“We got hit with tax bills our former manager hadn’t paid. I was so skint that I got a job as a labourer… Then one day I picked up a guitar again”: The money Caravan spent, and the money they never received

Geoffrey Richardson, Steve Davis and Pye Hastings
(Image credit: Future)

In 2011 Prog arranged for snooker icon Steve Davis to interview Caravan members Pye Hastings and Geoffrey Richardson. To the backdrop of a fire alarm going off, the musicians told the fan about an epic bout of food poisoning, the Formula 1 legend who wanted to join the band, and the moment they drunkenly spooled the tape of their new album onto a studio floor.

Laughter. That’s the soundtrack to this meeting of a sporting great and a prog legend. The very idea that Steve Davis and Caravan would be anything other than sedate is utterly ludicrous. How is it possible that the snooker champion with a reputation for being boring, and the Canterbury band who’ve always been low key could be anything other than dull together? You should have been there...

The fact is that massive Caravan fan Davis interviewing Pye Hastings and Geoffrey Richardson ended up being hugely entertaining. Just 10 minutes into this relaxed chat, an alarm goes off in the building, prompting Davis to tell everyone: “I’m not moving until I’ve finished my coffee. It cost me good money!”

The alarm carried on sounding throughout much of what followed. So much so that when it stopped, we all felt that something precious had been taken away. It also prompted Davis to ask about how years of playing had affected the Caravan pair’s hearing, which we’ll come to a little later.

So, to appreciate what’s about to follow, you have to bear in mind that, despite what most people would have expected, this was a thoroughly enjoyable hour. Oh, and the giggles flowed like a torrent of water gushing out of a burst pipe. 

DAVIS: I know it’s the 40th anniversary of the album In The Land Of Grey And Pink, but can I admit that my favourite Caravan album is For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night

HASTINGS: You’re a friend now for life!

DAVIS: If I ever want to introduce someone to the kind of strange music that I favour, then this would be how I’d start. Whenever I play it in the car, my foot immediately pumps the accelerator pedal harder.

RICHARDSON: It was not only my first album with Caravan, but my first experience of being in a studio.

HASTINGS: It was a bit of a departure for us. We had a bassist [Richard Sinclair] who wanted to take us in a more jazz oriented direction. He’d left by the time we did For Girls... and I took the chance to guide the band into a more rock style. So a lot changed. We actually recorded the album, then went out and toured, and when we came back we re-recorded it. In fact, second time around we did the whole thing in one take.

We got the equipment started and the whole tape just flew off all over the studio floor. Thousands of pounds just lying there

Geoffrey Richardson

RICHARDSON: I remember we did the original recordings at Blue Horizon Studios in Chipping Norton. It was the first time I’d ever been in a studio, and two things struck me. One was being amazed at all the equipment, and the second was not quite believing how much this band could drink!

DAVIS: We’re two years off the 40th anniversary of that album. Are there any recordings around which never made it onto the original that might surface on a reissue?

HASTINGS: There are all the original recordings we did. The second time we did the album, it was at Decca Studios in London, and they could still have the first tapes there. I do remember one time at Blue Horizon, when all the engineers were upstairs eating. We were all a bit pissed, and thought it would be fun to try and mix the tapes ourselves.

What a mess! We got the equipment started, and the whole tape just flew off – whoosh! All over the studio floor. Thousands of pounds just lying there. We frantically tried to get it all back together before anyone found out what we’d done.

Actually, that reminds me of something. Richard Sinclair told me that he met you, Steve, a while back, and when he found out you were a Caravan fan, he asked you what your favourite album was. You told him that it was For Girls... and he was disappointed because he’s not on it. When he told me, I just thought: ‘Yes. That’s one in the eye for you, Richard!’. He and I always had a rivalry.

DAVIS: I don’t remember that at all. But then my memory’s really bad. In the snooker world, people always ask what I recall about the 1985 World Championship final with Dennis Taylor, the one where it went down to the black on the last frame. I have no recollections of it at all. Come on, it was 26 years ago. A lot’s happened since.

