Caravan – Better By Far (1977)

FrontCover1Caravan are an English rock band from the Canterbury area, founded by former Wilde Flowers members David Sinclair, Richard Sinclair, Pye Hastings, and Richard Coughlan in 1968. The band have never achieved the great commercial success that was widely predicted for them at the beginning of their career, but are nevertheless considered a key part of the Canterbury scene of progressive rock acts, blending psychedelic rock, jazz, and classical influences to create a distinctive sound.

The band were originally based in Whitstable, Kent, near Canterbury, but moved to London when briefly signed to Verve Records. After being dropped by Verve, the band signed to Decca Records, where they released their most critically acclaimed album, In the Land of Grey and Pink, in 1971. Dave Sinclair left after the album’s release and the group split up the following year. Hastings and Coughlan added new members, notably viola player Geoffrey Richardson, continuing on before splitting in 1978.

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The band reformed several times in the following decades, and Caravan still remain active as a live band in the 21st century, despite Coughlan’s death in December, 2013.

Better by Far is the eighth studio album by Canterbury scene rock band Caravan. (wikipedia)

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I perfectly understand why diehard Caravan fans find this album painful to listen to. ‘Classic Caravan’ this is not; just as DRAMA isn’t ‘Classic Yes’, and yet I find both of these albums excellent in their own right.

Having just listened to BETTER BY FAR for the first time in more than twenty years (a CD version was released only recently), I just can’t believe how refreshing Pye Hastings’ vocals and Jan Schelhaas’ minimoog (among other things) still sound on such bright, simple but by no means negliglible pop songs as FEELIN’ ALRIGHT and LET IT SHINE.

I have always found the title tune a very seductive love song, probably because I was deeply in love when I first heard it! SILVER STRINGS is amusing (sort of Caravan- meet-10CC-meet-Johann Strauss) and MAN IN A CAR contains some ravishing harp interludes. But best of all: THE LAST UNICORN is one of the most succesful instrumentals in Caravan’s career (wonderful viola playing from Geoff Richardson, followed by an inspired uptempo jam) and NIGHTMARE is one of their most ravishing songs altogether. (Thank you, Pye Hastings, for your lovely singing and for that climactic, yet restrained, guitar solo.)

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An additional fascination is the fact that this album was produced by Tony Visconti, who introduced some of the same experiments with phasers (whatever they are!) that he had perpetrated on David Bowie’s LOW and ‘HEROES’. I was a big Bowie fan when BETTER BY FAR came out, but only now, so many years later, did I notice how much this Caravan album has in common with LOW: virtually the same prominent drum sound, with a clearer bass guitar sound than on any other Caravan record. If you know LOW but haven’t heard BETTER BY FAR, imagine, if you like, a warm, cosy, non-alienated twin brother to Bowie’s famous album. Now who would have thought a band like Caravan could pull this off? (by fuxi)

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Personnel:
Richard Coughlan (drums, percussion)
Pye Hastings (vocals, guitar)
Dek Messecar (bass, background vocals)
Geoff Richardson )viola, guitar, flute, sitar, mandolin, vocals)
Jan Schelhaas (keyboards, synthesizer, background vocals)
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Vicki Brown (vocals on 06.)
Fiona Hibbert (harp on 07.)
Tony Visconti (recorder on 05., bass on 07.)

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Tracklist:
01. Feelin’ Alright (Hastings) 3.26
02. Behind You (Hastings) 4.55
03. Better by Far (Hastings) 3,21
04. Silver Strings (Richardson) 3.54
05. The Last Unicorn (Richardson) 5.45
06. Give Me More (Hastings) 4.35
07. Man In A Car (Schelhaas) 5.36
08. Let It Shine (Hastings) 4.22
09. Nightmare (Hastings) 6.16

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Ralf Nowy Group – Escalation (1974)

