Pye Hastings presents some goodies inCOOL WATER, a new release of old demos, and our Captain looks anew ata jolly legacy
"And if I said it's all foryou,
Would you say that you were someone else?"
Hope I got that right... His bouncy deliveryof these words to the closing ditty "Limits" on Caravan's second LP,If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'dDo It All Over You, pointed toguitarist Pye Hastings as the band's resident tunesmith deluxe.Though bassist Richard Sinclair was equally capable of inspiredsilliness, he often found forrnalism and optirnism a bit more remote;he also had some important questions to ask of God or whoever was incharge ("...will the day be warm and bright, or will it snow? / Thereare people waiting here who really want to know....") above thefunhouse landscape cousin Dave Sinclair and Richard Coughlan usuallyset up. Hastings on the other hand tended to take the situation as itwas and worm his way through however he could. His attitude betweenthe lines was, well, there are more fish in the sea, aren't there?"Limits" was an odd but perfect little skiffle shuffle with jazzyguitar and a lovely flute bit by brother Jimmy Hastings; you couldn'tfault the man's ability for tunes one could hum on the subway.
Pye's contribution to In The Land Of Grey And Pink, "Love To Love You (And Tonight Pigs Will Fly)", setup further his persona in song: a modern Punchinello, always in love,always in trouble, and always just able to extricate himself, with acarefree smile pasted on at a jaunty angle. No Steven Kilbey nihilismfor our Mr. Hastings: he was always ready for another try. And notforgetting Noel Coward, possibly one of his musical ancestors (I'dhave no problem believing Hastings if he were to quote Coward in "IfLove Were All": "I believe that since my life began, the most I'vehad is just a talent to amuse..." and without self-pity,natch).
Well. Sinclair and Hastings each had theirown row to hoe, and the gap between thern became noticeable onWaterloo Lily; Dave Sinclair had departed to join Hatfield and theNorth, and while Richard preferred to build out from the existingband sound (as could be heard on the title piece), Pye wanted torefine and restructure it more in the direction of the "Nine FeetUnderground" suite (witness the bit on side two named "The Love InYour Eye/ Subsultus/ Debouchement/Tilbury Kecks"). The band could notcontinue in both directions, so Richard went on his way to accompanythe Hatfields, as mad experimentation was more the norm overthere.
Caravanabsolutely became a different band with Richard's loss, but the firstLP without him, For Girls Who GrowPlump In The Night (1973), is inevery way the equal of Grey AndPink, just for very differentreasons. Hastings had never written well nigh an entire album before,but he had no trouble with the challenge; where his idea ofCaravandiffered from the previous model was his madness was carefullyscripted, as opposed to Grey AndPink's dangerous anything-can-happenair. Still, the proof is in the enjoyment, and these two discs areamong the best legal uppers in the Western world. Hire a therapistimmediately if they don't work on you! New viola player GeoffRichardson opened the band sound up notably, the returning DaveSinclair again contributed his merry keyboard wipeouts, and Coughlandemonstrated anew he was rock's best drummer this side of Keith Moonand Procol Harum's B.J. Wilson. Yeah, it's true that Pye went out andgot himself another highly fluent bassist with an odd voice (John G.Perry), but that just shows he wasn't a bad A&R man either. Andthe powerfillly corkscrewing guitar line that opens "Memory Lain,Hugh" / "Headloss" was proof Hastings could write his ass off (samewent for "The Dog, The Dog, He's At It Again" and the "A-Hunting WeShall Go" suite, et al). It's as classic as any number of RollingStones guitar bits.
Maybe success was what undid Caravan in the end; therecords were never bad (I doubt Hastings could be part of a duffalbum if he wanted to), but Caravan's later releases(Cunning Stunts, 1975; Blind Dog AtSt.Dunstan's, 1976; Better By Far, 1977)did define a niche and fill it ably but go no further (which, to befair, is probably what the band was shooting for anyway). One otherobvious change was Pye's burgeoning interest in straighter poppiertunes: on the very fine live release Caravan And The New Symphonia (1974), he wrote a song Marianne Faithfull couldhave done in the 1960s ("Mirror For The Day") and the records afterhad more of them. Still, Hastings turned them out ("No BackstagePass," "All The Way (Featuring John Wayne's Single-Handed LiberationOf Paris)", "Better By Far") like nobody else, full of marvelousdetail, hooks on top of hooks, and surprise melodic turns. Some ofCaravan's bastard children in this regard are Ned's Atomic Dustbin,the Connells, Kitchens Of Distinction, XTC certainly, Crowded House,They Might Be Giants, Prefab Sprout and Ultramarine; not a badlegacy. Best of all, for a while Caravan's continuedhealth (if not Hastings' ability to keep the lineup constant) wardedoff some of the bad vibes from the dissolution of the Softs, theHatfields, Gilgarnesh, and Matching Mole.