RICHARDSON: I’ve met three people who played at Woodstock, and they don’t remember even being there! It’s been said that if you remember Woodstock then you couldn’t have been there.

DAVIS: What sort of music were you listening to in the early 70s?

RICHARDSON: Oh, the likes of Steely Dan, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Frank Zappa and The Beatles.

DAVIS: Do you listen to young bands these days?

HASTINGS: I’m a magpie; I listen to everything. And it all impacts on what I write...

RICHARDSON: I have to mention a really good young band from Canterbury called Syd Arthur. They’re quirky, but definitely in the Canterbury tradition. A couple of years ago, I was at the Lounge In The Farm Festival in Canterbury, which the Syd Arthurs organise. I had my viola with me, and Radio Kent asked if I’d do A Hunting We Shall Go live on air.

I didn’t feel that would work just with a viola, so I asked this bunch of young musicians hanging around if any of them knew some Caravan songs. The band were Syd Arthur. Raven Bush (who’s Kate Bush’s nephew) had his mandolin with him, and said he knew loads of Caravan songs, so we duetted on the spot. And it was brilliant.

Once you’ve done something and it worked, then it’s time to move on. A band should lead the fans, not the reverse

Pye Hastings

DAVIS: If Caravan fans asked you to recreate the sound you had back then, could you do it formulaically?

HASTINGS: If it was an interesting project, then we could do it. But I think it would be a mistake. Once you’ve done something and it worked, then it’s time to move on. A band should lead the fans, not the reverse. Otherwise you end up going round and round in circles.

DAVIS: On a similar note, you must always face the problem of trying to introduce new songs into your live set, when fans want the old favourites. I don’t have a similar problem in snooker, as you never repeat anything, but how will you deal with this for the High Voltage festival set?

HASTINGS: We find that if you have favourites at the start and end, then in the middle fans will allow you to fuck around and try out new songs. So that’s what we’ll do.

DAVIS: I think you’ll really enjoy High Voltage. I went last year and there was great crowd at the Prog stage. It was really mixed as well. A lot of young people, which was great to see.

RICHARDSON: We did a show in Tel Aviv recently, and there were loads of kids in the audience. They had all our CDs and knew the words to every song. It was astonishing.

DAVIS: Yes, there seems to be a new generation getting into your music. You’ve given pleasure to millions of people over the years, and it carries on.

HASTINGS: You play an instrument, Steve?

DAVIS: Me? No. But my son is a very good pianist.

HASTINGS: Well, do you fancy getting up onstage anyway, and playing along with us at High Voltage? You can just stand and look like you’re strumming a guitar.

DAVIS: Good grief, no! That would be awful. I’d be so scared. Even just standing around onstage. I also think the real anoraks in the crowd would be unimpressed and probably walk off.

RICHARDSON: Actually, we do have one famous fan who does play. Eddie Jordan, who’s heavily involved in Formula 1, of course. Our booking agent knows him really well. He called me one day and said, ‘I’ve got your new drummer. Eddie Jordan. He’s an excellent drummer. Knows all your songs and is ready to go.’

My wife would regularly tell me that this deal or that deal was wrong, and I’d ignore her. You know what? She was right every time

Pye Hastings

HASTINGS: How about introducing us onstage at High Voltage, Steve?

DAVIS: That I could do, although what I’d say... who knows?

RICHARDSON: Maybe you could come in with a snooker cue! Actually we’ve had a few interesting people introduce us over the years...

HASTING: The oddest was Judge Dread, a big reggae star in the 70s. He asked if he could introduce us at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon!

DAVIS: Talking of odd, have there ever been occasions when you’ve been somewhere like a cafe, and heard one of your songs?

RICHARDSON: That happened to me at a supermarket in France not so long ago. They started playing a song from the Algerian singer Rachid Taha, who’s big out there, I said to my girlfriend: ‘I did all the string arrangements on this.’ She wasn’t at all impressed, and told me to get the shopping list out!

DAVIS: You’ve always been a working musician, Geoffrey. But you gave up for a while, didn’t you Pye? What happened? 

