Their eighth album, and fifth to chart in the United Kingdom, I Can See Your House From Here, like its immediate predecessor, Breathless in 1978, was more a collection of songs rather than the concept package, a la The Snow Goose, for which Camel has become justifiably famous.
Of the founding quartet - Andrew Latimer (Guitar, Flute, Vocals); Andy Ward (Drums, Percussion)); Doug Ferguson (Bass) and Peter Bardens (Keyboards) - who'd initially pooled their resources late in 1971 to form this melodic ship of the desert launched officially during the spring of '71, only the first named pair remained. Doug called it a day after completing their fourth set (Moonmadness, 1976), to be replaced by Richard Sinclair, best-known for his time with the Kent-based aggregation Caravan. This line-up was then responsible for Rain Dances (1977), the double LP history A Live Record (1978) and finally, later that same year, Breathless.
At this point one half of the band's songwriting duo, Peter Bardens, decided to pursue an alternative path for the future, but as the boys were already committed to a promotional tour in support of their latest handiwork, a replacement had to be recruited and familiarize himself with Camel's repertoire forthwith. Richard stepped into the breach by suggesting his cousin David and/or Jan Schelhaas, variously Caravaner both, would fit the bill.
Each man was approached and the response was positive, although Dave made it clear from the outset that his association would be purely for the tour fulfillment and no more. Nevertheless, it set the bells ringing in Mr. Latimer's head, as he revealed in 1981: "I suddenly thought using two keyboard players would be a great idea because we'd be able to do many more adventurous things", adding tongue-in-cheek, "At one stage I did think of calling the band Caramel!"
The use of erstwhile Caravan personnel was perfectly logical, as both groups had been moving in similar circles during their respective careers, being signed to Decca labels. Their sounds also were both consciously British in content, and the Guildford, Surrey-born guitarist/leader explained why he intended Camel should remain that way: "I always wanted to keep the music very English because I didn't feel it was worth competing with the Americans. At one stage Peter wanted us to be a Santana-type band, but I believed we should stick to doing what we did best and not try to copy other peoples music." Clearly Bardens ultimate departure was an inevitability, but happily an amicable one in all departments.
Stability of membership though was not to become a prerequisite again in the forseeable future, since immediately following the Breathless crusade another bomb was dropped - exit Richard Sinclair. Andy Latimer: "Richard couldn't really cope with our level of touring. We were playing a lot of concerts, doing around seventy in seventy-eight days. It was very hard work. And we were playing to a lot of people every night, houses of around two to three thousand." So what was to happen next? "That was when we linked with Colin Bass who soon worked out extremely well. He was a very different player to Richard, very solid."
Jan Schelhaas who, apart from Caravan had also graced The National Head Band and Gary Moore's ensemble, remained with the Andys, and since Latimer wanted to continue with a twin black-and-whites attack, Kit Watkins from Happy The Man opted to change address.
Throughout the summer of '79 this new quintet set about penning the contents of another long-player, continuing the new-broom-sweeps-clean philosophy by seeking additionally a fresh face to occupy the producer's role. Rupert Hine received the thumbs-up, a top-notcher whose curriculum vitae already boasted the satisfied client signatures of such as Kevin Ayers (Confessions of Dr. Dream, 1972); Yvonne Elliman (Food of Love, 1973); Dave Greenslade (Cactus Choir, 1976); Quantum Jump (Quantum Jump, 1976; Barracuda, 1977) and Cafe Jacques (Round the Back, 1977; International, 1978). On top of this he'd also recorded as a writer/artist himself, notably in 1976 coming up with a marvellously innovative and unjustifiably neglected vocal 45 entitled Snakes Don't Dance Fast (Electric), on which he supplied all the instrumental accompaniment - reputedly with just his mouth. A man with a commercial pedigree, Camel had made an interesting choice.
Through a process of elimination after each participant had exercised his quill for the common good, nine numbers were shortlisted for recording, each the solo endeavour or in collaboration via various permutations, of the individuals named hereafter: Messrs. Latimer, Ward, Schelhaas, Bass, Watkins, John McBurnie and Viv McAuliffe. But what to call the harmonic portrait overall?
There was a rather long-winded joke doing the rounds in England at the time concerning crucifixion, the punchline of which had the poor unfortunate nailed to a cross stating to his beckoned observer, "I can see your house from here." Obviously this jape made an impression on our heroes sufficiently to be adopted and, plumbing for an outer space theme adaption for sleeve graphics, found itself registered as the billing for Taped and mixed at the Farmyard Studios in Little Chalfont with orchestral overdubs added at London's celebrated A.I.R. establishment, old friend Mel Collins - a sessioneer for Caravan also - added his saxophone contributions, while Genesis' legendary drummer/vocalist Phil Collins- totally unrelated - also dropped by to rattle some traps.
Latimer was delighted with the end product, as he made emphatically obvious: "Rupert was great fun to work with, he was really up and zappy. I enjoyed making that record. We did it rather quickly and it wasn't a lengthy production."
Magnetic oxide was delivered to 'The Supreme Record Company', and a release date scheduled at home for mid-October 1979 as Decca TXS-R 137. On the 27th of the month it bounced into the charts, lodging twenty-one days and peaking at No. 45.
It was decided by the powers-that-be to issue a supporting seven incher to boost media interest, and it appears that the first choice item was allocated a catalogue number and then shelved temporarily to make way for what was felt to be a stronger maxi-single. From the new spectacle Andy Latimer and Kit Watkins' Remote Romance was edited to form the 'A' side of Decca F-R 13879 (Rel.: 26th October, UK only), while its lower deck consisted of single version of Rainbow's End from Breathless (TXS-R 132, 22nd September 1978) and a Camel/Mick Glossop production of Tell Me, a number first heard on Rain Dances (TXS-R 124, September 1977). Sadly, like all such Camel offerings, it failed to trouble compilers of the weekly best-sellers, but encouraged the radio play for which it was primarily intended.
On 29th February 1980 that which had originally been intended as a inaugural single surfaced, when F-R 13871 called to admirers everywhere, this time cementing the latest set's Your Love is Stranger than Mine and Neon Magic back-to-back. While not breaking the mould of that which had gone before, sales figures were respectable. By their own admission, however, Camel set out to create anything with the singles market in mind, but unlike many of their album-orientated contemporaries, readily accepted their disc outlets' attempts worldwide to broaden band appeal through the media mainstream as they wished.
1980, as it turned out, would be the first year since their inception that our subjects proferred no new LP, for although one was ready for shipment immediately prior to Christmas that year, it was wisely held over until January '81 to avoid the possibility of being swamped in the seasonal rush.
This latest extravaganza, Nude, marked a return to a specific concept ideal, and witnessed the departure of both keyboard practitioners who had solo ideas waiting to come off the back burners. Duncan Mackay stepped into the performing spotlight in their absence, although Jan tinkled the ivories on one track and co-authored another, Watkins also leaving his pen's impression on a solitary opus. But that tale, dear reader, belongs to another day. Let us for now savour Chapter Eight of the Camel story, I Can See Your House From Here...
© John Tracy London, 1989