FrontCover1RALF NOWY, in the school report a “four” in music, became a technical draftsman. In 1958 he founded his own rock’n’roll band. In 1960 he passed the entrance examinations for the engineering school and the conservatory, but decided to study (bassoon and composition) at the conservatory. In 1961 he played flute in a modern jazz trio. In 1964, after completing her studies, NOWY moved through Germany as a dance musician. In 1968 he was saddled as a program designer and production manager at Saarländischer Rundfunk. In 1971 he became independent as a arranger and worked in the following years for all sorts of pop singers: Udo Jürgens, Ireen Sheer, Isabell Domin, Peter Horton, Joy Fleming and Su Kramer.
Those musicians with whom RALF NOWY moved to the Trixi studio in Munich in mid-1973 to record his first LP “Lucifer’s Dream” formed the starting point for the future RALF NOWY GROUP: the guitarist PAUL VINCENT, a graduate of the humanistic grammar school in the groups Missus Beastly, Hallelujah Baby and Doldinger’s Motherhood. Also the bassist PAUL UNWIN attended high school in England, besides he played bass since his 14th year. Before he came to Germany in 1962, he belonged to an estimated ten English groups.
The Icelander THOR BALDURSON attended after high school the Music Academy (subjects: theory and composition). After performing for a long time with a folksong group, he played for three years in Sweden, until he finally came in 1973 in the Federal Republic.
VICTOR BEHRENS sailed to the lake from the age of 16 to 19, then enrolled at the Stern Conservatory. After a six-year detour to dance music, he became a studio musician.
KEITH FORSEY belonged to the English group Spectrum, came to Germany in 1970 and played here with Amon Düül II, Goldfinger and 18K Gold.

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In mid-1974, the RALF NOWY GROUP recorded the second album, again mainly with Nowy compositions. A production that was offered as a “ravishingly rocking classic” (press release) and reviewed the sound of SOUNDS: “The Ralf Nowy Group recalls Middle and Far Eastern sounds, sacred singing, rock, jazz, classical music, serious contemporary music and electronics However, when trying to merge individual styles with each other, at times quite a musical offside. ”
The Ralf Nowy Group gave several concerts alone or as an accompaniment to the singer Joy Fleming concerts, including in the NDR workshop. (Günter Ehnert + Detlef Kinsler)

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Flautist/saxophonist Ralf Nowy (born 1940) had a long and honourable career as frontman, session player, arranger and producer, working with Giorgio Moroder in the latter’s pre-disco era. To my knowledge, 1974’s Escalation (credited to merely Nowy) was his second solo album, eschewing his debut, the previous year’s Lucifer’s Dream’s krautrock grooves for his natural home, fusion, although the album contains a good helping of progressive stylings. The five short tracks on side one switch between jazz (opener Blue Silver, News From the Chicken Farm), a Latin/hard rock hybrid (Manomolela), massed flute jazz (Sixteen Flutes) and off-kilter blues rock (I’d Rather Sell My Life, Than My Guitar), but the album’s centrepiece is its side-long title track, a jazz/classical/rock tour de force, not devoid of humour: note the guitarist’s Glenn Miller quote towards the end. I think it’s safe to say that you’ve probably never heard anything quite like this before; its component parts are nothing new, but their combination produces a unique piece, although I’ll admit it might be slightly overlong.

Thor Baldursson plays Mellotron, with choirs (including a nice solo sequence), alongside real voices on the title track, although I suspect that all the flutes on, er, Sixteen Flutes are real. I don’t believe this is on CD, but now it’s turned up on download sites, make the effort to track it down; you’ll thank me when you hear Escalation itself. Maybe….. (johnkatsmc5.blogspot.com)

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Personnel:
Thor Baldurson (piano, harpsichord, synthesizer, mellotron, vocals )
Viktor Behrens (trumpet)
Keith Forsey (drums, percussion, vocals)
Martin Harrison (drums, vocals)
Sylvester Levay (piano, harpsichord)
Ralf Nowy (saxophone, flute. kalimba, zither, percussion, vocals)
Gary Unwin (bass)
Paul Vincent (guitar, vocals)
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Franz Deuber Group (strings)
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01. Blue Silver (Levay(Nowy)) 2.57
02. Manomolela (Vincent-Gunia/Nowy) 3.19
03. News From The Chicken Farm (Vincent-Gunia/Nowy) 3.30
04. Sixteen Flutes (Nowy) 3.31
05. I’d Rather Sell My Life Than My Guitar (Vincent-Gunia) 5.02
06. Escalation (Nowy) 17.44

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