Dave Sinclair is one of the most well-liked musician of the Canterbury scene, both as author of some of Caravan's classic epics ("For Richard", "Nine Feet Underground", "The Dabsong Conshirtoe", "Proper Job/Back To Front"...) and as master of the typical Canterbury organ sound/playing. He has been in and out of Caravan for the last 35 years, interrupted by brief stints with bands such as Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North and Camel, and various solo projects.
Dave Sinclair was born in Herne Bay, Kent on November 24th, 1947. He was of course educated at the now legendary Simon Langton School, which was also attended by future Canterbury figures such as Tony Coe, Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper, Brian Hopper and Mike Ratledge. Although he did take a few piano lessons at age 8, Sinclair is for the most part self-taught. And although he became famous as a keyboard player, he actually started his musical career playing bass guitar with local bands, then with the Wilde Flowers (at which point Hugh Hopper had switched from bass to sax, shortly before leaving). In March 1967, he eventually opted for organ.
There are unfortunately no recordings dating from the period of the Wilde Flowers when Sinclair was in the band, as their repertoire at the time consisted mainly in cover versions of r'n'b hits. But of course he plays on the first three Caravan albums, which witness the slow maturation process of his organ playing. By the time of In The Land Of Grey And Pink , Sinclair perfectly mastered the instrument, and his solos on "Winter Wine" and the epic "Nine Feet Underground" are stunning and classic stuff.
Maybe Sinclair felt he had achieved his original aims, as he left Caravan shortly after the album's release. "I felt the whole thing was going a bit stagnant and that I needed inspiration from different people", he said later. Two weeks after leaving the band, he met John Murphy, a singer, guitarist and songwriter who was to become his songwriting partner for the next decade. Together with drummer Pete Pipkin, the formed a group which rehearsed for a few weeks. "We did some amazing playing", Sinclair remembers. "We were just jamming, really, we weren't working on particular songs".
The previous year, Sinclair had guested on Robert Wyatt's first solo album, The End Of An Ear , a successful collaboration for both. It was logical that, when Wyatt decided to leave Soft Machine in August 1971, he should call upon Dave 's services. In the autumn of 1971, Matching Mole was formed with Sinclair , Wyatt, Phil Miller (guitar) and Bill MacCormick (bass), and the newly formed quartet immediately went into the studio to record its first line-up. Very soon it became apparent that the style of music played by Matching Mole didn't suit Sinclair , who was less and less keen on improvising and jazz-oriented stuff. After the first few gigs the band became a quintet with the addition of pianist Dave MacRae from Nucleus, before Sinclair finally decided to leave after a European tour in March 1972.
He then resumed his songwriting activities with John Murphy, until he was once again asked to take part in a new band venture. This time, the call originated from his cousin Richard, who was in the process of forming Hatfield and the North with his ex-Matching Mole colleague Phil Miller and drummer Pip Pyle. Once again, after a few weeks, the combination proved incompatible and Sinclair left once again, to be replaced by Dave Stewart.
At that point, Sinclair was in urgent need of money and was happy to be asked by Pye Hastings to temporarily rejoin Caravan for a tour and studio session, which he did. The result was the album For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night , which marks a dramatic change in Sinclair 's playing, in terms of both sound and style. Gone was the dominent fuzz-organ work, in favour of less aggressive sounds, with the introduction of synthesizer. Eventually, Sinclair decided to stay in the band and recorded two further albums with Caravan, the Live With The New Symphonia (1974) and Cunning Stunts (1975) albums. For the latter, Dave was very involved in the composition work, co-writing both the opening song "The Show Of Our Lives" and the sidelong epic "The Dabsong Conshirtoe" with John Murphy.
Yet once again Dave Sinclair left Caravan, but this time musical reasons were only secondary. "Things were getting very bad with management, and I was advised not to do anything contractually for about a year or so. So I just had some time off...". Sinclair went down to Majorca and spent some time there with his cousin Richard who was also staying at Daevid Allen's place following the break-up of Hatfield and the North. Back in Canterbury, both cousins attempted to form a band together, which evolved into Sinclair & The South, also featuring John Murphy and (for just one gig) drummer Bill Bruford.
Yet Sinclair 's main project during the years 1975-77 was a solo album. "Jeremy Darby, a friend of mine who worked for the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury, persuaded me to record some songs. I had plenty that were just there doing nothing really, unrecorded, so we decided to put them down on tape in a demo form". Unfortunately, two years of hard work eventually came to nothing, as the projected album remained unfinished. The demos were eventually released in 1993 as the Moon Over Man CD : a mixture of introspective ballads, more commercial, up-tempo songs (recorded by a band line-up featuring Mark Hewins, Graham Flight and Pete Pipkin) and a couple of humorous songs co-written with John Murphy.
This Moon Over Man sessions led to the formation of The Polite Force, a local gigging band which was quite popular in Canterbury in the period 1976-78. The core of the band was Mark Hewins (guitar), Max Metto (sax), Graham Flight (bass) and Vince Clarke (drums), with Sinclair on electric piano during the first year or so. The Polite Force's musical legacy is now available on CD, thanks to the Voiceprint label's Canterbury Knights release. In November and December 1976, he briefly rejoined Caravan when a tour was set up to promote the double-LP compilation Canterbury Tales . For this occasion he shared keyboard duties with Jan Schelhaas, which he did again two years later when both joined Camel for the world tour promoting Breathless . Once again, Sinclair 's main motivation for that was financial, so he left again upon completion of the tour, in March 1979.
When Pye Hastings reformed Caravan for a tour in 1980, Sinclair was again involved, and took part in the subsequent sessions for The Album . The latter included a new version of "The Piano Player", previously recorded for his aborted solo album. The following year, he also contributed to Back To Front (1982) which featured the original Caravan line-up together for the first time since 1971.
In the last 15 years, Sinclair has remained involved in the sporadic activities of Caravan, especially between 1990 and 1992 when the original line-up (plus Jimmy Hastings) toured England and Europe several times. He also took part in his cousin Richard's band Caravan Of Dreams whenever possible, playing on the band's eponymous album. In November and December 1994, he joined Pye and Jimmy Hastings in an augmented line-up of Mirage, the band formed by former Camel members Peter Bardens and Andy Ward. The Mirage concerts for that tour included several of his classic compositions - "For Richard", "O Caroline" and a shortened "Nine Feet Underground".
Dave Sinclair performed with Caravan on the band's comeback album The Battle Of Hastings (1995) and also added bits of his playing on some tracks of All Over You (1996) and All Over You Too (1999). He was going to contribute the bulk of Caravan's new album when he departed the band in mid-2002 following creative disagreements with leader Pye Hastings. In the end, Caravan's Unauthorised Breakfast Item features one Sinclair composition and his contributions to this and another track have been left intact.
Since leaving Caravan, Sinclair has resumed work on his long-awaited debut album, which finally appeared in December 2003 as Full Circle , a song-orientated venture featuring contributions by various members of Caravan, In Cahoots' current rhythm section, and vocalists Richard Sinclair, Jim Leverton and Roxane. More albums are planned - in 2001, Sinclair said he had about six albums' worth of material in his cupboards. Some Japanese concerts are also in discussion for the Spring of 2004.
"Reproduced from the Calyx website, with kind permission from Aymeric Leroy "