The Booking Hall, Dover
Sunday, 20th March 2022
I seem to be on a roll of attending Canterbury Scene gigs recently, and my journey continues with Caravan at The Booking Hall in Dover, Kent’s newest independent music and arts venue, situated in a former harbour train station that served the Port of Dover. My first impressions of a dark and dingy venue were soon swept away by the atmosphere once it started to fill up, and the sound quality was excellent. Almost a sell out with well over 200 standing punters, most from the very local area: what a cracking night this turned out to be.
Seeing Caravan live has long been on my list of ‘must-sees’. All the more special to see this leading Canterbury Scene band only a stone’s throw from, well… Canterbury. Formed in 1968 by Pye Hastings, it’s difficult to absorb that this band has been running for 54 years, given the continued youthful looks of its front man and his enormously talented and versatile right-hand man, Geoffrey Richardson, who also celebrates 50 years with the band this year. The band’s consistency continues with Jan Schelhaas on keyboards, and the relatively younger rhythm section of Mark Walker on drums and percussion, and Lee Pomeroy on bass. This really is a return to form talented line-up.
The set opens with tracks from 1973’s For Girls who Grow Plump in the Night: Memory Lain, Hugh and Headloss. It’s a seriously energetic start to the show, getting the whole hall into the groove and settling the band onto the stage, with particularly frenetic and thundering fretless bass from Lee. At its conclusion, Geoffrey jokes that the last time he was in the room was in circa 1964 catching a ferry to mainland Europe, a lovely nod to the venue’s past history. The set continues with the title track from In the Land of Grey and Pink, to rapturous cheers from the crowd; “a popular album then”, quips Geoffrey. Tight bass, vocals on point from Pye and delicate flute holding it all together and we see the first demonstration of Jan’s keyboard skills. It segues into Golf Girl, which has everything one would expect from this track, including Geoffrey’s solo spot on spoons; there really is monumental energy from all, particularly as Geoffrey flits between spoons and viola.
The band veers to a Pye Hastings solo track from his 2017 album From the Half House: Better Days Are To Come. Pye provides the foundation rhythm guitar whilst Geoffrey provides the support with guitar solos, before Jan launches into a superb piano solo reminiscent of Supertramp. This is classic rock at its best.
We get the first track of two from the band’s latest album, 2021’s It’s None of Your Business, with the title track. It’s an excellent joyous song, the longest on this exceptional album, and it’s trademark Caravan, getting the crowd dancing in the aisles. If any fans of the ’70s era are hesitant about procuring this, don’t be; you won’t be disappointed.
The first set closes with a classic from the band’s 53 year repertoire: For Richard, from way back in 1970 and the If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You album. It’s a 14-minute crowd favourite and one of my very favourite songs ever; I was standing right at the front and Geoffrey’s ethereal viola and accompanying guitar from Pye really made it feel as if they were actually playing it for me alone… Keyboard solos abound, bass riffs, an exceptional guitar solo from Geoff, drums holding it all together; this track absolutely has everything.
Set 2 commences with The Dog, The Dog, He’s At It Again, another staple from For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night. Again, it is precisely as one would expect, with a blistering keyboard solo mid-point from Jan. It flows into Smoking Gun (Right For Me), from the relatively recent 2004 album The Unauthorised Breakfast Item, its heavy riff settling into more trademark Caravan, with a guitar section from Pye that has an almost Spaghetti Western feel. Every Precious Little Thing, the second track from It’s None of Your Business, has lovely vocals from Pye that, tonight, reminded me of Roger Waters on his Pros and Cons… album.
The band introductions have a very poignant moment, reminding us that Richard Coughlan is still very much with them in spirit; now, and for the last 12 years, drummer Mark Walker has produced as tight a rhythm section as required to root the band on stage. Jim Leverton has recently stepped aside, the venerable Lee Pomeroy (with a pedigree featuring the likes of Rick Wakeman, Yes (ARW) and Gary Barlow), harking from Hoxton, East London, taking up the bass. Jan Schelhaas, of course, on keys and Geoffrey celebrating his half-century with the band, before rapturous applause for the front man.
More follows with Nightmare from 1977’s Better By Far, another personal favourite of mine, with beautiful entrancing viola and guitar duet to start from Geoffrey and Pye, before Pye’s vocals kick in. There are a number of Dire Straits moments (or maybe it was Mark Knopfler who was inspired by what he was hearing from this track) with Geoffrey plucking the viola and more on guitar (a bit like Dire Straits’ Once Upon a Time in the West), with a tremendous keys solo from Jan before he delightfully trades further soloing with Geoffrey.
The band move on to Winter Wine before closing the main set with Nine Feet Underground, both from In the Land of Grey and Pink. The former played out exactly as expected, with Geoffrey switching between guitar and flute, a speedy bass riff from Lee and a keyboard solo from Jan. Nine Feet Underground, the 20-minute-plus epic, written by David Sinclair in a basement flat in Canterbury, was a fitting final track, Lee clearly loving this, and it looks like he almost feels humbled and privileged to be playing this iconic piece with the band veterans. Every musician is given the opportunity to shine and Geoffrey sometimes looks possessed, such is his concentration. It is a huge surprise to hear Lee on lead vocals towards the end – crikey, he’s good!
The band return for a single encore, I’m On My Way, from 2013’s Paradise Filter, its blues vibe ensuring that the audience leave with a huge smile on their faces. It was a perfect performance from a band rich with material and experience. They must have been very pleased with this one…
Memory Lain, Hugh / Headloss
In the Land of Grey and Pink
Better Days are to Come
It’s None of Your Business
~ Interval ~
The Dog, The Dog, He’s At It Again
Smoking Gun (Right For Me)
Every Precious Little Thing
Nine Feet Underground
I’m On My Way
Pye Hastings – Guitar, Vocals
Geoff Richardson – Flute, Viola, Guitar, Spoons
Jan Schelhaas – Keyboards
Lee Pomeroy – Fretless Bass
Mark Walker – Drums, Percussion