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How Canterbury band Caravan created new sound which still influences musicians 50 years on

In the late 1960s, a band called Caravan was pioneering a new sound that would later afford them worldwide cult status among aficionados.

And it all started in tents pitched up in a field beside a village hall near Canterbury, where four young men would rehearse, until a recording deal allowed them to move into a bungalow.

Prog-rock band Caravan pictured in 1970
Prog-rock band Caravan pictured in 1970

It was there that guitarist/vocalist Pye Hastings, bassist/vocalist Richard Sinclair, Dave Sinclair on keyboards and drummer Richard Coughlan created what later became to be known as ‘the Canterbury Scene’.

It bridged the gulf between psychedelia and progressive rock, and ultimately shattered all genre barriers.

They were heady and experimental days in many ways, admits Dave Sinclair, who spoke to KentOnline to mark the 50th anniversary of their most critically-acclaimed album, In the Land of Grey and Pink.

Now in his 70s, he lives in Japan, where he still creates music and has just released a new solo album, Hook-Line & Sinclair.

But he remembers fondly the early days of the group in Canterbury, telling how the critical acclaim they received surpassed their wildest expectations.

“Personally speaking, I thought that it would all be over in a short time and we’d have to get normal jobs,” he said.

“I never could have imagined that, more than 50 years on, the band and the so called ‘Canterbury Scene’ would become a world-wide phenomenon.”

Having spent almost half of his life in and out of Caravan, Dave has been reflecting on those early exciting days, and the gradual development of the band during its first three albums.

“We toured a lot in the UK and Europe, and on our first US tour, we made 51 flights,” he said. “Sitting up front with the pilot wasn’t such a big deal back then.”

Dave believes the band’s success was largely down to its “magic combination of personalities and talents”.

Dave Sinclair in 1970
Dave Sinclair in 1970

He left the bungalow when girlfiends moved in and space became tight, and moved to a basement flat in Lexington House opposite the Phoenix pub in Canterbury.

The property belonged to the world-renowned jazz clarinettist and saxophonist Tony Coe.

It was there, with more peace and quiet, that Dave continued to make music for the band.

“It proved the perfect place for me to compose without any outside interference,” he said.

“I could literally let my mind wander at will, conjuring up the most amazing chord sequences and solo passages, or so it seemed to me. I believe there was something very special about that place.”

Dave Sinclair with the iconic album In the Land of Grey and Pink outside the basement flat where he created his early music for Caravan
Dave Sinclair with the iconic album In the Land of Grey and Pink outside the basement flat where he created his early music for Caravan

Dave admits the process was aided with “vast quantities of whisky along with other mind-enhancing items”.

“The empty bottles were placed one by one up on the high shelf that ran around the whole room, until eventually there was no more space left,” he said.

“The final section in my Nine Feet Underground composition (on ‘In The Land Of Grey And Pink’) is called 100 Percent Proof in reference to that fact.”

Dave, who was born in Herne Bay, inherited a rich musical legacy from both sides of his family.

His paternal grandfather, Dick Sinclair, trod the boards in end-of-the-pier revues as both a “coster comedian” and vocalist, and went on to marry his piano accompanist. On his mother’s side, Dave is descended from the distinguished 17th-century composer John Blow, who provided music for several monarchs of England and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

The band pictured in 1968
The band pictured in 1968

Dave and his brother John (now organist of St Mary’s Church, Hillborough) sang in the choir of St Dunstan’s Church.

Dave really longed to play the piano, but found formal lessons uninspiring so developed as a self-taught musician.

Caravan had a number of band member changes and its history seemed to have ended when, in 1990, the original quartet of Pye Hastings, Richard Sinclair, Dave Sinclair, and Richard Coughlan re-united for what was supposed to be a one-off concert for a television special.

The performance and the sales of an accompanying live album proved so encouraging that the original Caravan came together once more for a second career.

Dave remained with the group - aside from a few breaks and side projects - until 2002, while also running a piano showroom and workshop in Herne Bay, called Avenue Pianos.

Pye Hastings is still lead singer of Caravan .Picture: Tim Collins
Pye Hastings is still lead singer of Caravan .Picture: Tim Collins

After that, he began a solo career, taking the decision to relocate permanently to Japan in 2004, where he lives with his wife Mika and indulges his other love, sailing.

Shortly after, drummer Richard Coughlan’s health issues forced him to stop performing live with the band. Mark Walker subsequently took over duties, with Coughlan limiting his own role to percussionist. He sadly died on December 1, 2013, aged 66.

But the band’s legacy continues and is now enjoying something of a revival, albeit without Dave.

“In essence I suppose we were at the forefront of a groundbreaking musical period, where even the term ‘progressive rock’ hadn’t become the norm,” said Dave.

Caravan continues to perform with its latest line-up, with lead singer Pye Hastings the only remaining original member.

As as well as an anniversary box-set comprising 37 CDs, the band will also release a new album, It’s None of Your Business, next month.

The fresh material will coincide with a new UK tour to mark the release of the box-set, which is fast becoming a collector’s item among fans.

Dave added: “Who would have thought back in the 70s that Caravan would still be treading the boards?”

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