My heartfelt thanks to Susan Hoover for allowing me to
MR - Camel celebrate their 10th anniversary this year. They were formed in 1971. The original members were Andrew Latimer - guitar, Peter Bardens - keyboards, Doug Ferguson - bass, and Andy Ward - drums.
Camel were formed at a time when British rock music was going through the greatest period of experimentation; the years of the psychedelic 60's and early seventies.
Peter Bardens had served his apprenticeship with Van Morrison in Them, whilst Latimer Ferguson and Ward had been together playing in the Guildford area, first in a band called Brew and then later as a backing band for Philip Goodhand-Tait.
In the next hour or so we'll be looking back at Camel - The First Ten Years, with founder member and guitarist Andrew Latimer.
Then still in his late teens Latimer formed The Phantom Four, and played pubs and clubs in the Surrey area.
AL - I think, you know, with being in The Phantom Four, which was basically doing cover versions of all the local hits, you know, the latest hits rather, and we were doing sort of Beatles and Beach Boys and instrumental stuff. And then I started getting into the blues. I'd been to see, or I'd heard Eric Clapton on the Bluesbreakers album and it really did turn my head sideways a bit, from a guitar point of view. I thought God-what's going on here? So then I went along to see John Mayall, and Peter Green was with him then, and he burned me away. I thought hey this is it. And I just started getting into the blues, and started practicing you know, to play good vibrato...and...it took me ages really, but I really am an old blueser now. I love the blues and always have done, and that's probably what I do best, which is strange, 'cos it doesn't particularly come out, I know, in my writing.
MR - The Phantom Four continued to play around the Guildford area. Andy Latimer's brother had left the band, and they decided to recruit a keyboard player. They put an ad in the paper, and found Peter Bardens.
AL - Well, we were very excited when he actually phoned, because we'd had about five other keyboard players that phoned-in from the ad, and they said they had the gear and things. And Peter phoned-up and said he was really interested. It was because the way the ad was worded for some reason - I can't quite remember how we worded the ad. But he'd already done two solo albums, which impressed us for a start. It was like "'cor great, he must be good if he's done two solo albums". I hadn't heard anything. And then we actually arranged to jam together, up in London, and it just clicked. It was very strange - we all got together and just played a few blues, and did one of Peter's numbers and did one of my numbers, and it sounded really good to us, and we had nothing - I mean Peter didn't have any keyboards for a start, which was really funny. So we had to hire a Hammond for the jam. And we didn't have any PA, no management, no publishers, no record deal, nothing you know. It was great. But we had all this enthusiasm and it was great. Pete had a couple of gigs in Ireland with the band he was with previously called On, and we sort of agreed to honour those dates. So we went over as On I suppose - we didn't have a name and that was a really good short tour. We did about five dates in Ireland and it was great, because the Irish audiences are pretty starved musically over there, and so they were really enthusiastic. We were doing a real mish-mash of material - we doing were doing blues, Santana things and all...country things, it was a really strange mixture. It went down a storm.
So we said we must decide on a name, before we come back to England. But we never did. I remember us sitting around numerous hours in pubs and that, gibbering like jelloids trying to think of a name, and eventually Peter I think, came up with the name Camel - when we came back that was. So we said "um. Yeah, we'll think about it", and next day, "yeah", and then the next day it was "yeah we like this". It was sort of strange, and that was how the name Camel came about.
MR- Camel's first record deal was with MCA Records, a label keen to see the band. But it took ten visits from the record company before they finally decided to sign Camel to a recording deal.
AL - We were really excited about the first album, but it turned-out to be a little bit of a nightmare, because it was our first album together and we hadn't really worked together in a studio before. And from the word go Peter and I were at somewhat different angles, in the studio. It was very amusing, a lot of stages I'm sure many bands have the same thing where, you know, the guitarist and the keyboard player are hanging onto the faders, trying to push their parts up. It was that sort of job. And it was also a bit of a mixture of material, because it was material we'd been playing for like a year, and we wanted to get it out on record, get it out of our system. So there was a bit of diversity of material on there, you know. It wasn't...we didn't really...we worried about it for quite some time, about direction. And we were saying "well where are we going?" And "what sort of musical direction do we want to go in?" And then, obviously like all things, the longer you stay together it sort of just comes anyway - you don't really need to ask yourself that question.
(Extract played from "Camel")
MR - After the first Camel album with MCA, the band were to change labels. They became part of Decca Records new label, Gama, an association that continues to the present day. That first album for Decca was called Mirage.
