Live review: Caravan

Van der Graaf Generator’s drummer Guy Evans revisits the Canterbury legends after 40 long years – and gives them an 11/4 rating.

Caravan Union Chapel
(Image: © Will Ireland)

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So here’s the plan. We invite some closet rock legend to a gig by his contemporaries, then press-gang him into being our reviewer fifteen minutes before the show. It’s Caravan, old road mates I haven’t seen for four decades. Plus, it’s the Union Chapel, where I have lots of history and even ran for a while. That space, candle-lit gorgeous for an audience, can be tough to crack from the stage. Not much chance of objectivity here, then.

A dead pedal board makes for an edgy start. Geoffrey Richardson drily notes a very British ritual unfolding, as four blokes in a circle stare downwards, scratch their heads, and mutter. Coming from a band notorious for electronic misfortune, I just see this as a spur to greater heights. And so it proves, as Pye Hastings is forced to roll out a treat in clean Strat playing. Lovely gritty rhythms, great jangle, subtle, knowing funk and choice moments of howl: I’d forgotten how much I enjoy his playing.

I spend the next 90 minutes in a happy daze of wonky riffs, charmed by great tunes, lyrical meanderings and somehow very English groove, interspersed with surprisingly powerful sections of drive. Okay, I could skip the odd dad-rock moment but, hey, it takes one to know one. Of course, being Caravan, it’s when they hit 114 time that they really motor, propelled by supple, muscular rhythm work from bassist Jim Leverton and drummer Mark Walker.

Jan Shelhaas on keys mainly keeps it structural and supportive, with just the occasional well-chosen blues-tinged flourish, and a few nice outings with that straight, no-Leslie distorted organ, the defining sound of British psychedelia.

Richardson is a revelation on viola, guitar, mandolin, flute et al – the little touches, counter-lines and solos, magical and wry but never flash (okay, the spoons is a bit flash). I hadn’t done the homework; I didn’t know half the tunes. But it was great to see a bunch of peers doing it for real, connecting, and having serious fun.

I walked out into the night feeling warm and fuzzy – which I think was always the point.