Richard Coughlan: Musician

Drummer with psychedelic rock band Caravan who influenced a new generation of progressive musicians

Richard Coughlan was the driving, swinging, powerful drummer with Caravan, the British rock band whose pastoral, psychedelic, progressive pop came to epitomise the Canterbury sound throughout the late 1960s and most of the Seventies.

Like their fellow travellers Soft Machine, Caravan developed a substantial following, especially in mainland Europe, and provided the springboard for a coterie of musicians associated with groups as diverse as Gong, Matching Mole, and Hatfield and the North. Along with guitarist, singer and songwriter Pye Hastings, Coughlan was a constant in the six incarnations of Caravan that recorded nine albums and myriad BBC sessions for John Peel between 1968 and 1978.

The band reconvened briefly in the 1980s and early Nineties, and became a going concern from 1995 until the present, though Coughlan’s progressive rheumatoid arthritis curtailed his involvement. When they recorded a Legends Concert at Metropolis Studios in London in December 2010, the founder member was replaced by Mark Walker on drums, and mostly contributed percussion.

Born in Herne Bay, Kent, in 1947, he went to school in Canterbury and played the marching drums in the Sea Cadets after making the switch from the bugle; military drum rolls and precise fills became hallmarks of his style. By 1963 he had a full drum kit. “All my mates were into scooters and cars, and all I wanted to do was play on a drum kit all the time,” said Coughlan who gigged with a couple of local trad and dance bands, including the Stour Side Stompers. In the spring of 1966 he was drawn into the orbit of The Wilde Flowers, the seminal Canterbury group whose various line-ups included Kevin Ayers and Hugh Hopper, who both went on to Soft Machine, as did Robert Wyatt, from whom he picked up drumming tips. “I used to lean over his shoulder at every opportunity!” recalled Coughlan, who was also influenced by Charlie Watts, Ginger Baker and Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Having added Hastings and organist David Sinclair, the Wilde Flowers refined their repertoire of soul covers but ground to a halt in October 1967, to re-emerge three months later as Caravan, a name suggested by Hastings, with the addition of bassist and vocalist Richard Sinclair, David’s cousin. “When we saw the Soft Machine had got a record deal, we set out with the idea of doing the same. My parents were a bit surprised that I was going to be a professional musician but they accepted it,” said Coughlan, who had trained as a dental technician. “Music beats a nine-to-five job.”

After supporting Fairport Convention at Middle Earth, the hippie club in Covent Garden, in June 1968 Caravan attracted interest from Witchseason, Joe Boyd’s production company. This should have led to a deal with Chris Blackwell’s Island but instead they became the first UK act signed to Verve, the American jazz label, which issued their eponymous debut. The album’s opening track, the dreamy “A Place Of My Own”, was released as a single, but despite an appearance on BBC2’s Colour Me Pop in March 1969 it failed to chart.

They moved to Decca for If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You, however, it was with their third album, the whimsical In The Land Of Grey And Pink, that they came closest to fulfilling their potential as exponents of a gentler, quirkier, less overblown strand of progressive rock. The songwriting of the Sinclair cousins matched Hastings’ own contribution, while David Sinclair’s fluid solos and fuzzy Hammond sound and Coughlan’s propulsive drumming jumped out of the mix on the complex suite “Nine Feet Underground”.

Caravan began making serious headway into continental Europe, appearing on German television’s Beat Club to promote the terribly English “Golf Girl” single in July 1971, and travelling to France regularly, including a headline appearance at the famed Olympia in Paris in September 1971. In The Land Of Grey And Pink has never been out of print and eventually reached gold status with UK sales of 100,000 copies. It remains a cornerstone of British psychedelia, influencing subsequent generations of performers such as Julian Cope, Super Furry Animals and Euros Childs.

In the autumn of 1971, David Sinclair left, sitting out the Waterloo Lily album, but returned in 1973 for the excellent Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night set, the Caravan And The New Symphonia live album recorded at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in October 1973 and issued the following year, and 1975’s Cunning Stunts, their first release to make the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic after they enlisted the services of manager Miles Copeland, later to mastermind the rise of The Police.

Richard Sinclair left after Waterloo Lily, leaving Hastings at the helm, with Coughlan his able lieutenant, if a lesser creative contributor on the aforementioned releases as well as the Blind Dog at St Dunstans album, which charted in 1976, and their last major label release, Better By Far, produced by Tony Visconti, in 1977.

“In the early days when there were lots of longer tracks and more instrumental tracks. I contributed quite a lot and the songs tended to be credited to the whole band. As the emphasis moved to shorter songs, I was less involved,” admitted Coughlan, though the 19/8 time signature on his favourite Caravan number, the orchestrated suite “L’auberge Du Sanglier/A Hunting We Shall Go” from Girls Who Grow Plump ..., showed his skill and dynamism as a drummer. That album marked the arrival of electric viola-player Geoffrey Richardson, a Caravan mainstay until 1978, and a regular in their various line-ups since the late nineties.

From the late Seventies, Coughlan ran The Sun Inn in Faversham, Kent, between tours and recordings with Caravan. In 2008, he took over The Cricketers pub in Canterbury. He had recently been treated for pneumonia.

Paying tribute to Coughlan, Hastings said: “What he gave to Caravan throughout the years was unique and completely immeasurable and the body of work that he leaves behind will be his legacy.” µ

Richard Coughlan, drummer, songwriter, publican: born Herne Bay, Kent 1 September 1947; married Sue (one daughter); died  Broadstairs, Kent 1 December 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent