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24 Sep 2017

Nessie "The Tree" 1977 Belgium Prog Symphonic

Nessie "The Tree" 1977 Belgium Prog Symphonic
Belgium has a tradition of bringing some highly talented groups always meddling with RIO, Avant-prog, experimental Canterbury and the general scene is responsible for Chamber prog! But there was also another tradition, this one about more symphonic groups such as Machiavel, Isopoda, Dragon, Flyte, Phylter, Banzaï and later on Now. One of those bands is Nessie (from the Liège region) thar released two albums in the late 70's. To say the least most of these groups in the second category never achieved much success bith artistically and commercially (Machiavel being the notable exception that confirms the rule). Lack of financial means was a major success for sure, but clearly most of those groups while developping a pleasant symphonic rock clearly based on Genesis and other masters, they were all a bit amateurish and a bit too naïve. 
The Tree is Nessie's first album and IMHO, their slightly better album. Their sound is based on Genesis, BJH and to a lesser extent Yes, but contrary to other Belgian groups of the times, they also have a slight Gentle Giant twist appearing here and there, which sets them apart from more "conventional" bands like Isopoda and Dragon. Lyrics are sung in English and are apt enough not to shock anyone and there is a lovely flute here and there. The artwork sleeve is a beautyful but naïve Tree scene, but overall the album is very short: one side not even clocking in at 15 minutes and on the other side a track is anounced both on the label and on the sleeve but conspicuously absent on the vinyl. I personally like better Nessie even though they were amateurs - both their albums were private releases - than their more professional countrymen of that era. Sean Trane ........

If you enjoy the Belgian bands mentionned previously, no doubt Nessie will please you , but their album are quite scarce andto my knowledge they have never been released on Cd. This could easily make a 2 album on 1 Cd deal. Any takers???????..............

Even quite blamed by people there, I like this short, little (very short, just 29 minutes) album that still has a lot to offer. Symphonic tradition of Belgium is indeed long and don't take me bad guys, I understand with the facts you are providing. 
Prog development in different countries is different too, this is why I don't care much that it's 1977. The only "cheesy" song here and I mean really intentionally cheesy would be Vivid Memories, this melody is like Swiss (or Belgium) chocolate. White type. 

So because I have no problem with sweetness (I don't mind it), then this album shines in what it provides, quite synthesized Symphonic Prog. The World of the Tree has nice flute moments, while Rumble of Drums is nice outro funny song. 

Most of songs are having its share of multi-choral vocals, which is another thing I can appreciate. It may sound too pop at first look/hearing, but there are Prog twists here and there. 

4(-) is my rating for such albums.... by Marty McFly .................

- J.M. James Blanche - drums, vocals 
- Joseph "Bill" Pons - bass, vocals 
- Henri "Meme" Leruth - piano, keyboards, vocals 
- Daniel Sarlet - synthesizers, guitars, flute, vocals

A1 Golo Digger Ghost 5:35 
A2 The Tree 6:10 
A3 Kundalini Is Rising 6:10 
A4 Love Dreamer 4:05 
B1 The Weapon 4:00 
B2 Vivid Memories 3:30 
B3 The World Of The Tree 4:00 
B4 Rumble Of Drums 2:15 

Jackson Heights “King Progress” 1970 UK Prog Folk Rock

Jackson Heights “King Progress” 1970 UK Prog Folk Rock

This UK band was formed in 1970 by bass player/vocalist Lee Jackson (b. Keith Lee Jackson, 8 January 1943, Newcastle upon Tyne, England) on the dissolution of the Nice. His new venture pursued a more pop-orientated path than its virtuoso-based predecessor, but despite prolific live work and four well-promoted albums, an unstable line-up hampered the band’s ultimate progress. Early members Charlie Harcourt (guitar), Mario Tapia (guitar) and Tommy Sloane (drums) were replaced by a series of new inductees, including multi-instrumentalists John McBurnie and Brian Chatton, none of who was able to halt Jackson’s ailing fortunes. However, having decided that recent addition Patrick Moraz (b. 24 June 1948, Villars-Ste-Croix, Morges, Switzerland) played a keyboard style unsuited to the primarily melodic unit, Jackson left his creation in 1974 to shape Refugee around his new discovery’s dexterous technique. His former colleagues briefly continued under the truncated name Heights before breaking up…

