Our story begins in the Guildford, Surrey clubs at the dawn of the seventies where Andrew Latimer (guitar), Andy Ward (drums) and Doug Ferguson are lending their band The Brew to back up Phillip Goodhand-Tait. After releasing an album with him they recruit the man whose name has become synonymous with their sound, Peter Bardens. His keyboards wizardry completes the picture and an eponymous debut followed by Mirage, whose 'The White Rider suite' (based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings) ushers in a new conceptual approach and brings them a certain cachet on the West Coast of America, even as they perfect their chops on the college circuit back home.
Things take a decided upswing with third album The Snow Goose (drawing inspiration from Paul Gallico's novel) which uses state of the art technology at Island and Decca Studios and also finds Camel working with The London Symphony Orchestra for the first time: David Bedford conducts and arranges the superb pieces penned by Latimer and Bardens. Their star now risen, Camel topped music press polls at the close of 1975 and wowed viewers and listeners when they appeared on The Old Grey Whistle Test and BBC Radio One's In Concert.
Pulling off such a feat on the back of an instrumental album won them huge kudos and Bardens' brilliance in control of standard keys as well as the ARP Odyssey, Mini moog and pipe organ added extra flamboyance to their tightly arranged live shows. This is recommended as the best place to start a journey with this excellent outfit. The Snow Goose Deluxe Edition contains different versions of the title track single and the show piece 'Rhayader', as well as live at the Marquee Club material.
Moonmadness found them returning to a vocal song approach while upping their cosmic rock quotient. Based on a concept describing each member of the group Moonmadness is a head-trip and a half. The closing cut, 'Luna Sea', achieved legendary status for it's terminal groove outro where a howling wind effect brings the disc to a superb conclusion.
Rain Dances (1977) is another perennial favourite. Now adding ex-Caravan bassist Richard Sinclair and the esteemed Mel Collins on various sax and associated woodwind, Camel integrated jazz-fusion into their progressive armoury. There are some spectacular highlights: 'Highways to the Sun', 'Metrognomer 'and 'One of These Days I'll Get An Early Night' became must-hear items in their repertoire. The remastered and expanded version gives you the chance to hear them peaking in a live set taken from BBC's 'Sight and Sound' In Concert series, captured on October 1, 1977.
Tears were shed when Bardens left at the end of the Breathless (1978) sessions but he and Latimer didn't disappoint fans of the new jazz and prog melange. 'Echoes' and 'The Sleeper' remain amongst their very best tunes and one can also note a subtle shift towards a leaner, pop dynamic.
Enter The New
I Can See Your House From Here (the cover depicts a solitary space man gazing down on earth like a human satellite) found Latimer and Ward as the original survivors. Now abetted by Colin Bass and Jan Schelhaas the new look group simply picked up steam. They chose replacements well since this 1979 disc (available in Expanded format) also boasts the uber-production skills of Rupert Hine, whose work with Kevin Ayers and Dave Greenslade gave him the thumbs-up. Sensing their own internal sea change, Latimer and Ward really step up to the plate here. The guitarist's playing on 'Ice' is as good as anything on previous albums and Ward's percussive kit keeps proceedings on a knife-edge. With Simon Jeffes' orchestral arrangements, and extra drums provided by one Phil Collins, this album can safely be tagged a classic waiting (re)discovery.
Camel decamped to Abbey Road for Nude (1981), another fine example of the prog genre albeit with stellar jazz overtones provided by Herbie Flowers' tuba, Gaspar Lawal's percussion and Chris Green's cello, which augment the tale of a Japanese soldier marooned on a desert island after the end of WW2.
And Then There Was One...
Drummer Andy Ward left before they made The Single Factor, a reference to Latimer's survival, although Bardens crops up on 'Sasquatch'. Utilising the Prophet and Synclavier - somewhat in the manner of America's Weather Report - Camel refused to stand still. Another vital guest here is former Genesis guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Phillips.
Trimming the tracks back did the new look Camel no harm and on Stationary Traveller, a clever concept disc based around the pressures of East Germans trying to cross the Berlin Wall, Latimer and his lyricist of choice, Susan Hoover, came up with yet another strong set. The expanded edition offers digitally enhanced material and an expanded mix on 'Pressure Points', a rare single from the era.
As always in this series we offer definitive compilations packed with supplementary goodies. The live albums A Live Record (culled from various high class British venues on 1974-1977 tours) and Pressure Points: Live in Concert (recorded at Hammersmith Odeon, October 1, 1984) are enhanced and riveting artefacts in their own right and complete the picture of a band in perfect synch with their knowledgeable and fanatical following.
For completists and those anxious to discover Camel's unique sound why not try Echoes: The Retrospective? Then again, the 4-CD Rainbow's End: An Anthology 1973-1985 (this contains rare live and studio recordings, a lavish book, memorabilia, previously unseen photographs and essays) is a perfect gem. Wherever you begin your journey we're sure you'll be enthralled. Dig in, and enjoy.
