Back in issue 15, our Caravan chronology took us through the events affecting the band during 1977. From 1977 to 1979, several ex-members of Caravan were also involved with another notable band of the progressive genre - Camel.
Barry H King gives us an account of the band's first ten years..
A brief overview of Camel's history is warranted at this stage owing to three ex-members of Caravan being brought into the group during the late 70's/early 80's...
So let us go back, gentle reader, to Guildford, 1971. A 3-piece band called Brew (Andy Latimer. guitar, flute, vocals, Andy Ward: drums, vocal refrain, Doug Ferguson: bass, vocals), having recently backed Philip Goodhand-Tait (ex-Stormsville Shakers, Circus) on his second album (I Think I'll Write A Song, DJM.DJLPS416. March t971), concluded they were ready for success under another name and resumed the search for a new keyboard player/vocalist.
An advertisement in the Melody Maker brought to their attention no less a personabe than Peter Bardens (ex-The Cheynes, Them, Shotgun. Express etc, and to cap it all, a couple of solo LP's on Transatlantic: The Answer. TRA 222, Sept 1970, Peter Bardens, TRA 243 July 1971.
After an audition at Hampstead, Peter was a member of the group shortly to be known as Camel and soon - thanks to Peter's connections, to be gigging away in London's West End.
Camel were a steamy little band at this time - a far cry from their epic prog-rock leanings of later years - their magnum opus was God of Light; a Pete Bardens instrumental taken from his second album and which, if I remember rightly, Bardens introduced as Homage To The Green Light at a free festival held at Southampton University in August 1972. (God Of Light also appears on Live At Dlngwall's Dance Hall - a benefit double album featuring Henry Cow, Gong + Global Village Trucklng Company as well (Greasy Truckers Gt 4997. March 1974). Another version appears on Camel On The Road 1972, an official Camel Bootleg (probably taped by Skin, their roadie, for demo purposes) released by Camel Productions CP 003 CD in 1993).
Camel generated enough interest to attract the attention of various record companies until eventually MCA signed up the band to record an album (Camel. MCA MUPS 473. Jan. 1973), which shifted around 5000 units during the first year of release. However, this was not enough to satisfy MCA, consequently when the record contract came up for renewal, Camel were shown the door.
Nevertheless, favourable reviews of the album got the band on the road supporting the likes of Barclay Harvest and Stackridge.
By now their manager, Geoff Dukes, had formed Gama Records with partners Richard Thomas and Max Hole, meaning that Camel were no longer label-less. Their next album, Mirage (Deram. SML 1107. March 1974) was stronger than its predecessor and featured some fine, inspired playing. (Caravan producer David Hitchcock was directing operations.) One quibble though - the vocals. Handled mainly by Latimer and Bardens, they were OK on the dreamy, reflective numbers but failed to convince on the more uptempo numbers. Lyrically, Camel betrayed their hippy roots by paying homage to Gandalf (the wizard in Lord Of The Rings) in The White Rider.
In Lady Fantasy, an evocation of sorts to their Girlfriend/Muse/Goddess is alluded to - albeit unconsciously, I suspect.
The band acknowledged the weakness in the vocals department and were embarrassed by the lyrics, but these fitted the varying moods of the music perfectly (by and large), so where's the harm?
A chaotic tour of Italy in the company of Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come and Peter Hammill (backed by Van Der Graaf Generator but billed as a solo artiste) must have been a real eye-opener for all concerned. It transpired that some. of the smaller clubs were unable to present all the groups owing to lack of space/power/Iighting. Consequently, various members of different bands would simply jam on stage and enjoy themselves. Luckily, someone had the foresight to bring along a tape recorder and presto, there is now in existence a bootleg CD called Cruel, Crazy, Wonderful World recorded at the Studio Falminio, Rome on 27.5.73, featuring members of all three bands in various combinations, jamming away for the sheer hell of it.
Despite barely scraping into the charts in their home country, Mirage did so well in America that a 7-week tour supporting Wishbone Ash was organised. The tour ended in Miami during December 1974, but instead of returning to Britain, Jukes persuaded the band to hole up in Miami for the winter and carry on touring on their own in the new year.
This went on to become a 3-month slog through every State in the union, according to their reckoning.
Their set was tailored to fit the American audience predeliction for hard'n'fast boogie and songs about life on the road for rock'n'roll bands. The Traveller, recorded at The Record Plant, New York, and Ligging At Louie's on A Live Record are good examples of their approach.