Jackson Heights features former Nice bassist and vocalist Lee Jackson. The music on their 1970 debut is about as far from the organ dominated progressive rock which the Nice was known for given that this is more in the folk rock vein. As with the Nice, Jackson’s vocals are horrendous which is much more noticeable on soft acoustic numbers. At best he sounds like an asthmatic Roy Harper doing a Bob Dylan impersonation and at the worst he starts in on the atonal screaming which I guess is his way for making up for a lack of vocal range. Of course the writing on this album, as well as the instrumentation is quite good, although some of the arrangements get a little absurd at times, although again with a better vocalist perhaps the strings on the title track would not seem as silly as they do here. The only weak spot in the writing would be the remake of the Nice’s “The Cry Of Eugene.” This was originally the psychedelic closer to the Nice’s debut, but here it is an over long folk number which again has been ruined by an overdone arrangement. This is an interesting album, and a decent listen, but could have been so much better with a different vocalist….by…tagomago …

Jackson Heights (named for the area of New York) were formed by bassist Lee Jackson after the demise of The Nice, with the remit of making music as unlike The Nice as possible. As a result, King Progress is largely acoustic, although the occasional burst of electricity seeps through. From over three decades’ distance, I’m afraid it all sounds a bit insipid, although I’m sure it made more sense in those post-hippy days. Musically they were more pop-orientated than The Nice, but they built up a good live reputation through relentless touring. Their first album, released in 1970 on Charisma (CAS 1018) UK 1st Pressing on the Pink Charisma label! it is one of the rarest LP on the Pink Charisma label…virtually impossible to find! 

Album contains 7 tracks for a little less than 36 minutes. The style has nothing to do with the trio of Emerson (despite a cover of The Cry Of Eugene who appeared on The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack) and if the harsh voice of Jackson is instantly recognizable music is more of Rock one more classic whose main originality is to be built on mostly acoustic textures. In addition to acoustic guitar, Lee also plays the harmonica and it is clear that the Folk Blues through ballads and up-tempo Rock inspired (the excellent Mr. Screw), bassist converted wanted s ‘as far as possible away from the baroque universe of Emerson. With its simple arrangements and atmospheres hippisantes the Jefferson Airplane voice more “natural” Lee remains a very limited singer, King Progress appears as a disk unsophisticated, rustic and relaxing, a thousand leagues from his Progressive Rock As augur. The album did not sound great at the time and if he passed a few copies among fans, this was mainly due to the double cover of Hypgnosis attractive, Jackson’s name associated with The Nice and a certain guarantee of quality offered by the famous independent label Tony Stratton Smith (VDG, Genesis, Atomic Rooster, Peter Hammill …) that still dropped the group after its accounts. Lee recruited new musicians, including ex-King Crimson drummer Mike Giles, and went to Vertigo for over three discs (The Fifth Avenue Bus and Tool Ragamuffins in 1972, Bump'n'Grind in 1973) before s associate with keyboardist Patrick Moraz and former drummer of Nice, Brian Davison for Refugee base. Today, the King Progress LP is a collector and even in its compact Repertoire reissue seems missing……by……adamus67

All I ever read about the Nice is how everyone complains about Lee Jacksons singing. I LOVE his vocals (usually). They are authentic and not at all phoney or processed sounding. Check out “Someday” from Refugee, or “Cry Of Eugene” from this album. Or the daunting: Ars Longa Vita Brevis (and you all know what THAT means). Also, if it weren’t for Lee Jackson, everybody would still be trying to sound like Paul McCartney. He had that “new” tone before Greg Lake or Chris Squire. I am a true Lee Jackson fan and “King Progress” is an outstanding album not at all like anything the Nice ever did. Sometimes it sounds like Genesis, sometimes like Yes (sort of) from around the same time period. Lee Jackson plays acoustic guitar and harmonica on this album. At 37 minutes its not that long but it is VERY GOOD. A great album to put on for non-critical background listening. After a while you’ll find yourself looking forward to hearing it. It never sounds dull or old. Always refreshing to hear as is it different than most anything I have heard. Jackson Heights went through some personnel changes with each release until Lee Jackson recruited Patrick Moraz to join up. That became “Refugee” and the rest is history. “King Progress” is the bands first album (1970) and the other releases are hard to find indeed. But now , through the wonders of the “re-issue” - this album can be had by anybody who wants to hear something new, from a long time ago…..By Robert J. Salo…

Line-up / Musicians 
Charlie Harcourt / guitars, keuboards 
Tommy Sloane / drums, percussion 
Mario Tafia / bass, guitars 
Lee Jackson / vocals.