Words - Max Bell
Camel's classic period started with The Snow Goose, an instrumental concept album based on a novella by Paul Gallico. Although there are no lyrics on the album -- two songs feature wordless vocals -- the music follows the emotional arc of the novella's story, which is about a lonely man named Rhayader who helps nurse a wounded snow goose back to health with the help of a young girl called Fritha he recently befriended. Once the goose is healed, it is set free, but Fritha no longer visits the man because the goose is gone. Later, Rhayader is killed in battle during the evacuation of Dunkirk. The goose returned during the battle, and it is then named La Princesse Perdue, symbolizing the hopes that can still survive even during the evils of war. With such a complex fable to tell, it is no surprise that Camel keep their improvisational tendencies reined in, deciding to concentrate on surging, intricate soundscapes that telegraph the emotion of the piece without a single word. And even though The Snow Goose is an instrumental album, it is far more accessible than some of Camel's later work, since it relies on beautiful sonic textures instead of musical experimentation.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
With Rain Dances, Camel began exploring shorter, more concise songs, but it wasn't until its follow-up, Breathless, that they truly made a stab at writing pop songs. Although they didn't completely abandon improvisational prog rock -- there are several fine, jazzy interludes -- most of the record is comprised of shorter songs designed for radio play. While the group didn't quite achieve that goal, Breathless is nevertheless a more accessible record than Camel's other albums, which tend to focus on instrumentals. Here, they try to be a straightforward prog rock band, and while the results are occasionally a little muddled, it is on the whole surprisingly successful.
Words - Daevid Jehnzen
Although not an honest representation of the band's character, this is undoubtedly their most popular work. The one-time addition of American Kit Watkins produces some fine keyboard lead work. Rupert Hine's resourceful production and appearances by Phil Collins and Mel Collins round out this strong import release. "Survival" and "Who We Are" feature some fine orchestrations, and guitarist Latimer delivers some exceptional lead work on the album's closer, "Ice."
Words - Matthew Plichta
The band's fifth release, Rain Dances is Camel at its best, offering the most consistent and representative package in their saga. The addition of Caravan-cofounder Richard Sinclair proves profitable, as do a few colorist touches by Brian Eno on "Elke." Mel Collins' woodwinds are among the highlights, especially on "Tell Me" and the title track. From beginning to end, this project flows gracefully.
Words - Matthew Plichta
Abandoning the lovely soundscapes of Snow Goose, Camel delved into layered guitar and synthesizers similar to those of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here on the impressive Moonmadness. Part of the reason behind the shift in musical direction was the label's insistence that Camel venture into more commercial territory after the experimental Snow Goose, and it is true that the music on Moonmadness is more akin to traditional English progressive rock, even though it does occasionally dip into jazz-fusion territory with syncopated rhythms and shimmering keyboards. Furthermore, the songs are a little more concise and accessible than those of its predecessor. That doesn't mean Camel has abandoned art. Moonmadness is indeed a concept album, based loosely on the personalities of each member -- "Chord Change" is Peter Bardens, "Air Born" is Andy Latimer, "Lunar Sea" is Andy Ward and "Another Night" is Doug Ferguson. Certainly, it's a concept that is considerably less defined than that of Snow Goose, and the music isn't quite as challenging, yet that doesn't mean that Moonmadness is devoid of pleasure. In fact, with its long stretches of atmospheric instrumentals and spacy solos, it's quite rewarding
Words - Daevid Jehnzen
Rainbows End is the remastered 4CD anthology featuring the best tracks from Camel, Mirage, The Snow Goose, Moonmadness, Rain Dances, Breathless, I Can See Your House From Here and Nude plus rare live recordings made for Decca Records and the BBC.
Camel proved to be both one of the most commercially successful and enduring Prog bands of all time and still command a loyal and devoted following. This comprehensive overview of their career and long association with Decca provides a great insight into their most significant work.
Although Stationary Traveller is a concept album, it musically falls into line with its predecessor The Single Factor, which found Camel trying to refashion themselves as the Alan Parsons Project. Where The Single Factor suffered from Camel's attempts to write pop hooks, Stationary Traveller finds the band breaking down the barriers, opening up their relatively concise songs with long, atmospheric instrumental passages. The album's lyrics, which were written by Susan Hoover, is about the divided Berlin and its political, emotional and physical divides. Often, the lyrics and music -- which work as individual entities -- don't quite work together, since they follow different emotional directions, yet the record remains a worthwhile listen, especially since it features Andy Latimer on pan flute.
Words - Daevid Jehnzen
A new, larger version of Camel debuted on Nude, a concept album about a Japanese soldier stranded on a deserted island during World War II and staying there, oblivious to the outside world, for 29 years. More ambitious than the preceding I Can See Your House from Here, Nude is in many ways just as impressive. Although it's a less accessible effort, it has a number of quite intriguing passages, particularly since it boasts heavier improvisation, orchestration, and even some worldbeat influences. It's not as spacy as Camel's earlier progressive rock records, yet it is quite atmospheric, creating its own entrancing world. Nude was released in 2009, including ten bonus tracks recorded live at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1981 for the BBC Radio 1 program In Concert.
Words - Daevid Jehnzen
Camel’s career at the vanguard of Prog Rock has sustained through four decades. They have consistently produced the finest live performances and it was in 1984 after the release of their last studio album for Decca, Stationary Traveller that the band went on the road to promote the record. The show at Hammersmith Odeon on 11 May was particularly brilliant and released as the albumPressure Points later the same year. The concert saw Camel joined by former member Peter Bardens for some songs during the set, including a rousing version of 'Lady Fantasy', which was not featured on the original album.
Camel's A Live Record was recorded during live concerts between 1974 and 1977 at such varying venues as Bristol Colston Hall, Leeds University, the Royal Alert Hall and London's legendary Marquee Club. Released in 1978 this was Camel's first live album and featured material from their albums Mirage, Rain Dances plus the complete performance of the band's instrumental concept album The Snow Goose with the London Symphony Orchestra.
This ambitious project cemented Camel as one of the inspirational leaders of progressive rock in the 70s.