Caravanserai


(Mark Sampson) #1

It starts with the by now, for me at least, familiar sound of crickets scratching their back legs together (or whatever it is that these insects do to create such an evocative choral), presumably on some sun-drenched savannah grassland rather than a Lotois lawn. Enter a lone tenor saxophone, sounding like the wail of one of those interminably long goods trains that lumber across the American continent. Then mix in some deep resonant double bass, some echoing electric guitar and finally a crisp metronomic drum refrain. Add shaker bells – et voilà! It's pure jazz.


Listening to 'Eternal Caravan of Reincarnation' (whose title pre-figures Carlos Santana's coming preoccupations with Sri 'Chimney' and all that eastern spiritual stuff) reminds me why a childhood friend was prepared to swap Caravanserai for my almost pristine copy of The Groundhogs' Thank Christ for the Bomb. That was back in 1973 and I know who got the better deal. I've got nothing against The Groundhogs: Tony McPhee was a very decent blues guitarist, but his voice was limited, to put it kindly, and I doubt very much whether my friend Ian is still listening to it now.


Whereas I'm still listening to what I consider to be Santana's finest hour and still enjoying it as much as ever 40 years down the road. My friend Ian was not and probably never would be a 'jazzer'. We used to play 'bin-ball' in the car park of an architectural practice in the entry that separated the back gardens of our two parallel tree-lined avenues in middle-class Belfast. It was a form of two-a-side football with upturned dustbins as goals. The small target for our shots meant that there was little margin for error and crucially no need for goalkeepers. My brother earned the nickname of 'bin-ball wizard' primarily for a semi-legal tactic of 'tunnelling' against the wall of the architects' back yard, which the brothers Bamford tried unsuccessfully to outlaw.


We graduated from bin-ball to Subbuteo and I think it was during an away match in the Bamfords' upstairs sitting room that we effected the exchange. Santana's fourth album is still here in the shelves and I'm still as happy as Larry with my swap. Yes, I can understand Ian's disappointment. Anyone expecting more 'Samba Pa Ti' would have to wait until well into the second track for even a burst of Senor Santana's trademark crying guitar. There are no vocals until the fourth track, the brief 'Just in Time to see the Sun'.


As one track segues into another on Caravanserai's first side you appreciate that the album is less about Santana the guitar hero (as they would tend to become much later in his career) and more about Santana the band – and on this album especially the stellar three-pronged percussion attack of James Mingo Lewis on congas, José Chepito Areas on timbales and the splendid Michael Shrieve on trap drums.


After the guitarist's showcase on 'Song of the Wind', the first side ends with the dramatic ensemble work-out of 'All the Love of the Universe', which might lead you to anticipate that the second side couldn't live up to the first. Sure enough, I used to write down 'Future Primitive', the opener on Side 2, as a little too... primitive for my developing taste. I would lift the arm across it and let it drop on the second track. Now it's just about my numero uno: a minimalist masterpiece built around a deep reverberating organ note à la Sun Ra and some spacey guitar motifs before a dialogue of two sets of congas rises then subsides to leave only the guitar and the initial organ drone.


It segues into the album's only non-original number: a delicious version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's 'Stone Flower' with words added by Santana and Shrieve and a juicy double bass rather than the electric model. Then comes the fast and furious 'La Fuente del Ritmo', which gave me an excuse to sit between the speakers and listen to Carlos soup-up the guitar and fire notes from left to channel to right and back again.


If Side 1 ended with a bang rather than a whimper, the band pulled out all the stops to close the album. 'Every Step of the Way' features some frantic flute, a barrage of percussion and some full-throttle blistering guitar all backed by the horns of a big band. It's an album that goes on giving. Perusing the sparse liner notes earlier, I noticed for the first time that the supplementary musicians on the finale were orchestrated by Tom Harrell, one of the finest jazz trumpeters of recent decades.


Maybe there's nothing quite as catchy here as 'Evil Ways', but Caravanserai clearly confirms what a monster of a band Santana were. That performance at Woodstock was no flash in the pan. For me, it's their most consistently satisfying album and a fine example of what would become much later in life my first musical love: Latin jazz.


I only hope that Ian is still enjoying Thank Christ for the Bomb as much as I'm still diggin' some classic Santana.


(Peter Bird) #2

Have to admit i've had loads of things thrown at me like plates, cups & rotten eggs etc but never knickers..

The Osmonds can't be classed as 'boyband' material can they ? Donny was the so-called 'heartthrob' not the whole band. How about the Beach Boys ? Was/is the boyband thing just a british fad or is it a worldwide phenomenon ? I mean, do the Japanese ladies throw their knickers at Dave Wang and the Sushis for example ?