1 Mr. Screw 3:18 
2 Since I Last Saw You 7:01 
3 Sunshine Freak 4:49 
4 King Progress 3:28 
5 Doubting Thomas 4:14 
6 Insomnia 5:00 
7 Cry Of Eugene 
Written-By – O'List*, Emerson*, Jackson* 

Caravan “If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do it All Over You” 1970 UK Prog Rock Canterbury Scene

Caravan “If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do it All Over You”  1970 UK Prog Rock Canterbury Scene 

One of the greatest Canterbury bands, Caravan, created with their second album, “If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You” one of the most symbolic and memorable works of the genre. It is highly melodic, easy to listen, but also very ambitious and highly progressive. Caravan have clearly abandoned the immature sounds of the debut and reached a whole new level of songwriting and musical philosophy. 

Caravan’s psychedelic sound is all gone on this new 1970 album: the organ and the guitars are now always hand in hand, the musicianship is more elaborate, the overall sound is of a pretty noticeable change. The structure of these songs also are much more complex and studied, making this record one that leaves all innocence behind and goes towards the epic pathways of progressive. This however is not exactly an album of the Canterbury Scene quite yet, even though it already has plenty typical elements of the genre: it has that sense of romanticism Caravan in particular are famous for, and as a consequence also the whole Canterbury scene is, but it doesn’t have such elaborate songwriting, which is not a bad thing, because they are on this particular record much more accessible and memorable than almost anybody else from Canterbury. For example, it’s miles away from the cold avant- garde of the Soft Machine, or the spacey themes of Gong. “In the Land Of Grey and Pink”, the following Caravan album, will still be of this sort of nature -with a lot of melody-, but that time around it will have much more ambition and sophistications, being that their supreme masterpiece. But “If I Could Do It All?” still is a beautiful dedication to youth and innocence, inserted in a much more intricate, Progressive style. This is what Canterbury’s magic lies in. 

Some of the more memorable moments include the beautiful “I Wish I Were Stoned”, which, from it’s nine minutes, donates some space in the final minutes for it’s other side, “Don’t Worry”. Together, these two parts create what is in my opinion the greatest song of the album, having great, catchy melodies, great song structure, and fantastic musicianship all together. There are the shorter, poppier songs like “Hello Hello”, and the build-up of “As I Feel I Die”, but also the highly ambitious ones, like the most Progressive song of the album, the final fourteen minute suite, “For Richard”, an instrumental that has no specific form but constantly shifts, builds, explodes, and tones down. No wonder it is considered one of the best Caravan tracks. The other suite is the middle one, “With an Ear To The Ground You Can Make It”, the least memorable of them but still very powerful from every point of view. 

“If I Could Do It?” is a wonderful example of a Canterbury album of a band that still has to fully blossom, but still looks quite exemplar and is already faithful to a few canons, without on the other hand bending some rules….By Nick Leonardi 

Very tight musically, this album. Caravan were extremely serious about becoming a musical force to be reckoned with and mostly are succeeding with this recording. The pieces vary from rockers to jazzy fusion-ish works to slow ballads. An eclectic mix of songs, with lead vocal duties shared by Pye Hastings and Richard Sinclair, each with their own strengths. 

If the album (which is rightly regarded as a classic by critics and fans) has any problems they lie in the fact that the material predates 1970 and thus can veer into the ridiculous thanks to left-over stoner/hippy influences. Not often, thankfully, but it happens and when it does it can derail the listener’s groove, a tad. 

But still a five star experience for all that. Of note is the long multi-movement piece listed as “Can’t be Long Now” on he CD but known more widely in the day as “For Richard”, a work that ended just about every Caravan show until it was ousted by “A Hunting We Will Go” if memory serves me. I feel sorry for younger listeners because they will never be able to catch that most wonderful of events: a Caravan concert. These guys were *the* college concert band to see for many years. 

I don’t think I’d suggest this as a first time listener’s first Caravan album, because it doesn’t represent their high point for me (that title goes to For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night), but I would recommend it to someone wanting to expand their small Caravan collection over pretty much anything that came after “Cunning Stunts”……By Stephen Mann…

By 1970, the great rock scene in Britain and America had largely dispensed with its psychedelic dabblings. Pink Floyd left their lsysergic experiments behind them for the progressive pomp extravaganza that was ‘Atom Heart Mother’. The Dead went country. Emerson, Lake and Palmer arrived, Zappa put his Mothers on ice, and Hendrix choked. But down in the quaint little city of Canterbury, the spirit and the drugs of the outgoing decade still loomed large. 

