My heartfelt thanks again to Susan Hoover for allowing me to
MR Your listening to Camel - Ten Years On, an interview with founder and guitarist Andrew Latimer.
Throughout Rain Dances a rift between Bardens and Latimer became more apparent. Both were pulling in separate directions. This rift was to continue until Bardens farewell album Breathless. But before Breathless Camel were to release their first live album, called appropriately A Live Record.
AL What we decided we wanted it to be was like more or less a history of the band. And so we were going along with things like versions of the Marquee gig, which I think we had ‘Liggin at Louis - a number that Pete wrote, from that. And the quality was pretty bad, and Lady Fantasy was on that as well, which the quality was pretty bad. We decided that that was us at that period of time and so don’t let’s try to do dubs and make it better, lets put it out as it is and say "that was us in 1970", regardless whatever. It was like it was meant to be; a history, other than a great-sounding live record.
MR You also did a version of The Snow Goose - I mean you did the entire Snow Goose and recorded that on the second half of the double album, didn’t you?
AL Yeah - which was a version…it was the Albert Hall gig, which we’d recorded years before but never really felt the time was right to put it out. It was always "no we can’t put it out now, we’ve only just… the album The Snow Goose - the studio version, has only been out for two years or something." We always said it was too close. But at that point we said it was about time to put it out - a live version of it. And as we already had it in the can - we had to do a few dubs, but mainly it was what happened on the night, although people didn’t hear it like that, but that was how they heard it in the little control wagon.
(Excerpt from "Never Let Go" from "A Live Record")
MR With the live album behind you and your own negative feelings, and as you said when you recorded Rain Dances there was this rift, this composing rift between you and Peter, how and why did Breathless come together?
AL It came together because I came back from the States and decided that we would give it another go. And we sent down to write it in Cornwall, Peter and I. And it was quite enjoyable really, because as I said earlier on, Peter and I always did really get on well when we were creating, it was only when we came to the execution and…also contractually we had another album. And…we thought it would work, and it did work while we were creating it. When we got into the studio to do it, the rift became vary apparent. And Peter and I were just stifling each other. I wouldn’t let him get any of his ideas out, and he wouldn’t let me get any of mine out, so the feeling in the studio was pretty heavy weather. We were always sort of having our arguments - about what should take a solo and what sort of sound should go on. And in those sort of situations, nobody’s right or wrong, it’s just a different point of view. And so we both decided to part company, on the creative level. Richard and Andy wanted to stay with me, and so Peter went. And I think it was a very good move really, because as I say we were stifling each other, and Peter went off to do his solo projects. He’s done a solo album since and he’s doing a lot of single work now. And we get on really well now, and he lives a mile away from me, and we see each other a couple of times a week, and it’s…it’s really good. Because we were always really good friends.
MR So Breathless has Peter Bardens playing organ-playing keyboards if you like. But when you did the live tour, and every time you recorded an album and released one then you would tour, and perform the music from that album and previous parts of your repertoire. You must have had a problem, because Peter was a very main part of Camel, and I mean, there was you on guitar and Peter with the keyboards. So what did you do? How did you replace him?
AL It was a fairly large problem, because Peter said that okay he was going to leave. This was three-quarters of the way through making Breathless. He said "I’m going, I’ll finish the album and that’s it." So he finished the album and we had a period of about three weeks, and then we were going on tour.
Now Richard suggested using Dave and Jan because he’d worked with them in Caravan and he said they really worked well. And I thought "yeah, it would be great, we could much more adventurous things with two keyboard players. We could do some great string parts", and all this sort of thing. And so we just went down there - Andy and I drove down there and met them both and said would they like to do it? And they said "yeah". And I thought we’d have no problems getting it off any parts, because we’ve got two now, and it was such a short period and it worked. It was great fun at that stage. I really enjoyed the arrangements, because we could do…and we had Mel…so the arrangements could be quite lavish. It was quite a fun time, in the end even that became too much, because everyone wanted to solo, and you had like four soloists, so it was very difficult saying who was getting a solo.
