Who Do You Think He Is? An Interview With Pye Hastings
November 4, 2021
In July 2021, I was invited to collaborate with Jon Kirkman and participate in two Caravan interviews: one with Dave Sinclair and the other Pye Hastings. The interviews were to promote the highly anticipated 37 disc Caravan boxset Who Do You Think We Are? The impressive boxset comes from Madfish Records, the same masterminds behind the Gentle Giant boxset Unburied Treasure from 2019. These beautifully made boxsets can be found and purchased HERE. Thank you, Jon, for allowing me to post this interview here on Rambling On Music.
THE PYE HASTINGS INTERVIEW
In this interview, Pye takes us through the various albums featured in this boxset with a particular focus on favourite tracks, tours, reflecting on a 50+ year career in music, and releasing a new album out of lockdown.
Rambling On Music (ROM): As we know, Caravan formed in 1968, and like Soft Machine, came out of the legendary Wilde Flowers. How much time between the demise of the Wilde Flowers and Caravan was there? The first album was recorded very quickly and was released after a month. Was it instant? Pye Hastings (PH): Fairly instant. It was just a matter of about a month or two before we actually rehearsed and recorded. We had all the material there and we began working on it for a while, anyway. So it was fairly instant. ROM: After the debut album was recorded quickly, it was quite a time before If I Could Do It All Again I’d Do It All Over You came out. It was recorded in February 1970 but was not released until September 1970. Why was there such a big gap? PH: The gap was because we didn’t have a record company at the time. The first time was on MGM/Verve and they closed all operations in England for some reason. I don’t know what it was. And we couldn’t find a record company until we got to Decca with Terry King. He found the deal for us and came back saying, “We got a record deal with Decca for you.” ROM: If I Could Do It All Over Again was a popular album in Europe. What was it like for the band in Europe in comparison for the band in the UK? PH: France was the best thing for us at that time. It was really great. We played hundreds of gigs over there and maybe two or three tours a year and were received extraordinarily well. They loved the music and we loved going over there. It was a wonderful time, so France was our main market followed by Germany and Belgium. ROM: The third album from Caravan In The Land Of Grey And Pink came out in April 1971 – a very quick turnaround between albums, and it is viewed now as the definitive Caravan album. This is also an important album as it was the first one produced by David Hitchcock. What is it about David that made the relationship work, as he recorded a lot of albums with you after that? PH: He’s just a great guy. He came in from the cold from the art department at Decca and he had a desire to produce a band. So he approached us, and we thought, Well, let’s give him a try. And it worked out so well. He understood the band completely and we stayed with him for years and years after that because he’s such a good producer. ROM: Most people remember In The Land Of Grey And Pink for the extended number “Nine Feet Underground”. How did that particular song come together? Was it a long piece from conception, or was it like the Beatles Medley where they were individual pieces that went well together? PH: It was written by Dave, our keyboard player in the band, and there were, I suppose individual bits. But Dave is very clever at tying things together, so it’s rehearsed as one long piece. But when we came to record it, it was done in sections in the end and then pieced together. So it was conceived as one long piece by Dave and I. ROM: Other notable tracks on the album are “Golf Girl”, “Winter Wine”, and the title track. I suppose that is the nearest Caravan got at the time with potential singles. PH: I think you’re right. The one track we put out as a single was “Love To Love You” and the double A-side was “Golf Girl”. So it was received very, very well. And you’re quite right, it was a single. It went out. ROM: The cover was a striking cover that’s very reminiscent of Tolkien and evoked images of the Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. Did you have much input in the creation of the cover? PH: None whatsoever. It was the art department at Decca. They hired a girl to do it who was absolutely fantastic. She came up with the idea and it worked so well. It was great, which is the best way to put it. ROM: Having said all of that, it is probably the definitive album for Caravan. How do you feel about the Steven Wilson remix of this iconic Caravan classic? Were you sent any work in progress allowing for feedback, or was it presented to you as a finished project? PH: Steve’s great to have on the album anyway. It had to be involved with him because he’s such a bloody icon. He’s great. I heard about it after the event and of course, was told about it after it was completed, so I had no involvement in it whatsoever. ROM: The album Waterloo Lily was released in 1972 and had the departure of founding member Dave Sinclair, who was replaced by another Canterbury sound musician Steve Miller. It wasn’t particularly received quite well at the time, but now people are quite sympathetic and are going back to it more often. I believe you’re now performing the title track live again. What was the live set like during this period, as this album sounded very different from the previous three? PH: With Steve Miller coming into the band, he played the piano rather than the organ. So we had to adapt our approach towards that, which is why it sounds so different from the Dave Sinclair. It’s extremely hard to replace a person like Dave Sinclair because he’s so talented. He’s really good. But that’s the main reason why it sounds so different. It’s a bluesier approach than we’d tried before. We tried a different direction and then came back afterwards to the old Caravan ways. ROM: For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night, the band loses another Sinclair brother, Richard, who is replaced by John G Perry. But Dave Sinclair returns, and the band also adds Geoffrey Richardson on viola. A standout song from this album, which was