When one hears of the Canterbury sound, one immediately thinks of churches and from there the mind leaps to other symbols of fading Englishness: leafy woods, village greens, pints of bitter and so on. The sound was in many ways a serious muso thing, all jazzy improv, virtuouso beard-stroking and talking authoritatively about drum fills. They had a whimsical side too, of which Gong are the most obvious exponents: that band's entire career seemed to be an excuse for them to make up a long saga about a farty goblin.
Caravan have all of this whimsy and Englishness. Their lyrics are silly and full of fusty fantasy and endearing nonsense, calling to mind Lear or a more juvenile Carroll. The singer is named Pye Hasting, a glorious name which suggests he once bowled off-breaks for Somerset, and is the central character in one of the forthcoming Game of Thrones
spinoffs. He has a strange voice, at once deep and reedy, bookish and cheeky. The songs here are unusual, imaginative, but not overcomplicated: no rapid-fire shredding or crashing, epic chords to be found here. Instead we have sometimes uncanny and often pretty songs which move through different sections and are adorned with odd touches, tuneful organ solos and a chunky, bouncy rhythm section. There is even a prominent cowbell on the poppy 'Love to Love You''.
The production is warm and inviting, though the sound does hint at the soft, stadium pap that prog often favoured later on. Here, though, the naffness is peculiarly cosy: always pleasant, even if the instrumental passages start to remind me of cheesy library music. Although there is plenty of noodling with organs and there are occasional half-hearted guitar workouts here, only one song, the closing 'Nine Feet Underground', goes the full prog, with its 20-odd minutes and multiple sections led by a cod-dramatic organ but also featuring some rather lovely flute and mellotron. It's sadder than the rest of the album but fits well, and the manic final section avoids being too excessive.
The album works for me because it takes a very logical step from the psychedelic era, moving towards a pastoral sound full of folklore and oddness. This quaint sound is much more to my taste than the chaotic drama of Van Der Graaf Generator or the fiddly showmanship of Gentle Giant, for example. It is an album that could only have been made at a certain time: its florid silliness is a world away from the determined untidiness of modern indie bands, for example. It's music which is easily suggestive of a time and place: it sounds like it could have been recorded in the back room of an antiquarian bookshop, or in a wizard's pantry, or inside an old oak tree. Isn't that what you want from a prog album?
I should note that this is an album I have owned and liked for a long time, but it is one of the highest-rated prog albums on this board so it is worth revisiting for this thread.