Then again, maybe the tunes just ran out.Hard to say for sure, obviously, but "Nightmare," the last track onBetter By Far, pointed to the possibility of Hastings' wearinesswith it all: "Hear me a-callin', I've got a dream in my hand/ Till Iturn around and realize that no one understands...". The bandregrettably dispersed in May of 1978. The reunions since then havebeen generally successful, showing what professionals these fellowsare: The Album (1981) has its bald spots but Hastings and DaveSinclair carry the endeavor well, and the original lineup's returnBack To Front (1982) is stellar, as good as the first album orIf I Could Do It All OverAgain. In the intervening 12 yearsthere has been the occasional "backatcha" live gig, but I for onehave to say that people do grow and people do change, and there mustcome a point where what worked in your 20s just doesn't any longer.Still, any time the fellows want to have another go, I'll be in linefor tickets.
To hold us over until that does or doesn'thappen, we have CoolWater, a delightful 52 minutes ofHastings tunes that've been sitting in the can since 1976 or '78. Pyesays in his liner notes that these are demos recorded for a follow-upto Better By Far but never used. Well, they ain't Cunning Stuntsouttakes, right, but I will bet it was the musical atmosphere of themid-late '70s that kept this canned: recall that the punkos were onthe verge of taking over and Joy Division and their black-cladillegit offspring were leering on the horizon. Possibly to AristaU.K. Pye's crafted tunes and high music-hall tenor voice (to saynothing of a band that could actually play their instruments!)seemed, uh, quaint. Well, Jack Rabid of The Big Takeover writes thesediatribes better than I do. Anyway, Cool Water isn't analbum but a cleaning-out-of-the-vaults, just as this really isn'tCaravaneither: Hastings penned all the songs and the "band" (RichardCoughlan, drums; Jan Schelhaas, keyboards; Richard Sinclair, bass;and these are replaced on the last 4 tracks by Gordon Giltrap's 1978backup band) is clearly under his direction, more so than everpreviously. If you don't recall Gordon Giltrap, he was sort of theGeorge Winston of his day, but with more synthesizers.
Even if the usual Caravan balance ismissing (along with any Sinclair compositions), there's not a badtrack here and nobody's shucking either. In fact, Sinclair is almostthe star of the show; he finds more inventive ways to keep time thananyone has a right to expect. Listen to him burble and squeak on thewhitebread funk bits "Ansaphone" and "Cold Fright." Jan Schelhaas,keyboardist from BlindDog and Better, is also lotsof good fun, giving the proceedings a very jazzy turn almost likeFocus used to try (remember them?). He very nicely twirls his sololike spaghetti around the melody line in "Ansaphone", my personalfavorite here. But this, of course, is the man who ripped off SoftMachine on his composition "Man In A Car" (from Better By Far) andgot away with it (free subscription to whoever identifies said riffand where it comes from). True, the Giltrap band (including IanMosley, who did time in the drum chair with the 1970s Dutch keyboardpower trio Trace) is a little more faceless on their tracks, but howcould they not? Still, they lend Pye proper circusy backup on "YouWon't Get Me Up In One Of Those", "Land Of My Fathers", "Poor Molly"and "Send Reinforcements".
As for the songs, they are a lot like what'son Better By Far, generally high-gloss ornate poppers as onlyHastings can write them. The complicated structures of Girls Who Grow Plump and BlindDog are largely gone, but he had,after all, been there and done that, and probably after a while one20-minute suite sounds like another, doesn't it? There might wellhave been more challenge to Pye's head in re-making a threadbaregenre. And he does; maybe there's a love song or two too many here,but that's probably just me. "Just The Way You Are" views anoverweight lady with typical polite Hastings lust, and "Cool Water"looks forward to a cold shower after a night at a favorite pub - ifour protagonist can only make it home! Notable is Hastings' use of"I've had a skinful" to denote a bit too much to drink-- last time Iheard that phrase used was in Oliver Goldsmith's 1820 comedy "SheStoops To Conquer"! Proof of the efficacy of the British educationsystem, I shouldn't wonder. "Tuesday Is Rock'n'Roll Nite" revives theoldest geetar riff in the fake book with great glee and some hardwalloping from Coughlan, while "Ansaphone" finds Pye out in the rainagain wondering where the party is. "Poor Molly" is the most folkything Pye's ever done, hearkening back to the classicgirl-who-never-quite- gets-it-right song the English have beenwriting since "The Unfortunate Miss Bailey" (and further back thanthat!). Yes, the sound quality isn't perfect, but these were demos,don't forget, and Pye's son Julian has done a world-class jobremastering them.
Finally, the closing track ("SendReinforcements"), tunefully resolute though it is, has Pye reflecting"I feel so all alone...", which unfortunately leaves us in about thesame place we were at the end of Better By Far.Still, there's mention in the liner notes that Hastings has neverstopped writing music, so (as he puts it) "the price of cabbage andthe aftereffects of Shepherd Neame" aside (?!), we may get to hear itsoon. "Or", as he concludes, "I may just piss it on up the wall".Hope not. Rock music being the nursery of wailing babies that itcurrently is, we'd welcome a mature viewpoint. Do carry on, Mr.Hastings.
© 1995 ToneClusters