MR So Caravan and Camel had been moving along in parallel directions over the years, and both were very strong British bands - British in sound, and the quality of their music. Their songs were about English life most of the time, certainly in Caravan’s case that is true. With Richard Sinclair on bass joined by his cousin David Sinclair and Jan Schelhaas on keyboards. It seemed very obvious.
Al I’ve always wanted to keep the music very English, because I didn’t feel it was worth competing with the Americans because…you know at one stage Peter wanted to be like a Santana-type band you know, and I said "what’s the point of doing that?" Let’s try and do what we do. We are English, so let’s be proud of it and do something that’s English. Let’s not try to do funky disco stuff and all that sort of thing - which we have dabbled in. I’ve always wanted to keep it English-sounding, still do if I can. I don’t think someone should follow or try to copy too much.
(Extract from "Echoes" from the album "Breathless")
MR Breathless was an album that marked both a change in personnel and change in philosophy for the band. By the time the next album - I Can See Your House From Here - was recorded, there were further changes within the group.
AL Well Dave Sinclair came in only for the tour. He only ever came for this tour, he never joined the band on a permanent basis. He said, "I’ll do the tour and okay, that’s it", because he had solo project planned. So we said "fine, okay." And Mel…Mel has always been in the situation where he comes in, does things. I means he’s done something on the latest album, he’ll do something on the next album, probably may even tour next time. So he’s never really been a permanent member; he never went or came, Mel. It was one of those sorts of things. So the change we had was Richard, because Richard was in a situation where he couldn’t cope with touring. He didn’t like touring all that much, not on the sort of level we were touring - we were playing a lot of concerts, doing about seventy concerts in about seventy-eight days, which was very hard work, and also playing to a lot of people every night, two or three thousand people. He didn’t enjoy touring, never really did enjoy it, and couldn’t cope all that well with all the pressures that go on in a tour. And he decided he didn’t want to do that anymore, in that period. So he left. That’s when we recruited Colin Bass. He’s a very different player than Richard, a solid player. Richard’s a rather more experimental player, I would say. And he could sing. And Jan remained with us, and we got…we kept the two keyboard thing going and we got Kit Watkins from America, who used to be with a band called Happy The Man.
MR When you did the Breathless tour, you decided to have Dave Sinclair and Jan Schelhaas out playing the keyboard parts. The experience of them playing two keyboard parts as one if you like, was such that you decided that in future you would keep it that way. When you got to the album I Can See Your House From Here you decided to carry-on with that, and as you say you got Jan to stay in the band, and brought-in Kit Watkins to play keyboards as well. Now why did you decide to have two keyboard players? Was it because you didn’t want to get into the same situation with another Peter, where Peter would say "I’m the keyboard player"?
AL Jan is a totally different personality to Peter, and at that point we’d liked the situation, where we had two keyboard players. And Mel was also doing other things at that point. He was doing a lot of tours, a lot of session work, and he wasn’t going to be that involved in I Can See Your House From Here. He had already expressed the view that he wanted to do other things, but still wanted to work with us in the future and things. It was all friendly and everything. So we decided that we still wanted to be able to create on-stage these lavish productions, and we’d like the use of two keyboard players, to give us so much scope to do lots of different parts together. And Kit was somebody we’d liked - we’d heard the Happy The Man albums, and he’s such a tremendous player, and he’s a very, very versatile player.
MR One thing you did with the band though was you very much started to come forward as a guitarist who would walk out onto a platform.
AL Yeah, yeah. I was sort of getting more guitar back into the act, because I’d - as I’d explained earlier - I had taken a back seat on production, sort of produced myself out of the picture in a lot of the cases. And a lot of things I wrote on keyboards, and when it came to actually recording them I thought, "well they’re fine without guitar, so I won’t put any guitar on." I did that on quite a few pieces.
MR As you say you were concentrating more on guitar, playing and recording on I Can See Your House’, and one of the tracks in particular that strikes me as an example of where you took the reins again and played guitar, was Ice.
