Caravan was formed in Canterbury, England in 1968 by Pye Hastings (guitar/ vocals), Dave Sinclair (keyboards), Richard Sinclair (bass/vocals) and Richard Coughlan (drums).
The four had previously played at various times with a local band, The Wilde Flowers, which also featured Kevin Ayers and future Soft Machine members Robert Wyatt and Hugh Hopper.
Caravan was the first UK act to sign with American label MGM/ Verve and their debut album, entitled ‘Caravan’ was released late in 1968. It was favourably received by the critics and the debut single, Place of My Own was described as having a ‘gripping compulsion’ with ‘scintillating organ work’. John Peel played the album regularly on his radio show ‘Top Gear’.
A second album saw a move from Verve, as they had closed down their rock/pop division and Decca took up the cause. September 1970 was the release date for ‘If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You’. At this time relationships within the band were strong. They got on well and they looked on course to succeed as a band.
Still together as a unit, the band recorded ‘In the Land of Grey and Pink’ which was released in September 1971. By now a loyal fan base was developing and they were playing some prestigious gigs, for example in front of 250,000 in Rotterdam. The album was described as ‘virtually faultless’ and the band looked set fair for national and international recognition. At this crucial point, Dave Sinclair decided to leave. As Pye Hastings explained, ‘Dave was developing faster than the rest of us and I think he was getting frustrated at seeing other bands of dubious talent getting greater financial reward. The management must have been beside themselves: the band were getting somewhere, a new album is released and the main player decides he is off.’
Steve Miller came in as a replacement for Dave: he had been recommended to Richard Sinclair by Phil, Steve’s guitarist brother. This line up did not go down so well with fans who saw a change to a jazzier feel based around Steve’s piano- orientated keyboards. This style dominated the next album release, Waterloo Lily, released in May 1972. No longer was Dave’s unique keyboard sound – based around his Hammond organ – in evidence. Even Pye’s older brother Jimmy Hastings appeared to be surplus to requirements, appearing only on ‘Love in Your Eye’ on sax and flute, the bulk of this work going to Lol Coxhill.
It was no surprise when the line up disbanded, leaving Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlan to pick up the pieces and decide whether to carry on. A change of direction resulted with the addition of Geoffrey Richardson on viola. The line up was completed by Welshman Stu Evans on bass and the well travelled Derek Austin on Keyboards. No album was released by this version of Caravan, although they toured extensively, including a series of dates in Australia, accompanying Slade, Lindisfarne and Status Quo. The reissue of this album on Universal in 2001 does include versions with the Evans/Austin line up, including a completely new track, ‘Derek’s Long Thing’.
In February 1973, another shake up occurred. John Perry, who Pye had previously invited to join the band, signed up on bass and Dave Sinclair agreed to rejoin to make an album and take part in the tour to follow. The album, ‘For Girls That Grow Plump in the Night’ was a return to form, with practically every track written by Pye Hastings. The New Musical Express described the album as, ‘Superior pop music, full of taste, craftsmanship and hard work.’ Melody Maker pitched in, ‘There’s no track that’s less than satisfying. A chart album I hope: the band deserve a break.’
The band then got the chance to try something a little different and recorded an album with the New Symphonia, for which Pye wrote a couple of new tunes. Simon Jeffes of Penguin Cafe Orchestra arranged some of the music, with the bulk of the ‘charts’ arranged by Martyn Ford, with contributions from Don Gould. Martyn was the conductor. Rehearsal time was 6 hours only! The album showed the band in full flight and gave Geoffrey Richardson to show his talents and for him to expand on the earlier versions of the songs. By July 1974, John Perry had moved off to play with Quantum Jump, to be replaced by Mike Wedgewood who had played previously in Curved Air.
With Dave Sinclair firmly re-established in the band, an album was put together. This was originally to have been titled ‘Toys in the Attic’, but they were beaten to it by Aerosmith and had to make do with ‘Cunning Stunts’, which featured Dave Sinclair’s songwriting far more heavily. Two tours of America took place and at one stage the album was the fastest selling import in San Francisco.