'If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You’ was Caravan’s second album. Their self-titled first LP, for Verve (home of Bird, Ella and the Velvets, natch) had held some promise, but was underproduced and underpowered: some great songs ('Place Of My Own’, 'Love Song With Flute’) and a lot of filler*. A move to Decca two years later brought a much more assured and distinctive sound, however. Indeed, this record perfectly bridges that awkward gap between psych and prog, being every bit as much of a muso-fest as their more illustrious (and dull) Melody Maker poll winning rivals could boast, but - and it’s a big but - full of good, old fashioned, acid-fuelled SONGS WITH TUNES. And what tunes. I wanna elect Pye Hastings as the great lost English songsmith of our time. But I digress. 

The title track starts proceedings. And a catchier little ditty is impossible to find. One of those songs where one hearing alone lodges itself into your brain for life. I bet there are people out there who may have heard that 'Who - do - you - think you are - do - you - think you are’ refrain on Top Gear or similar back in 1970, have never heard it since, and could sing it from memory even now. It’s got a well-weird time signature a la the grossest excesses of Messrs Emerson and Greenslade (and a keyboard solo likewise) but, like the best Canterbury tunes, you can’t fail to move to it. In an ideal world this would have knocked Mungo Jerry and the sodding Archies into the remainder bins straight away, and would be a perennial feelgood oldie 45. It was a single, by the way. It sold, by my conservative estimate, two copies. 

Then things move up…nah, they rocket ten miles high. 'And I Wish I Were Stoned’ is a cracking example of the aforementioned songwriting genius. On first impressions, a simple, repeating upward verse (sung in the rustic tenor of Richard Sinclair) with a corresponding decending chorus (sung in the charmingly strained alto of the mighty Pye), it follows the first song in avoiding 4/4 altogether, not so’s you’d notice though. Okay, this one might take TWO hearings this time, but then I’d defy you to not be singing it the next morning. The only thing that might stop you is the fact that the segued 'Don’t Worry’ that follows is THE MOST WONDERFUL TUNE EVER WRITTEN IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND. Well, since Schubert’s Rosamunde Overture anyway. There is no justice in this world that this perfect song hasn’t been covered a hundred times since and earned its composers a fortune. Just hear it, please. The two tracks together constitute the best eight minutes of psych-tinged rock that my stylus has ever ploughed. 

After such an early peak, things have to go downhill, but not far. A phased, stereo-panned drum sequence leads into the deadly slow 'As I Feel I Die’ where “everything’s going a slight shade of purple” and the downers take hold. Not for long though. Another fatally catchy (and blatantly jazz-based) riff forms the basis of the remainder of the song, and, as on every track before and after, Dave Sinclair takes over with an organ solo that tells Ray Manzarek the news. And the side ends with the 'With An Ear To The Ground You Can Make It’ sequence, another blisteringly tuneful epic with the best keyboard sequence of the whole album three minutes in. The slower, flute-accompanied reprise of the main tune is pure delight, before the piece ends with what sounds like Rick Wright falling asleep at Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert. 

Side Two starts with two short, nice-but-inessential tracks in 'Hello Hello’ and 'Asforteri’, the former being the better of the two and Richard Sinclair’s only real vocal spotlight on the album (he was to have a much greater showcase on the excellent 'In The Land Of Grey And Pink’ album twelve months later). But his name is immortalised on the longest and most famous (in Caravan and Canterbury terms, you understand) track on the record that comes next. 'For Richard’ starts slowly, quietly, and menacingly, not a million miles away from the Floyd’s 'Careful With That Axe, Eugene’ epic on 'Ummagumma’, but with another otherwise tender, melodic vocal with flute obligato. Then, like 'Eugene’, the intensity slowly increases, until, 3'40" in, comes…THE RIFF. And here, more than at any point on the record, Caravan rocks. The track palls a little as the solos progress (and god, do they progress) but comes to life again in the guitar-driven coda that emerges after ten minutes or so. The album ends with the pointless half-song that is 'Limits’. Never mind. 

The 14 minutes that comprise 'For Richard’ have become the staple of every Caravan live set to this day, but that track is a muso-fest only as far as I’m concerned. The real meat and two veg of Caravan’s second album is the almost faultless sequence of SONGS that comprise Side One, essential listening for anyone with an interest in the latter days of sixties drugrock. The record has recently been remastered for CD with the contemporaneous and previously-unreleased 'A Day In The Life Of Maurice Haylett’ - a lost gem - and demo versions of some of the album tracks. It sounds terrific, even better than my Decca FFrr vinyl, and sells for £5.99 in my local shop. Why are you still sitting there?… Fitter Stoke………….Head Heritage

Caravan’s second album shows a startling amount of growth since their debut. In the two years since they issued that psych-pop charmer they’d honed their craft, improved their songwriting, developed a taste for epics, started flirting with a little jazz-rock (perhaps inspired by the success of their pals in the Soft Machine), and become the tight unit seen on this album. The band had gone from the psychedelic followers of their debut to innovators in their own right, presenting a Canterburified vision of psychedelic jazz-influenced prog with a more mellow and sunnier attitude than the Softs, with the occasional outbreak of more energetic playing. The end result was good enough that a few months before recording the album Frank Zappa (who was acting as compere at a festival Caravan were performing at, due to a snafu with the Mothers’ work visas) spontaneously joined them onstage for a jam - and when your band is good enough that Zappa is that keen to play with you, you know you’ve arrived. 

