Back in the late 60s and early 70s, Caravan, along with Soft Machine, were the leading lights of the so-called Canterbury Scene, in effect a music press invention that tried to link together various musicians like Kevin Ayres, Hugh Hopper and Robert Wyatt who had some sort of connection, however tenuous, to the city. In musical terms what they mostly shared was a form of jazz influenced progressive folk that tended to involve a lot of keyboards, improvisation and numbers that stretched out into infinity.
Formed in 1968, while beloved of tastemakers such as John Peel and Bob Harris, they never achieved the predicted success on the back of early albums If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You and In the Land of Grey and Pink, not figuring in the album charts until their sixth release, Cunning Stunts, which peaked at No 50, the follow-up and their only other ‘hit’, Blind Dog At St Dunstans faltering at No 54.
They called it a day in 1985, briefly resurfacing for two years in 1990 and then returning on an ongoing basis in 1995. Still fronted by founder member Pye Hastings with guitarist/violinist Geoffrey Richardson and keyboard player Jan Schelhaas regulars since 2002, It’s None Of Your Business is their fifteenth album, their first in eight years and, much to the relief of loyal devotees, not much has changed, although only two go past the eight minute mark.
A walking drum beat kick starts ‘Down From London’, one of the more immediate, poppier numbers, a whimsical account of some city type aspirant country squire (“all tweedy and brogued”) accidentally shooting himself in the foot, much to the amusement of the gathered locals. All prog keyboards intro and guitar solos, ‘Wishing You Were Here’ is a somewhat inconsequential lyric about getting a postcard from friends touring America though does tip the hat to the sentiments of Robert Browning’s Home Thoughts From Abroad (“Don’t matter where you travel, all alone/Something reminding you, of home”)
The first epic arrives with the near 10-minute title track, basically about not pushing our noses into other people’s affairs, starting off briskly with a scampering drums and piano 70s pop rock rhythm and catchy title refrain then, just over three minutes in, it transforms into a lengthy instrumental passage, changing shape midway into a sort of extended keyboards-based jam before the vocals and choppy hooks return as it enters ‘The Best Thing in My Life’ section and a vaguely cacophonous finale. To their credit, it never feels self-indulgent or its running time.
Classical influences were another characteristic of the scene, and things get a tad ELO with the strings opening ‘Ready Or Not’, again a number where the lyrics (paranoia, I guess, “Time is gonna come when gotta show your face/I’ll be waiting for you no escape”) are secondary to the catchy melody line and staccato refrain, (echoed with pizzicato strings), but then things take a more serious turn for the pandemic-informed ‘Spare A Thought’ (“for the friends we had/Who never quite made it through/This is our song for you/We can never, ever, thank you all enough/You never failed and still remained so tough/So spare a thought for the ones who tried/And never gave up the ghost”).
Hastings would be the first to admit, lyrics aren’t his strongest suit, but he’s effective enough in capturing the mood and sentiments, as for example on ‘Every Precious Little Thing’, which, opening with guitar strums, is a breezy number about getting back on the road and back to normalcy (“Can’t see how it can ever be the same/Whatever comes we’ll take it”) and lessons learnt (“I’m living for the moment/Before this precious time just fades away/ I’ve come to realise/It’s the smallest things that means the most”).
The upbeat mood continues with the jolly shuffling swayalong ‘If I Was To Fly’, a number built to get the festival crowds waving their arms, then, keeping the mood positive and optimistic (“Gotta know that something good is a coming”) comes the second marathon, ‘I’ll Reach Out For You’, key and drums laying down a train wheels rhythm as Hastings takes a turn (turn, turn) from Ecclesiastes (“There’s a time for living/A time for dying/There’s a time for less/And a time for more/There’s a time to make a stand/A time to lend a hand”), fluttering mandolin entering proceedings as the tempo slows for a lengthy shimmering keys and guitars mid-section that still keeps the mood light and buoyant before a finale that invites pastoral Jimmy Hastings’ flute to the party.
It ends with, first, the nocturnal piano and bass arrangement of the reflective love song ‘There is You’ (“If we are apart/I search through those memories and places/ Each time I start/I find you”) and, finally, because this is, after all, a progressive album, an instrumental, Richardson’s ethereal viola, bass and piano soaked ‘Luna’s Tuna’, which is far more atmospheric and intoxicating than such a title warrants.
They never had the success or acclaim afforded like-minded contemporaries such as Yes, King Crimson or the early Gabriel era Genesis, but this album, while clearly rooted in those formative years, is a sterling example of how they have stayed accessible and fresh where so many peers succumbed to stamina and attention-challenging experimentation in which the audience became something of an afterthought.
Artists’ website: www.officialcaravan.co.uk/
‘If I Was To Fly’ – official video: