Gig review: CAMEL – RNCM, Manchester, 21 October 2013

Camel - Manchester, 21 October 2013

The original credits on the 1975 album ‘The Snow Goose’ say it all really: Doug Ferguson: bass and duffle coat.  But it was actually Camel who made the afghan coat de rigeur in the seventies, never quite shaking off their image as erudite musos, and never really fashionable either.

The band’s zenith was arguably the first half of the seventies, purveying a particularly English brand of prog rock.  The band’s history from the late-seventies is chequered, a revolving door of keyboard players after the departure of Peter Bardens (to whom this tour is dedicated), and late-eighties hiatus.  There was a seven year gap between the live ‘Pressure Points’ in 1984 and the next album ‘Dust And Dreams’.

However when Andrew Latimer re-energised the band in the early-nineties he also blazed a trail for independence with subsequent releases sold via the band’s website.  I always regret not seeing the band play a previous set of UK gigs in 1997.

Camel - Manchester, 21 October 2013

For twenty years band mainstay Andrew Latimer has suffered a debilitating illness and this has effectively put paid to much band activity: live or on disc.  It was rather surprising then to hear the announcement in March this year that the band would be playing London’s Barbican Centre, this one date expanded to a handful of rare and ultimately sold-out gigs.

It must have been a mutually trepidacious journey for both Latimer and the audience.  How would he look on stage, would he still have the chops, would he be able to sustain a performance? There can be very few artists who grace the Royal Northern College of Music’s stage and receive a standing ovation before the first note is struck.  And Latimer didn’t disappoint.  Nearly three hours into his set, we had received more than we could decently have expected from this comeback.  How the hell did he do that?

It was indeed a joyous night for all concerned and a personal triumph for the guy who has held things together since 1972.  In fact tonight was a fair summation of the best of classic British prog and the present incarnation of the band shows just how the genre should be done.

Camel - Manchester, 21 October 2013

If Camel’s music at times evoked others (Focus, Genesis, Tull as well as any number of continental proggers like Kayak and Solution) in their heyday they did plough their own furrow with Latimer’s superlative guitar playing and the generous keyboard quotient.

‘The Snow Goose’ was always a tour de force instrumentally and if the complete version tonight lacked the novelty of a full orchestra that graced the Royal Albert Hall almost exactly 38 years earlier, it had many highlights and not least the revelation that Latimer had not lost any of his strength, musically.  His flute-playing was also exemplary.

But it was the extended second half that underlined the strengths and weaknesses of the original band (in commercial terms at any rate), especially the somewhat whimsical and trite lyrical content.  Most of their lyrics are mere window-dressing for the fantastic musicianship and not least Latimer’s superior guitar workouts.  There weren’t any hit singles, in fact there was a shortage of short tracks.

And time again it was those flighty guitar solos that reminded us why we liked the band in the first place as evidenced on such pieces as ‘Never Let Go’, ‘The Hour Candle’ and ‘For Today’ and the funky ‘Watching The Bobbins’ (both from ‘Harbour Of Tears’).

Camel - Manchester, 21 October 2013

Only Colin Bass remains from the late-seventies version of the band and he moved centre stage for the vocals on ‘Tell Me’ and the Genesis-esque ‘Fox Hill’ (from 2002′s ‘A Nod And A Wink’) whilst the two keyboard players – Jason Hart and Guy LeBlanc  – accurately recreated the distinctive Moog-led and Hammond harmonies with LeBlanc getting the lion’s share of the solos.  Drummer  Denis Clement also sympathetically interpreted the Camel canon and even helped out on bass when Colin Bass was vocalising or playing acoustic guitar.

It would probably be churlish to pick over the setlist, but it was definitely weighted to the band’s pre-1980 catalogue and certain albums such as 1981′s ‘Nude’ (which produced the exquisite ‘Lies’) and ‘Stationary Traveller” (1984)  completely overlooked.

What does the future hold for Camel?  Well, hopefully more gigs (with perhaps a greater emphasis on the “later” releases?) and a new album.  Like the popularity of vintage clothing, Camel and afghan coats may yet make a comeback.

Setlist:
Part 1: The Snow Goose Album
Part 2: Never Let Go / Song Within A Song / Air Born / Echoes  / The Hour Candle/ Tell Me/ Mystic Queen / Wait/ Watching the Bobbins / Fox Hill / For Today
Encore: Lady Fantasy/ Never Let Go

Review and photos by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

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4 Responses to Gig review: CAMEL – RNCM, Manchester, 21 October 2013

  1. jacklondon says:

    I was at the Salisbury gig. It was flawless. One could argue about setlist choices, but with that vast repertoire youll never satisfy everybody. :-)
    Big surprise was to hear new sections on bits in “Snow Goose”. I wasnt really expecting full orchestra again, however still, it was rather disappointing not to hear at least an oboe and clarinet, and get just keyboards instead. Whats more, one could clearly hear a definite difference between that warm sound of wind/wood instruments compared to artificial, almost “moany” keyboard sounds.
    And another lowline: drumming.
    I agree the guy kept rhythm well, didn’t mess up demanding bar changes etc. but – apart from that – the Camel drumming AD2013 is just a very flat shadow of that of Andy’s, as if the guy was playing it “safe”. And it is not just down to different drumming style – we are talking about absence of all those little clever, sweet bits that Mr Ward infused Camel songs with. The Snow Goose title track in particular suffered from the above-mentioned drumming.
    Anyway…
    Other than that though, new Camel gig is very much worth going to!

  2. Cameleer 3 says:

    I agree re Denis. I met him during the 2003 tour and he’s a really modest, friendly chap, as are all the band members. Denis also plays bass. I saw Camel at The Barbican where the place erupted as Andy entered the stage. I honestly believe he is the greatest living guitarist. The Barbican concert was filmed so hopefully, if the quality is acceptable, then there could be a DVD out next year.

    I love the 2013 version of The Snowgoose. Probably in the top 3 Prog albums ever made although I think Dust and Dreams and Harbour of Tears are up there, too. Talking of which, I wonder if The Hour Candle was one of Andy’s finest Camel moments?

    The Barbican Theatre threatened the band with a heavy fine if they played past 10.30pm so we didn’t get to hear Mystic Queen (which I first heard back in 1972 at Liverpool University when they supported BJHarvest) or Wait.

    Incidentally, I was amazed at how young some of the fans were at the London gig and I spoke to people from Cairo who played in a Camel tribute band, Romania and Brazil. I know that a young man from Iran had flown over without a ticket but managed to get one from the band earlier in the day.

  3. MikeT2 says:

    Plenty of positives there, an excellent review – thanks.
    I also managed to get to the first gig of the tour in Harrogate, and was fairly choked with emotion, as were the band, with the standing ovation they got on taking to the stage after ten years.

    Great to see Andy looking so fit after everything he’s been through and he showed he’s still at least as capable as ever and that tone he achieves… can any one match that without effects?

    You mention 1997 as being the last UK tour, but we got to see them twice after that. October 2000 – ‘Rajaz’ and October 2003 ‘Nod and a Wink’

    Agree completely about Denis Clement, one of the highlights for me.

  4. McYorkie says:

    Great review of a brilliant gig – but why only ONE sentence about Denis Clement???
    His drumming was amazing – MESMERISING – one of the best drummers I have ever seen, and ‘even’ his bass playing was fantastic – melodic instead of just a bass rhythm accompaniment. He was a joy to watch, and Andy obviously holds him in very high regard.

    Each musician was a star in their own right – I went to the gig to accompany my other half – a Camel Fanatic, and I left there a Camel Convert.

    An unforgettable night – thank you xxx

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