Interviewed by Mike Sparrow
Conversation transcribed by Peter Beasley
‘The Snow Goose’ (extract) is played.
M.S: An extract from ‘Snow Goose’, the album that made the band Camel really, although they’d been at it for some years before that brought them success. They’ve got a new album out. It’s called ‘Rain Dances’. But you might’ve noticed that it’s been a long long time for Camel between albums; some eighteen months I do believe. So Andy Ward, the drummer of Camel popped in to ‘Breakthrough’ the other day. I asked him “Why so long?”
A.W: That was because of change in members in the group really. Doug left, what February?, something like that, and we’d just started rehearsing for this album, so we had to basically re-assess what we were doing, look for a replacement, audition, rehearse, get to know people. We were very lucky in getting the replacement that we got. You know, it was our first choice.
M.S. You picked up on Richard Sinclair…
A.W: That’s right.
M.S: …who of course has been round for some time, noticeably in Caravan, which has some similarities to Camel anyway.
A.W: That’s right. Particularly our earlier albums, were compared in the press to Caravan and other groups; Pink Floyd, but..
A.W: …quite a few of them did see that there was a similarity and quite a lot of people we’ve spoken to since Richard’s joined said ‘Well of course, it was the logical replacement’.
M.S: Richard had in fact been in a sort of limbo I gather, because of course Hatfield and the North, which he’d been in for some time…
A.W: That’s right. That folded up, which I thought was a shame at the time, because I did like them very much. But he’d gone back down to Canterbury, patched up his home life and he’d just been doing carpentry, making musical instruments, occasionally playing in wine bars with local musicians, because there’s still a lot of them down there, hanging around.
M.S: What’s been the effect of integrating him in to Camel?
A.W: Well it’s been very exciting for me. I think it’s affected me more than anyone else, just because I’m the drummer and obviously when you’re re-establishing a rhythm section, the change in style between him and Doug is fairly noticeable. It’s taken a lot of hard work, because he’s a much more fluid, much more technical player than Doug. So there’s a lot more nervous energy floating around while we’re playing, which spurs a lot of interesting things off, when it works.
M.S: Well that’s interesting, because listening to the album, it’s a distinct departure from the melodies of ‘Snow Goose’ and ‘Moonmadness’.
M.S: There’s a lot of, almost, jazz rock in this, in places.
A.W: Well, we thought we’d done what we’d set out to do with the area of music with ‘Snow Goose’. ‘Moonmadness’, I think, was really just a step towards this. We didn’t want to do another concept album, so ‘Moonmadness’ really was the transition period between the ‘Goose’ and this. With this album, I think it’s allowing us to air our influences, whereas we’d never allow that before, it was always we were all very wary of sounding like someone else. With this one, we haven’t worried about it too much. We thought, if we’ve written a piece that’s in a funky vein, why shouldn’t we do it? It’s not expected of us, or if we do a slow, fairly pop influenced song. In the past, we’d be a little bit reticent to do it. We’d think everyone would say we’ve sold out or whatever. But I think we felt the freedom on this album to do just what we wanted to do.
M.S: ‘Tell Me’ for instance and let’s say ‘First Light’… are really opposite ends of the spectrum.
A.W: That’s right. That was the main difficulty actually – getting the running order, because we had so much different material and it does go through so many changes. That was one of the most tricky bits, once we had it all finished, it was getting it in the right order.
M.S: If you do go towards jazz rock, what effect does that have on you as a drummer, because you immediately put yourself into the bag that a lot of very great drummers have already explored, noticeably say Billy Cobham?
A.W: Right. Well, there’d be very little point in me trying to do that I think. I’ve listened to that kind of music for five or six years I suppose, so it has influenced my playing to a certain degree, but technically I’m not in the same sort of camp as Billy Cobham, Tony Williams, so I think it would be foolish for me to try and use all my energy in that area. But it’s nice that I’ve been able to get some of it out, on this album.
M.S: There’s some intriguing credit notes on the album. For example ‘Rain Dances’, which I suppose is the title track, credits yourself and Richard and Mel Collins, who’s joined you, with umbrellas?
A.W: That’s right.
M.S: What is that all about?
A.W: Well it’s my questionable sense of humour actually. I did all those. Originally, the sleeve notes went on for weeks. It would take you months to read them. That’s the abridged version.
‘Rain Dances’ is played.
M.S: Mel Collins is, I think, one of the finest saxophone players around. How did he get involved in the project?
A.W: Mel in fact toured with us in Europe last year, while Doug was still with the band. Doug and Andy had known Mel for quite a time from the Guildford scene and we’d met up with him from time to time over the years and we just asked him if he’d be interested in having a blow with us and he did and it worked. So he did that tour, which we all enjoyed and it did add quite a lot to the old material. So when it came around to the new album, we got in touch with him again – he’d been touring with Bryan Ferry – and asked him if he’d like to do it, which he said ‘Yes’ straight away and he became far more involved in the music than we expected, which was a very nice surprise, because he is essentially, these days, a session musician… he has become very involved in our music.
M.S: He’s very good too.
A.W: He is.
A.W: He’s an astounding player.
M.S: Absolutely, yes. I agree. What effect do you think the success of ‘Snow Goose’ and ‘Moonmadness’ has had on Camel? Because for years they were a sort of struggling band. We heard continually of the hard luck stories of Latimer and Bardens and Co.
A.W: (laughs). That one didn’t work did it. No one felt sorry for us, so we changed our tact. No, I think the success of ‘Snow Goose’ was very good, except it is just one area of the music we’re capable of coming up with I think and for that to be our most successful album, it put us in the Pomp Rock camp, which none of us were too happy to be in. I mean no one really likes being labelled as ‘jazz rock’ or anything else, but that put us in with the Yes’s and the Genesis’s of this world; which I don’t think we quite fit in to that area and this album shows that there’s been quite a lot of change since then. But it did put us on the map.
M.S: Yes, but you think perhaps, this is a more representative album?
A.W: Oh it certainly is now. Yes certainly. Although we’re even more representative live now. Some of these tracks have developed further. There’s been more sections written for ‘Skylines’ for example and ‘One Of These Days I’ll Get An Early Night’, we’ve re-arranged quite considerably.
‘One Of These Days I’ll Get An Early Night’ is played.
M.S: The issue of the album, does go hand in hand with the tour. You’re playing in London at the end of this week in fact, at the Hammersmith Odeon, two dates. Any surprises? What have you got rigged for us?
A.W: They won’t be surprises if I tell you. No, there’s no real surprises, except the new line up is a lot more inspired on stage. A bit more out of control at times, when it takes off.
M.S: Well that’s no bad thing.
A.W: We have to sort of try and pull it back down on the ground. We’ll be using the visuals again.
M.S: What in particular?
A.W: We’re just using slides and film and Kenny Sutherland, our lighting whiz kid, has various rotating lenses. He makes cut glass images out of …and they’re nice little things. But basically we’re trying to tie in the visuals with the music again. That started with ‘The Snow Goose’ and that was easy because we were pulling from a story that was already there, already been written, so the visuals were fairly obvious. With this, we have the freedom to be a bit more abstract … go over the top a bit more.
M.S: What are you going to do next? I mean presumably one just tours and consolidates this album?
A.W: It’s looking a bit hairy at the moment. We’ve got a two week English tour and then another three weeks in Germany and then depending on what happens to the album in the States, we’ll either go there or not. If we don’t, I think we’ll start writing again straight away. Maybe have a day off.
M.S: (laughs). Andy, thanks.
A.W: O.K., thanks, Mike.
(Mike then plugs ‘Rain Dances’ and the London gigs)