Pye Hastings - CARAVAN - as enthusiastic as in the beginning
We now play at new venues and in new countries
"So, did you finally get yourself a copy of Never Mind The Bollocks now that it's ended up in a clearance sale?". Pye Hastings smiles and says :"No, not quite....not yet. Musically speaking, as far as I'm concerned, punk is not very interesting. You see, over the years I've slightly adjusted my point of view regarding punk. It was, and always will be, just a lot of noise, but I admire the vitality, the aggression, which says 'nobody is going to tell us what to do'. After all, I had the same attitude, only ten years earlier."
We met Pye Hastings and the other bandmembers after a successful gig at the Burg Herzberg festival in Eisenach,Germany. It's a festival marked by hippie-nostalgia, but with a surprisingly young audience. It's the 19th of July 2003 and, since the band has reformed, this is already their third appearance here. An indication of regained popularity ?
Pye in Wuppertal (D), june 18 2005
But first we get to talk about the downturn in popularity of CARAVAN in the early 80's. Pye continues: "The English press really rallied against me in those days. It's true that CARAVAN was one of those bands with songs that never seemed to end, but we weren't quite as pompous as most of the others. The problem is that you don't stay young forever,you want to try out new things and, in doing so, you hope that the things that you like are also appreciated by your audience. Because your hobby is also your job, and if the public doesn't like what you're doing, they won't be buying your records or come to your concerts, and consequently there won't be any money coming in and you won't survive.
Looking back, the arrival of punk marked a changing of the guards. The audience had changed. Ours stayed at home because they couldn't find anyone to mind the children and a younger generation chose their new heroes. Have you noticed that the bands that had a large female following before punk came along are the ones that have come out of the whole thing the most unscathed ? Since I discovered that, I try to write songs that also find a receptive ear with women. Without success unfortunately, if I have to believe my wife"
Sulking on the couch
And that's how you ended up sitting at home in 1982? "Yes, after quite a good tour to promote The Album, it just stopped. I was sitting at home, sulking on the couch. After a few months my wife said to me : 'Pye, go and find yourself another job'. That's how I ended up in the building trade again. Now I've got a one man business that inspects new buildings for explosion danger because of methane gas under the foundations. Early on I used to still get an invitation now and then, in 1983 for instance we did a reunion gig in a sold out Marquee, to celebrate fifteen years of CARAVAN, but when the 90's came along, it seemed as if people had completely forgotten us. That is, until some old fans came back into the picture.
At first I wasn't really interested, I didn't want to become someone who would play old CARAVAN songs over and over again. Fans can be your worst enemy sometimes if they expect you to play your old songs exactly the same way you played them twenty years ago. But at the same time I started to believe in these fans, because of their positive attitude : they seem to know for sure that the next Caravan album will be the best ever. They organised gigs for us and that created new opportunities for us to play live, which in turn got other old fans interested in getting involved again as well. For the guys who had just started the HTD record company that was a good reason to offer us a contract for a new album : The Battle of Hastings.
For many fans this was really an indication that CARAVAN was rolling along on God's roads again ! Next, a proper English tour in the autumn of 1996, and after that, for the first time in 20 years, a couple of concerts in Holland, a country with a very strong fanbase that has always stayed loyal towards the band over the years (CARAVAN did two concerts in September 1997, one in The Tivoli club in Utrecht, and the other one in The Oosterpoort in Groningen. That first concert is still available on a limited edition 2CD called 'Back On The Tracks' and can be purchased through this website -ed.). The year after that it was off to Germany and then back to Holland again. The opportunity to re-record some of our old songs in a new style, a sort of unplugged version if you like, resulted in All Over You and All Over You Too. Some decent sales in Japan, the beginning of remastering our old albums and heaps of new compilations of old and new material."
"These past two years it's been going really well. We went to Japan for the first time ! Back to the U.S.A. again, and Canada, where we did 'For Richard' live again with an
orchestra, conducted by Martyn Ford, who also was there with us on The New Symphonia album way back in 1973. Before that we'd already been to Italy, Greece and Spain.
In Barcelona we had threehunderd people in tears during 'For Richard'. Really fantastic... As far as I'm concerned I'd love to go fulltime into the musicbusiness again ! And the others
feel the same way about it."
David Sinclair departs
Is that's why it's all the more painful when David Sinclair departs? "Absolutely ! Our regained success also meant an opportunity to record a brand-new album. Our Dutch fans,who participated in the Back On The Tracks project, really were a strong catalyst in all of this. Once again they showed how dedicated they are to the success of this band.
