Caravan's Geoffrey Richardson on sobriety and going solo
While he may be best known as a multi‑instrumentalist for Caravan, after many musical collaborations on a road paved by addiction, Geoffrey Richardson is finally stepping into a spotlight all
What’s great about The Garden Of Love is that it’s my first proper solo album with a proper record company, and with an advance. This was paid into my bank account the same day as my first pension payment, which I thought was quite something,” says Geoffrey Richardson, clearly amused by the coincidence.
Richardson is best known for his role, since 1972, as the viola player and occasional guitarist and mandolinist in Caravan, as well as being a former member of the Penguin Café Orchestra, a long-time collaborator with Murray Head and Rupert Hine, and a player on innumerable sessions. He’s also recorded two self-released solo albums, Viola Mon Amour (1993) and Moving Up A Cloud with Canterbury-based singer and keyboardist Jo Hook (2011), but The Garden Of Love is the first album to feature his vocals and songwriting.
Things come at their appointed time, it seems, but considering the quality of the songs on The Garden Of Love, it does seem odd that he hadn’t considered this option before.
“Well, in 1963 I was a folk act in the Midlands, just me and the guitar, doing Jackson C Frank, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie,” he explains. “I used to sing a lot and I suppose when I joined Caravan in 1972 it just fizzled out. I picked up the threads with this and thought, ‘Let’s have a bash.’”
Richardson recorded the album in his home studio in Canterbury and its songs are set within a luminous instrumental mesh in which he plays all manner of stringed, keyboard and wind instruments, plus percussion. He’s joined by folk luminary Tim Edey on melodeon, and jazz pianist Frances Knight.
The theme is recovery, rejoicing in a way, that I’ve got my life back again.
Richardson decided on an album mainly of songs – there are a few instrumentals – and became engaged in a concerted period of writing, which began to loosely coalesce around a central theme.
“I’m an AA person of 13 years’ standing and the theme is recovery, rejoicing in a way, that I have got my life back again. The real recovery song on it is My Longest Day. It was a pretty severe time in my life, a dark time, and I nearly died. It’s about the day I decided to change everything, and thank God that I did.
“When I wrote The Downs, I’d just stopped drinking and it was an up and down period. That’s one of the oldest songs on the record. I had a beautiful studio on Beacon Hill, on the clifftops outside Herne Bay. I was right at the top of an old building, a lovely loft. I was having difficulty sleeping, and I was looking out over the North Sea and feeling the Earth going round.”