Once again wanderlust got the better of Dave Sinclair and he was replaced by Jan Schelhaas who had played in the ‘National Head Band’. An album ‘Blind Dog at St Dunstans’ resulted, with positive reviews again. Melody Maker gave a detailed review of the recording and added, ‘This is a distinguished work, with Coughlan’s driving drums revealing his painstaking craftsmanship. Caravan possess all the attributes: good musicianship, strong songs, an imaginative stage show. They remain one of our most competent bands and eventually will be recognised as such even if takes them another decade.’ Soon after this Mike Wedgewood departed to be replaced by Dek Messecar, and Dave Sinclair returned temporarily to play on a tour to help promote a ‘best of’ compilation from Decca.
A change of label to Arista produced an album, ‘Better by Far’. Despite a good deal of promotion, Caravan were now struggling to maintain the level of support they had previously enjoyed and the advent of punk was rendering bands such as Caravan surplus to record company’s requirements. Even the loyal Geoffrey Richardson decided to go as session work began to come his way – he left on April 14th 1978.
Terry King the band’s old manager signed them up to his own Kingdom Records and a tour and album followed: ‘The Album’, which was released in November 1980. With Dave Sinclair in tow and Geoffrey Richardson guesting, they managed a few prestigious dates including a full house at London’s Dominion Theatre.
All went quiet again however and the band went to ground, although a reunion album was released in July 1982 entitled ‘Back to Front’, featuring the original line up augmented on some tracks by Mel Collins on saxophone. No longer were the band members in music full time. The only dates of any significance were an appearance at the Marquee in 1983 for the club’s 25th celebrations and a ‘final’ gig in Canterbury in 1985.
And so that was that……….or was it? In 1990 Central TV were putting together a series of concerts to focus on bands from the 1970’s and through the efforts of Richard Sinclair, the original bass player, the very first line up got back together to record a set. As a warm up, Caravan played the Canterbury Festival in June 1990, followed by the concert recording at Central Studios in July in front of 400 fans who had discovered what was afoot.
The most unlikely outcome was a gig held that September at Old Buckenham High School in Norfolk where, through persistent and determined advertising, 650 people attended, with many others unable to get tickets. A small number of successful gigs followed, including of course a triumphant return to Old Buckenham in 1991.
With the band members concentrating on other pursuits, it was inevitable that things would quieten down again and the departure of Richard Sinclair on other musical projects added to this. The discovery of old tapes left over from a recording session in 1977 (with Richard Sinclair on Bass), led to a revival of interest and the release of this material under the title of ‘Cool Water’ in 1994. Pye Hastings and Dave Sinclair had done some live dates with a band called Mirage and were therefore ‘up for it’ at the suggestion by HTD records to record a brand new Caravan album.
‘The Battle of Hastings’ emerged in the Autumn of 1995, with the participation of Pye Hastings, Richard Coughlan, Dave Sinclair, Geoffrey Richardson, plus Jim Leverton on bass- an old friend of Geoffrey’s. This marked a true return to form for Caravan, with the songwriting of Pye Hastings back to its very best and the contribution of Dave Sinclair on keyboards, plus his songwriting ability evident on a cracking song, ‘Travelling Ways’ which ultimately gained radio airplay in Britain as well as turning up in Ireland’s Top 40 as a charity single recorded by a group of High School students. A further Caravan recording was released in April 1996, a remake of early classics entitled ‘All Over You’.
To show that the band meant business this time, an Autumn tour was set up, but Geoffrey Richardson was unavailable. This resulted in the return of Jimmy Hastings on saxes and flutes and the addition of Simon Bentall on percussion and Doug Boyle on lead guitar. Jim Leverton, who had already appeared on ‘Battle of Hastings’ was still on board. It was evident from the first rehearsals that this new line up was giving the band a real kick: Simon was bringing out the best in drummer Richard and the stunning guitar work of Doug Boyle was giving Pye a new lease of life. As Pye said at the time, ‘This will give us the chance to extend and vary our songs: Doug Boyle is a powerful player who will add so much and it’s like a breath of fresh air. I’m just the rhythm guitarist and my position is as leader, songwriter and co-ordinator – I’m not the star of the band!’