Dave and I would write six songs each. As I was away on business a lot during that time, Dave already started recording his songs. We were all very confident, after all, Dave is a very talented composer and arranger. My guitar sections and vocals would then be added later on. But when I heard Dave's songs I got this uncanny feeling: great AOR songs, but not CARAVAN. The touch of irony, the being obstinate, of which he's very capable of, had gone out of his writing. I asked the other guys what they thought of it, and they shared my doubts. I suggested that David, me and my son Julian (sound technician and assistant to Rupert Hine, amongst other things-ed.) would get together and give Dave's songs a CARAVAN-feel. But it soon became clear that Dave was too much attached to his songs, and did not allow them to be changed in any way. And that's how we spent a whole afternoon together, both of us totally bewildered and wondering how on earth it could have come this far....
"And that's how we went our separate ways, without animosity, on the contrary, as mates. I was upset, and so was he. Mark, our new manager, had brought it to our attention, at first hesitantly, but later on a bit more emphatically, that the fans were starting to wonder what on earth had happened to the plans for our forthcoming album. It was only then that, on the basis of my six songs, we started working towards that objective. At the same time we had contractual obligations to do live concerts, which weighed heavily on my mind. Mark then told Dave that, under the circumstances, it would be better if Dave didn't take any part in recording the new album.
Fortunately Jan (Schelhaas, keyboard man in CARAVAN from 1976 till 1979, after that inCamel-ed.) was prepared to substitute for Dave. Jan and Dave are good mates, so Dave didn't have any problems with that. Under enormous pressure we then recorded The Unauthorised Breakfast Item, in the space of four weeks. Fortunately Dave allowed us to include his song 'Nowhere to hide' on the album. It's a fantastic song, once again proving what a good composer he really is."
Heavier sound and open strings
Does this chain of events (Dave's departure ) affect your concerts in any way ? "I think so, but to what extent is hard to say. Of course we already decided a while ago that we wanted to have a much heavier sound. That's why Doug Boyle has joined the band. He's our lead guitarist now, so I have had to take a back seat role (smiles). Doug is a huge CARAVAN-fan. When he ran into Julian in a recording studio, he asked him if it would be allright for him to pop into my place one day. I was kind of interested in what he had to say, knowing that he had toured with Robert Plant and Nigel Kennedy for a few years. We clicked instantly, I really wanted him in the band. A young guy like him gives us oldies a new perspective on everything. The other guys in the band didn't take long to be convinced either. With each new tour we find that Doug is more and more suited to this band, and with Jan on keyboards, there's more room for different nuances. The other young man is Simon Bentall, on percussion, who's busy with dance and South American rhythms. He's terribly busy with that- everyone in England is in a salsa mood at the moment- so he won't be there on our next tour."
So CARAVAN is not 'your' musical vehicle? "Certainly not, the band belongs just as much to the others. We take each other's ideas and preferences into account. I certainly can not simply drop a song at the drop of a hat. I'm always writing new songs, i.e. snippets of songs. I play them to the others during rehearsals, or when we visit each other. I look for their reactions : do they like it or not ? If they like it, I continue to work on them. Those snippets just get into my head, they automatically pop up. My real problem is to try and remember them. That only happens when I've played them to myself on the guitar, after I worked on them a bit. Most of the time I play them in minor with open strings, and just imagine hearing the harmonies when I'm doing that ! After that, a tune is permanently stored in my filing-system (smiles and points to his head). Global Number One hitrecords have been lost because I was lying in my bed, too lazy to get up and pick up my guitar, deluding myself that I would remember those snippets the next morning, but of course I had forgotten them by then. Do you know how our first albums came to fruition? Six o'clock in the morning, with the little boy in my lap, I played and sang tunes for him."
New venues in new countries
"Now the new album is out, I think we're going to give the whole thing an even heavier sound. The days when we were young self-opinionated guys are far behind us now. We have turned into 'real' musicians who enjoy subtly weaving new musical trends into our own brand of music. Speaking for myself, I'm getting more and more interested in the latest technical possibilities. That's Julian's influence on me. These days I browse through his record collection. I've never really been inclined to buy other people's music, but Julian draws my attention to new things, teaches me new things on the computer. He urges me to try new things, be more adventurous. Apart from that, I really want to do something with soulmusic again, my first musical love affair..... And, to come back to your first question, I bought the EELS' CD's the other day.
As a band, of course we also try and make the most of the revival in 60's music that is happening at the moment. That's why all our albums are being re-released on CD, the ones we released in the 80's as well (Better By Far, The Album, Back To Front, with bonustracks-ed. ) and more live concerts. That's something that's totally beyond our control, by the way, so you can't blame us for an over-supply of albums out there. But I've said it before, I'm not going to continue to play our 60's songs over and over again, I'm looking for a new musical impetus. I want to create new music and give a new spin to my old songs. I really want to improve myself and be more adventurous, otherwise I quit. Fortunately the fans share my vision. Four, five years ago we played in the same old places where we played all those years ago. Now we play in countries and at venues where we've never been before !"