(Brian Milne) #3

The Ink Spots were formed in the 1930s, were unique and were apparently the first group ever to have screams and knickers thrown at them. I always thought they were early 50s close harmony, in fact they were also instrumentalists moved their bodies to rhythm and developed the prototype style that rock and roll and later rhythm and blues artistes who evolved into soul music adopted.The Monkees were 1966 but the Beatles earlier in 1962, Osmonds began in 1969 and Bay City Rollers as late as 1974. The Four Seasons took on that name in 1960s but had existed in various forms since 1953, the Platters were 1953 but had a woman in the group, the Four Tops 1953 to 1997, the Temptations 1960 and still limping on, there are quite a few at the end of the day. New Edition were the first group called a boy band with New Kids on the Block being classed the same and the expression sticking since.

Bit of a pointless history, but we live to learn. Amazing what you can do at 0530 in the morning, although pushing 0800 now and having actually done the papers and a bit of work...


(Barbara Deane) #4

The Four Seasons.

Really good harmony...

I may even go to London to see Jersey Boys...

The boys appeared live at Stanstead airport a couple of years ago..

it was superb...and enjoyed by all in the departure/ sales area.


(Peter Bird) #5

I'm going to go for The Bay City Rollers (Oooh Les, I love you !) as the first boy band or equivalent.


(Chris Kite) #6

The Monkeys were definitely around long before the Monkees...


(Brian Milne) #7

The Ink Spots apparently, I went looking for the whole idea but nobody used the expression boy bands until the mid to late 1980s.


(Barbara Deane) #8

Maybe the first boy band was The Monkeys [ ouch]....or the walker Bros of the

Or Paul and Barry Ryan....Dave, Dee, Dozzy, Beaky, Mitch and Tich.


(Brian Milne) #9

Nausea waves...


(Chris Kite) #10

Remember the Beatles rooftop concert?
Fast forward 42years and we happen to be walking along Hastings seafront. We can hear music and see a band playing on the rooftop of a hotel. When we get closer it becomes obvious that the Beatles have reformed!! You’d think that after all these years they would have improved as musicians, but then of course it was a “Tribute” band. They were DIRE. The George Harrison was particularly horrific. Further along at the White Rock Theatre there were posters proclaiming a weekend of Beatles music from 10 different bands I think. Imagine if the band we saw was the best!


(Brian Milne) #11

Another question is about '1960s Revival Clubs'. I read about them a while back and shuddered. It seems there are loads of them in the UK but also all over Europe. The once famous and nearly famous 'tour' them (convoys of Zimmer frames springs to mind) and are supported by bands playing Beatles, Searchers, Freddy and the Dreamers (good grief!!!!) and so on who are often made up of middle aged people who have been reviving the 60s since the 80s and new, young revival bands.

I have no idea whatsoever where any of these many clubs might be and do not really care to. As for revival bands I accidentally listened to one for pushing half an hour this summer before both daughters said that since they were only copies of the originals but with no style they would prefer to go home. The two of them usually do just about anything to stay out well past the witching hour so for them to say they wanted to leave is an indictment of what 60s revivalism can do to the nervous sytem...

Has any of you indulged in that nostalgic nonsense?


(Chris Kite) #12

The Bachelors, The Monkeys, Blair Brown and Mandelson…
I actually bought an early Slade single called Shape of Things to Come and saw them live at the Lyceum in '71…they could really play…honest. Don’t think they count anyway.

Agree with you Brian. It’s not what you’d call Easy Listening is it!


(Brian Milne) #13

HH I suspect, Peter Noone was 14 and well before the Osmonds or Rollers. Never recollect seeing a boy band unless my contemporaries doing a school gig counts. All of them were aspiring, none very good and from when I have bumped into one of them now and again, very embarrassed at any mention of it.

boyinaband, David Brown, is early 20s also in You and What Army who are also not the worst, does stuff across rock, dubstep, hip hop, rap, metal, glitch hop,electronic and orchestral rock. This year Don't Stay In School! was real good, Resurrect is fairly unbeatable. If other people work as creatively then ordinary music can step aside for a while. When my daughter introduced me to his stuff, I coughed and spluttered about it, listened, looked at stuff on YouTube and think the man is good. So, whilst one example, there are people doing good things and all of the carbon copy singers everybody raves about should shut up and allow a bit of innovation to step in.


(Peter Bird) #14

Just having a ponder..

Who would qualify as the first ever 'boy band' ?

Maybe The Osmonds or Bay City Rollers or who ?

Maybe earlier with someone like Hermans Hermits or maybe The Fab Four ?

Who would be 'burdened' with such a depressing title ?

Any thoughts anyone ?

And does anyone admit to having been to a boy bands concert ? I went to a Slade gig in about 1972, does that count ? surely not..