AL - Mirage was...well first of all it was a reaction against the first album, because the first album - because it was our first was very heavily arranged, and we worked-out all our parts, kept solos to minimum. I think Mirage was a slight reaction against it because when we played live everything was much longer and our solos were much more extended things. So maybe it was a little bit of self-indulgence. I mean we went in and kept things as we did them on stage. And so there were a lot of lengthy passages, so long, which was reaction against, as I say the first album. Also we were starting to get into other areas of our writing - I started writing about certain areas, like books. I was reading Lord Of The Rings at the time, which you know everyone in the band was reading at the same time - it's a great book. And I wrote a piece called The White Rider, about Gandalf. And I think that all started the idea of doing a concept album then.
But Mirage was quite a successful album in as much as it did hang together quite well, all the material seemed to flow together quite well and it did have some sort of direction, which was, you know, something to be said about it. It does hang together really well, as an album. But I think the pieces were too long, and then again as I say, every album we do is a kind of reaction against the last thing you did. You sort of want to break new ground every time, and we always wanted to break new ground overtime we went into the studio.
MR - Well you toured America, and you did a three-month tour...
AL - (Yeah)
MR - ...that's along time for a band that had no reputation upto that point really.
AL - Yeah. I don't know how much good it did us actually. We actually went over there for a seven-week your, supporting Wishbone Ash, and as soon as we got over there - we arrived in New York, and the manager said "the record company and the agency want you to stay for the whole tour." And we said "how longs that?" And they said "three months." And it went right over Christmas and everything. We said "ooh-er...ok." So we actually did this tour and we were supporting everybody really. We only did a half-an-hour to forty-five minute set, and we were supporting bands like Kiss and Steppenwolf and Climax Chicago Blues Band and all sorts of odd people playing, as well as Wishbone Ash. We really did cater to the tour, rather than try and educate people to what Camel were really about. The set, as I say, was half-an-hour to forty-five minutes and nobody was interested in the support band, and you were playing to 5000 people a night minimum.
(Extract from "Lady Fantasy" from "Mirage")
MR - Following the release of Mirage and an American tour, Camel returned to Britain. Peter Bardens and Andrew Latimer went to Devon to prepare for the their third album; the highly successful concept recording Snow Goose.
AL - We hadn't really got the idea of doing a concept album, when we went down there. We went down there, we had a few bits and pieces we'd written, but we had no real direction for the album. We didn't really fall on the conceptual idea until about a week after we'd been down there. I think Doug was saying it was a good idea if we do a concept album. So after about a week Peter and I were chatting, because Peter wanted to do Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse and I didn't. I wanted to do The Snow Goose, because Peter had read it - I hadn't read it until the week I went down there, and Doug had read it and said it was worthwhile considering. And I'd read it and thought it had great musical possibilities. And so we thrashed it out, Peter and I. We went up to the top of this hill - I remember it really well, and when we went up there, he wanted to do Steppenwolf, and me wanted to do Snow Goose. And we came back down and said "yeah, we want to do The Snow Goose." It was great. And we worked on it, wrote the majority of it in about two weeks, which was very easy, 'cos we both had a very clear defined picture of who and what the characters should say musically. So we were writing and as we were writing you know, Pete would write a piece or I would, and we'd say to each other you know, "do you think this is right for one of the characters?" We'd know, both of us if we found it was right, and sometimes we'd write five different pieces until we came on the right mood for the character. And so it was very easy in that area.
It was a strange album in as much as we wrote the whole thing and practiced each piece, but we'd never ever played it all the way through. So we didn't really know how it was going to sound like all the way through. And I was sort of working on links and things with Peter. We eventually went into the studios to do it, and we recorded each piece separately.
MR - Who was that produced by? Was that produced by Rhett Davies?
AL - No. That was produced by David Hitchcock, who produced the Mirage album.
And he was very good actually, because he helped us really organise things, like getting together with David Bedford, and more or less took control when the studio musicians and orchestra came in to do their parts - which we were a bit inexperienced with at that stage; we didn't want to tell anybody how it should go. It was quite funny.
It was successful album for Peter and I because it came very close to what we had in our heads about The Snow Goose. Whether it was successful on a commercial thing is a, you know, is rather irrelevant really. I think it was successful to us, that's what art is all about. But it did turn out to be a successful album for the band. It really did push the band up into the public eye. It was the turning point I think for Camel, 'cos up until then it had been a band that people didn't take much notice of, though we had quite a keen set of followers. But when The Snow Goose came along it was welcomed in this country with open arms, and it really did - it went into the charts, and around that time we got Melody Maker Brightest Hope award I think...did the Albert Hall concert. So things were sort of generating interest. So it was a good period for the band, and we were working well together at that stage, Peter and I. We still had our arguments and some disagreements in the studio, but we were really pulling together on all things and fronts; on the stage show and album. It was a very harmonious time for the band.
