Having had some interesting comments and discussions after posing a similar question regarding Caravan, I thought it would be appropriate to ask the same for Camel.
After all they are a similarly great band, with an impressive discography and a huge following.
I first saw Camel at Reading University late 1972 with a bunch of mates. I had expected to see Barclay James Harvest but on arrival we were told they had cried off but the support band were playing a full set. We hadn’t yet come across Camel, so there was no possibility we would leave and miss out on some live music. We were amazed! They were fantastic! As it turned out, played all but one of the tracks from the first album, (I think it was ‘Separation’) that hadn’t yet been released.
The combination of Peter Barden’s melodic keyboards and Andy Latimer’s guitar was just superb. With Doug Ferguson’s fine bass and Andy Ward’s top notch drumming, here was a band we would certainly wish to see/hear again. As you can imagine, the album was purchased on its release.
But is it the best?
Certainly for a debut album it’s a gem! Opening with the splendid ‘Slow Yourself Down’ and ‘Mystic Queen’ it hit the right spots immediately. The highlight for me is ‘Never Let Go’, a beautifully constructed track culminating in a spine tingling guitar piece that sounds as fresh today as it did on first hearing.
The follow-up album was eagerly awaited and did not let us down. Mirage – many people’s favourite – enthralled us with ‘Lady Fantasy’ and ‘The White Rider’ amidst another set of great tracks.
Could they follow this with another impressive album?
You bet – because album three was The Snow Goose. Wow! Such intricate melodies and musicianship just knocked us out. I saw them play it live on three occasions at different venues. On one occasion, Peter Bardens had his arm in a sling but still played on beautifully. Now when posing the original question, I thought that just maybe this would be the chosen one but further quality albums continued to appear.
Next up we had Moonmadness. It was always going to be difficult to follow Snow Goose but nobody could feel disappointed with this surely. With the likes of ‘Song Within A Song’, ‘Chord Change’ and ‘Lunar Sea’ to delight us.
Following this great album, Doug Ferguson called it a day and was replaced by none other than Richard Sinclair from Caravan. Whilst a great bass player he also has the added bonus of a superb voice. We could not have been disappointed when Rain Dances was released. The band was also joined for this album only by the excellent Mel Collins on saxes and flute. It’s another strong album with such tracks as ‘First Light’, ‘Tell Me’ and ‘Highways Of The Sun’ maintaining the beautifully melodic Camel sound.
Richard Sinclair stayed on for just one further album namely Breathless. He added his own composition, the quirky un-Camel like ‘Down On The Farm’, which is still a fine track displaying his penchant for amusing lyrics. Beyond this we have the superb guitar in ‘Summer Lightning’ and the usual keyboard/guitar interplay in other gems such as the title track and ‘Echoes’.
Was it 1979 already?
Well, actually yes it was. When I Can See Your House From Here appeared, the band had taken on a different look with Peter Bardens, Richard Sinclair having moved on to be replaced by Jan Schelhaas on keyboards (maintaining the Caravan connection!) and Colin Bass on, well, bass of course.
Another concept album in the shape of Nude followed next with Duncan Mackay on keyboards. After this intriguing album Andy Ward hung up his drumsticks and the band quietly disbanded for a short time. Decca had other ideas and Andy Latimer cobbled together a collection of fine musicians to record The Single Factor for contractual obligations. Stationary Traveller with the splendid track ‘Pressure Points’ followed (a favourite of Steve’s from The Sound Machine) in 1984.
Despite numerous line-up changes and serious illness, Andy Latimer has kept the Camel flag flying and occasional albums have appeared. All maintaining that gorgeous melodic guitar work and whilst these albums maybe not so well known they are all worth tracking down. Dust And Dreams (1991), Harbour Of Tears (1996), Rajaz (1999) and A Nod And A Wink (2002) and could easily feature amongst a favourites list.
Along with Live albums, DVDs and continuing live work, this is an exceptional band whose albums are loved by so many.
So come on – what’s your favourite Camel album? Mine is Mirage by the way.
About the Author
Mike Warth – Retired teacher and Education Officer, old rocker. Lover of prog, psych and folk – the latter for which I sometimes take some stick. (Why?) Currently having a ball working at The Sound Machine, Reading – independent Record Store par excellence and now working with Vernon Joynson on an update to Dreams, Fantasies And Nightmares.