Incredibly, as I pen this note, Camel have been entertaining us for a quarter of a century.
Albeit that the line-up has inevitably changed during that time, they have just undertaken yet another acclaimed world tour that packed concert halls around the globe, yet there is undoubtedly a warm feeling of being a member of one giant family as a Camel fan. Wherever you go, seemingly, it is impossible not to discover fellow enthusiasts, and as the individual who has revelled in the privilege during this last decade of overseeing the transfer of much of their catalogue to Compact Disc, I've had the rare pleasure of probably communicating with more than most and various band members too.
Perhaps part of the secret is that Camel's participants past and present genuinely respect their admirers and respond to them. Love is a two-way thing, y'know ...
Guitarist / vocalist and song writer supreme Andrew Latimer remains the heart of Camel, as he has always been, and he's travelled a long road since the early l970s when the band's Mk. 1 model rolled off the production line, completed by Peter Bardens (Keyboards), Doug Ferguson (Bass) and Andy Ward (Drums).
The quartet were soon added to the U.K. arm of a major American record company's artist roster following a string of healthy auditorium receptions during support slots on the road for first Barclay James Harvest and, a little later, Stackridge, but what appeared a glittering start lost much of its sparkle as their debut album called, fittingly enough, Camel, fell victim to its label's untimely international distribution switch. Sales and momentum were lost.
Late in 1973, however, they joined British Decca - who'd initially handled their first LP - and so began a lengthy relationship that spawned numerous best-sellers. It is from that treasured archive that we've drawn together this collection of choice cuts, including a handful of titles the versions of which featured here have only previously been available on that relative rarity, a Camel seven-inch vinyl 45.
Mirage was the long-player that christened the partnership in March '74, and it curried favour particularly with residents of Uncle Sam's West Coast - sample Supertwister to find out why - though a somewhat different sounding musical tribute to novelist Paul Gallico's The Snow Goose, set free in May the next year, was the project which indelibly rubber-stamped their arrival as a force to be reckoned with.
Finding space on published charts in several countries, this delightful work heralded the advent of Camel's 'golden years', providing healthy amounts of music media interest and such prestigious opportunities as an offer to perform Snow Goose live at England's world famous Royal Albert Hall with The London Symphony Orchestra and conductor David Bedford. You'll not be surprised to learn they accepted.
A greater emphasis on vocals began with 1976's Moonmadness and the first personnel amendment took place shortly afterwards, bassist Ferguson being replaced by Caravan's Richard Sinclair who then contributed fully to the jazzier Rain Dances (September 1977).
Spring '78 brought forth a double in-concert set which highligted Camel's achievements to date - A Live Record - while the autumn's new studio album was Breathless. lt would be Peter Bardens' last.
With a tour imminent, Caravan again supplied some fine substitutes and two keyboarders joined our ship of the desert to broaden their aural possibilities. Applause please for Richard Sinclair's cousin David and Jan Schelhaas, although both Sinclairs bid adieu before October 1979's I Can See Your House From Here.
A retum to the concept arena was undertaken via January '81's Nude, based on lyricist Susan Hoover's theme of a solitary Japanese soldier trapped on an island for over thirty years, believing World War II to be still extant, after which Gold Discs a-plenty arrived for sales of The Snow Goose and Chameleon - The Best Of Camel provided a tasty titbit for new converts educating themselves about events so far.
Sadly, personal circumstances caused drummer Ward's permanent departure in 1981, leaving Andrew Latimer the sole founder member in situ for '82's The Single Factor - although Pete Bardens guested on one track - and various other commitments meant the musical chairs continued before 1984's superbly atmospheric Stationary Traveller pulled into view. You'll get the mood here from Cloak and Dagger Man and the enchantingly thought-provoking Fingertips (hesitant would-be lovers, listen carefully). lt is also where we take out leave from the band's chronology.
Camel's final Decca album was another live extravaganza issued in November that year, Pressure Points, following which Andrew settled in America and he and Susan formed their own company, Camel Productions, that has released all subsequent albums by our heroes.
Written history lesson over. Please hit 'Play' and let your ears celebrate. They'll be eternally grateful...
© John Tracy London, 1997