A Short Bio:
"Genial, laid back, inscrutable" : these are just three of many ways that have been used to describe Caravan's long-serving 'tub-thumper'. From the formation of the band in 1968 to 2005 when he had to step down for health reasons, not once did Richard Coughlan desert the ship for other climes. He remained loyal to the spirit of Caravan along with Pye Hastings throughout this time. As a result he rightfully deserves a special place in the hearts of all Caravan 'obsessives' and to meet him 'in the flesh' is a real pleasure as he politely answers queries in the same relaxed manner, however insane the questions.
Richard was born in Herne Bay, Kent, to a non-musical family (although a couple of his uncles were accomplished pianists). He was educated at the Frank Hooker school in Canterbury. He first learnt to play the mouth organ at age 10, then he joined the Sea Cadets, first playing the bugle but soon taking a fancy to playing the marching drums. It wasn't long before his natural talent was recognised and he became the lead drummer in the Cadets. By the age of 16 he had his own drum kit. There Richard continues, "All my mates were into scooters and cars, and all I wanted to do was play on a drum kit all the time". He soon joined a local dance band : "To be honest, we didn't really do anything but rehearse!". He must be exaggerating a little as his C.V. suggests that he was a member of the Stour Side Stompers as well as the Earl Gutheridge Explosion.
The next significant point in Richard's career developed from visits to his good friend Colin Middleton who worked at a local garage (Richard had been with him in the Sea Cadets). A certain Hugh Hopper, bass player in the Wilde Flowers, was employed to wash cars there. Richard took the opportunity to hang around at their rehearsals and gigs and picked up tips on drumming from Robert Wyatt who was also in the Wilde Flowers : "I used to lean over his shoulder at every opportunity! When he decided to move to vocals, I moved in on drums". This was in April 1966.
Richard then trained as a dental technician, but this career didn't last long. "Robert Wyatt left the Wilde Flowers to play with Soft Machine and at this point Pye (Hastings) joined our band. This lasted around a year, but when we saw the Soft Machine had got a record deal we set out with the idea of doing the same and this was how we evolved into Caravan. My parents were a bit surprised that I was going to be a professional musician but they accepted it !". When asked about his influences as a drummer, Richard quotes Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker, Charlie Watts and of course Robert Wyatt.
From that point on, Richard was never in any other band than Caravan. When asked why, he replied enthusiastically : "I like Caravan! The style of music is such that the drums are featured heavily - a bit like they were in Soft Machine. That's not the case in most other bands, so I've always felt it gave me a real opportunity". Most of all, Richard enjoyed touring : "It was more than the music, there was so much else going on. It was terrific in America and I loved France with the food and wine. I especially liked travailling by bus which we did in Eruope, but I suppose I was less keen on flying, which we did mainly in the US, because you only tend to see the insides of airports and the venues".
Although he remained loyal to Caravan, Richard did play a few sessions with other bands. "This was during the Decca years, but I can't really recall who with, although I think I did something with Mellow Candle which was arranged through David Hitchcock's girlfriend who was a 'fixer' in the music business. I think Mike Wedgwood played bass... But I wasn't really interested in having a go at session work as a career. There's so much competition and anyway I like to identify with a band".
Richard was not a songwriter, but contributed significantly to some of Caravan's best-known works. "In the early days when there were lots of longer tracks and more instrumental tracks I contributed quite a lot and the songs tended to be credited to the whole band. As the emphasis moved to shorter songs I was less involved". Among Richard's contributions to the Caravan repertoire is the 19/8 time signature on what he often cites as his favourite Caravan number, the "A Hunting We Shall Go/L'Auberge du Sanglier" suite.
Caravan stopped as a full-time band in the late 70's, Richard
moved on to a second career, running a pub, The Sun Inn,
in Faversham, which he continued to do even when the
band resumed activities in the 1990s. He played on the
band's new albums The Battle Of Hastings (1995) and The
Unauthorised Breakfast Item (2003). Sadly in 2005 he
experienced health issues which forced him to stop
drumming, and after waiting for him to recover Caravan
eventually reformed with a replacement drummer in 2010.
Richard guested on percussion, to a standing ovation
from the audience, at the new line-up's first show at
Metropolis Studios, which was released on DVD. This
marked his last appearance with the band until his death
in December 2013.
[Most of the information in this profile is taken from Ralph Cross's Caravan newsletter]