Story of the Song: Caravan of Love by Isley, Jasper, Isley

From The Independent archive: Robert Webb on the soul classic that became a UK No 1 hit for the Housemartins

Friday 03 September 2021 21:30
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<p>From left: Ernie Isley, Chris Jasper and Marvin Isley </p>

From left: Ernie Isley, Chris Jasper and Marvin Isley

In 1973, the Isley Brothers vocal trio expanded to embrace three younger relatives, the brothers Ernie and Marvin Isley and their brother-in-law Chris Jasper. A decade on, with a succession of modern soul classics behind them, the family split. Jasper, who'd become the group's foremost arranger and songwriter, teamed up with Ernie and Marvin to form a new threesome, with a typically Eighties name that makes them sound like a firm of corporate attorneys: Isley, Jasper, Isley.

Their enchanting hit, “Caravan of Love”, follows in the tracks of the O’Jays’ “Love Train”: an appeal for all-comers to jump aboard and unite in global amity. “I had been looking at the world scene quite a bit,” said Jasper. “I wasn't pleased with what I was seeing.” Jasper's message of hope was written around a tune he been humming for a month. Sitting with a blank notepad one afternoon, Jasper began scribbling his thoughts. After 20 minutes, the song was finished. “Are you ready for the time of your life?/ It's time to stand up and fight... The place where mankind was born/ Is so neglected and torn.” It wasn't quite William Blake, but tethered to the exquisite melody that had been bugging Jasper for weeks, the song glides in on a positive note.

It was recorded at a studio in East Orange, New Jersey, as the title track to their second album, with Jasper taking keyboard and lead vocal duties and Ernie and Marvin on everything else. Jasper described listening to the playbacks as like hearing a film score unfold. It languished on America’s R&B charts for a full six months, until four white boys from Hull picked it up and made it part of their live a cappella act. No one was more thrilled than its originators when the Housemartins took “Caravan of Love” to number one at Christmas, 1986. Isley, Jasper, Isley could not repeat the success, however, and the partnership dissolved in the late Eighties.

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