|Nell's Jazz & Blues, London (UK), 22 November 2017|
The tours these days may only comprise eight dates rather than the two- or three-month jaunts that would have been undertaken back in the day but if nothing else the final show from this year's circuit proved that one year short of the band's fiftieth anniversary Caravan still have a lot to offer.
Yes, a good portion of the set might have been taken up with all of the songs from the seminal 'Land Of Grey And Pink' album from 1971 (save, alas, 'Winter Wine') as well as featuring a tremendous 'Love In Your Eye'/'For Richard' mash-up but there were also half a dozen songs from the most recent 'Paradise Filter' album, all of which held their own against their hoary and much-loved ancestors.
Plus there was no going through the motions in the playing of those Old Masters; 'Golf Girl' came with added funkiness (as well as spoons by Geoffrey Richardson) and 'Love To Love You' was as crisp and fresh as the day it first pealed out of the speakers.
By pure coincidence the night before I'd watched a recording of the BBC 4 'Prog-Rock Britannia' documentary from a few years back featuring Caravan (amongst all the other usual suspects) in the shape of the late-lamented Richard Coughlan as talking head reminiscing about the early 'Canterbury Scene' days.
In watching I was reminded once again that there was always a bit more to Caravan than the pigeonholing of 'Prog-Rock' would suggest and this show reinforced that notion in its juxtaposition of the more extended instrumental pieces with Pye Hastings' lasting knack of producing instantly catchy pop melodies, witness the joyous 'Trust Me I'm A Doctor' from the new album which could slot in easily on any of those early-seventies classics.
As a fan, for me a show wouldn't be complete without the full nineteen minutes of 'Nine Feet Underground', here gloriously complete with Jan Schellhaas' faithful rendering of Dave Sinclair's fuzz-organ parts but equally I don't want a set comprising nothing but lengthy noodling of the sort their former brethren might have been serving up back in the heyday of the genre.
There's always been a cheerfully pastoral whimsy about Caravan's music, reflective of their Canterbury roots, that marked them out from their peers and happily it survives to this day even though Geoffrey alone of the band still lives in the cathedral city.
There was a real energy to this uplifting performance, if not solely then largely propelled by the band's newest member on drums, Mark Walker, who has filled Richard Coughlan's seat with distinction, emphasising the real tightness of this lineup which was beautifully complemented by the clarity of the sound in this pleasingly intimate venue.
The audience responded accordingly, lapping up the music and being left with a feeling of complete satisfaction at the conclusion of the set.
It'll be interesting to see what the band comes up with to mark the fiftieth anniversary next year where although there's a rich musical history to be celebrated, the evidence of this gig supports the notion that Caravan aren't ready just yet to be parked in the corner of the nostalgia field. <
Review by Antony Randle