How the Canterbury Caravan group created a new sound that still influences musicians 50 years later

In the late 1960s, a group called Caravan pioneered a new sound that would later provide them with worldwide cult status among aficionados.

And it all started in tents pitched in a field next to a village hall near Canterbury, where four young men rehearsed, until a recording contract allowed them to move into a bungalow.

Progressive 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 would later become the “Canterbury Stage”.

He bridged the gap between psychedelia and progressive rock, and ultimately broke all genre barriers.

Those were exhilarating 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 Gray and Pink.

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

But he fondly remembers the band’s early days in Canterbury, recounting how the critical praise they received exceeded their wildest expectations.

“Personally, I thought it would all be over in no time and we had to find normal jobs,” he said.

“I could never have imagined that, over 50 years later, the band and the so-called ‘Canterbury Stage’ would become a worldwide phenomenon. “

Having spent almost half of his life in and out of Caravan, Dave reflected on those exciting early days and the group’s gradual development over his first three albums.

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

Dave believes the group’s success is due in large part to their “magical combination of personalities and talents”.

Dave Sinclair in 1970
Dave Sinclair in 1970

He left the bungalow when girlfriends moved in and space became tight, and moved into a basement apartment at Lexington House across from the Phoenix Pub in Canterbury.

The property was owned by world renowned jazz clarinetist and saxophonist Tony Coe.

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

“It turned out to be 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, at least that is what I felt. I believe there was something very special about this place.

Dave Sinclair with his new album outside the basement apartment where he created his early music for Caravan
Dave Sinclair with his new album outside the basement apartment where he created his early music for Caravan

Dave admits the process was made easier by “copious amounts of whiskey along with other spirit-enhancing items.”

“The empty bottles were placed one by one on the high shelf that circled the entire room, until finally there was no more room,” he said.

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

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

His paternal grandfather, Dick Sinclair, hit the boards in end-of-pier magazines as a “comedian coster” and singer, and later married his accompanying pianist. On his mother’s side, Dave is descended from the famous 17th century composer John Blow, who provided music to several monarchs in England and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

The group pictured in 1968
The group 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 wanted to play the piano, but found the formal lessons uninspiring so developed as a self-taught musician.

Caravan went through a number of band member changes and its history seemed to have come to an end when, in 1990, the original quartet of Pye Hastings, Richard Sinclair, Dave Sinclair and Richard Coughlan reunited for what was supposed to be a single concert. for a special TV show.

The performance and sales of an accompanying live album turned out to be so encouraging that the original Caravan reunited once again for a second career.

Dave stayed with the band – aside from a few breaks and side projects – until 2002, while running a showroom and piano workshop in Herne Bay, called Avenue Pianos.

Pye Hastings is still Caravan's lead singer.  Photo: Tim Collins
Pye Hastings is still Caravan’s lead singer. Photo: Tim Collins

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

Soon after, drummer Richard Coughlan’s health problems forced him to stop playing with the band. Mark Walker then resumed his duties, with Coughlan limiting his own role to that of percussionist. He sadly passed away on December 1, 2013, at the age of 66.

But the band’s legacy continues and is now experiencing a kind of rebirth, albeit without Dave.

“Basically, I guess we were at the forefront of a revolutionary musical period, where even the term ‘progressive rock’ hadn’t become the norm,” Dave said.

Caravan continues to perform with their latest lineup, with singer Pye Hastings the only original member remaining.

In addition to an anniversary box set featuring 37 CDs, the band will also be releasing a new album, It’s None of Your Business, next month.

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

Dave added: “Who would have thought in the 70s that Caravan would still tread the boards?

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