“When I started out I thought: ‘I’ll be able to play guitar, drink, take drugs and shag as many women as I can!’ But we ended up in the prog vein”: Pye Hastings’ lifelong urges

Pye Hastings of Caravan
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In 2012, Pye Hastings reflected on Caravan’s 1973 album For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night – and a lot more besides – telling Prog that music, and his natural instincts, kept the then 65-year-old young at heart.

For a doyen of the Canterbury scene, it surprised us to learn that you were actually born in Scotland.

I came down to England when I was nine years old. My sister was the first wife of John Aspinall [the high society gambler turned zoo owner] and I ended up living near Howlett’s Zoo, in Kent, about three miles away from Canterbury. As a teenager, I was interested in music and that’s how I got involved in the Canterbury scene.

But you’re back in the wilds of Scotland now...

I live quite close to Tomnavoulin in Banffshire, which is where I was brought up. I was actually born in a house called Roadside. In my passport it says: ‘Place of birth: Roadside, Tomnavoulin.’ When I went to renew the passport the other day the guy behind the desk said, “Oh, you poor bugger, born by the roadside.” Ha-ha!

Does it seem 40 years ago since For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night was released?

No, it feels like yesterday. I still have the same desires, the same urges, that I had when I was 18 years old. All blokes do, don’t they? I’m 65 now. So it’s gone in a flash, really.

Why is it such an important album to you?

It’s important to me, personally, because I wrote all of it. Plus it marked a change in Caravan’s personnel. Richard Sinclair [bass] and Steve Miller [keyboards] had left, so it was basically me and the drummer, Richard Coughlan. We brought in John G Perry on bass and David Sinclair on keyboards. And Geoff Richardson came in to play viola, which was a new thing to us.

Which is your favourite? For Girls Who Grow Plump... or In The Land Of Grey And Pink?

In The Land Of Grey And Pink is the one that’s sold the most, and it’s still selling. ...Plump... isn’t far behind. That’s good for me, obviously, because I took the band in a specific direction at that point. The album is a reflection of what I’d been listening to, bands like John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and Soft Machine, so all those influences were going in.

In 2010 you did one-off concert recording at Metropolis Studios for ITV’s Legends series. Is it true to say the appearance kickstarted Caravan’s career once more?

Definitely. They offered us £7,000 to do it. Sadly Richard wasn’t up to it. He suffers from arthritis; he can barely hold his sticks any more. But Caravan is larger than any one person, so I got in Mark Walker and it went down a storm.

You were one of the Prog Stage’s highlights at the 2011 High Voltage festival...

I just had a pep talk with the band. I said: “It’s a big gig, enjoy yourself. If we fail it doesn’t matter, but if we do well that’s great. Don’t give a fuck about anything, just do it.” And we went on and the crowd just got bigger and bigger. I honestly think we were the best band of the day.

How’s Caravan’s audience today? What’s the mix of people?

More girls are coming to our concerts now, at long last. When I started out I thought: “This is the bloody life, I’ll be able to play guitar, drink, take drugs and shag as many women as I can – brilliant!” But it didn’t happen. We ended up in the prog vein, which I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, appealing to mostly blokes.

There were a lot of bald heads and big bellies in our audience. But over the past couple of years younger people have been coming in, because they’ve found their granddads’ records. They’ve been bringing their girlfriends as well, which is even better.

You sound like you’re enjoying your career more than ever.

When you’re young and you’ve got a record company pumping money into you, there’s a pressure on you to do well. There’s none of that any more. We haven’t got a management; we do what we want to do. We all bloody enjoy it. We have a hell of a laugh all the time. And we’re getting paid more now than we ever did. Caravan will never go out of fashion because we’ve never been in fashion.

You’ve just completed your For Girls Who Grow Plump... 40th anniversary tour. Now you’ve got an appearance at HRH: Prog lined up in April. Looking forward to it?

Of course. I’m looking forward to all our coming gigs. We closed the ...Plump... tour in Falmouth, which I was a bit wary about. But I spoke to someone the other day who said: “There’s an awful lot of hippies in Cornwall.” Ha-ha! Is that our audience? I don’t know. We’ve also had an offer to go over to America and play RoSfest in May, which we’re thinking about seriously.

Did you do much touring in the States in the 70s?

We went over there quite a bit. We played with people like Blood, Sweat & Tears, Weather Report, Renaissance, Frank Zappa...

Did you get to meet Zappa?

Yes, we became friends. He bought one of my fuzzboxes. I first met him in 1972 at a festival in Belgium. He was the main attraction and, much to my delight, he made a guest appearance with us. He played lead guitar in If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You.

Then we went to the US and toured with him. It was an amazing experience. Despite what you might think, nothing was improvised with Zappa. Everything was carefully nailed down. He was the most professional musician I’ve ever seen in my life.

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.