Billed as the ultimate tribute to legendary Canterbury band Caravan, this monumental undertaking comprises all sixteen studio albums, some with a CD of bonus tracks, four official ‘live’ albums plus eleven previously unreleased ‘live’ albums, a Blu-Ray of In The Land Of Grey And Pink, and a DVD of rare performances across Europe, including recordings from the Marquee and the Bataclan. And, if all this isn’t enough, there’s also a 144 page coffee table size book with a full discography, interviews with the three surviving original band members and a Caravan map of Canterbury. All this can be yours for a mere £350, but there’ll only be 2,500 copies, so order now to avoid disappointment!
Caravan emerged out of Canterbury band, The Wilde Flowers, who existed between 1964-68 and, alongside John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and the Graham Bond Organisation, they have a claim to be considered as one of the most important bands ever to emerge in the sixties, given the range of talent which passed through the band during its four years together – with future alumni of Soft Machine, Matching Mole and Hatfield & The North, as well as Caravan and others, numbered amongst its dramatis personae.
While Julian ‘Pye’ Hastings, the only original member still in the current band, has always maintained such a thing never existed, and Robert Wyatt claiming everything was all ‘just a coincidence of geography,’ Caravan helped to create and define the sound of what became known as ‘The Canterbury Scene.’ Their first three albums, featuring the lush, exquisite Hammond organ keyboard sound of David Sinclair, helped put the band on the map but, once he left in 1971, despite the occasional return to play on an album, Caravan were never the same band once Steve Miller (not the ‘gangster of love’) came in on electric piano and changed the sound of the band. This stalled their momentum and, from their fourth album, the more jazzy Waterloo Lily onwards, the result was a series of albums, which ranged from the rather good, notably 1973’s For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night (no surprise given David Sinclair was involved in the recording), to Cunning Stunts with its sort-of funk feel, and Blind Dog At St Dunstan’s, which marked a creative low point. After Lily, Geoffrey Richardson joins Caravan … he’s still there today … changing their sound again as he plays, among other things, viola.
These and the late seventies and eighties albums demonstrated, while there was still some clever playing and catchy tunes, and songs which were extended onstage, the classic Caravan ‘sound’ had gone and they never rediscovered the spark which gave them their classic identity, as their music now favoured the soft rock/pop approach of Pye Hastings who, from ..Plump onwards, was now the band’s main songwriter.
The studio albums have all been remastered by, who else, Steven Wilson. Their debut album is here on separate discs in mono and stereo, and Grey And Pink has a disc with outtakes and different versions. All other albums come with no added extras, but if you’re a Caravan fan, the attraction of this box set will be the eleven previously unreleased ‘live’ shows, featuring performances from across a range of venues, including Trent Polytechnic 1975, London New Victoria 1976 and the BBC. What comes across clearly from the ‘live’ recordings is that Caravan are a better band when Richard Sinclair is singing … Winter Wine from the London Astoria 1990 being a good example … and also the songs which draw the most fervent crowd reaction are those from their classic period written by Richard Sinclair and/or David Sinclair. Witness the reception given when the opening notes to Nine Feet Underground are played … and counting the studio version, there are ten different versions here to choose from!
This lavishly packaged and comprehensive box set is clearly targeted at the hard core fan and Caravan completists. It’s difficult to imagine anyone who doesn’t already know the band shelling out a few hundred for it. So, given there are already other Caravan box-sets available, which include Caravan; The Decca Years, containing all the band’s Decca and Deram albums, with additional bonus material, plus also a concert from Croydon’s Fairfield Hall, and ‘Live’ at the BBC 1970-75, as well as the 4 CD set, The World Is Yours, 1968-76, covering the band’s early albums and a booklet describing Caravan’s somewhat complicated history, what Madfish have done is offer the most comprehensive trawl through the band’s impressive back catalogue, something which is virtually the last word about the history of the band. Yes, it’s asking a lot to expect fans to shell out £350 for a series of remastered albums and ‘live’ CD’s, even allowing for the contents of the book included. But we all know people who’ve spent more than this buying just one album to complete a collection.
Caravan have the kind of loyal fanbase which has sustained them down the years … their decision to continue in 1990 upon reuniting after their 1980s hiatus was based upon favourable fan reaction. The band occupies a revered position in the musical spectrum, being a unique English bridge between Psych and Prog … it’s hard imagining the US producing a band like Caravan … and they absolutely deserved their ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award from Prog magazine in 2018. Ultimately, this set is a body of work which, despite my reservations about a couple of later period albums, in the overall scheme of things, any band would be proud to release.