Camel are one of the greatest yet least known of the “progressive rock” genre bands that came to life in the early 1970’s. Associated with the Canterbury music scene in Britain, with Andrew Latimer (guitar, keyboards, flute, vocals) at the helm, the band navigates rock and jazz motifs, prog / space rock, and English folk. Much of their work is surprisingly sunny – while Andy’s evocative guitar style might be compared to David Gilmore of Pink Floyd fame, there is less gloom in their work as a whole. At the start, Peter Bardens (keyboards) co wrote the first six records from 1972’s self titled debut “Camel”, through 1978’s “Breathless.” Peter left the band before the Breathless tour and went on to success as a solo “new age” music artist. Other group members playing bass, keys, and drums have changed multiple times, with the most persistent member being Colin Bass, an amazing bass player who also offers warm vocals to many tracks since 1979.
The band has become Andy’s life occupation, being the one remaining original member, and who save for a hiatus from 1985-1990 remained productive, with regular releases and tours all the way through their 2003 tour. At the end of that tour Andy and his wife moved from the US back home to Britain. After a prolonged illness which made playing too difficult during the last ten years, Andy re-recorded their 1975 release “The Snow Goose” and booked a short series of concerts in Europe and the UK this fall to perform this release and a series of songs from their large catalog. We flew to London to catch their stop at the Barbican Hall, October 28th, 2013.
The concert was a huge success. The audience stood to applause for what seemed minutes before the band could play the first note. Tears were shed. Notes wound out of Andy’s Gibson Les Paul like siren songs. Colin and Andy retain their rich vocals and the rest of the band played fabulously, as if no time had passed since their last outing. The first half of the show found the band playing The Snow Goose in its entirety, with a few deviations from the original work, played beautifully and leaving the audience enraptured. The second half of the show included early tracks starting with a half pace rendition of “Never Let Go” – beautifully executed, making it hard not to think of Andy’s triumph over health issues with the lyrics:
Man is born with the will to survive,
He’ll not take no for an answer.
He will get by, somehow he’ll try,
He won’t take no, never let go, no…
Then on to others including “Song Within a Song” from “Moonmadness,” a gorgeous rendition of “Tell Me” from “Rain Dances,” “Echoes” from “Breathless,” and the encore “Lady Fantasy” from Mirage. Their 1979-1984 work was skipped to include more from “Harbour of Tears” and “A Nod and a Wink” – their 1996 and 2002 releases. While I would have included the mid-period work in the set list, it was really special to hear them play The Snow Goose and so many key tracks again after 10 long years.
The dynamics of Camel’s music are so important, where volume, drums, double keyboards and particularly Andy’s plaintive emotive guitar played live are beyond what can be captured on record. Comparisons to Clapton, Gilmour and the great slow-hand note benders are apt – and fortunately for Camel’s rapt fans, time and illness did not diminish Andy’s skills nor those of his band. Camel continues the journey and after such a long break, made a welcome visit home.