|The London Astoria, London (UK), 31 October 1996|
I had—almost literally—bumped into Pye Hastings in the audience at Stewart & Gaskin's warm up set before their Unknown Public appearance and I was looking forward to seeing him on stage as I queued for the gig, but I was also uncertain what was to come. The queue for the Astoria left me standing in front of an Ann Summers sex shop. A display of garments in various kinky materials reminded me of the beginning of "Golf Girl": I was standing on a golf course/Dressed in PVC. Across the road, a giant Phil Collins exhorted us from an advertising hoarding to buy his latest mainstream foray, Dance into the Light. Such was my dilemma: was I about to see the Caravan of In the Land of Grey and Pink or the more mainstream Caravan of later albums?
The queue was enlivened by Gilli Smyth, who came past and chatted to two pot-head pixies. (I later saw Pip Pyle in a Gong T-shirt after In Cahoots' gig.) As usual, the Astoria was late opening the doors. Despite having hosted various prog acts of late—from Camel to the David Cross Band to (Genesis cover band) Re-Genesis—the Astoria still seems confused by who comes to these shows. The waiting audience, mainly thirtysomethings or soon to be, were treated like teenage Black Sabbath fans: muscled bouncers frowned at us and searched bags; there was inappropriate piped music before the show.
I had come as much for the support band, In Cahoots, as Caravan. Armed with sheet music (save for Pyle), they arrived on stage: Pip Pyle (drums), Phil Miller (guitar), Fred Baker (bass), J. Dvorak (trumpet), Elton Dean (saxophones) and Pete Lemer (keyboards). Their set, four pieces by Miller, was to concentrate on their new album Parallel. The last piece was entitled "Half Life". A half life is a statistical property emerging from random decay and In Cahoot's "Half Life" was the same, a tune somehow emerging from the constantly shifting playing. Like a jazzier National Health, there was a tremendous busyness to the piece. Pyle, in particular, was a nightmare... in a good way, that is. The concept that he might play the same from one bar to the next seemed quite alien to him.
The previous three pieces had been jazzier still, much in the style of Miller's other recent work. A style less to my liking, I found these tended to drag on somewhat, with space having to be left for each band member to have a solo. The band member who seemed most reserved was Miller himself, as if embarrassed at his presumption in having composed something! The playing was, as one would expect from such luminaries as Dean and Baker, solid.
IN CAHOOTS: Phil Miller (guitar), Fred Baker (bass), J. Dvorak (trumpet, muted trumpet), Elton Dean (saxophones), Pete Lemer (keyboards, electronic kazoo-thingy), Pip Pyle (drums)
SETLIST: "Simmer", "Parallel", "ED or Ian", "Half Life" [all pieces by Miller]
A second support, Tony McPhee, Richard Coughlan's former bandmate in The Groundhogs, had been unable to make it as advertised.
By now, the Astoria was packed and we waited through a slight delay in setting up for Caravan. Pye Hastings and Geoff Richardson have been the core of recent album releases. Richardson, however, was unavailable, having already agreed to tour with Renaud at the same time. However, most of the original Caravan line up were here tonight: Pye Hastings (guitar, vocals), David Sinclair (keyboards), Jimmy Hastings (wind instruments) and Richard Coughlan (drums), plus longtime Caravan bassist Jim Leverton. They were joined by two newcomers in Doug Boyle (lead guitar) and Simon Bentall (percussion). The setlist covered the whole history of Caravan, with even a number from the first album, Caravan, to support its then recent first release on to CD. (It's a great album, by the way.) The newer material was pleasant enough, even if I preferred the older songs. With only Richard Sinclair missing of the In the Land of Grey and Pink line up, one might expect faithful reproductions of these old classics, yet Hastings' more recent, rocky style was predominant. Some of the older songs were arranged as on All Over You. That style was reinforced by the new guitarist, Boyle. At first, the new sound reminded me of the major changes Trevor Rabin heralded in Yes. Further, poor sound mixing left me struggling to hear anything under the guitar line until I moved elsewhere in the theatre. I think Boyle's addition was successful from the point of view of what Hastings' wants to do with the band, but I still yearned for the earlier style. The wonderful "Nine Feet Underground", for example, felt spoiled by the changes. And perhaps Richard Sinclair's absence makes a considerable difference for "Golf Girl" didn't sound quite right either. Everyone played competently, with David Sinclair a particular treat and obviously enjoying himself, but the band did not quite match the verve they had had in Mirage's live work (before Mirage became just Pete Bardens' band). Nonetheless, they had us cheering and clapping for the traditional close of "If I Could Do It All Over Again...". In all, an enjoyable night and I look forward to seeing them play the Astoria again later this year (with Kevin Ayers supporting), but this Caravan is very much Pye Hastings' vehicle nowadays.
CARAVAN: Pye Hastings (guitar, lead vocals, backing vocals), David Sinclair (keyboards), Jimmy Hastings (wind instruments), Richard Coughlan (drums), Jim Leverton (bass, backing vocals, lead vocals on "Travelling Ways" and later verses of "Nine Foot Underground"), Doug Boyle (lead guitar), Simon Bentall (percussion—bongos, congas, bells, tambourine)
SETLIST: ???, ???"All That I Want", "Nine Feet Underground", ???"It's a Sad, Sad Affair", ???, "A Place of My Own", "Somewhere in Your Heart", "Travelling Ways", ???"I Know Nearly Nothing", "Liar", "Behind You", "For Richard";
ENCORE: "Golf Girl", "If I Could Do It All Over Again..."
Review by Henry Potts