Caravan - In the Land of Grey and Pink - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Caravan - In the Land of Grey and Pink

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:1971-03-08
Caravan - In the Land of Grey and Pink
Caravan - In the Land of Grey and Pink

This album defines the Canterbury sound. Sure, Soft Machine’s Third comes in as a close second, while other records by bands like Hatfield and the North, National Health, Gilgamesh, and Matching Mole are on the required listening list for those of us who studied Chaucer’s Tales and then made the pilgrimage to Becket’s cathedral.

Odd: It’s here that pop-rock culture sort of made history come to life.

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer sang about Tarkus--this armored war machine that wanted to destroy mankind! (Thank goodness for that scratch on the eye!)

Yes cared about cosmic stuff and a “Starship Trooper.”

Genesis warned about “The Return of the Giant Hogweed.”

Caravan gave us “Dance of the Seven Paper Hankies” and “Hold Grandad by the Nose.”

Go figure! This is Canterbury rock.

But we Anglophiles, we who laughed right out while reading Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale,” love this record. It has everything: humor, wit, serious comments between the wit and humor, self-deprecation, absurdities, more serious commentary between the self-deprecation and absurdities, stellar songwriting, and a Dave Sinclair organ sound that bleeds humanity’s prog-rock answer to (and refuge from) Tales about The Revealing Science of God or Olias of Sunhollow and his buddies Ranyart (the harp-playing navigator of the space ark Moorglade Mover) and the well-known mystic, Qoquag.1

This album is as organic as anything ever grown in an eccentric British garden. And that’s a weird thing for a prog album to do. By the way, Dave Sinclair’s organ (and sundry keyboard work) simply drips melodic beauty into the grooves of this record.

“Golf Girl” is the jaunty start. And a jaunty start it is! Richard Sinclair’s baritone voice is framed by (Pye Hastings’ brother) Jimmy’s horn work which rivals The Beatles Magical Mystery stuff, while (cousin)Dave Sinclair plays magical keyboards. There are lyrics about “drinking tea with a golf girl” who protects our Richard from “raining golf balls.” Then a flute emphasizes the absurd but absolutely lovely tale of true love.

Ah, and “Winter Wine” is perfect pastoral British rock music. Yes, “dragons roam the land.” But Richard Sinclair’s melancholic voice juxtaposes the quick pace of the tune. Then, like an eye of a melodic storm, things slow to a beautiful moment, cousin Dave’s piano touches silence, and then Richard sings, “Life’s too short to be sad.” I think Chaucer’s Miller could have said the very same thing. Certainly, The Wife of Bath could have sung this song. The organ then takes the lead for a marvelous melodic pilgrimage, until the vocals re-emerge to finish the dramatic saga of this song. It’s perfect prog rock.

Pye Hastings’ “Love to Love You (And Pigs Will Fly)” is clever rock that dances with brother Jimmy’s flute solo. Nothing heavy here. You know, Pye was always good for a catchy tune with cunning lyrics.

The title tune, “In the Land of Grey and Pink,” is again, prog-rock deluxe. The song bubbles with melodic vocals, a strident guitar, an organ that does everything Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson could never imagine, and re(e)ferences those nasty “grumbly grimblies that are “climbing down your chimney” and “puck week” that will be “smoked until we bleed.” So, yeah, you get the picture. But it’s a whole lot better that reading Chaucer’s “The Reeve’s Tale.”

And, then, there is Dave Sinclair’s “Nine Feet Under Ground,” which is a side long excursion into the absolute wonders of Canterbury everything. Trust me, I am a prog devotee, but this may well be the second-best extended side-long workout, only eclipsed by the revelation of Genesis’ “Supper’s Ready.”  With, of course, “Close to the Edge” finishing a close third.

This one just has a lot more humor and a lot less Total Mass Retain(ed).

And, if I may, (in keeping with the geography of this record) take a moment to relate my favorite Canterbury memory: I spent an afternoon in the cool climes of the cathedral, reading as one does, “The Pardoner’s Tale” from Chaucer’s Tales. There were tourists galore, and their collective low tones were interrupted by two schoolgirls who broke into a really sweet rendition of The Kinks’ tune, “Tired of Waiting for You.” I watched as their teacher was about to reprimand them, but many of those touristy pilgrims in the cathedral suddenly responded in reverential applause. Apparently, these young women (with their sweet sort of prayer), to almost quote Ray Davies & Company, gave the people what they wanted.

Ah, but back to “Nine Feet Underground": The opening organ moves are smooth. Yeah, “Nigel Blows a Tune.” This one simply grooves with groovy keyboards, while Jimmy Hastings then blows his own “tune” that touches a jazz-rock sound that is a warm sonic cocoon.  Pye Hastings sings the quiet “Love’s a Friend,’ which in turn dissolves into the keyboard heaven of instrumentals with titles, “Make It 76,” “Dance of the Seven Paper Hankies,” (my favorite) “Hold Grandad by the Nose,” and “Honest I Did!.” Vocals return, this time Richard Sinclair in the saddle, for the amazing “Disassociation,” which equals the beauty of a great Paul McCartney tune. It’s that good. The final part, “100% Proof,” returns to the groovy groove of the epic’s opening move. And, by the way, Richard Coughlan is the most melodic of all prog-rock drummers.

This album is in a progressive rock orbit of its own design. It’s tuneful, jazzy, and is simply a weird and wonderful joy to hear. And thank goodness for that because, as Richard Sinclair sang, in his ode to Winter Wine, “Life’s too short to be sad.”  

1For those who don’t know (and even for those who don't care), the name is pronounced ko quake.

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