Royal Weddings. Pomp and Circumstance. Wet Bank Holiday Mondays. There are some things that the English do much better than anyone else. Let’s add eccentric, self deprecating progressive rock to that list. The 40th anniversary reissue of Caravan‘s “In the Land of Grey and Pink”, tinkered by the prolific Steven Wilson, principal architect behind Porcupine Tree and Blackfield, and given a good audiophile scrub down thanks to the advances of technology, is a fantastic opportunity to reacquaint oneself with the intricate, complex delights of a very English music.
When it was first released in 1971, “In the Land of Pink and Grey” was pretty much regarded as the key output of the Canterbury scene of prog. It did, however, also drive a fantastic wedge between many fans in the prog community – and probably still does- who couldn’t take to their mix of jazz infused prog and quirky, observational, and often surrealist, humour.
“In The Land of Pink and Grey” works for these very reasons. You get none of the keyboard led excesses that can blight and bore in equal measure and, whilst there is a seriousness to the musical undertaking, there is also a self-deprecation and absence of ponderous, chin-stroking which can weigh down a lot of prog in a coat of its own self-regard. It’s a delight to report that this record still sounds fresh and inventive; whether that’s indicative of the band being ahead of their time or more simply that their influences are more pervasive today, I’m not entirely sure, but there’s some treasure here worth investigating, either for the first time or, if you’re a prog adherent, coming back to again.
On ‘Golf Girl‘, for example, you don’t get a good deal more English than tea drinking, pvc wearing, rain-dodging romances. On the twenty-odd minute suite that is ‘Nine Feet Underground‘ (something of an icon for prog fans with its often astonishing mix of jazz, psychedelia and rock) you are propelled along with a dazzling combination of musicianship: it’s a track that’s full of brilliant moments, light and shade, power and precision, creativity and passion. The final passage of this glorious undertaking has more than a loving nod to Cream but the overall effect is more Genesis or Yes: it’s simply brilliant.
‘Love to Love You (And Tonight Pigs Will Fly)‘ is the purest pop candy floss but with a lyrical content that suggests something darker and more vicious. This is also evidenced on ‘Winter Wine’– an acoustic led seven minute track that has you reaching for your mid period Opeth to note where Michael Akerfeldt picked up a number of influences. It’s initially a very straightforward indulgence but, on repeated listens, it suggests a much darker and bleaker space that will undoubtedly have resonated with Opeth’s mainman. It also, rightly to my mind, suggests that the band were capable of something more than just featherweight whimsy.
You know what: despite our protestations to the contrary, we are often more influenced by the vagaries of fashion and the prevailing winds than we’d care to admit. I know how, for some, Caravan don’t quite hit the high watermark of the (deep throated voice) VERY SERIOUS prog aficionados; this is hardly the point. We need to look at this in and of itself. This is not a heavy metal record, its not even a particularly heavy record. Put any reservations aside: “In the Land of Pink and Grey” is a deeply idiosyncratic record- it’s both expansive and yet minutely detailed in its execution. This is a record to live with over time, to explore and revel in. You know what: it is absolutely delightful from start to finish.