The highlight of the album is usually said to be “For Richard”, and I can’t disagree with that, but then I can’t find any songs on here that fall particularly short of its standards. One for when you need to relax a bit, maybe, but still a masterpiece of the early Canterbury sound……by…….Warthur 

As the 60s abruptly became the 70s, the psychedelia of the former era was transmogrifying into something more sophisticated. With the prog rock explosive nature of 1969 occurring with bands like East Of Eden and King Crimson forever changing the rock history books, bands who came before who were more focused on the psychedelic pop aspects of the scene rather than the sophisticated compositions of what would develop suddenly found themselves upping their game manyfold and the creative expressions were sudden and highly effective. CARAVAN was one such band that was one half of The Wilde Flowers, with the other half, of course, being The Soft Machine. While Soft Machine started out on a similar trajectory as their counterparts, they seemed determined to race full speed ahead into the world of jazz and upon every subsequent release jettisoned the rock aspects of their music. CARAVAN had the complete opposite approach. They simply took the psychedelic pop rock features on their debut album and upped the sophistication several times over and focused MORE on the rock instead of less. The results equated in being one of the most exciting releases to exist in the progressive rock work in the early year of 1970. 

IF I COULD DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, I’D DO IT ALL OVER YOU is only the second album by the mighty Canterbury Scene innovators CARAVAN, but it is in my opinion their absolute best album that took all the best features of the 60s and adopted the new developments that were quickly becoming the 70s. There is a perfect balance between old and new on this one and this album is the perfect marriage of the two eras in equal proportionality. The title track starts things out innocently enough with a catchy repetition of the words that make up the whimsical title track. This album captures the perfect period sound with catchy melodies that incorporates lots of organ runs and a plethora of rock and jazz instrumentation including not only the usual rock instruments but also sax, flute, claves, bongos, congas and other such oddities like hedge clippers and assorted ashtrays :O While the catchy passages and rich palette of musical timbres create a delightful listening experience, what really puts this album into the realms of true masterpieces is the intricate and well-designed compositions that keep the listener enthralled and ecstatic throughout the album’s playing time. 

While the title track reels the listener in with its catchy and psychedelic tribute to the 60s, the second track “And I Wish I Were Stoned / Don’t Worry” creates a multi-part 8:12 track that takes the nihilism of the shattered utopian dreams of the 60s and seeks a route through escapism. The pinnacle of this leap into the progasphere comes full force on the penultimate 14:17 track “Can’t Be Long Now / Françoise / For Richard / Warlock” that pulls out all the prog punches. While the sections and components of these tracks encompass the same types of psychedelic pop tendencies, it’s how they are all sewn together and how well each passage flows from one segment to the other. 

Far from being random, the different sections recur in logical formations where themes develop and appropriately move on and then are revisited. The general gist is that one track is a normal song length and then the next one that is progressive and lengthy serving with mini-suites that build up into a larger whole. IF I COULD DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, I’D DO IT ALL OVER YOU simply covers all grounds of the era. It includes a healthy dose of the psychedelic scene of the era, smooths things over with pop sensibilities and dresses it all up with progressive rock workouts and jam band excursions that include jazzy improvisational techniques. Nothing outlasts its welcome and even 45 years after its release still evokes a sense of excitement when listening to it. This truly is not only one of the best CARAVAN albums but a cornerstone of the early progressive rock scene as well. This is simply a major mandatory edition to any prog lover’s world. Perfect in every way….by…siLLy_puPPy 

