One of the more consistent labels that’s popped up around RSTB over the years has been UK house Ghost Box. The label’s approach to gorgeously layered psychedelic electronic combined with a design sense driven by the legendary Julian House makes each new entry an essential piece of a larger puzzle. The label is headed by Jim Jupp, but he’s not only the driving force behind the label, he’s also one of their stable of artists. Combining a whimsical nostalgia with deep synth atmospherics, he crops up in the guise of The Belbury Poly and The Belbury Circle. Jim’s definitely the kind of deep shelf record listener that the Hidden Gems series was made for, so I couldn’t resist asking for a pick when the latest Belbury Poly album came ‘round this year. He’s landed on a key Canterbury prog classic from Caravan — the expansive The Land of Grey and Pink. Check out how this album came into his life and the impact it’s made.
“I have to say I’ve really struggled with this request to think of one album that’s meant a lot to me, influenced me and stayed with me,” admits Jupp. “My first instinct was to go to my childhood or teens and pick out one of those formative records that we all latch on to and totally absorb, but instead I’ve gone for something that I came to much later in life and that caused me to rethink a whole area of music. It’s still an album whose influence has hopefully crept into my work in a roundabout way and it’s a rare example of a record I could pretty much listen to any time and all the time.“
“It’s The Land of Grey and Pink by Caravan,” he notes. “Eeeek it’s prog rock ! I know, I know, and I used to feel the same way as all sensible, rational minded folk. However even as forerunners of the UK prog rock world and even though many of their tracks spiral on for longer than five minutes Caravan could never have been accused of taking themselves as seriously as some, and their music was done with a light touch and tracks don’t out-stay there welcome. Ok, the B side to Land of Grey and Pink clocks in at 22minutes but its effectively eight separate two or three minute songs run in together.”
“Caravan’s music was often built up from solidly accessible pop songs and melodies that were surprisingly bright, upbeat and unique for the 1970s. “Golf Girl” for example comes on like some art pop song from the early 80s rather than a 1971 prog nightmare. Admittedly, “ Jim concedes, “Pye Hastings and Richard Sinclair’s lyrics sometimes stray into gnome and dragon territory and there’s a also a dollop of daft school boy humour but it’s all charming and good fun. Unsurprisingly for these central figures of the Canterbury scene, musicianship is consistently excellent throughout. There’s plenty of improvisation and soloing of course but it comes from a jazz sensibility and always flows pleasingly. There’s no grimacing earbleed guitar workouts or sweaty drum antics here and in fact a large part of the soloing comes from the David Sinclair’s keyboards.”
“It’s far more accessible album than it ought to be, it’s light as a feather and just bounces along. The band don’t showboat their chops (not too much anyway). Above all it’s the atmosphere of this record I love, for me it instantly evokes a bright, carefree October morning in 1970s Britain.”
Jim’s quite hit the nail on the head for this one. The album is a dynamic psychedelic opus with the prog albatross often thrown around its neck. The Canterbury scene was a bit like that all around — heads who pushed things to the far edge, but were more into the notion of bridging rock with jazz’ ability to be more free flowing, than complete technical perfectionists. This, along with Soft Machine and Gong will albays have a soft spot for me. Thankfully Jim and I are not alone in our admiration and while you can still pick an original up for a slightly reasonable price, there was also a reissue of this proper last year. Though I’d recommend pairing it with Jupp’s just released The Gone Away which is a delight in its own right and out now.
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