“We’re going home tomorrow for a few days” says Geoffrey Richardson – flute, viola, guitar, oh and violin, for Caravan since 1972 – “here’s a going home song”. With that they play “I’m On My Way”, as an encore, and as they do, I am struck by something that has been apparent for the whole night. This is a band who loves being onstage.
That’s not as trite as it sounds. We’ve all seen bands that are really good, but for whom playing those songs is a job, here it’s not like that. Not at all. Three of these men, Richardson, keyboard man Jan Schelhaas and band leader Pye Hastings have got 150 years service give or take between them, and you don’t do something for that long unless you love it with all your heart.
Caravan do. It’s clear that they adore this environment and adore these songs. Their songs. And these people. Their people, that have come to the Robin to watch.
And lets be clear on this, Caravan are sensational here. Almost as sensational as the album titles these songs come from. “Memory Lain, Hugh / Headloss” for example, is from an 1973 record that luxuriates in the moniker of “For Girls That Grow Plump In The Night” and my word, the way they play them is stunning.
“Golf Girl” is wonderful, so English, so whimsical and so, well, prog. But its proud too, and they still have plenty to say. Just the other week they released a new album “It’s None Of Your Business” (“if you haven’t bought one, go and see my wife over there,” says Hastings. “She’s a lawyer, so buy one else she’ll sue you…..!”) and that underlines something: Their integrity, their need to create. It’d be easy to do the greatest hits, but no. The new stuff sounds great too.
They get the balance right too, given that they follow that one up with “For Richard” – the one, according to Richardson, that best summed up the moment they changed gear. He’d know. It’s 52 years old by the way, and if it came out tomorrow it wouldn’t sound out of place.
Split into two sets, the second has some shorter songs to start with, “The Dog, The Dog, He’s At It Again” is glorious, and the sets other new one “Every Precious Little Thing” is sweet, while “Nightmare” (“a real favourite of ours that we don’t play often” offers Richardson) has a different vibe, but as good as it is, is forced to live in the shadows of the last in the set – a genuinely brilliant epic, “Nine Feet Underground”. The way that builds, the way it turned into a riff of almost metal proportions, the scope, the peaks and troughs. You can only do that if you have a supreme talent.
Which sort of brings us back to where we came in, but that band, completed by drummer Mark Walker – a livewire who looks as happy as can be to be out of the house – and bass player Lee Pomeroy, who has played with everyone from It Bites, Jeff Lynne, Yes and Gary Barlow (“someone has to” jokes Richardson – a genuinely funny man who seems to be the ebullient one of the group) deserve more than to be a footnote in the Prog pantheon. Never the darlings of the critics, but do they care?
Well, lets leave the final word to Richardson: “its good to be at home playing with yourself, but it’s so good to come out.” I think he’s talking about being onstage. It’s where they belong, clearly, and they reign supreme tonight.