There was a warmth and whimsy to the music of Caravan in their heyday that remains uniquely charming and not at all influential. They did not rage hard, they did not kick ass; they sang sotto voce, with a shy English diffidence, enacting their curious hairpin bends and deft dovetails as if they didn’t like being looked at.
Yet while they forsook ego, they brimmed with character. Part Lewis Carroll, part 1940s/50s filmmakers Powell and Pressburger, they whispered stories of magic found within the mundane, flashes of sensuous joy spotted within the familiar.
Their in places beautiful body of work is now gathered in this agreeable retrospective. Being enormous and expensive it probably won’t spark mass conversions to the cult of Caravan, but their 70s albums in particular are treasures, a balmy treat for any newcomers
No fewer than 37 discs form a career-covering box set, along with a book and off-centre memorabilia. So their appealingly quaint, capricious blends of prog, psychedelia, folk, jazz and pop lilt across their 14 studio and four live albums.
Added to those are 11 previously unreleased live sets, a DVD of live footage, plus a BluRay of Steven Wilson’s remix of In The Land Of Grey And Pink. That 1971 album is their masterpiece, sprawling into the 23-minute odyssey Nine Feet Underground.
Any debate as to the greatest prog suite ever is invalid without Grey And Pink’s inclusion. It never jars or lurches. Every decision, every genre-switch within it feels sweetly inevitable. In their modest way, they broke rules and let miracles flood through the resulting fissures.
If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You and For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night are similarly inventive and insouciant (despite spurts of Carry On humour). And while later albums lapsed into anxious restraint, playing safe as fashions changed, they returned from hiatus to gradually rediscover their form, with 2003’s The Unauthorised Breakfast Item a source of relish.
As for all those new/old live albums, they vary in strength across decades, as would any band’s, but in recent years they’ve been in fine fettle, glowing sumptuous in the night. Sometimes not granted the kudos their peers receive, Caravan are somehow both taken for granted and an enigma.
If Soft Machine were the Enos of the Canterbury scene, then Caravan were the Ferrys, exploring a kind of textured, otherworldly romanticism until it yielded the essence of desire.