|Queen Elisabeth Hall - London (UK), 10 January 2013|
Punk's scorched-earth policy towards the past has brought many a musical career to a premature halt. It's no coincidence that veteran progressive rockers Caravan originally split in 1978, correctly intuiting that their elaborate whimsicality and fussy musical virtuosity made them a hopeless anachronism in an era of back-to-basics two-chord brutality.
They had emerged in gentler times as mainstays of the mildly psychedelic Canterbury scene of the late 60s and early 70s that also spawned Robert Wyatt's Soft Machine. Since punk blew over, though, Caravan have re-formed frequently, with this latest tour celebrating the 40th anniversary of their quixotic 1973 album, For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night.
Only founding vocalist Pye Hastings and multi-instrumentalist Geoffrey Richardson remain from their seminal lineup, and they have aged rather better than their music. Resembling a troupe of hip senior executives on a company awayday, they serve up a loose welter of jazz-inflected, vaguely cosmic soft rock that proves resolutely unengaging.
Occasionally a sleek, propulsive tune shines through the muddy meanderings, as on Memory Lain, Hugh/Headloss, but much of the set serves as a reminder that a major musical touchstone of the early 70s was stoned self-indulgence. Typical is Golf Girl, a sliver of sub-Syd Barrett wilful whimsy that finds Richardson vigorously playing the spoons.
New track Fingers in the Till could be one of David Gilmour's occasional patrician declamations on the state of the nation, then Caravan close a rambling set with an epic, episodic and deeply draining 20-minute number called Nine Feet Underground, which leaves you feeling that the punks probably had a point.
Review by Ian Gittins (**) and photo by Marilyn Kingwill