This brilliant title could easily show up these days in an ad to the right of your screen with some dopey teenager with a vacant expression wearing it on their T-shirt (such as “I’m not a gynecologist, but I’ll take a look”) . Caravan were really at the forefront of English progressive rock movement with their debut album, starting as a pop group and moving that music into new areas even in the 60s. But to me their second album is their finest. I remember the first time I heard the “For Richard” suite it reminded me of Traffic around Low Spark, such a warm sound with such unique organ tones and an obvious nod to the jazz of the time. These days psych is probably making its nth comeback but it always comes with such a postmodern sort of approach, as if the musicians have to wink at the audience knowingly. But back in 1970, there was this mix of innocence, playfulness and warmth with the obvious consciousness expansion, the musicians were inside and not on the outside looking in. If for Richard was a jazzy jam, it was mixed in with time signature experiments like the title track and lovely, wistful pop songs. Even a song like “And I Wish I Were Stoned” seems to pose no threat in its earnestness. This big mix of 60s era innocence and brilliant musicianship tends to be labeled Canterbury these days, but an album like this still hits the psych-pop spot more than anything else. They’d still go on to make great albums after this, but by then the naivete was starting to slip away…….by Mike McLatchey, 

Progressing from the rather disparate, though enjoyable, ideas hatched on their self-titled debut for Verve, Caravan moved to Decca and, in 1970, recorded a masterpiece. Bound by a melodic sensibility that remains unique and accessible, Caravan found their playful, inventive voice on If I Could Do It… and helped define the legendary Canterbury scene in the process. 
Despite the obligatory organ solo, the 7/8 time opening ditty doesn’t really hint at the edgier material contained in the extended improvisational sections on both sides of the record – though it did give the group a single and a TOTP appearance. And I Wish I Were Stoned/Don’t Worry and As I Feel I Die both build from eerie, druggy beginnings to open up, in the latter’s case in particular, into complex, punchy jams that are both emotionally loaded and utterly groovy. It’s what makes Caravan the band they were – and no one ever did it better. Side Two’s For Richard is another exercise in this kind of textural interplay, and the musicianship is, in places, staggering. 
Epic but never pretentious, psychedelic but never adrift, jazzy but never impenetrable, If I Could Do It… has a lightness of touch and a complex magic the band never repeated. It remains, by a grey and pink whisker, their best album……Record Collector…

Tee hee, gotta love those smutty titles. Never mind; the important thing is, Caravan’s second album is almost universally proclaimed to be an improvement over the debut and one of the band’s pinnacles. Not to my ears, though. What my ears are able to discern is that on their second album, Caravan drifted off into a somewhat different direction, and while that might have been enough to gain a huge support from prog fans worldwide, it’s exactly the direction that I don’t like prog bands to take: namely, making things more complex for complexity’s sake. 

