Following the success of their fourth album, Moonmadness (UK: Decca TXS-R 115; Rel.: 26th March 1976; US: Janus 7024), Camel experienced the first personnel amendment since their formation back in 1971. Andrew Latimer (Electric, Acoustic and Slide Guitars, Flute, Vocals); Peter Bardens (Keyboards) and Andy Ward (Drums, Vibes, Varispeed Percussion) bid farewell to their bass player, Doug Ferguson, following that album's attendant tours, and while he went off to pursue other interests they considered how to plug the gap and set to work on formulating ideas for their next project.
Andy had not been excessively happy about the fact the heavy road commitments forced Moonmadness's creation to be squeezed into some three weeks, with about the same time again remaining for rehearsals, so any enforced delay in transferring anything further to magnetic oxide caused by Doug's departure naturally meant greater creative time for preparation. It was not wasted.
Discussions between the remaining trio about how to cure their immediate headcount problem though decreed one Richard Sinclair top of the wants list. A founder member of Caravan and, latterly, leading light in Hatfield & The North, the gentleman described glowingly in a Melody Maker article of the era as 'one of the few rock singers who can actually sing', was contacted with a view to possible recruitment. It goes without saying he was also a wizard on the amplified four-string to boot.
During the months since Hatfield's demise, Canterbury, Kent's-finest had initially taken a few weeks well deserved holiday abroad and the returned to England and set himself up in business making musical equipment, maintaining playing links with matters melodic by gigging locally and even forming for fun a one-off band called Sinclair & The South. When the telephone call came with an offer to join Camel for recording purposes though he required no second bidding, and checked in, guitar in hand, during February '77.
Sinclair settled into his role with a relish over the seven months spent in the studio as they taped album number five, and it became obvious to all concerned that here was a rather more permanent solution to filling their vacancy than anyone had even dared hope. As things progressed he automatically involved himself in writing and definitely brought a new dimension to the band's crotcheted horizons and sound, as Latimer was quick to appreciate when discussing Rain Dances after its completion: 'It was probably a reaction against Moonmadness, but we wanted to do more concise material, and we also wanted to get into jazzier areas. Richard could play all the jazzy things we wanted - and some of them were quite complex.' Speaking, as they were, at the very height of the punk rock revolution, Peter added: 'It's a very optimistic album compared with much of the material that is being released at the moment. We've branched out into different directions ranging from jazz to classical, yet Rain Dances is more accessible than any of its predecessors. I suppose it's just a logical progression', adding enthusiastically, 'Richard has really fitted in perfectly, his voice enhances Camel's music.'
Mr. Sinclair was not alone in adding instrumentation though, since top saxophonist Mel Collins also fleshed out proceedings and declared himself ready, willing and able to augment the quartet on their inevitable supporting tour.
With everybody delighted at results achieved, that which had been christened after Messrs. Latimer and Bardens' closing opus debuted in Britain as TXS-R 124 early in September '77, a single Highways of the Sun in edited form, backed with an untouched Tell me, also from the set, gracing dealers' release sheets as F-R 13729 on the 23rd of the month.
The 45 didn't dent our Top 50 despite being decidedly radio-friendly, but Camel had never courted that market anyway and were already residing on its album relative, for Rain Dances breezed into the published best-sellers on September 17th and took an 8-week tenancy as it peaked at 20 with the sold-out British tour in full swing. An exhausting pilgrimage around mainland Europe followed. Across the 'big pond', Janus did not this time offer a seven-inch taster as they had for Moonmadness but watched gleefully as their latest nine-track acquisition, accorded catalogue reference 7035, nudged into Billboard's Top 200 on November 12th and pushed up to 136 during a 5 week stay.
For transfer to Compact Disc Rain Dances' original contents is now augmented by suffixing that truncated Highways of the Sun variation, which should hopefully delight anyone replacing their vinyl collection by helping to keep your Camel libraries complete, though way-back-when our heroes were already tentatively turning their thoughts towards whatever might come next, although from certain events of late it was perceived by those close to the band, and not least by Andy Latimer and Pete Bardens themselves, that each definitely saw Camel's future travels venturing along somewhat different, incompatible paths.
Something, or rather somebody, would have to give seemingly, but any such 'storm clouds' were early in 1978 still only a shadow on the horizon. While minds were seeking inspiration for a wholly new subject to tackle, ears, hands and concentration were devoted to the careful assembly of an in-concert chronicle celebrating their history to date for home issue in April. Without beating about the bush its direct billing would state, A Live Record...
© John Tracy London, 1991