(Chris Kite) #15

If it’s the boyinaband I’m thinking of I’d reluctantly agree with you! People I know might read this…


(Brian Milne) #16

With you to the dotted i Chris. One person I know, well I know his sideman really, was never my cup of tea and had his high time in the 1960s. He made a lot of money, did a disappearing act, reappeared with some changes except his songs and style, so vanished again. Periodically he comes out of retirement which is absurd given he is three months older than me so I know that he is 67 and that he is doing (another) a tour next year. He writes new stuff but quite honestly nobody much gives a toss. So when he gigs it is mainly his old standards to an audience of people mainly over 60. So stale we could use slices of him for frisbees.

My daughters listen to all we parents listen to, they both love blues to pieces and one can silence them (12 and 14) with B.B. King, they'll sit and listen, but then we can put on Dick Gaughan followed by Gianna Nannini then Gustav Mahler... With the new music they'll try to get my approval but actually I tend to be more generous about some of it than they are. I am not really into rap but Boyinaband has done some good stuff, great lyrics, they like him too but then Black Eyed Peas hip hop which I quite like they hate. Young people would probably concur with the certain age group if they are listeners rather than simply consumers.


(Chris Kite) #17

I think you have hit the nail on the head with your bands going stale comment Brian. I can't really think of many that have had any sort of longevity not hitting that particular wall. Lets face it, Dylan isn't going to make another Blood on the Tracks and Neil Young's harvest time is over, etc etc. You gave me Eric Gales to listen to and as good as he is, its not really moving forward is it? Who knows when my favourite band at the moment, Trucks/Tedeschi will get bogged down? When HIGNFY got rid of Angus Deayton, the new presenters were like a breath of fresh air and some bands have done similar in bringing in new personnel and reinventing themselves. Sadly in the case of HIGNFY, satire went out the window and it too has become stale. Most of today's so called "Rock Bands" are so bland they would go unnoticed played over a Shopping Mall musak system. There's no shortage of music for me to listen to though, whether it's old or new and it's always good to listen to things you've never heard before. All the comments on here are by people of a certain age! Perhaps we need some replies from a younger generation to give us a different perspective. Probably not going to happen though..


(Brian Milne) #18

Yes, must agree and I had to suppress telling him that I thought that too. He didn't buy by the way, I don't think he is as loaded as his ideas about what he wanted would allow.

10cc, dunno. I let them slip past. Like The Move, although nobody could miss Roy Wood in the end.


(Peter Bird) #19

Deep Purple still going in one guise or another..saw them in Ipswich (I believe) in the '70s and they were good. Gillan is still just about the best male rock vocalist ever..

A more 'poppy' band which flattered to decieve was 10cc. The albums i've heard are rubbish but the best stuff is superb !


(Brian Milne) #20

Yes, I agree. The Moodies got somewhat stuck in the Days of Future Passed groove although as a live band they did some superb progressive rock stuff. Likewise, the Hollies with CSNY in mind. They were entirely commercial but also tried some quite unique things. I think they were one of the first bands ever to do a tribute album, the Dylan one at the end of the 60s, which was a tad mediocre but brave. Tony Hicks has collaborated with his son Paul on projects with Floyd. The few times I saw CSN/Y Graham Nash was the one who did not sound right at all, something did not work, I have no idea what it was. Yet, as I understood it, he walked out on the Hollies to go CSN exclusively over doing that kind of music. Then Procol Harum, stuck in the Whiter Shade of Pale reputation but whilst live they were not special, especially Gary Brooker's ego swamping everything, they made some good recordings (not that I ever bought any). Another band who should have gone miles further and survived better than getting to the plateau I believe they are still on in their dotage was Deep Purple. I had met Jon Lord when he was with the Artwoods because some people I know did session work with Alexis Korner who Art Wood was with in Blues Incorporated, the Artwoods tended to spend a bit of time in SW19. He was a mouthy, pushy guy. So, when I was part-timing at a club in Berlin and a new band called Deep Purple were booked I was there like a shot, mainly because of Ritchie Blackmore who had been touring Germany with the Outlaws and I reckoned his guitar work. So, DP turn up and Mr Mouth took the lead in everything. 2013, Ian Gillan was looking for a house in France, gets my OH to show him a few, one of the few of her clients I have ever met. He said nasty things of Blackmore and put the fact that fact that whilst he gigs with Purp now and again, in the heydays it was because JL liked where they were that they never really progressed to where they might have been. One of the reasons he left back then and has only ever been in and out for the reunions.

So perhaps that is the thing, and I am sure there are many more examples, bands and performers get stuck in grooves and thus instead of leading music forward, they go stale and there you get your Moodies and the like. For me CSN would have gone there fast but Y pulled them along, however to a point he was in a musical rut that produced some really crap albums. I may not like the live, but some of the songs and the albums are fine and yet they never moved forward either.