Back to Britain, and the next album is planned - a purely instrumental adaptation of Paul Gallico's fine novel The Snow Goose. Released In May 1975 (Decca SKL-R 5207) it was again produced by David Hitchcock and was the album that established their reputation.
The playing was a lot tighter and more focused than previous outings, and the music evoked particular passages of the novel perfectly, making it possible to read the novel "in time" to the album!
Another bonus was the orchestral arrangement written and conducted by David Bedford, flagging the approach of the dreaded Canterbury scene tag. This whole excursion culminated in a prestigious gig at the, Royal Albert Hall (October 1975) with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Bedford and preserved for posterity on A Live Record.
Obviously The Snow Goose was a hard act to follow in the never-ending upward spiral of musical progression that informed the ethos of all our bands during that period. Some maintain this is where Camel's fortunes took a turn for the worse.
The pressure was on - as it always was - to produce a follow-up album that would surpass or at least equal the success of its predecessor.
Despite the handicap of a certain rustiness in the songwriting department that had crept in after a long lay-off and the threat of a pre-arranged tour looming to promote the projected album, the band rose to the occasion to produce Moonmadness (Decca TX5-R 115 1976).
Goodbye objectivity, this album is crucial! If you've never heard a Camel album in your life I strongly recommend that you start with this one. Mere words cannot express the magical other-worldly quality of the music. Arquably, Camel had peaked with the release of this album to such an extent that any shortcomings in band members' musicianship was soon exposed.
The first casualty was Doug Ferguson.
The other group members decided that they had all "outgrown" him musically, therefore at the end of the year Doug returned to Guildford to form a new band called Headwaiter. They went on to record three tracks on a compilation album called Who Invited Them? on the Guildford based Thumb record label. Sometime around March 1978 they went on a tour of Holland with Andy Latimer as guest guitarist before eventually folding.
January 1977 and the search was on to find a better bass player who could sing as well.
A list was drawn up of famous bassists like Stanley Clarke , Jaco Pastorius and more realistically - Richard Sinclair. Andy & Andy were always big Caravan fans and it just so happened that one of the management team knew Richard's telephone number. Richard was contacted by Andy Ward, invited up to Suffolk to audition and was immediately accepted.
Another new recruit at this time was a session saxophone/flute player of some repute, name of Mel Collins.
Mel was known to Andy Latimer and Doug when he played with Circus - another Guildford band emerging from the ruins of The Stormsville Shakers - who notched up one self-titled album (Transatlantic TRA 207 Nov. 1969) before folding In May 1970.
Collins went on to record with King Crimson, Snape, Kokomo and numerous other artists including heavies like Eric Clapton and George Harrison. He first played with Camel on the Moonmadness album as a sessioneer and stuck around on a semi-permanent basis thereafter.
Work began immediately on the new album (Rain Dances. Decca TXS-R 124) which eventually saw the light of day in late August 1977. It prsented a band still involved with spritely, ethereal instrumentals but possessed of a different spirit. Richard Sinclair's golden tenor and much advertised Hagstrom bass put Camel on a firmer footing both vocally and rhythmically whilst Mel Collins' sax work injected elements of both Jazz and Funk into proceedings. A few more seesion musicians were involved this time, including Brian Eno, who helped out on Elke, basically a solo guitar instrumental of achingly beautiful intensity.
The album rose to number 20 in the charts three weeks after its release, doubtless helped by a tour of Europe (taking In Stockholm, Germany and Norway) , the UK (including an appearance on BBC2 TV's Sight And 5ound In Concert, simultaneously broadcast on BBC Radio One in stereo), followed by yet another European tour beginning in Mainz, Germany on 17th October.
Talk about cream-crackered! Camel cancelled an American tour pencilled in for the beginning of 1978 and took a well-earned break.
Another year, another album. By February Bardens and Latimer had retreated to Cornwall to write the music for Breathless and It was here that things began to go seriously wrong.
There had always been a certain amount of what could be termed friendly rivalry between them, that in the past had helped produce some memorable music. Now there was no inclination to compromise for the common good, leaving Bardens 'frozen out' of the songwriting by Latimer.
Latimer returned to London to finish writing the album.
Bardens pondered his next move, deciding eventually to stay on for the recording of the album but with no creative input.
