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A Short Bio:
Since the early days of Caravan, through the days of Hatfield and the North, Camel and his recent solo efforts, Richard Sinclair's singing and bass playing have been a constant source of delight for lovers of Canterbury music. A deep, low voice, a talent for memorable melodies few can match, an imaginative and fluid technique on the bass (and Sinclair is an excellent guitar player as well) : there are many reasons to be a fan of Richard Sinclair.
Richard S. Sinclair was born in Canterbury in 1948. Although he was the youngest of all future founder members of Caravan, he was the first to play in a band of any significance. And this was not just any band : The Wilde Flowers, founded in late 1964, also featured Robert Wyatt, Hugh and Brian Hopper, and Kevin Ayers. Our 16-year-old aspiring instrumentalist and occasional vocalist was then playing rhythm guitar. But this didn't last long, as Sinclair left the following summer to study industrial design at the University of Kent. During the following couple of years, he didn't play much, although he kept in touch with the other members of the Wilde Flowers, including Pye Hastings, Hugh Hopper and Robert Wyatt.
When The Wilde Flowers folded in mid-1967 and the remaining members - Pye Hastings, David Sinclair (Sinclair's cousin) and Richard Coughlan - decided to form Caravan, their former bass player Dave Lawrence was to be involved, but Sinclair eventually joined them. His influences at the time were Soft Machine (of course!), Jimi Hendrix, Space Oddity-period David Bowie, The Beatles, and jazz in general. Caravan's music would be a mixture of them all.
Richard Sinclair remained with Caravan for the first four albums. He contributed two songs the first one, none to the second, three to the third, and one to the fourth. In The Land Of Grey And Pink (1971) remains the most 'sinclairesque' of all Caravan albums, featuring as it does three essential Sinclair classics : "Golf Girl", "Winter Wine" and the title-track, all still among the most requested songs at Caravan and Richard Sinclair concerts. And Sinclair also sang the second song ("Disassociation") in his cousin David's sidelong epic, "Nine Feet Underground". When David Sinclair left Caravan in the Summer of 1971, Sinclair brought in a keyboard player he knew, Steve Miller (the elder brother of Phil), aware that Miller's jazzier playing would radically change the band's sound. Ultimately, the idea didn't work, and Sinclair and Steve Miller both left upon completion of the subsequent album, Waterloo Lily (1972), with the idea of putting together a band with Steve's brother Phil, at the time guitarist of Robert Wyatt's band Matching Mole.
What was to become Hatfield and the North started as a reformation of the Miller brothers' old band Delivery, with the return of Pip Pyle on drums. But the combination didn't work, and after a few changes in the keyboard departement, the line-up stabilised with the arrival of Dave Stewart, formerly of Egg and Steve Hillage's Khan. Hatfield subsequently toured Europe extensively and recorded two albums until its breakup in 1975. Although he's only a minor contributor in terms of composition ("there was so much exciting stuff coming out with the other three"), Sinclair's bass playing solidifies the whole and interacts superbly with Pyle's drumming on the constantly shifting time signatures of the music. And his vocals are a delight again : the duet with Robert Wyatt on "Calyx", his own suite of songs on side 2 of the first album, his superb interpretation of Pip Pyle's whimsical lyrics on "Share It", "Let's Eat (Real Soon)" and "Fitter Stoke Has A Bath", and the moving farewell song "Didn't Matter Anyway", all these have remained classics.
According to Sinclair himself, Hatfield was too demanding for him as a player in those troubled times and eventually he couldn't cope with the combined stress of his family life (he had a wife and a young son) and the complexity of Hatfield's music. This difficult situation directly led to Hatfield's split in June 1975. He then went on holiday in sunny Deya where Daevid Allen had retired following his own departure from Gong. Originally the plan was to record a solo album there for Virgin, but in the end that didn't happen.
Returning to Canterbury, he stayed with Rick Biddulph, who had been Hatfield's roadie and would later be Sinclair's accomplice in Caravan Of Dreams. In 1975-76, he led several line-ups going under the name of Sinclair and the South, a humorous reference to his previous band. The first line-up included David Sinclair and his songwriting partner John Murphy (both providing the bulk of the band's repertoire), violin player Dave Arbus (formerly of the progrock band East of Eden) and, for just one gig, Bill Bruford on drums. Later line-ups were based on the duo of Sinclair and young guitarist Mark Hewins. In late 1976, Sinclair formed RSVP, which also included Richard Folds (guitar), Perry White (keyboards) and Vince Clarke (drums), and did several demo recordings with them, including an early version of "Keep On Caring".