The concerts took place to a mixed reception. The promotion of the gigs was appalling, which resulted in the cancellation of three of the gigs. However the reception elsewhere was good and the London Astoria had around 1,000 fans calling for more. Confidence was growing and in 1997 a return to the Astoria was accompanied by two successful gigs in Holland organised by Jasper Smit who runs the European Fan Club, plus a date in Dublin. Geoffrey Richardson was now back in the fold.
In 1997 a live album of the Astoria concert was issued and a storming gig took place at the Park Hotel in Diss, Norfolk in May 1998 to a full house, as well as visits to Holland and Germany. Hux records also issued two volumes of live material recorded at the BBC in the 1970’s. Return concerts to Diss and to the Astoria in 1999 confirmed the rise of Caravan, most notably in the number of new and younger fans now following the band. The resurgence continued and in the summer of 2002, Caravan made a triumphant return to the US, playing a gig at Nearfest, New Jersey in front of a sell-out, adoring audience. This was followed by two gigs in Quebec, one of which featured Caravan playing a version of For Richard alongside an orchestra conducted by Martyn Ford.
The departure of Dave Sinclair in late summer 2002, mid way through recordings for a new album, was not a happy situation for either the band or Dave. The ‘re-arrival’ of Jan Schelhaas after an absence of 23 years did at least give the band a new impetus, which led to the completion of the new album, ‘The Unauthorised Breakfast Item’ which was released in September 2003 to great critical acclaim.
The band toured throughout the world in 2004/2005. In November 2004 they played a concert at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London to celebrate their 35th Anniversary. The concert which was recorded for DVD featured Jimmy Hastings and included a short acoustic set, a first in the history of Caravan!
After a memorable concert at the Isle of Wight Festival in June 2005 Caravan placed their last concert in Germany on 19 June. Since then live plans have been shelved due to Richard Coughlan’s ill health. Doug Boyle left the band in 2007.
In 2010, Pye Hastings announced that the band had resumed activity in anticipation of a one-off concert recording at Metropolis Studios for ITV in December. New material was written for a debut performance and the band was joined by Mark Walker on drums and percussion. The gig was a resounding success marking another exciting era for the band. The gig was released in it’s entirety on 2 disc DVD in May 2011 and a truncated version will broadcast on Sky / ITV as part of the Legends series of concerts sometime in the future.
To commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the legendary album ‘In The Land of Grey and Pink’, Universal released a deluxe box set in May 2011. The band followed with a well rehearsed almost complete Grey and Pink set at festivals across Europe and a small venue tour of the UK in October.
2012 saw a slow down in the band’s touring activity however they made appearances at many festivals across Europe and were celebrated by the local Canterbury university for their lifetime of work with a special weekend of Prog Rock events, finishing with a battle of the bands and special Caravan concert.
The band were also proud to host their first ever Caravan Convention in Holland by arrangement of Jasper Smit of the Intercontinental Caravan Campaign in October.
In November 2012, Pye Hastings and Geoffrey Richardson were presented with a honorary fellowship for their commitment to the local music scene within Canterbury’s famous cathedral.
In 2013 to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the equally legendary album ‘For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night’, the band went back on the road again for an exclusive UK tour in January and once again played many festivals across Europe.
Winter 2013 saw the band returning to the studio for the first time in 10 years following a highly successful crowd-funding campaign via PledgeMusic. Further European festivals and a local gig at Whitstable’s East Quay brought the band’s live dates for 2013 to a close and provided an exclusive début for some of the new songs.
It was with a very heart that in December 2013, family, friends and fans across the world lost the band’s founding drummer and percussionist Richard Coughlan, following his long illness. Richard will be sorely missed by all who knew him. His legacy with Caravan and The Wilde Flowers will live on forever.
The band are release their brand new album in 2014 called ‘Paradise Filter’ only made possible by independent funding from fans and supporters via a highly successful PledgeMusic campaign.
They continue to tour the world and are still a very exiting live act.