AL Yeah, Ice…was a particularly successful track in as much as we were getting back into live recording. Because over the years I think the criticism that is thrown against us - which is like you get in a studio situation - Camel’s been guilty of it - of being a bit too clinical, and because we do a lot of dubs, use the studio for different effects and things. Now Ice was different, it was live. We went into the studio and played it. So I think there’s very…I think Kit did a dub on it, and the ‘intro and ‘outro was dubbed obviously, as there are sort of two guitars doing things, but the bulk of that track is all live. So we captured a great…that’s what I really enjoy about recording, you can actually capture a nice piece of magic that happens between five, six people, and it actually goes down on tape, rather than dubs and things, which is always difficult to generate the same excitement and emotion, when you’re out there on your own doing a dub and there’s nobody to feed-off.
("Extract from "Ice" from the album "I Can See Your House From Here")
MR After the tour and album, on reflection were you glad of the change of personnel? Were you pleased with the way things had worked-out?
AL Yeah. Because obviously one goes through insecurities when you get someone like Peter, who was basically fifty percent of the band’s writing. And you suddenly left with all of it to do yourself…uh…it’s quite a strain. And not knowing whether your going to choose the right people to join - because obviously it’s difficult - you have to live with each other virtually. It’s a very hard decision. And when we chose Colin and Kit we were quite lucky really. I think luck has a great part in this. They turned-out really well; everything worked very quickly in the studio, and for the very first time in the studio there wasn’t the arguments and great discussions…about what sort of sound the Moog should be. You know, it was something that just happened. Which was great for me. I was really happy that we didn’t go through all those traumas. It was nice, it was almost like a great weight lifted.
MR From then you re-assessed the band again, and we come forward to the latest album, which again is a concept album, like Snow Goose. But before Nude, which the name of the album is, before you got to Nude, more changes went on in the band.
AL Well actually there wasn’t. Because after the I Can See Your House’ tour, Kit and Jan both expressed views that they wanted to do solo projects. Kit more so than Jan. But they wanted to take time-out. They didn’t want to be that involved in the new album. Kit wanted to do his solo projects, so we said "okay, fine. Let’s leave it like that. If you want to do it this year, then do it." We decided we weren’t going to tour that year, because economically it wasn’t very advantageous. I suppose Duncan came in on a session basis - he didn’t really come in on a permanent basis.
MR So did you leave the door open for Jan and Kit to come back when they did their solo projects?
AL Yeah. Well it was agreed that we’d all do our solo projects if you like. I’d do mine with Camel and they were going to do theirs. And at the end of the day we’d all come back together again and tour with the Camel project. And so Duncan was brought in to do the sessions for the album. And after the album was recorded Kit and Jan did come back and we toured, which was quite an extensive tour of Europe.
(Extract from "Lies" from the album "Nude")
MR Nude, Camel’s latest album, is a concept album like The Snow Goose, where it has a theme that runs throughout all of the songs on it. An idea that was successful before, but was that the reason for the concept idea again?
AL Only because I found it very easy to do when I was doing The Snow Goose. I find it very easy to do things, like a book or a movie, when things are laid out and you have very defined pictures of what your doing. I’d wanted to get my teeth into a concept album again - I’d been looking for it for about two years - never could come up with something I thought was worth doing. And Susan came up with this idea - Susan Hoover - of this Japanese soldier who had been marooned on the island, and stayed there for thirty-odd years fighting the Second World War. And the deeper I got into it, the more I saw musical possibilities. And also I was very influenced, quite heavily, from my tour of Japan. I think we’d done two tours of Japan at that stage, and I was very moved emotionally by both tours. I got a lot from Japan, from the people in the main. And I saw it as an opportunity to combine the two, which is my idea of doing a concept album, and my feelings from Japan. It was…the music was quite hard work. The story was even harder, because we had to…we weren’t going to use the original idea - we wanted to take it outside of that and use it on a much more universal level that wasn’t actually just relating to a Japanese soldier; it could have been any soldier.
We worked quite hard on the story, to get that into shape we wrote about twelve drafts I think, of the actual story, which I liked the seventh actually - about the sixth or seventh draft I think I liked it because it was story. And from the seventh draft on it was just edited and edited and edited. To the point now I think it was good and successful, the final version, because it just put across all the points that we wanted to. But I did prefer it when it was more in a storybook type thing. There was a much longer story, but obviously we couldn’t get it on so we edited it down.
