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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More from Caravan:
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1 thought on “Caravan – Better By Far (1977)

  1. This iteration of Caravan is painful because it sounds nothing like Caravan. It is full pf poppy sunshiny rhythms and doesn’t seem to contain the understated progressive cool that I’ve grown to expect from Caravan since the late 60s. Caravan has a perfect right to change. Not everyone is going to follow. Only for completists, I think.

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