Monday, 2 June 2008

In the Land of Grey and Pink...eventually.

In those long ago days of anytime before about 1985, music came on a 12 inch vinyl disc which was packed into a 12 inch cardboard sleeve. In order for consumers to differentiate between albums the cardboard cover was adorned with a bit of Art. That big square of design Art is one of the things I really miss about vinyl albums – in fact the old covers now look disproportionately large and in your face compared with a small CD insert. The mini versions just don’t convey the impact of an old LP sleeve.

Some covers were so intriguing that you almost had to buy the album just for the cover alone. I did this once with Talking Heads ‘77’ which had a bright pillar box red cover and luckily the music it contained was excellent. But there have been many others whose arty covers I have coveted without summoning enough courage to buy. One such album was Caravan’s ‘In the Land of Grey and Pink’ which was released in 1971 at a time when my purchasing power was very limited indeed and thus passed me by, but it did have a fabulous cover.

So here I am with a CD copy of ‘Land’ purchased 37 years too late because it was £2.98 on Amazon and I’m looking at that cover in its reduced size on the insert. It still looks great, if a little diminished, but never having listened to it until now, what about the music?

Well, Caravan were part of the great Canterbury Progrock scene of the early 1970s which included Soft Machine, Egg, Gong and Hatfield and the North, so ‘Land’ is predictably a classic progrock LP with a statutory 22 minute largely instrumental piece on side two as was de rigueur at the time. The overall feel is very pastoral as opposed to tough urban and has a folksy, rather hippyish ambience similar to Genesis’s early albums, ‘Trespass’ to ‘Foxtrot’ in particular.

The aspect that struck me very forcibly is how ‘English’ it sounds. It has a real non-transatlantic atmosphere which is not something you get to hear these days where most bands have a sort of melting pot mid-Atlantic face. In retrospect, progressive rock was a very English corner of rock’s history, most of the recognisable bands of the genre harking from the UK. It is not something that I have really dwelt on before but ‘Land’ has a very strong English folk meets Elgar/Vaughan Williams style which accentuates the quality. The vocals are a bit tentatively introspective and have an English accent whilst the lyrics are understatedly eccentric and wry. All this tends to make it sound a bit dated yet nostalgic and warmly comfortable. A bit like visiting childhood haunts.

So after all this time it was definitely worth buying – and the cover’s still wonderful. Pity I haven’t got the 12-inch version.

For more discussion about prog bands see my book 'Memoirs of a Music Obsessive'.


Jayne Ferst said...

This review intrigued me enough to search out Caravan 'Land' on youtube - I see what you mean about it about how 'English' it sounds, the lyrics are suitably mad in places - 'we'll go to sea drinking tea' being a favourite!

Nice melody though - prog rock was all about the musicianship, wasn't it? I always thought that especially in that genre, the instruments were the stars. I'm not sure I'd seek this song out, but if I bumped into it again I'd be happy to listen. Now it has made me want to find ELO... :)

musicobsessive said...

Glad you liked it. I always been a bit of a progrock fan despite its bad press - although some of it sounds a bit twee now. As you say, the musicianship was first class, not something you always get today when music is made for profit rather than for its own sake.

As to ELO. Blimey! I might have to get out my blue vinyl copy of 'Mr Blue Sky'!

Perplexio said...

I've got this one and Caravan's For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night. I prefer the latter but both certainly have their moments.

musicobsessive said...

I rather missed out on Caravan but like 'Land' so I may checkout some of their other works.