An Interview with Pye Hastings of Caravan

We’re on a journey to The Land Of Grey And Pink, as we recently caught up with veteran guitarist, and Prog Rock icon, Pye Hastings of Carvan. Among other things, we touch on what he’s been up to during the lockdown, his origins in Jazz, the formation of Caravan, the recording of the band’s most seminal music of the 70s, what’s next, and a whole lot more.

Andrew: Pye, I appreciate you taking the time today. How have you been holding up over the last year or so? What have you been up to?
Pye: The last year has been somewhat confusing for most people. Apart from the numerous stop/start political advice regarding the pandemic, I managed to keep busy by finishing off my latest batch of songs which we recorded during the period after lockdown. We welcomed a new player into the band in Lee Pomeroy on bass and said a sad farewell to Jim Leverton, who has moved on to further his career in the world of R&B. We recorded the album at Rimshot Studios in Bredgar, near Sittingbourne, which was a real blast. It was so good to be back playing together after such a long time.
After the album It’s None of Your Business was released, we had a fourteen-date tour of the UK lined up, which we were all champing at the bit to get out and promote. We were all double jabbed and took lateral flow tests regularly, so every precaution was observed, but as luck would have it, after eleven very successful concerts, our drummer Mark Walker went down with the virus, and like a pack of dominoes, we all followed suit, one by one, which meant we had to postpone the final three dates. By getting so far along the tour we thought that we had beaten the bug, and we were looking forward to completing the final three gigs. Luckily, none of us had any severe symptoms, and we have all recovered after the mandatory ten-day isolation.

Andrew: Before we dive into your professional career, let’s go back a bit. What first got you hooked on music?
Pye: My father was a pianist, and my brother, Jimmy, is a Jazz musician, so music has always been part of my life. It wasn’t until my seventeenth birthday that I got my first guitar, and as they say, the rest is history. The first few chords were painful, not just for me, I imagine, but after that, I was completely hooked, and I had finally found what I wanted to do.

Andrew: Who were some of your early influences?
Pye: Definitely, my brother Jimmy, who had a comprehensive collection of Jazz records, and consequently, all the artists he would be playing at every opportunity.

Andrew: Let’s talk about recent events. Tell us about Caravan’s new release, It’s None of Your Business. What can fans expect?
Pye: Firstly, I hope they really like it because I was determined to revisit the old way of recording, all in a circle, in a good studio where you can bounce ideas off each other with immediate feedback. This was always the way we did the early recordings, and I think you get a much better result. Added to this, I wanted to do a couple of longer numbers that had two, three, or four different sections making up one long piece. The finished result was voted number three in the “Best Prog Albums Of The Year” by Classic Rock Magazine, so it worked out OK.

Andrew: What lyrical themes are you working with on this new record? As a band, Caravan is well known for it’s sonic journeys, tell us more about the recording and inspiration.
Pye: I have never consciously stuck to one theme, and this album is no exception. There is a song, “Every Precious Little Thing,” which is about getting back together with the band. Another, “Spare A Thought,” reflects our concern for the guys in the NHS, and what heroic work they are doing to keep us all safe at the expense of their own safety. There is a song about a person who comes down from London at weekends, and shoots himself in the foot called “Down From London.” The Title track is self-explanatory, and there is a Love song called “There Is You,” and a lighthearted song called “If I was To Fly.” Next, “Ready Or Not” is about hide and seek, and “Wishing You Were Here” is about traveling along Route 66 in America, and sending a postcard home, and “I’ll Reach Out For You” is about…fuck knows…I can’t remember. [Laughs].

Andrew: Going back now, take me through the formation of Caravan. How did things get started?
Pye: In 1968, I was in an R&B band called The Wilde Flowers, which was formed by Brian and Hugh Hopper, and featured Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Richard Coughlan, and Richard Sinclair. Kevin, at this time, was leaving the band to form one of his own, which would be called Soft Machine. I was invited by Brian to play rhythm guitar and to replace Richard Sinclair, who was returning to art college to finish his Fine Arts design course.
Richard Coughlan was on holiday when the band was invited to enter a battle of the bands’ competition, at Dreamland Ballroom, in Margate, so Robert, Brian, Hugh, and I performed the gig and subsequently won. The first prize was an audition in a professional recording studio, which turned out to be just some guy with a Ferrograph Tape recorder in an acoustically atrocious village hall. This was my induction into the “real world of Rock ‘N’ Roll. [Laughs].
Shortly after, Robert was enticed by Kevin to go to Deya to form Soft Machine, and Brian and Hugh decided to move on. Richard Coughlan and I were not about to give up, so we decided to form a new band that would feature exclusively our own songs. Richard Sinclair agreed to join us, introduced us to his cousin, Dave, and Caravan was formed.

