Camel – from the Melody Maker’s reference series “Contemporary Musicians”

By Jim Powers

In 1976, discussing the use of lights and films during his band Camel’s performances, guitarist and vocalist Andrew Latimer told Melody Maker, “This is the first time we’ve used films, and I don’t want us to get into it too much. …We’re not a very bopping band, so it’s nice for the audience to have something to watch.”

The British progressive rock group Camel formed in 1972 when the blues-rock trio Brew, consisting of Latimer, bassist Doug Ferguson, and drummer Andy Ward. After backing singer Philip Goodhand-Tait on an album, the trio was joined by organist and vocalist Peter Bardens and began rehearsing original material.

Camel’s sound featured extensive interplay between Latimer’s guitar and Bardens’s keyboards, underpinned by Ward’s swinging percussion. Vocals were not the band’s main focus. During the recording of Camel’s debut album, the producer suggested that the group find a better singer. After auditioning 30 unsuitable vocalists, the search was abandoned and the recording sessions continued.

The band became a fixture on the English college circuit. In a 1973 interview with Melody Maker, Peter Bardens related the importance of these venues to Camel, “I think the college circuit plays a very important part in any new band’s future. They are one of those rare places where small bands get the chance to play, and what’s more, they are always good payers.”

One early concert appearance that provided Camel with underground credibility was on October 8, 1973 at the Greasy Truckers’ Party at Dingwall’s Dance Hall in London. A live cut from that show, “God of Light Revisited Parts 1, 2, and 3” formed one side of a rare double album commemorating the event, which also featured contributions by progressive contemporaries Gong and Henry Cow.

As a result of constant touring, the band’s second album Mirage sold much better than its self-titled debut. Bardens told Melody Maker, “We started the band from scratch. We had no money and no equipment. In three years we’ve done four tours of Britain, and we’re the sort of band that creeps up on you.”

Goose Flies Camel Over The Hump

Camel’s first drink of success was its 1975 album The Snow Goose, an all-instrumental work based on Paul Gallico’s children’s book. The album reached both British and American charts. Latimer commented to Melody Maker about the writing of the album, “When we’d written the piece we were really pleased, then again, it wasn’t until we’d finished the album that we realized what we’d got.” Andy Ward continued, “Snow Goose has opened up a reaction in the audience and the press that we’d been waiting for for a long time.” The band was voted Melody Maker’s Brightest Hope in that magazine’s 1975 poll, and performed at The Royal Albert Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Moonmadness, released in 1976, featured several songs inspired by the personalities of the band members, including “Chord Change” for Bardens, “Air Born” for Latimer, “Another Night” for Ferguson, and “Lunar Sea” for Ward. Toward the end of the recording sessions for that album, bassist Doug Ferguson left to form the group Head Waiter. His replacement, Richard Sinclair, was the bassist and vocalist for veteran progressive groups Caravan and Hatfield and the North. On Rain Dances, Sinclair became the distinctive vocalist Camel had lacked. Melody Maker wrote, “[Sinclair’s] vocals were a rare treat, totally unaffected by the Americanisation most rock singers turned to without question, and delivered with a tone and pitch that would delight a choir master.”

In 1978, Peter Bardens left Camel, replaced by two more ex-Caravan members, Richard’s cousin David Sinclair and Jan Schelhaas, causing Camel to earn the nickname “Caramel” by the music press. Camel also added former King Crimson sax and flute player Mel Collins. Before recording sessions could be held, however, Richard and David Sinclair departed.

Punk Rock Scene Spits At Camel

Camel found itself deserted by the British music press during the early eighties, as press attention shifted to punk rock. Despite sellout tours of Europe, the group’s records no longer sold well. Andrew Latimer told Melody Maker in 1980, “Sometimes it’s frustrating if you do something you think is a work of art and it gets totally ignored. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating.” Another major setback during this period the departure of Andy Ward due to the pressures of touring and the music industry in general, leaving Latimer as the last original member of the band.

Latimer was pressured by the record company to record more pop-oriented material on 1982’s The Single Factor which featured members of The Alan Parsons Project. Peter Bardens makes a guest appearance on the track “Sasquatch” along with founding Genesis guitarist Anthony Philips. Following the release of Stationary Traveller in 1984, inspired by the social and physical division of Berlin, Camel took a seven-year hiatus.

Camel Legacy Continues

Andrew Latimer relocated to California during the early nineties, and formed Camel Productions to release new and archival Camel material. Camel’s nineties output includes Dust and Dreams, inspired by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Harbour of Tears was inspired by Latimer’s search for his family’s roots following his father’s death.

