Quirky and Very English

Quirky and Very English
Authored By John Nicholson
Canterbury is a sleepy place to host and define a musical movement. We have to remember that back in early 70s not everyone wanted to be a rock star, so the community was quite small. Basically, it all revolved around Caravan, a muscular and very English band. Bands like Hatfield And The North and National Health released a couple of albums (both excellent). The music was rooted in jazz, sometimes more than others. National Health’s debut was long keyboard led workouts which had an ambient quality. Soft Machine turned psychedelic jazz into pure jazz into guitar led jazz rock but didn’t chart, though were well respected.
Hatfield were complex jazz rock mixed with humour. But Caravan were, with Gong, the commercial success that drove the whole movement. Not with album sales, as they never charted, but with live performances. They quickly hit a peak with ‘If I Could Do it Again, and ‘For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night’. Both records featured long workouts in several sections one of which ‘For Richard’ became a big fave as did the latters ‘Nine Feet Underground’. Very popular on the college circuit.
The Canterbury Scene
Members came and left for other local bands but the sound remained largely the same. Gong were the most outright outfit, and as such are not always thought of as a Canterbury band. They played far out jazz rock. Again, they were a popular live act, especially at festivals. Gong Live etc is a stunning live album. Steve Hillage who went on to a highly  successful solo career as a guitarist, wrote or co-wrote some of their best work like ‘Master Builder’.
Back on earth there were niche bands like Matching Mole and Henry Cow. Others like Egg and Ariel evolved into more popular groups. If you like your jazz rock peppered with comic references and obscure ambient themes all of these bands will reward exploration. Often over amplified keyboard led, they don’t sound like anyone else and some are still out there, ploughing a furrow. These days bands wouldn’t be given a ten album deal without a hit record but Caravan was. The music was so good, it didn’t matter that it didn’t sell. Dave Stewart, a member of Caravan and Barbara Gaskin, who did bv’s for Hatfield hit #1 with a reworking of Its My Party. It sounded Canterburyish but no one who bought it realised.
If you’re starting on your Canterbury journey I recommend beginning with ..Plump, Hatfield’s Rotters Club and the first National Health album. You won’t be sorry.

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