Andrew: The genre of Progressive Rock music is vast and varied, this said, Caravan is immensely important and influential. Looking back, what do you feel the band’s legacy within the genre stands?
Pye: I am very proud to be included in the Prog Rock genre, but I think we offer a much broader range of music to be categorised in any one specific genre. I see us more as songwriters, who love expanding on a melody and allowing the musicians to explore the realms of improvisation. Of course, there are elements of Prog in it, but there must be no boundary to the choice of subject, and style of music that we attempt to play. It must be said…we don’t always get it right.

Andrew: Caravan where an important part of what came to be known as the “Canterbury Scene.” Take me through what it was like coming up within that scene.
Pye: The term/terms Canterbury Scene/Canterbury Sound are manufactured titles by journalists to create a differentiation between bands. Perhaps there is a distinct sound, but I am perhaps too close to see it. We just play our music, hope it is valuable, in the general sense of things, and that people like it.

Andrew: Caravan is well known for it’s seamless incorporation of Jazz into it’s Rock mix. In that vein, what are some of your favorite Jazz albums, and artists? Who influenced Caravan the most in the early days?
Pye: Well, my brother Jimmy has to be the main culprit as far as my influences go. He would endlessly be playing his records of the fantastic big bands like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Mingus, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis, not to mention, one of my all-time favourites, Bill Evans. I suppose by process of sublimation, I would naturally have absorbed some of their melodic structures, which would influence me in later life.

Andrew: Caravan’s 1971 masterpiece, In The Land of Grey And Pink, is one of the defining albums of the early Progressive Rock era. What do you recall about the recording on the record? In retrospect, what are your thoughts on the record, and its enduring legacy?
Pye: I think we were probably in the right place, at the right time when we recorded the album. Sadly, we didn’t get the investment we needed to take us to the next stage in our careers, and as a consequence, the band began to fragment, starting with the departure of the fantastic Dave Sinclair, who wrote the ever-popular, and enduring “9 Feet Underground.” The recording itself was a complete joy. We had reluctantly learned from our previous album that we were probably not the best record producers, and enlisted the services of David Hitchcock to steer the project. This proved to be a stroke of genius, as he managed to hold back all the individual egos and cut through the crap to produce an album that rapidly went Gold, and is still selling today, fifty years on.

Andrew: Which album within Caravan’s catalog do you feel is more underrated, or most overlooked, and why?
Pye: I am sure I am not alone in thinking that every album we have made is special, but that clearly can’t be true, or we would all be millionaires. That said, I am so very proud of every one of the musicians who have passed through the Caravan lineup, and of their unique contribution to the Caravan catalog. Some have inevitably been more successful than others, but if you see it as a body of work rather than any individual album, then I would not be happy singling out any album as being better than the other.

Andrew: I mentioned earlier that Progressive Rock is a deep and complex genre, for someone just jumping in, what are some underrated, less heard of records you would recommend for someone who wants to dive deep?
Pye: Open your ears and listen to as much music as you can. There should be no limits to your tastes because there is so much to learn, particularly from the young.

Andrew: What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?
Pye: Good food and fine wine. Both of which will send you to sleep…which we have been trying to achieve with our music for decades. [Laughs].

Andrew: In your opinion, what is the state of the music business these days? Should artists be hopeful? Scared? Both?
Pye: The music business itself is doing fine…as always. Not so for the writers and musicians. The streaming of music is disastrous for the artists in that the companies reap huge profits, and pay the artists a mere pittance. Where’s the incentive for young people to get on board if all the money is being siphoned off by companies who are making millions, and not giving a fair share to the people who create it?. You’ve got to ask yourself, what would the world be like without music? You’ll never ever stop people writing music, but let’s make sure they are suitably rewarded for their contribution in enriching everyone’s lives.

Andrew: Last one. What’s next on your docket? What are you looking forward to most in the postCOVID world?
Pye: Next up, in March, is a continuation/rescheduling of the gigs we missed because of catching COVID. Then, on the booking sheet, is a Festival in Sweden, in May, a couple of dates in Japan in September, and a fourteen-date tour of the UK in October. This is all provided that we can all get through whatever is thrown at us next.

Interview by Andrew Daly for VWMUSIC (30.01.2022)