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.
After three years and two previous albums, Caravan released
“In the Land of Grey and Pink” (1971). This album 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.
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
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;
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
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.