|Princess Pavilion, Falmouth (UK), 19 January 2013|
For only the second time in the band's history, Caravan come to visit Cornwall, perhaps the only place in the country not covered in snow. This time, the line-up consists of stalwart Pye Hastings (lead vocals, guitar), Jim Leverton (bass), Jan Schelhaas (keyboards), Geoff Richardson (lead guitar, viola, flute) and Mark Walker, who was selected by the unfortunately unwell Richard Coughlan to take his place on the drums.
When Caravan eventually came on, the first thing that struck me was just how loud they were! Certainly in relation to the relatively small size of the venue, this is perhaps one of the noisiest gigs I've ever been too. With each bass drum hit, my seat shook and the music was just as much a physical experience as it was a sonic one. However, when it was music that I loved so dearly, I didn't really mind.
The band started off with a stomping rendition of Memory Lain, Hugh before descending naturally into Headloss. I wonder if those songs will ever not be played together. We then launched into In the Land of Grey and Pink where Richardson suggested that we might wobble our fingers between our lips during the instrumental break between verses, just as Richard Sinclair did on the album all those years ago. However, this version of the song felt dramatically different, with Walker's drumming giving a new sense of urgency to the sound, as Hastings suggested in my interview with him last summer. His presence did not leave me wanting for Coughlan at all, as his enthusiasm for the band was utterly infectious, on top of his skilful drumming.
It was a curious selection of songs, with new material presented alongside old classics. I definitely felt that the audience didn't react too well to newer songs such as Smoking Gun, certainly when compared to the uproar at the end of The Dog, The Dog, He's At It Again. Another of the classics to be featured was the light-hearted Golf Girl, and though I was deafened by the noise, I could be sure that a high percentage of the audience were singing along too. In the middle of the song, the band had something of a breakdown section, featuring Richardson with a pair of miked-up spoons. When played correctly, these can have an almost hypnotic rhythmic effect and Richardson was certainly very creative, pulling them across his hands and using them on his knees.
Since this tour commemorates the 40th anniversary of For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night, the first Caravan album that Richardson was to appear on, it was this album that was most heavily featured. There was just one song from this album that I desperately wanted to hear and fortunately Caravan played it with gusto: the epic A Hunting We Shall Go suite. Despite their age, the band members were able to keep up with the phenomenal rate of this song and, in fact, I could have sworn it was a little bit faster than the recorded version. Not once did the band lose track of the nifty 19/8 time signature, and Walker's performance in particular brimmed with virtuosity. The Backwards section, originally penned by Mike Ratledge and adapted from Soft Machine's Third album, was abridged just a little to save on time.
However, there was another treat in store. To end with a bang, they gave us Nine Feet Underground, one of Caravan's best epics. The looser bits of the song were trimmed so that the whole song lasted around quarter of an hour, but the power and energy wasn't compromised. Once again, I was singing along and rocking out in my chair. As Hastings told me in our interview, Nine Feet Underground is "arranged for reasonably long solo sections which change nightly and thus remain different every time we play them. [It] also [has] a wide range of dynamics which is very much a Caravan feature." It's definitely a track best heard live!
For an encore, the band came back and played the speedy but fun Hoedown, also from the Plump album. Any good prog band should be able to get their audience to clap in 7/8, and Caravan achieved this without difficulty, although I saw a few confused faces around the room. I believe a few of us were expecting a longer encore, such as the jazzy For Richard, but there had been plenty of fantastic music already, so I didn't mind its absence. All in all, a fantastic set, proving that Caravan is still going strong.
Review by Basil Francis
Memory Lain Hugh / Headloss
In the Land of Grey and Pink
Smoking Gun (Right for Me)
The Unauthorized Breakfast Item
L' Auberge du Sanglier / A Hunting We Shall Go / Backwards
The Dog, The Dog, He's At It Again
Fingers in the Till
Chance of a Lifetime
Nine Feet Underground