First of all, the songs now grow long. And I mean long - the majority of the album is taken up by three 'mini-suites’ with separate part titles and lots and lots of instrumental passages. Second, the stately majestic organ-drenched medieval atmosphere of the debut somehow vanished into thin air; amazing, seeing as how it would eventually work its way back into the band’s sound, but for now, they sack it in favour of a jazzier, somewhat more 'playful’ approach. Lots of sax and diddly diddly playing guitars (you know what I mean, don’t you?), jazzy time signatures and stuff - apparently these guys decided to somehow justify the 'Canterbury rock’ tagline. Doesn’t work, really. Too often, I get the feeling they’re just showing off: I could count the memorable melodies on this record without having to use my second palm. 
Essentially, the album is only saved by the fact that I can’t deny it some atmosphere - if you’re searching for a bit of soul and spirit, it’s here all right, it’s not just a bunch of jazzy guys who consider themselves above playing emotionally-oriented music. There’s still a lot of sadness, introspectivity, majesticity, whatever: If I Could… can work as decent background music if you really want to dedicate yourself to that kind of sound. And they’re still going strong in their “uniqueness”, although, to be fair, some parts of this album don’t sound much different from contemporary King Crimson wank-offs, and both Yes and Genesis were already on their way to the top. 
Unsurprisingly, my two near-runners for the title of 'best song’ are the two shorter tracks. The title track is jazzy, avantgarde jazzy even in parts, something that would be quite fit for Soft Machine. But it’s all based around an energetic and interestingly constructed riff and witty vocal harmonies intricately entwined around it, with a lively keyboard/guitar break to spice things up. For me, it works as one of those 'Zen-style incantations’ that should be appreciated for their very weirdness and bizarredness if such a thing is possible at all, see Gentle Giant’s 'Knots’ for instance. However, it’s also a very untypic track for the album - nothing else on here can boast the same 'lightweight’, almost ridiculous atmosphere. 
The second track, then, is radically different, but it’s also untypic for the album. That’s 'Hello Hello’, the record’s only more or less straightforward venture into medieval-folk stylistics with an intriguing mystical tale to boot. Not the most memorable thing on earth, but pretty solid by the record’s standards. I also love Sinclair’s organ tone on this thing - granted, he uses it in a lot of other passages here as well, but the riff-solo of 'Hello Hello’ is the most impressive bit. 
And supposedly that’s it: no matter how much I listen to the lengthy monstruous suites, I just can’t make head or tails over 'em. Atmospheric and supposedly meaningful (well, how can a song entitled 'And I Wish I Were Stoned’ not be meaningful? You tell me!), but displaying a tremendous lack of ideas, if you axe me. There’s ONE big idea on here - 'hey guys, we know how to make our brand of music, let’s make our brand of music, then’. Take the fifteen-minute megalithic horror of 'For Richard’, for instance. Its full name is 'Can’t Be Long Now/Francoise/For Richard/Warlock’, but who cares? The first three and a half minutes are just slow 'atmospheric’ (god how I hate this word already) noodling, with lazily strummed guitars and idly puffed flutes that don’t go anywhere and don’t do nothing. Then, all of a sudden, there’s this sharp, thrilling keyboard riff that breaks in and you utter a sigh of relief - the guys start to rock! And then it suddenly loses all the sharpness and the thrill after about five seconds and you get an endless mid-tempo keyboards/sax jam that just bores everything that can be bored out of me. Lengthy improvised sections that never know when to stop and all sound basically the same - definitely not the kind of thing that’s supposed to work in a respectable prog band. Unless you dig in the groove, but seriously, I don’t even know why you should, as Hastings’ and the others’ playing style aren’t all that unique. Pye does get a little bit more involved in soloing, though, and his solos are good: soaring Gilmour-ish guitar parts that are just as emotionally strong but more minimalistic and less cliched in their essence. But again, there’s not that much of 'em. 
The two other lengthy monsters aren’t any better - I vaguely remember that I enjoyed Hastings’ vocal sections on 'And I Wish I Were Stoned’ just fine, while they were one, but one thing that song never possessed in the first place was a solid vocal hook. Just… nice singing, nice playing. Everything NICE. NICE guys. Well, no more Mr Nice Guys then. 
In the end, if it weren’t for the vibe and Hastings’ having developed a very nice, warm vocal tone, I would have given this album even less than I gave it; as it is, it’s a very weak ten. And I really can’t get it into my head how this album can get that much respect; I suppose it’s some kind of a Wind & Wuthering syndrome - the record goes for a 'grand’ feel with complex song structures, lengthy suites and pompous arrangements, but never really has that much melodic substance. And of course, the latter thing isn’t that important for diehard prog fans. At least the tones these guys work out on the album are far more soothing than Banksynths, but that’s small consolation if you take the album on its own. Extra points for the pretty pretty album cover, though. I love nice forest groves like these………

Caravan were one of the leading acts on the so-called 'Canterbury scene’, although even if you’re familiar with the very notion of the 'Canterbury scene’, this phrase alone won’t tell you anything. See, the “Canterbury scene” is usually known for having jump-started the careers of quite a few notorious 'elite’ art-rock bands, such as the Soft Machine, Gong, Caravan, and still later on, Camel and Henry Cow, yet all these bands have little in common besides usually having their music as 'inaccessible’ as possible. The Soft Machine went into the avantgarde direction, Gong goofed out in a special complex psychedelic way, Henry Cow revelled in artsy dissonance… in other words, the hundred flowers of Canterbury were blossoming, yet it doesn’t exactly ring a bell about what the music of Caravan should sound like to the actual listener. 

