'What we wanted it to be was more or less a history of the band - it was meant to be a life history rather than a great sounding live record'. So remembered Camel's founding father, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Latimer in 1981 as he spoke of his group's in-concert double vinyl set of April three years earlier, the fittingly appellated, A Live Record (U.K.: Decca DBC-R 7/8). Indeed, the function for which Andrew and his crewmates - at that time fellow originals Peter Bardens (Keyboards), Andy Ward (Drums, Vibes, Varispeed Percussion) and recent reruit Richard Sinclair (Bass, Vocals) - had intended their 2LP package was admirably fulfilled; that it did sound great was no more than anyone expected.
In the Camel discography, the forerunner of that which you now hold in your hand was sandwiched between the studio sets of new material Rain Dances (U.K.: Decca TXS-R 124, Released: September 1977; U.S.: Janus 7035) and Breathless (TXS-R 132, 22nd September 1978; Arista 4206), though with the boys switching labels in the States between that international chart-blessed brace, A Live Record seemingly failed to see light of day across the Atlantic sporting eaither logo. In Britain no single from its contents were planned or executed, and while it retailed steadily to their ever-growing fan base, just for once a new Camel experience did not nose its way onto Britain's weekly published survey of best-selling twelve-inchers.
The recordings our subjects had collected together came from no less than six different sessions, with the entire second album given over to October 1975's complete presentation of The Snow Goose. Taped before a full house at London's Royal Albert Hall, with Doug Ferguson then still plucking their electric four-string, Camel's enchanting tale of Fritha and Rhayader had been embellished by contributions from The London Symphony Orchestra and its conductor, David Bedford. Many in the audience that autumn evening had waited eagerly ever since to relive a special, unforgettable night in their recent past, and now they could do so whenever they wished.
The other, opening LP sampled several of Camel's many other delights, beginning with Never Let Go, the best-loved opus off their eponymous, debut album at MCA of February 1973. Very briefly, with another extract from its about-to-be-launched big brother, Curiosity, Never Let Go had been available in the United Kingdom as a 45, MUS 1177 (January 1973), and in so doing had handed Camel the privilege of securing one of MCA's inaugural stereo single berths ahead of such established U.S. acts at the major as Brenda Laa, Sonny & Cher and Rick Nelson.
1976's Moonmadness spectacular was recognised via Song Within A Song from a September '77 date at the capital's famed Hammersmith Odeon - now re-named the Apollo- and, from a month later at Bristol's Colston Hall, Lunar Sea while October 1977 also yielded Rain Dances' salute, Skylines, although this time the students of Leeds University could be held responsible for enthusiastic background noises.
Not gifted to one of their own studio extravaganza's, Ligging at Louis' and, from their Deram premiere and second album overall, Mirage, Lady Fantasy, found the Latimer/Bardens/Ward/Ferguson initial Camel line-up in fine form back in October 1974 as they played the Marquee Club. One of the most convenient venues in which to preserve a gig for audio posterity, sound engineer John 'skin' Godenzi, like others before him undertaking a similar task there, was able to plug his charges directly into the then adjacent Marquee Studios.
And there they had it, an applauded taster from each of the five albums issued to date way-back-when, from Camel to Rain Dances, lovingly assembled at a time when the forthcoming sixth was under construction. As one of the hardest working and most frequently on-tour outfits of the Seventies and Eighties - who've recently returned to both concert halls and latter-day state-of-the-art soundproofed microphoned caverns after a period of tangible inactivity - what finer reminder could one have of Camel than A Live Record?....
© John Tracy London, 1993