featured on the Old Grey Whistle Test was “The Dog, The Dog, He’s At It Again”. Was there some sense of stability when Dave came back into the band? PH: Dave rejoined the band just for the band recording for the album, but we had a big tour booked so he stayed on for that afterwards and it worked like a treat for him and John Perry and Geoff in the band – a new approach. And it’s always great playing with Dave anyway. It just works so well and it went down like a storm. It was wonderful. ROM: The new symphonia album Caravan & The New Symphonia is an interesting one. The album was recorded live and both John G Perry and the conductor and arranger Martyn Ford had a big hand in the creation of this album. Again, another extended piece and the album contains the long-standing song “For Richard”, which has become a highlight for a lot of Caravan concerts. Did the album turn out the way you wanted it to at the time? Was it a direction you were happy to go in? PH: It was a strange one, that’s for sure because we’re playing an orchestra. We had to play behind the orchestra on a stage, and playing very quietly, which is what we’re not accustomed to, I suppose. It was great fun to do. It was received extraordinarily well in terms of a live performance and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would do it again at the drop of a hat if it could be organised. ROM: The next album Cunning Stunts (obviously a spoonerism) was the final album for Decca Records, which had been the band’s label since 1968. There was another change of line-up with the addition of Mike Wedgewood on bass following the departure of John G Perry. Was there a feeling of the end of a chapter moving on from Decca? There was no lessening of the quality of the music contained on this album. This is seen through tracks like “The Show Of Our Lives” and “The Dabsong Conshirtoe”. PH: Both of those songs were written by Dave, who’s back in the band again for another stint – not a permanent one. He had other projects he wanted to get on with. Mike Wedgewood was a good replacement for John. He worked very well within the band, had a great voice, and was a good addition as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it as well. ROM: The next album and the first for BTM Records was Blind Dog At St. Dunstans and another line-up change with Dave Sinclair leaving and Jan Schelhaas replacing, who is still in the band with the current line-up. Did the band consider this a new start, or was it business as usual? At this point, you were solely responsible for all the writing on the album. PH: A bit of a new start, really, and a continuation of where we left off. Jan’s a great player. It’s a hard one to replace Dave, but he was the closest we could find at all, and he had a rock and roll bend as opposed to a jazzier bend, which gave us a different direction to explore, which was a good thing. ROM: The final album of the seventies, Better By Far, saw the band changing labels again from BTM, which had collapsed, to Arista Records. It was also the first album for quite some time not to be produced by David Hitchcock. It was produced with Tony Visconti. What was it like working with Tony, who had such a diverse range of styles and history? Did it feel strange working with Tony instead of David? PH: Anything but. He’s a great producer full of ideas and he’s so easy to work with. He approached us with a very open mind about what we wanted to do and got into it from day one, and we loved working with him. It was really good. ROM: Better By Far was the last album for Caravan in the seventies. There was some band activity in the early eighties. There were two new albums – Caravan: The Album and Back To Front, the latter of which being the last studio album to feature the original band. After this release in 1982, there was only the archive album Cool Water (1994). Did you think that Caravan was over at this point? PH: I suppose I did at that point. It was a strange time. Punk music was in and we were out. We put this album out and it went very well. I think it was not too bad at all. And it kept the band alive amongst the fans we got, who are amazing. They’re the main reason we’re still here. ROM: The next Caravan album was not until 1995, The Battle Of Hastings, which was a real return to form. Was that considered a one-off at the time, or was that really the start of Caravan coming back to full-time work? PH: Full-time work is what I’ve always wanted with the band at all times. But you have to go with the flow, and if you don’t put bums on seats, that’s the answer you have to work to. It’s a good thing we could perform live with that version of the band because we kept going and we’re still here today. ROM: The last studio album in the box is the Unauthorised Breakfast Item. Whilst the band are still a going concern live, various members have made solo albums. Do you intend to record another live album? It’s been nearly 20 years since the last live album. PH: We have just done one more album just now. It’s completed and handed over to Snapper Records. It’s called It’s None Of Your Business, and it should be out in the Autumn. I’m thrilled to say it’s a good one! It’s up with all the best ones so far. ROM: There is a lot of live material contained in the boxset, and of course, Caravan has released many live albums over the years. Some of this material is obviously professionally recorded, but were any of the other live recordings within this boxset sourced from bootlegs? PH: It’s a mixture of both – a complete mixture of both. We found some live recordings that were bootlegs and are included in the set because it’s a part of our history, a part of our life, and it’s a great boxset for anyone who wants to understand from where the band began to where we are now. It’s a great transition and a wonderful retrospective of the band’s life. ROM: When the box was being curated and you were going through content, was there anything that surprised you? Are you happy with the finished result? PH: Extremely happy with the finished result. They’ve done a fantastic job on this. I couldn’t be more proud of what’s on there, and I have to thank all the guys at Madfish and Snapper Music for all the work they put into it. They really have done an amazing job on this.