Happiness is a cigar called ‘Hamlet’
This is what the ad-men used to tell us, once-upon-a-time, in order to sell us nicotine (the ultimate capitalist drug). There are a lot cleverer people than me who have written many studies about the troubled Dane, but I don’t think too many would think he defined ‘happiness’. Advertising, however, has never been particularly logical.
This isn’t a rant about advertising, or capitalism. This is an attempt to write a few words on something that brings a smile as I go about my daily business. It may be an advert, although that is highly unlikely as TV (or ‘Satan’s Box of Lies and Untruths’ as its known in my house) advertising is not something I find humour in, and this is an attempt to be positive and joyful. I find it far too easy to be cynical about most things, and quick to dismiss things out of hand, thereby denying myself the pleasure for pleasure’s sake.
If you’d told my Black Sabbath/Iggy Pop-loving 16-year old self that 30 years later I’d be singing the praises of Caravan I’d have (only metaphorically, though only just) spat in your face.Caravan??CARAVAN?? The band so faceless and woolly they were like four (or five.Sometimes six!!) Eric Olthwaites in the same group. Once, many years ago, I’d been given a Caravan album by someone who confused the rock albums I adored so much, with lukewarm shit. I hated the long running times, I hated the air of smug, middle-class twattery (even though I was quite willing to accept David Bowie as an inter-galactic pan-sexual rock god, there was no way I wanted anything to do with poshos in cheesecloth and patchouli with their Tarquins and their croquet hoops), and I hated the flutes.
Though never a full-time prog-rocker, I was aware of the concept. I quite liked Yes, because, for all of Jon Anderson’s gibberish they rocked out a great deal, but Genesis and ELP passed me by, and I couldn’t grasp the joke-free end of the spectrum (Gentle Giant??).
BUT it was Year Zero, and Caravan and the majority of their pals, to all but the faithful, were missing, presumed B.O.F. in The Punk Rock Wars, and it now shames me to say but I happily put the boot in myself at times. I never mourned them. Like an idiot cousin or an exotic STD I put my prog dabblings out of my mind and denied its existence if anyone ever asked
Times change and the album I played most this week is WATERLOO LILY by CARAVAN.
Dividing hardcore fans as either ‘too jazzy’ or ‘not jazzy enough’, it marks the transition between the blend of pop, English folk, jazz and classical music of ‘In The Land Of Grey And Pink‘ and the poppier ‘For Girls Who Grow Plump…’.It’s certainly a lot jazzier than ‘ITLOGAP’ but that makes it sound like the kind of album Steely Dan would’ve made if they were born in Kent. The shuffle of ‘Nothing At All’ is the sort of blues that used to crop up at least once every Dan album, although here it is an extended groove, split in two by the funk of ‘Its Coming Soon’. What could have been an over-long extravagance is kept entertaining throughout by the guitars, piano and Lol Coxhills sax solos. Pin-sharp and never out-staying their welcome, this is a joy from start to finish.
The charm of early Caravan is that they are not the virtuosi you expect to find in prog: although they are good musicians all willing to step forward when required, they are much better as an ensemble, letting the music breathe and flow. What they lack in virtuosity they make up for in wonderful harmonies, and the quality of ‘milkman’ melodies McCartney stopped writing around 1967. Dave Sinclair had already left (for the first time) and had been replaced by Steve Miller whose jazz playing is superb throughout,making it a more focussed album than its predecessor, although the five-part symphonic centre-piece ‘The Love In Your Eye’ is still in the set today. There are a couple of beautiful pop songs on the LP, which led to accusations of being (horror) ‘commercial’. Depending on your point-of-view, ‘Aristocracy’ and ‘The World Is Yours’ are either timeless sunshine-pop, or dated soft-lad public-school toss, easily replaceable by ‘Where Have All The Boot Boys Gone?’
Caravan make music for the sheer joy of making music: they are consistently inventive, never boring, and inimitable in their way of conjuring up a kind of virtual Englishness which we all think we can recall but which never really existed. They are far more interesting to me than Iggy Pop is these days, and I would recommend this album as a perfect introduction to a band who are only now getting the kind of widespread critical acclaim which eluded them at the time.
(Written to:’Waterloo Lily‘ – CARAVAN. Naturally)