Did Bardens leave of his own volition or was he pushed out? It depends on who you listen to.
Andy Ward claimed that Bardens could no longer 'keep up' with the new line-up and left of his own free will, knowing that if he didn't, he would have been fired anyway.
Andy Latimer however, claimed that Bardens would have left Camel three times during the recording of Breathless had not Andy Ward talked him out of it.
Richard was also keen to keep Peter, but as an employee he had very little influence in the running of the band In fact even he was 'blocked out' of the song-writing by Latimer. However, he did manage to contribute Down On The Farm to Breathless, and was instrumental (sic) in drafting in two other ex-Caravan members - David Sinclair and Jan Schelhaas as replacements for Bardens, during the forthcoming tours.
Mel Collins, decided to join Camel as a full-time member, altering his previous status as a jobbing session player helping out on tours, and in the process swelling the line-up to a six-piece band for the first time in its history.
Sadly, they never recorded, although there are a few bootlegs available on the cassette-swapping circuit of various radio shows, concert performances and the like.
So Bardens left to pursue a solo career, releasing a solo album on Arista in 1979 (which dreadful!) before moving to America and recording a series of albums that salvaged his reputation.
Before Breathless hit the racks a double album entitled A Live Record (Decca DBC-R 718. April 1978) was released. It was cobbled together from various live records made in 1974,1975 & 1977. Its release was not an. unqualified success, failing to capture the ferocity of the live beast.
Breathless (Decca TXS-R 132. September 1978) more or less picks up where Rain Dances left off, with the exception of Latimer's guitar, which is strongly featured throughout the album. Not a bad thing, admittedly, but maybe a shade tiresome on the longer numbers. Be it hereby noted that, keyboardists no longer played a prominent role in Camel, even though they continued to feature in its later line-ups.
A tour of the UK began in early September and finished in mid-October, later relocating to Europe, finishing in time for the Christmas break.
1979 kicked off in fine style with a tour of Japan and America during February and March, following which the Sinclairs left; David to pursue a solo career and Richard to return to his carpentry business in Canterbury.
Replacements for the Sinclairs, were Kit Watkins on keyboards (an American formerly leader of pomp-rockers Happy The Man) and Colin Bass on bass and vocals (ex Clancy, The Casual Band and The Steve Hillage Band).
Kit was offered the job in Camel purely on the strength of the two albums Happy the Man released on Arista. Colin was recommended by former Steve Hillage tour manager Laurie Small and joined up after an audition in June.
This happy band of men spent the summer recording the album I Can See Your House From Here (a line lifted from one of A.A. Milne's Winnie The Pooh stories, as it happens) which was released in September (Decca TXS-R 137).
In the meantime Me[ Coliins had quit the band.
By now the Punk/New Wave phenomenon had really sunk its rabid, green, foam-flecked teeth into ye oIde fartes of the Prog Rock persuasion, and none of the old order tried hard to modify their sound to fit younger audiences' expectations.
Camel were no exception.
Songs like Your Love Is Stranger Than Mine, Remote Romance and Neon Boys were shorter and more commercial, self-consciously aimed at the electro pop end of the market. Longer tracks like Ice were familiar (and welcome) territory for the older fans. Frustratingly, Kit Watkins was allowed one short instrumental, Eye Of The Storm, to display his talents.
A tour of the UK In October was followed by a European tour around January 1980.
A posthumous album - On The Road 1981 (Camel Productions CP 007-CD) - featuring this line-up was recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon, London on 2nd April 1981. Taken from a BBC In Concert programme first broadcast by Radio One on 2nd May 1981, it was finally released in 1997.
Be that as it may, Camel's next album was Nude (Decca SKL 5323. 1981), a dreary concept album that fittingly opens with the line Wake up, wake up... Based on the true story of a Japanese soldier stranded on a remote Pacific Island during world war two and his failure to adapt to civilisation after being rescued years later.
5chelhaas contributed piano to one track on the album but he, along with Andy Ward and Kit Watkins, had all quit Camel before the year's end, leaving Andy Latimer the sole member from the original line-up.
From this point on Camel could be regarded as merely a vehicle for Andy Latimer's musical vision, the ranks swelled and depleted with a string of session musicians - including Bardens - hired and fired at will. Apparently a few grievances amongst former band members have been resolved, but the band remains in Latimer's hands.
The latest release, Harbour Of Tears, is another concept album that has picked up some good reviews.