.

So back again to the opening question. Is there a definitive answer? Well no and perhaps nor should there be really but it prompted some interesting discussion that’s for sure. What we do know is that Caravan released a number of outstanding albums particularly the first three and to this day remain much loved and one of the greatest of the UK’s prog rock bands.

About the Author

Mike

Mike Warth – Retired teacher and Education Officer, old rocker, lover of prog, psych and folk – the latter for which I sometimes take some stick. (Why?) Currently having a ball working in The Sound Machine, Reading – independent Record Store par excellence and now working with Vernon Joynson on an update to Dreams, Fantasies And Nightmares.

11 Responses to “So What’s Your Favourite Caravan album?”

  1. Martin says:

    An interesting article Mike. My two favorite Caravan albums are their first and their third (Grey and Pink) but if you look at Progarchives, (http://www.progarchives.com/artist.asp?id=613) Girls Who Grow Plump is rated the third most popular; as you say ‘it has its fans’. It is an album I have only come to recently despite getting Grey and Pink when it came out. I have to admit that Girls who Grow Plump is a very accomplished album and one I should not have overlooked.

    For a chance to see Caravan in a wonderful venue, they are playing in Farncombe 12th March next year. Details here: http://www.julianlewrymusic.com/concerts They are still a great band live and well worth seeing.

    • mike warth says:

      Thanks Martin
      Great to hear they are still touring. I have seen them most recently at The Stables in Milton Keynes an equally intimate setting.
      Do look out for the Back To Front album mentioned in the blog. It tends to be largely overlooked.
      Cheers
      Mike

    • mike warth says:

      Thanks Martin
      I have seen the band in recent years at The Stables in Milton Keynes an equally intimate setting.
      Do check out Back To Front it’s an album that is easily overlooked but thoroughly enjoyable
      Mike

  2. mike warth says:

    n.b note correct email address as noted here

  3. KEITH CLARK says:

    Mr. Warth
    My favorite Caravan album is Land of Grey and Pink because my mates Ed and Mike bought it for me for my 21st birthday.!!!!!

    Keith

  4. Charlie says:

    I’m one of the few! For me the 1st and For Girls Who Grow Plump are my favourites. I’ve not heard all of their albums (and indeed have yet to hear Waterloo Lily) but those 2 are breathtaking. If I Could Do It All Over Again is however also magnificent and only marginally slips behind these 2 for me. It’s very hard to choose – they were an astoundingly great band with an exceptionally high level of songwriting and musicianship.

  5. Mike Davenport says:

    It has to be In the Land of Grey and Pink for me, but, whenever it’s discussed, no-one ever seems to mention the wonderful ‘Love to love you’ (was it a single?). Just a brilliant, simple pop song. Looking forward to seeing them at the A New Day festival in the summer, but I bet they don’t play it!

  6. Mark Devereux says:

    I was introduced to Caravan at around the age of 13 by my older cousin Nigel Devereux in 1973. The two albums I remember hearing first were Land Of The Grey & Pink and For Girls that Grow Plump In The Night; I was completely blown away by Land Of The Grey & Pink and duly saved up my pocket money to acquire the said album as soon as I could.
    .
    I’m inclined to suggest that the Land Of The Grey & Pink album is the one that has really stuck with me over the years, it has been around the world with me, from the Falkland Islands to the Middle East; it has been in war zones with me while I was serving in the RAF, it has been to the Arctic Circle with me on Arctic survival training – even in my snow-hole, and was even with me being played on a cassette tape when I had a bit of a drama and pranged my little MG due to black ice in the the winter of 82 on the way to Cirencester from South Wales.

    I enjoy a wide repertoire of music from Classical to heavy rock, but somehow Caravan have captured my spirit encapsulating all my musical leanings into one genre that is their own; there is certainly rock, and jazz but there that subtle folk that comes across in the violin and classical in there.

    During the mid 80s my brother was studying saxophone and attended a course at Wavendon near Milton Keynes run by Cleo Lane and Johnny Dankworth where it just so happened Jimmy Hastings was on their coaching musicians, so when my brother John came home one weekend, he borrowed my Land Of Grey/Pink album cover taking it back to Wavendon for Mr Hastings to sign for me.

    My biggest regret is that in spite of this strong personal reverence of Caravan, I have alas, only ever had the chance of seeing them play live twice – once was at the Astoria in London late in 1999 when luckily when I was on a course not too far from the venue. The other time was in Worcester at around the time they released the Unauthorised Breakfast Item, (and that was only due to my brother seeing a poster advertising the event, and rushed off to get me tickets at the last minute). That evening at the Worcester gig was with my wife and my brother and is one of the most memorable gigs I have ever been to, it was a small and intimate venue and the band had a fabulous rapport with the audience.
    I have to say that I was more than impressed at their sound reproduction; clearly emulating their studio recordings with seamless effortlessness.

    In conclusion, and to answer the original question, if I was forced to rate Caravan’s albums into a list of favourites, it would be a very difficult thing to do, but perhaps Land Of The Grey & Pink would win the “Desert Island Discs” award simply because it was the one that hooked me in the beginning and is still listened to after 40 years with as much heartfelt deep enjoyment and excitement as the first times I heard it. It has been with me everywhere and is still with me being listened to as I write this drivel.

  7. Colin limb says:

    I agree that in the land of grey and pink is their best album,but I would also put cunning stunts up there as my next favourite, dabsong is a delight, and they can knockout a good ballad like lover as well.I love the hipgnosis sleeve as well.

  8. Mike says:

    Great to read your comments Caravan fans. Good point Colin and as with most of their albums there is at least one track (usually more) which is quite outstanding. Whilst there continues to be discussion about the fave album – its just great they left us with such a wealth of great music. Mike

Leave a Reply to mike warth