FOR a generation of rock fans, the name of Pye Hastings will be forever linked with Canterbury — but it turns out that his heart is in the Highlands.
As frontman, constant mainstay and chief songwriter of the band Caravan, Hastings was a key figure in what came to be known as the Canterbury scene, which also produced such great names of the prog-rock era as Soft Machine (which numbered Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers and latterly the composer Karl Jenkins among its members), Gong and Hatfield & the North.
Yet Hastings was born at Taminavoulin in Banffshire and has returned to the Highlands to make his home in the area.
"I left here when I was nine years old and went down to England, but now I’ve come back up here again," he said.
"About eight years ago, I bought this place as a sort of holiday home, but bit by bit we stayed on a bit longer and now we are here full time. I’ve met lots of old friends and it’s great being back again."
However, it seems that Hastings’ rock star status cuts little ice back on his old home turf.
"They’ll say to me: ‘You ugly wee ****. I remember you.’ ‘Thanks very much — it’s good to be back!’" he laughed.
"I grew up with these boys up here, so we call each other all sorts of names — which is the right thing to do."
Hastings — who acquired his nickname of "Pye" through his love of hot food — will soon be bidding a temporary farewell to the north for Caravan’s latest tour, one which marks 40 years since the release of "Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night", regarded by fans as one of the most important albums to have come out of the prog rock movement.
For all his affection for his Highland roots and his hopes that the band might get a chance to play in Inverness some time soon, it was in Canterbury that Hastings’ musical career began, first as an R & B loving teenager learning guitar, and then with Wilde Flowers, whose members would eventually split into the bands that became the twin leaders of the Canterbury scene, Caravan and Soft Machine.
"There were heaps of bands around, but two or three of us came out with that jazzier approach," Hastings said.
"That got grabbed by the journalists, who thought: ‘That’s a bit different from everyone else, they come from Canterbury — let’s call it the Canterbury scene.’"
Over its 44-year history there have been many changes to the Caravan line-up. Even drummer Richard Coughlan — the other constant presence from the group’s earliest days — will be absent from the new tour although it does include guitarist and viola player Geoffrey Richardson and keyboard player Jan Schelhaas, both of whom became part of the Caravan family in the early 1970s,
"Everyone else has been in and out a couple of times, but I’ve been here since 1968. It’s the Scotsman in me, I suppose — I’m stubborn and I just keep going," Hastings added.
In its earlier days, however, Caravan was more of a family affair, including not only Pye’s brother Jimmy and the Sinclair cousins, Dave and Richard.
Those early days saw the first incarnation of Caravan not just playing together, but living together — even when they could not afford to pay rent and were forced to decamp into tents for a short period.
"None of us were earning any money at all and it came to the end of a lease that we had on this house and we had to get out, so then we pitched our tents outside the village hall. But then it got cold and we had to find somewhere else, but after that it, the band began to take off, so it wasn’t too bad," Hastings said.
Changing personnel inevitably makes for musical changes, requiring something of a balancing act from Hastings.
"The band, after a while, becomes a bit of a brand," Hastings said.
"The fans are prepared to accept a bit of change, but it’s something you have to be careful about. Fortunately there’s a large audience out there for Caravan, which I’m really pleased about, and it’s growing younger too — it’s not just the bald-headed fat boys any more, which I’m very pleased about!
"In the past couple of years we’ve been to Israel and Italy for the first time. It would be a bad time to give up. It’s all just starting up again."
Despite their long career, Caravan are still something of a cult act, their success based on the band’s album catalogue rather than mainstream success in the singles chart.
"It was a bit of a mistake on our behalf," Hastings acknowledged.
"We should have concentrated on putting some singles out, which would have given us a wider audience, but that’s the way it is so we plod on. But it’s almost 45 years, so we must be doing something right."
Yet even Hastings has taken time away from the band and music, a break enforced by the emergence of punk which radically changed rock culture.
"It was about time that it came in because prog had got too pompous with half an hour guitar solos and all this nonsense, but a few years later the fashion changes and we’re back in again. But we don’t do 20 minute drum solos — you learn your lesson don’t you?" he laughed.
"There wasn’t any work for us, so I went to work for building firms as a labourer, but with my accent and long hair, they gave me every rubbish job you could think of. A few months later I was in the office with a car, but then the urge came to get back on the road and I couldn’t resist it."
Nor can he resist penning new material.
"I write tunes all the time," he revealed.
"I’ve got about 10 on the go all the time and about half of them will go to fruition, but I look back at some of the early ones and some of the words are awful. That’s because I’m a tune writer rather than a lyric writer."
All being well, it should not be long before we can hear Hastings’ latest songs on a new Caravan album.
"I want to start recording after this tour. March will be a good time," he said.
"I’ve got a soundproof shed in the garden and play about in there. Living in the Highlands is quite inspirational. It’s quiet, there’s no interference. Just a few cars go by a day, which is great. The food is great, the water’s great. It’s a great place to be writing really."
• Caravan celebrate the 40th anniversary of "For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night" with a 10 date UK tour which begins at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 8th January and include the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on Sunday 13th January.
In a career of that length, though, it is inevitable that Caravan have suffered the odd Spinal Tap moment or two.
"There was a gig in Germany very early on in the band’s career where we appeared on stage and behind us the promotor had got these glasses of beer and placed them on the amps," Pye Hastings recalled.
"We played the first chord and bang! The amps were soaked in beer and the whole thing stopped dead. We dried them out with hairdryers and got going again about an hour later, but what a stupid thing to do."