During that period, Sinclair was not earning his living playing music : "I followed in my father's footsteps. He was a carpenter in Canterbury and a musician at night. So I made tables and stuff, having the same sort of skills". At one point, though, Sinclair auditioned to become Peter Gabriel's bass player, but was turned down in favour of Tony Levin. Eventually, in April 1977, he received a phonecall from Andy Ward of Camel and was asked to join the band, which he did. The line-up of Sinclair, Andy, Andrew Latimer, Peter Bardens and Mel Collins (who'd joined before Sinclair, but had a sort of "guest" status) recorded two studio albums, Rain Dances (1977) and Breathless (1978). Although both contain some great tracks, Camel was not at the peak of its creativity at that time, although it possibly had its best live line-up ever, as documented on A Live Record (1978), half of which was recorded during the 1977 tour. In early 1978, Sinclair briefly rejoined Caravan to help in the recording of the Cool Water sessions, during which some of his own songs were recorded, although none were included on the CD released in 1994 ("Uncle's Farm", an early version of Camel's "Down On The Farm", was included on the self-released Live Tracks in 2003).
When Peter Bardens left Camel after the Breathless sessions, he was replaced by two former keyboard players of Caravan : Jan Schelhaas (who would stay until 1981) and Sinclair's cousin David. The resulting line-up toured Europe, the United States and Japan. Upon completion of the tour, though, David left and Richard Sinclair found himself more or less excluded from the band, and returned to play locally in Canterbury, mostly with Mark Hewins, in bands such as T-Mit (also featuring Pip Pyle) and The Looters.
Sinclair was not active again until 1981, when he successively took part in the recording of the Gowen-Miller-Sinclair-Tomkins album Before A Word Is Said, National Health's D.S. Al Coda and Caravan's Back To Front. The latter was recorded by the original line-up and featured a couple of Sinclair tunes : "Back To Herne Bay Front" and "A.A. Man". And Sinclair also contributed vocals to his cousin's tribute to the movie industry, "Videos Of Hollywood". In 1982, he was a founding member of In Cahoots, Phil Miller's band, with Elton Dean and Pip Pyle. With the addition of Peter Lemer, that band toured Europe and recorded demos and radio sessions, but eventually the combination didn't work. "People loved the music, but the band felt we were getting the music wrong, and I think I was probably the one getting it most wrong, being the most technically inept... I really loved the music and tried, but I didn't come up with the goods. I came up with it in more my own stance, so I didn't fulfill the role, which was a problem for Phil".
Sinclair was replaced by his old friend Hugh Hopper, with whom he'd recorded a long-planned duo album late in 1983. That album was originally supposed to feature Robert Wyatt singing Hopper's compositions, but Sinclair ended up doing all the vocals. The project remained unfinished, and the demos weren't released until 1996, on the Somewhere In France CD on Voiceprint. The subsequent five year period (1985-90) was very quiet, although he took part in Caravan reformation concert at the October 1984 Canterbury Summer Festival, toured Holland in April 1986 with an ad-hoc band (featuring Geoff Leigh, Wim Pop, Henk Weltevreden and Coen Delbaerts), guested on a track of Phil Miller's Split Seconds (1988) and briefly joined violonist Anthony Aldridge's band Skaboosh! (which included Andy Ward on drums), playing on an album which was only released several years later.
1990 was a very busy year for Sinclair : Hatfield and the North reformed (with Sophia Domancich replacing Dave Stewart) for a one-off TV show on the private Central Television channel; Caravan did the same (with Jimmy Hastings now augmenting the quartet on a permanent basis), although they remained together for subsequent series of gigs. And Sinclair reunited with Hugh Hopper in the shortlived Going Going, which also featured Mark Hewins on guitar-synthesizer, Andy Ward on drums and Vince Clark on percussion. The live repertoire of this band included Sinclair's songs from the unreleased Hopper-Sinclair album, Caravan classics (among which was a brilliant rendition of "Where But For Caravan Would I" from the very first album), an original Hewins instrumental ("Led It Lay") and even covers of two Soft Machine classics, "Hope For Happiness" and "We Did It Again".
