Album review: CARAVAN – The Decca/Deram Years (An Anthology) 1970-1975

CARAVAN - The Decca/Deram Years (An Anthology) 1970-1975

Decca/UMC [Release date 06.09.19]

Caravan The Decca/Deram Years may not look quite as handsome as the previous 4 disc anthology (2010), and notwithstanding the 2-disc compilation (2000), it is nevertheless the most complete introduction to the band.

Presented in a functional slipcase, and with the attraction of facsimilie sleeves, this 9 disc collection brings together the band’s work from their second album to their live album at Fairfields Hall after which they parted with Deram.

In addition, two CDs cover their live work at the BBC although previously available as a separate double-CD.  Strangely this time two off-air tracks from a 1968 Peel session are dropped, presumably because they don’t fit in with the timeline.  You may also question why the self-titled debut in 1968 is absent, and that’s because it was originally released on the Verve label  (although Decca reissued it some years later).

If Caravan completists will fail to find anything new (the bonus tracks have also been available on previous 2001 reissues) this collection does serve as a great introduction to a band who – 50 years on – are still out there touring and always maintaining a high quality quotient.

From their earliest times, the band were always associated with the burgeoning Canterbury Scene and shared musicians with that phenomenon such as Richard Sinclair.  The band were also notable for the element of English whimsy in both lyrics and song titles never really courting controversy although early copies of ‘ For Girls Who Go Plump In The Night’ were withdrawn for the more revealing cover.

The albums were, in truth, characterised by standout tunes, on If I Could Do It All Over Again I’d Do It All Over You. ‘For Richard’ remains a defining prog-jazz piece along with ‘Nine Feet Underground’ from In the Land Of Grey And Pink.  The definitive release of this album has to be the version with the Steven Wilson 5.1 mix (2011) which of course is a separate investment.

Waterloo Lily (1972) featured a new line-up with Steve Miller (not the Steve Miller) replacing David Sinclair on keyboards.  Miller favoured piano rather than the original Hammond organ that had become so important to the overall band sound.  The album is mainly memorable for the song ‘The Love In Your Eye’.

There were more band changes for the following year’s For Girls That Go Plump In the Night with Miller and Richard Sinclair departing (Sinclair subsequently emerged in prog rockers Camel).  To some extent normal service was resumed with the return of David Sinclair whilst current band member Geoffrey Richardson made his first appearance.  John G Perry played bass (later in Gordon Giltrap’s band).

This album which remains one of their most consistent featured orchestrations by Martyn Ford who would, in 1974, conduct the orchestra at their Theatre Royal gig in London’s Drury Lane and entitled  Caravan & The New Symphonia.  The box set resurrects the 2001 reissue where the complete concert was restored.  The results no doubt inspired Camel to record with orchestra for The Snow Goose at the Royal Albert Hall in 1975.

Another album, another bit of wordplay.  Cunning Stunts (1975) was probably best avoided by those suffering from spoonerisms when enthusing about their latest acquisition.  Mike Wedgwood (who had played with Curved Air) was brought in on bass and vocals.  Content wise, it remains patchy but keeps up the long track tradition with most of “Side 2″ taken up with an 18 minute concept piece.

The remainder of this compilation is made up of the live album recorded at Fairfield Halls in 1974 which remained unreleased until 1980 and then only in Europe.  The BBC tracks are previously available as mentioned earlier, whilst Hux Records also released the sessions on two CDs in the late-1990s.

And that was it for the Decca/Deram years.  In 1976 Caravan released ‘Blind Dog At St.Dunstans’ with new keyboard player Jan Schelhaas (who with Hastings and Richardson now makes up the historic “core” of the current band)  However, from this time onward the band lost their way somewhat and certainly their early progressive jazz focus,  in spite of the original line-up reforming for 1982′s ‘Back To Front’.

With the band regularly playing festivals and occasional tour dates this new collection is an excellent primer for new entrants even if perhaps lacking the packaging gloss of a similar anthology from label-mates Camel and the similar set of their own rarities in 2010.  A 48 page booklet completes the package.  ****

Review by David Randall

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