IT IS more than 40 years since prog rock pioneers Caravan embarked on a remarkable journey. Simon Rushworth talked to founder member Pye Hastings ahead of the band’s Gateshead gig.
CANTERBURY might be more famous for its cathedral than a devotion to the religion of rock but 40 years ago the picturesque English city boasted a slew of progressive guitar bands without boundaries.
Caravan led the way with their jazzy take on what passed for conventional rock piquing the interest of critics and fans alike.
Within months many of their peers were following suit and the fledgling Canterbury movement had evolved into a full-blown phenomenon.
Caravan founder member Pye Hastings, an exiled Scot with a penchant for the extraordinary, was the scene’s charismatic leader: a man on a mission to prove rock could be different.
“In the beginning it was just a collection of bands who were playing in the local pubs and clubs and Caravan developed a jazzier style,” explained Hastings, who returned to his Scottish roots six years ago and now bases himself in the tiny Highlands village of Tomintoul.
“A journalist came over to watch a few of the bands, saw us and described our music as the ‘Canterbury sound’. It was a term invented there and then and it stuck.
“We were a bit more jazzy leaning and we wrote our own songs so that helped us stand out from the crowd. Maybe that’s why we were seen as the scene leaders at the time. But there were half a dozen bands from the area playing the same pubs and clubs.
“The sound was just an idea we had to change things and to make a point of not being like anyone else at the time. We approached songwriting in a different way and tried to look at things from a different point of view. It was a challenge but we were all like-minded and we were committed to doing things differently.”
Caravan’s determination to buck the norm may have guaranteed their status as cult heroes for decades to come but a devotion to the unconventional meant commercial success was at a premium.
“The grand plan had always been to go to London and record our music and hang out with the big boys,” added Hastings.
“We all looked at what The Beatles, the Stones and The Kinks were doing and of course we fancied a piece of that action. The whole Canterbury movement helped us to do that.
“What it didn’t do was help us sell millions of records. We tried but we didn’t actually manage it for some reason!
“We made albums rather than singles and I think that was part of our problem. We should have worked harder at writing and releasing a single or two but that’s just the way it is.
“We’re still here 45 years later so it wasn’t exactly the wrong approach!
“To begin with we did see ourselves as a singles band but then I think we became a bit big-headed and thought we were better than that. By the time we’d realised our mistake punk was upon us and nobody wanted to hear 10-minute epics! And rightly so. The young bands and their fans taught us a timely lesson and things were changing. But tastes come full circle.”
So much so that demand for a full-scale Caravan tour has been gathering pace for a number of years – the band hitherto limiting their live output to a few select European dates and the odd festival.
However, with the 40th anniversary of the landmark For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night album sparking fresh interest, Hastings admitted the time was right to tour the UK.
“Over the last five or six years we’ve been playing regularly but mostly at European festivals and one-off dates here and there,” he added.
“I spoke to my agent about doing a tour of the UK and by the time it was all fixed up it just happened to coincide with the anniversary of For Girls… The tour’s been marketed around that but there will be so much more to the show.”
Caravan play The Sage Gateshead next Saturday. Tickets: 0191 443 4661 or www.thesagegateshead.org
In the beginning it was just a collection of bands who were playing in the local pubs and clubs