(Extract from "Rhayader Goes To Town" from the album "The Snow Goose")
MR - With the success of Snow Goose behind them, Camel set about recording their fourth album, Moonmadness.
AL - That whole album was very rushed, because we went in - I know we only had about three weeks to write the material, we had about the same period of time to rehearse it, and the album was done very quickly as well. I mean it was all very rushed and, I think it was a fairly successful album. It wasn't earth-shattering after Snow Goose, and it didn't really do the job. But it got us into the swing of writing songs again, even though they were still rather lengthy, because of The Snow Goose influence really. We were still doing long instrumental passages. But we got back into writing songs.
There was slight bit of ...there was something rumbling within the band then. The harmony was slightly askew, because we wanted get into a bit more complicated material, and at that point in time Doug wasn't into getting into more complex material. And so the harmony was going slightly at that point when we went in to do Moonmadness.
It was fairly easily recorded and fairly quickly done in Ireland. There was no great concept idea - it was just a bunch of songs that we really wanted to get down. It was another album that was reasonably successful in the States.
MR - You co-wrote the songs on the album. By and large it was the Bardens/Latimer team that had taken you through three albums and this was your fourth...
AL - Rogers and Hammersmith, as we laughingly call it. Yeah, we'd always worked together well. It was always...it was probably a lot like Lennon and McCartney; where one person would write more than the other, on whatever particular number we were doing. You know I had maybe written whole pieces - especially when we were coming to do Breathless. I mean I was writing whole pieces and he was, and we were still crediting each other for doing things. But we weren't really involved as much as we were in the early days.
(Extract from "Lunar Sea" from the album "Moonmadness")
MR - Once Moonmadness had been recorded, a lot had changed in the style of music. You changed the pieces that you had been recording with Moonmadness - there were long symphonic pieces on Moonmadness. By the time you got to rain Dances they were shorter, jazzier pieces. Was that something you did on purpose?
AL - Yeah. It was probably a reaction again against Moonmadness. But it was...we wanted to do much more concise material, and we wanted to get into a jazzier area because Mel had come in - Mel Collins had actually started touring with us on the Moonmadness tour - though he didn't record the album he toured with us. And we definitely wanted to work together again in the studio. And so we were going into a jazzier area. Doug left at that stage, and Richard came in. And Richard could play any jazzy things that you wanted, and they were quite complex, the bass lines on Rain Dances. And that enabled us to get into a jazzier area. I really like that album actually. I still listen to it, and it's quite successful in as much as all the pieces...well the actual production is much better, and we were able to stretch-out quite a lot, on more complex material. Which we weren't able to do before because Doug and Andy couldn't cope with the more complex time signatures.
MR - How did you get hold of Richard, formally with Caravan? I mean was that an association...?
AL - Oh, we've always like Richards voice, which is another big plus, because we wanted to get into more vocal areas with Rain Dances. And we knew Richard had a great voice, and he was near the top of our list of bass players. We actually got in touch with him - he wasn't doing anything at that stage. And he came down to Devon, where we were rehearsing, and he fitted-in really well. He mastered things really quickly. Which was something we weren't used to, and ...it was as simple as that really. We just phoned him up and asked him he was doing anything. He said "no", so we asked "would you like to do the next album?" He said "yeah" and he came down, learned the material and did it, really.
MR - Up to then Peter and yourself were taking the lead vocals in the group. Very similar style of vocals, a very similar sound. Richard Sinclair's bass guitar almost matches his singing; it's a very bassy voice too.
AL - Yeah. It's very English. And quite unique you know. He's got a very unique-sounding voice. You always know it was Richard.
MR - Rain Dances was an album of shorter tunes, jazzier, with vocals as you say, with the older ideas; the washes of sound that we had been used to hearing from yourself and Peter. Do you think on reflection it was a success? Attempting to change the direction of Camel, and the sound.
AL - I do actually...for the fans it gave them something new again. I think that's one of the parts of Camel - why we've lasted so long, because we have changed, and the fans have gone with us and accepted the change. It's not been that drastic. There's always been a close link to the previous album...ish. As I say, it's pretty loose. But I think it was a successful album. I think the fans were a bit shocked at first, but they went with it.
(Extract from "One Of These Days I'll Get An Early Night" from the album "Rain Dances")
MR - Your listening to Camel - Ten Years On, an interview with
founder and guitarist Andrew Latimer.