It should sound good - much of it. Out of all the Canterbury bands, Caravan were easily the most 'accessible’. Their music almost defiantly neglected the complex avantgarde jazz stylistics of their brethren, instead going for a majestic, organ-and-acoustic-based sound drawing on medieval influences as much as lush baroque musical tricks. In other words, while their 'compatriots’ were exploring perilously dangerous depths of unlimited and occasionally silly experimentation, Caravan opted for a more 'normal’ sound that was fully within the usual progressive rock limits. More than that, band leader Pye Hastings was notable for bringing in an almost dangerously (heretically, I mean) smelling 'pop’ scent into the procedures, which eventually culminated in Caravan completely transferring to a 'baroque pop’ image by the mid-Seventies. Yet what with all that, the band certainly had a clearly identifiable sound of their own. More meditative and relaxed rather than aggressive, more romantic and 'gorgeous’ rather than dirty'n'heavy; the closest band they could be compared to would be Procol Harum, but with added medieval and folk overtones that Procol Harum lacked in their stately approach. 
It’s too strange that Caravan never really found a mass audience - they hit their artistic peak in the early Seventies, right at a time when the popular interest in prog was at its peak as well, and their music, though complex and not that easily accessible, lacked all those “this passage may be effective but it’s too simple, let us fuck it up some more” conceptions of the 'braver’ prog-rock bands of the underground. My personal guess is that all of this is due to lack of gloss and gimmickry - Caravan never had a Genesis-like 'rock theatre’ approach, nor the sturm und drang schtick of Jethro Tull. Nor, by the way, were they that good at creating solid poppy hooks the way Yes liked to do it - enticing audiences by offering them something light and catchy dressed up in ultra-serious clothes. 
Then again, to be honest, I don’t really find Caravan’s music to be ideal as far as artsy stylistics goes, either. Unique, yes, and even seriously influential - after all, there can hardly be any doubt that a band as popular as Camel were spurred into action by Caravan’s first albums (and Camel actually found commercial success where Caravan never really achieved it). But there are a lot of problems to be found as well. Caravan’s lengthy pieces, their main link with the prog world, are hardly as effective as the better lengthy pieces of Yes or Genesis - too often, the band simply went for intentional bombast and pomposity, with the same nice-sounding but not really all that memorable theme repeated over and over again. A lot of their early music can simply be qualified as 'atmospheric passages’, which is not a good thing for a band that pretends to write dynamic prog stuff. It is pretty easy to get bored by a Caravan epic, indeed, especially if you first fall on lacklustre albums like If I Could Do It All Over Again… . 
Besides, the band always lacked virtuoso players - as is the typical situation with 'second-row’ prog-rock bands, all the players were merely professional, and when you deal with the whole swarm of progressive rock bands, mere professionalism is a serious boredom-inducing factor when the player in question thinks that if he’s professional, he can showcase his chops and get away with it. He can’t. If I wanna hear chops, I’ll put on some Steve Howe. (Steve Hackett was a great guy who actually realised that if you’re not the absolute best at chops, then mere chops don’t suffice - Pye Hastings didn’t always seem to be grasping that moment of truth. Sorry for the endless comparisons, but that’s the only way for us to get along). 
That said, Caravan members usually did have a strong feel for melody: on their best albums there’s always plenty of excellently written stuff it’s easy to go wild about. In other words, when the band wasn’t just trying to prove to the world how they can compete with Bach and Beethoven, they were putting down some of the prettiest 'prog-pop’ melodies to be ever heard - nice, gentle, emphasized by Pye Hastings’ loving tender voice. This 'prog-pop’ nature eventually led to the band slowly discarding their 'prog’ roots and turning into a more straightforward 'symph-pop’ outfit, much to the loyal fans’ sorrow - yet those who aren’t crazy about complexity and 'progressiveness’ can find a lot to laud in Caravan’s late period albums as well. All in all, the band’s well worth getting to know - all prog bands are divided into those who have and who don’t have a fantasy world of their own, and Caravan’s definitely got one. A BIG one, too. 
Line-up: Pye Hastings - guitar, vocals; Richard Coughlan - drums; David Sinclair - organ, vocals; Richard Sinclair - bass, vocals. David Sinclair left, 1972, replaced by Steve Miller; Miller left a year later, temporarily replaced by David again, Richard Sinclair left, replaced by John Perry, bass; Peter Geoffrey Richardson added on viola. Perry left in 1974 or 1975, replaced by Mike Wedgwood on bass. The band collapsed in the early Eighties, but came together in the Nineties and is still moderately active from time to time, flooding the market with archive live releases and occasionally putting out a new studio album, too…

One of the best and most known Canterbury bands. This was their second album and the one where the band had found their ultimate style. Jazz, pop, rock and classical music melted together in the usual progressive way, but far less pretentious than many other progressive rock bands. The classic Caravan sound was characterised by the vocals of Pye Hastings and Richard Sinclair, twisted and fuzzed organ (very typical for many Canterbury bands), and there was usually some wind instruments too, mostly flute and sax. The best tracks on the albums includes the incredible jam “For Richard” (this track is the classic Caravan sound in a nutshell) and “With an Ear to the Ground”. The latter mixed excellent jams with poppy and light vocal parts, a quite typical Caravan mix. “And I Wished I Was Stoned” are another example of this. There’s also some shorter and quite catchy tunes here, like “Hello, Hello” and the title-track. This is a good album and very representative for Caravan at their best…

A1 If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You
A2a And I Wish I Were Stoned
A2b Don’t Worry
A3 As I Feel I Die
A4a With An Ear To The Ground You Can Make It
A4b Martinian
A4c Only Cox
A4d Reprise
B1 Hello Hello
B2 Asforteri 25
B3a Can’t Be Long Now
B3b Françoise
B3c For Richard
B3d Warlock
B4 Limits


johnkatsmc5, welcome music..