Caravan: In the Land of Grey and Pink

14th February 2020

Title: : In the Land of Grey and Pink

Label: Decca

Caravan were an odd band. At first glance in the music press and if you took a quick Vox pop around music fans in the early 70s, you would have thought that the band was topping just about every chart out there and had achieved global success. The reality was much different. Up to and including 1975, arguably the band’s commercial heyday, Caravan never really bothered the charts and music sales trundled along nicely but without the band thinking about opening Swiss bank accounts to hold the resultant income. 

Caravan was highly thought of and the group’s fans – including media representatives – shouted loudly about Caravan’s talents but that never amounted to any suggestion of global domination. Yet the fervent and passionate support continued.

You could, therefore, call Caravan a cult group but that wouldn’t be truly accurate either because the band were more than that, I feel.

This odd position, in the mindset of both the media and the public, gave Caravan a long and steady career. Unlike other stars of the moment who’s fans became bored and drifted into the night, Caravan’s backing was compact and forceful. The group’s lifespan as a recurring entity was longer perhaps than if Caravan had hit the No.1 chart spot and blazed a light across the music industry. Toddling along…steadily…consistently…gave Caravan longevity. A rare state of affairs in music as a whole. 

Spawned from the collapse of the Canterbury band, The Wilde Flowers, they featured an amalgam of Brian Hopper, Kevin Ayers, Richard Sinclair, Pye Hastings and Robert Wyatt and a few other luminaries in 1965. In broad terms, half of the band left to form Soft Machine. The rest started Caravan. 

Caravan: In the Land of Grey and Pink

Caravan’s debut (1968) was a worthy release with plenty of highlights, combining jazz and psyche but it was the 1970 release of If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You that set the tone of innovative prog and – something that was integrated within the group’s best work – humour. There was always a lovely, slightly under-stated, a little withdrawn, gentle, rather eccentric, decidedly English flavour of humour that ran, like a vein of quartz through a large piece of dense basalt, across their prog rock constructions. And those constructions could be impressive indeed.

In fact, in 1971, those constructions would form a starring role as In the Land of Grey and Pink was released. Seen by many observers as the band’s peak in terns of artistic innovation, it was also the group’s last release with the original classic line-up as Dave Sinclair would leave to join Robert Wyatt in Matching Mole.

In the Land of Grey and Pink combined a range of musical genres, sprinkled across the prog template as garnish and taking the form of folk, a little bit of classical here and there, jazz but always that English essence, including the band’s now trademark humour. What caught me, though, were the underlying melodies.

Speaking in 2013, band member, Pye Hastings commented on the restored and extended tracks featured on the reissued version of In the Land of Grey and Pink, seen also in this box set, “The solos were all recorded on different multi tracks and at the time of mixing, certain ones were deemed better than others and were selected, usually by the featured soloist and used in the final mix.”

Now In The Land Of Grey And Pink can be found within a recently released 9CD box set featuring expanded editions of all the studio albums recorded for the Decca/Deram labels. The albums arrive complete with bonus tracks and rare live recordings while the set also includes The Story of Our Lives: Live At The BBC 1970-75 and 1974’s Live At Fairfields Halls concert. The eight gatefold digipacks featuring original album art are enclosed in a rigid slipcase with an accompanying 44-page booklet detailing the history of the band.

The albums in full include, If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You (1970), In The Land Of Grey And Pink (1971), Waterloo Lily (1972), For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night (1973), Caravan & The New Symphonia: The Complete Concert (1974),  Cunning Stunts (1975), Live At The Fairfield Halls, 1974 And The Show Of Our Lives: Live At The BBC 1970-1975.

Note that the debut is not featured in this set, presumably because Universal lost the rights.

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