In addition to a prolific solo career, Pete enjoyed a brief stint down memory lane with Andy for a nostaligically titled group “Mirage”, performing a few select dates in 1994. Since leaving Camel, Andy Ward has been involved with myriad projects, including progressive rockers Marillion, Richard Sinclair’s Caravan of Dreams and Sinclair’s album R.S.V.P. One of Ward’s most interesting and exciting recent appearances was at the independent English magazine Ptolemaic Terrascope’s Terrastock Festival in April of 1997, drumming in an impromptu lineup of British rock’s legendary rabble-rousers The Deviants, in addition to a set with his current band, English psychedelic rockers The Bevis Frond.

Throughout its twenty-five year existence, Camel has scaled the heights of fame as well as the depths of mainstream media derision, acquiring a dedicated following along the way. Through Andrew Latimer’s company, Camel Productions, Camel remains alive and well.

Selected discography

  • (with Philip Goodhand-Tait), I Think I’ll Write A Song, Vertigo, 1972.
  • Camel, MCA, 1973, reissued Camel Productions, 1992.
  • “Lord of Light Revisited parts 1, 2, and 3” from Greasy Truckers’ Party, Greasy Truckers, 1973.
  • Mirage, Janus, 1974, reissued Deram, 1994.
  • The Snow Goose, Janus, 1975, reissued Deram, 1994.
  • Moonmadness, Janus, 1976, reissued London, 1992.
  • Rain Dances, Janus, 1977, reissued Deram, 1992.
  • Breathless, Arista, 1978, reissued One Way, 1994.
  • A Live Record, London, 1978.
  • I Can See Your House From Here, Arista, 1979, reissued One Way, 1994.
  • Nude, Passport, 1981, reissued London,1995.
  • The Single Factor, Passport, 1982.
  • Stationary Traveler, Decca, 1984.
  • Compact Compilation (rec. 1973-1975), Rhino, 1985.
  • Pressure Points – Live In Concert, Decca, 1985.
  • Dust and Dreams, Camel Productions, 1991.
  • Never Let Go, Camel Productions, 1993.
  • On The Road 1972, Camel Productions, 1993.
  • Echoes, The Retrospective (rec. 1973-1991), Polygram, 1993.
  • On The Road 1982, Camel Productions, 1994.
  • Harbour of Tears, Camel Productions, 1996.
  • On The Road 1981, Camel Productions, 1997.

Related projects

  • (with Richard Sinclair, David Sinclair, Jan Schelhaas), Caravan, Canterbury Tales: The Best of Caravan 1969-1975, Polygram, 1994.
  • David Sinclair, Moon Over Man (recorded 1978), Voiceprint, 1994.
  • (With Andy Ward and Richard Sinclair), Todd Dillingham, The Wilde Canterbury Dream, Voiceprint, 1994.
  • (With Andy Ward and Richard Sinclair), Caravan of Dreams, HTD, 1994.
  • (With Andy Ward), Adrian Shaw, Tea For the Hydra, Woronzow, 1994.
  • (With Andy Ward), The Bevis Frond, Sprawl, Woronzow, 1994.
  • (With Andy Ward), The Bevis Frond, Superseeder, Woronzow, 1995.
  • (With Andy Ward), Richard Sinclair, R.S.V.P., Sinclair Songs, 1996.

Peter Bardens solo projects

  • The Answer, Verve, 1970.
  • Write My Name In Dust, Verve, 1971.
  • Heart To Heart, Arista, 1979.
  • Seen One Earth, Capitol, 1987.
  • Speed Of Light, Capitol, 1988.
  • Watercolours, Miramar, 1991.
  • Further Than You Know, Miramar, 1993.
  • (With Mirage), Double Live, Voiceprint, 1994.
  • Big Sky, HTD, 1995.

Sources

Books

  • Joynson, Vernon, Tapestry of Delights: The Comprehensive Guide to British Music of the Beat, R & B, Psychedelic, and Progressive Eras 1963-1976, Borderline Productions, 1995.

Periodicals

  • Melody Maker, February 3, 1973; July 6, 1974; November 23, 1974; July 12, 1975; September 13, 1975; October 25, 1975; April 10, 1976; September 24, 1977; November 12, 1977; January 19, 1980.

Additional information was provided by the Camel Discography and FAQ web site, (http://www.eng.tau.ac.il/~ofirz/camel/welcome.htm), Calyx, The Canterbury Web Site, (http://www.alpes-net.fr/~bigbang/calyx.html), and The Ptolemaic Terrascope web site (http://www.terrascope.org).

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