I really enjoyed making that record. I think it was real good fun to do. And ‘cos everyone was into doing their parts - Duncan brought a lot of energy, Mel brought a lot of energy - Mel came back. And I had a very clear picture of what I wanted, which by this time I’d got my feet on the ground, and wasn’t feeling too insecure at that stage. It was very enjoyable…and that time we started working with Tony Clark and Haydn Bendall, who’d worked on Sky things, and they were really very much fun to work with, they were really funny. The whole album was very funny, making it at Abbey Road. Abbey road is a real funny place. It’s…the vibes are really good, and it’s quite good fun, ‘cos you get all these stars walking in and out of your sessions. We had Kate Bush sort of make us a cup of tea each, you know. It’s great for me, I think, "hey, it’s nice, ain’t it?" So that whole period of making that album was a lot of fun, a lot of fun doing it.
MR In the ten years that you’ve been playing, do you think you’ve kept the same audience? Do you think there are people who saw you in the early days in ’71?
AL Oh most definitely. I mean Camel fans are a very odd breed. They seem to stick to us like glue. There’s numerous people who have actually stayed with us from the whole…from the word go, from MCA to Nude. It’s really nice, and we’re still getting a lot of young audiences - it’s not like all the old fogey’s are buying Camel records. I mean there’s still a very wide audience. But it is nice when you meet people on the road, they’ve got all the records and they probably know more about you than you do, which is encouraging. It makes the whole thing worthwhile.
MR Going back to Snow Goose. This is your tenth year and you commemorate it with a special tenth anniversary album, as well has receiving your first gold record.
AL About bloody time! Yeah, Snow Goose getting a gold disk. I think I’ll melt it down. No I won’t, I’ll hand it on the wall like all good pop stars. Um…yeah, I was really pleased to hear that, and it’s also nice for people like Doug, whose not doing anything at the moment. He’ll get his gold disk, and Peter and Andy. So it’s quite a pleasing thing. And the new album, because it’s a compilation album - Chameleon - has…that was a very difficult thing to do, because Andy and I sat down and said, "okay, we have to choose an album, which is Camel’s greatest hits", if you like. Which is pretty difficult as we haven’t had a hit. But it was very difficult to choose from nine albums, and a lot of the numbers that were probably the most successful - Lady Fantasy and Lunar Sea as you said previously, were long numbers. They were twelve, fourteen minutes long, and if you put that on a single album then you haven’t got many numbers on the album. So it was hard to choose numbers that were very popular, and also getting value for money, enough tracks on there that would keep everybody’s interest, and hopefully keep them happy…and say "oh yeah, that was my favourite track." And we spent a long time putting different tapes together, so that the thing sounded…it flowed, and also it had a certain amount of popular taste, if you like, in the album. It was…yeah, a quite enjoyable project. I’m pleased it’s coming out, especially to celebrate our tenth anniversary in the business. It’s good.
MR What about the future? Do you see yourself being Camel in ten years time?
AL Good…good God. In ten years time? No idea. No idea. Who knows? In ten years? Ten years is rather a long period actually to project. I mean the next album we do, which I’m starting to write now, um…I have plans actually, to use nearly everybody, or using some old and some new people on the album. I’m not sure what form that’s going to take yet. As I say I’m writing material for it now, and um…there is a possibility of a few guest ex-Camel’s coming in. Peter might do a solo, and Richard might come in and do a vocal. I’m not sure about it yet. I’ve got this idea at the moment that we may do something like that for the next album.
MR You’ve been listening to Camel - Ten Years On, an interview with founder and guitarist Andrew Latimer. The music played comes from Camel’s recorded history. The first Camel album on MCA Records, and the Decca collection from then on; Mirage, Snow Goose, Moonmadness, Rain Dances, A Live Record, Breathless, I Can See Your House From Here, and Nude. Camel celebrated the success of Snow Goose this year, receiving gold disks for world-wide record sales. To commemorate ten years together, Decca Records released Chameleon - The Best of Camel, a compilation album.
This interview was engineered by Paul Eastern. I’m Mal Reding.