In The Land Of Grey And Pink

Caravan

Deram Records, 1971

http://officialcaravan.co.uk

REVIEW BY: Loznik

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/10/1999

The definitive Canterbury Band, Caravan had been around for about three years prior to the release of In The Land Of Grey And Pink . It was this, their third album, that first brought the band wider notice and recognition. By coincidence, it was the track of the same name that brought them to my notice, a mere twenty-five years later. Oops, call myself a Prog fan? I really slipped here.

The line-up comprised Pye Hastings (guitars & vocals), Richard Sinclair (bass & vocals), David Sinclair (keys & vocals) and Richard Coughlan (drums/percussion), with each member sharing the writing credits. There is also a mention for Jimmy Hastings (flute, sax and piccolo) and for David Grinsted, who is credited with overdubbing duties, "cannon" (?), "bell" (?) and "wind" (??). A favourite of mine is Richard Sinclair (cousin of David), a major feature in the Camel line-up from 1977, bringing a new dimension in terms of exceptional bass guitar and vocal talent. Jimmy Hastings (brother of Pye) is under-used, but perhaps the band wished to avoid outright condemnation as nepotists.

"Golf Girl" is a whimsical start for the album - a tongue-in-cheek trumpet sounds rather jolly, and the lyrics seem cheerful and only a little silly. High in the mix is a discordantly strummed lead guitar, which re-appears later, to greater effect, on the title track. The mellotron is pure nostalgia - sorry, I am betraying my soft spot for that instrument. For those in need of one word summary, I offer - "Quirky".

A more serious proposition by far is track two, "Winter Wine". Introduced by Hastings' delicately played acoustic guitar and R Sinclair's haunting vocals, your attention is held by a subtly increasing sense of tension. Partial release is experienced as drum and organ add their voices in lovely, melodious fashion. The track progresses through passages of varying introspectiveness, to a pleasant organ solo that gets better the longer it goes on. All the while, bear in mind that it is the sound of Sinclair's voice that seems important, not the lyrics he sings. This track is one of highlights this album has to offer.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The mood is lightened again with the cheerful nonsense that is "Love to Love You (And Tonight Pigs Will Fly)". There is a sing-along quality to this track which certainly benefits from its relative brevity, a shade over three minutes. How on Earth did it avoid success as a chart-topping single? The song's disposable enough, perhaps the title put radio stations off? No, I think it is the suggestion of quirkiness that sank this song's chance of chart glory.

The title track follows, and it really is a cracking piece of music. Bass drum, acoustic guitar and triangle combine to great effect as an introduction, supported by a subtle organ note. The aforementioned twangy guitar (from "Golf Girl") lends a devil-may-care feel to the proceedings, which is soon belied by a poignant piano lead. Organ follows piano in leading the refrain, re-working the central theme. "Don't leave your Dad in the rain", admonishes Richard Sinclair, who then observes, "Cigarette burns bright tonight, they'll all get washed down the drain". His voice again creates a mood that overlays the instrumentation, essential to the piece, and all despite the fact I really have no idea what the man is talking about. But, let me speak plainly - "In the Land Of Grey And Pink" is a truly lovely song.

An epic lasting a whole side of vinyl follows, twenty-two minutes plus of "Nine Feet Underground". Much jamming seems to be taking place, but there is a lack of cohesion that renders it difficult for me to really grasp the piece as a whole, despite many listenings.

There are, however, numerous fragments that please the ear. The ensemble playing is rich and dense, at all times busy, and it is perhaps for this reason that the track seems difficult to take on - there are few breaks in which the listener can take stock. There is added difficulty in that production is somewhat samey throughout, with little textural contrast between passages. In fact, I believe that the production lets the album down through much of its length. I am sure I hear the hiss of an "out" a couple of minutes into the piece.

The unconvincing vocals of Pye Hastings seem superfluous, bolted onto the music and in no way resembling the smoothly melodious Sinclair. By and large, the final offering meanders and noodles its way along, never tapering off into boredom, but not quite grabbing your full attention either. The rousing climax seems vaguely reminiscent of a Cream track, an incongruous step indeed. Overall, the track somehow just misses the mark, but it has much to commend it. Sorry to sit on the fence this way! Mind you, I wouldn't mind betting that a live version of "Nine Feet Underground" would sound better, more directly involving. I haven't as yet heard such a version.

A truly progressive album this is, with all the prog credentials one might hope for. Sadly for me, either as entertainment or as an engrossing opus magnum, In The Land Of Grey And Pink fails to live up to its promise. That said, it occasionally scales the heights and there is nothing that can be said to be truly bad. The album gets played by me more often than this review seems to warrant, so something clearly is going on here beneath it all.

Too patchy for an "A", too damn good for a "C", I grade it thus ...

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1999 Loznik and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Deram Records, and is used for informational purposes only.