HASTINGS: In 1980 we got hit with tax and VAT bills that our former manager hadn’t paid. I was so skint that I couldn’t pay up. So I got a job as a labourer with a construction company. A few months later they moved me into the office. And then I began my own plant hire company called Molequip. We dealt with giant mechanical moles for tunnelling. Then one day, I picked up a guitar again, and realised that I wanted to play.

DAVIS: Did anyone recognise you while you away from the band?

HASTINGS: A guy working with one of these moles in a hole asked me my name. It took 20 minutes to get him to understand that Pye was my name, and he said: ‘What sort fucking name is that?’ He then asked me what I done in the past. So I told him I’d been in a band called Caravan and he said: ‘Never heard of them!’ But you need that sort of comedown sometimes to keep your ego in check.

DAVIS: You’ve never been mainstream...

HASTINGS: I’d like to have been mainstream.

RICHARDSON: Actually, I think it’s worked in our favour. Because our spirit comes from the fortitude we’ve had from being alternative.

DAVIS: This might sound weird, but in snooker you can go for a toilet break at the end of each frame. Even in the middle if you’re caught short. Have you ever had a problem like that onstage?

RICHARDSON: One occasion comes to mind. It was years ago. We’d just come from a successful American tour, and we had to drive up from Canterbury to do a show at Birmingham Town Hall. We stopped off at a pub in North London. I stayed in the van, but the others went in to have a pint and some cottage pie.

HASTINGS: We all got food poisoning from the pie, and went onstage feeling really ill. Richard Coughlan was throwing up into a bucket by his drumkit.

Without what we went through some of the songs Pye wrote would never have happened

Geoffrey Richardson

RICHARDSON: A couple of songs into the set I had to tell the sold out crowd that we couldn't carry on, because I was the only one still okay.

HASTINGS: What we learnt that day was that we should all have different meals, to avoid the same thing happening again!

DAVIS: I had a reputation for being boring, and one thing I thought about was trying to make myself more mysterious by wearing a wrestler’s mask, and not doing interviews. I wondered: if you could do it all again, what would you do differently and who would you do it over?

HASTINGS: The song If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You actually has two meanings. The obvious one, and ‘over you’ can also mean ‘because of you.’ The beauty of our language...

RICHARDSON: I’d like to have had an older head on young shoulders. The money we got through and the money we never saw is ridiculous. But without what we went through some of the songs Pye wrote about specific incidents and people would never have happened.

Caravan were always floaty and disorganised. That’s what we were meant to be. We had a bassist at one time called John Perry, who was very together and always walked around with a briefcase. He used to wind people up terribly due to his business sense. Well, he’s now doing well in corporate finance. But it was always written that Caravan should be victims of bad business decisions.

DAVIS: One year when the draw for the first round of the World Championship was live on TV, I was there with Ray Reardon, another old champion. And there was a young guy who’d qualified the previous evening. He got Jimmy White or Stephen Hendry in the first round, someone very good, and said he was gonna turn up in a limo wearing a sparkly waistcoat.

I told him that the pressure he’d be under was so intense that he should be low key. He agreed, yet still came in a limo wearing a waistcoat made out of mirrors. He got slaughtered. My point is that he was young enough to simply ignore any advice. Do you think you’d have listened to older and wiser people in the 1970s?

HASTINGS: No way. You never do, because it’s like taking advice from your dad. My wife would regularly tell me that this deal or that deal was wrong, and I’d ignore her. You know what? She was right every time. I have to hold my hands up and say sorry.

DAVIS: Have you gone deaf through playing live for so long?

HASTINGS: Pardon? Ha ha! My hearing has deteriorated, but more due to age than anything else.

RICHARDSON: I had a hearing test very recently and my ears are fine.

DAVIS: Is it loud onstage?

HASTINGS: Actually, you’re hearing music through amps which are about 100 watts each. The PA system blasting out to the fans can be up to 35,000 watts, so the audience should be more deaf than the band.

DAVIS: What does the future hold for Caravan?

HASTINGS: A lot more touring; I really love doing that.

DAVIS: Fuelled by Sanatogen?

RICHARDSON: Nah. By fine wine...

HASTINGS: And tea.

Malcolm Dome

Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica, published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009. He died in 2021