Going Going was the precursor to Caravan Of Dreams, which consisted of Richard Sinclair on vocals and bass, Mark Hewins on guitar and Andy Ward on drums. The new band was named after a venue in Fort Worth, Texas, where Sinclair and Hewins had gigged in 1989 under the banner of the London/Dallas Quartet/Quintet. Eventually, Hewins was replaced by bassist Rick Biddulph with Sinclair taking up the guitar parts, and the basic trio was augmented whenever possible by David Sinclair on keyboards and Jimmy Hastings on sax and flute. A self-titled album by this line-up was recorded from mid to late 1991 and released on HTD Records in April 1992. It was a great collection of songs written over a period of 15 years : "Going For A Song" was an unrecorded Hatfield tune, "Emily" was first recorded with Caravan in 1977, "Keep On Caring" was a live favourite since 1978 and was featured on the unreleased Hopper-Sinclair album from 1983 as well as "Cruising" and "Only The Brave" (the same recording was used for the COD album). More recent compositions included "Heather", "Plan It Earth", and "Felafel Shuffle", a jam piece dating back to the Sinclair & The South days, its main riff later also recycled by Phil Miller into In Cahoots' "Final Call".
Things took a slightly jazzier turn with R.S.V.P., released in June, 1994. This time, there was no real 'band' concept, with a different combination of musicians on every track. With the exception of Andy Ward and Jimmy Hastings, all the participants were new : Didier Malherbe, the sax player from Gong, Kit Watkins, the fabulous keyboard player from Happy The Man and later Camel (where he met Andy Ward), Tony Coe (famous jazz clarinet player, from Canterbury, whose father used to play music with Sinclair's), drummer Dave Cohen, a friend from the States who had played with the band on their late 1993 European tour, not forgetting older friends, Pip Pyle (who contributed lyrics to the opening song, the great "What's Rattlin'?") and Hugh Hopper (who played bass on a beautiful improvised piece with Tony Coe on clarinet). The pieces ranged from jazzy songs to pure progressive rock (the epic "Out Of The Shadows"), and from light bossa-nova ("Over From Dover") to a 'world'-influenced song ("Bamboo", featuring Malherbe's famous bamboo-flute). The result was arguably one of the very best releases from a Canterbury figure in the 1990's.
Between 1995 and 2002, Richard Sinclair took a break from music, although he keeps doing solo tours, notably in the Netherlands, where he mostly resided during the next five years. In September 1996, he was the main act of the 'Canterbury Music in Harlingen' festival in the Dutch town. With a large line-up - Patrice Meyer, Tony Coe, David Rees-Williams and Hans Waterman (ex-Solution) - he played most of the material from R.S.V.P.; and in a series of alternative musical combinations, he also played the classics to an enthusiastic audience. This was Sinclair's last major live appearance until his return to action in 2002, which began with a series of concerts in Japan (backed by an excellent group of local musicians) in March 2002, followed by a superb duo performance with pianist David Rees-Williams at the Progman Cometh festival in Seattle in August. In 2003, ex-Gong sax/flautist Theo Travis was added for a concert in Paris and Travis has remained a regular collaborator since (although Tony Coe still joins Richard and Dave for the odd gig).
Further good news included his renewed partnership with cousin David for the latter's solo album, 2003's Full Circle, which featured his lead vocals on three tracks and his bass playing on one. Sinclair also contributed vocals and guitar to three tracks on Theo Travis's Earth To Ether album, released in late 2004. Two of those have lyrics by acclaimed writer and longtime Hatfield fan Jonathan Coe. There were also occasional on-stage reunions with Phil Miller, which led to the latter joining Sinclair's live band alongside Theo Travis, Alex Maguire and percussionist Roy Dodds. This in turn led to a Hatfield and the North reunion in early 2005, with a line-up of Sinclair, Miller, Maguire and Pip Pyle. When that stopped following Pyle's untimely death in August 2006, Sinclair moved to Italy, and has since concentrated mosty on non-musical activities.