Universal/Decca 532 938-3 (2010)
My biggest regret in terms of live music is failing to get my arse over to Liverpool to see Camel performing at the Lomax, a smallish venue, in October 2000*. It may well have been the last opportunity. Who was to know that, some time after, the band’s frontman Andy Latimer was to suffer a debilitating blood disorder which has rendered him – and the band – inactive for half a decade.
There have been various reports since of a few more gigs, not least at High Voltage, and we only hope that Latimer gains in strength to make this a possibility. In the meantime, we have a sumptuous 4-CD retrospective, both engaging and poignant at the same time. A band’s life cut all too short, but arguably after Pete Bardens’ death in 2002 it would never be quite the same again (although Bardens had actually left the band in 1978).
This lovingly put-together set has a useful essay from compiler Mark Powell and brings together key tracks from the band’s albums 1973-1985. The collection is well annotated too with full recording details, the only slight oversight is the lack of attribution for the four tracks from ‘Nude’.
To sum up Camel’s music for the unknowing, they are an archtypal melodic prog band from the seventies, highly accessible and characterised by long, lush instrumental passages lifted by Lattimer’s soaring and searing guitar, Bardens keyboards, and contributions from Richard Sinclair (Caravan) and Mel Collins (King Crimson) who passed through the band’s ranks in 1976-1978.
In truth, after several excellent albums, Camel produced ‘Breathless’ in 1978 (represented by three tracks here) which tended to split the critics, perhaps too eclectic for some, and with Sinclair on vocals not unilike his previous band Caravan. Coincidentally Bardens left before its release.
If there is a minor niggle with this release, Powell refers to certain recordings in his narrative that should have made it to this retrospective. It’s a shame for instance that we couldn’t hear the band’s early live track that appeared on the long-deleted Greasy Truckers Live at Dingwalls (1974).
Or for that matter their ‘memorable’ Whistle Test session and BBC Radio 1 In Concert when they performed extracts from ‘Snow Goose’ . Although we do get the original mix of the classic ‘Lady Fantasy’ which first appeared on the Mirage album in 1974. Arguably this was the band’s most consistent, represented by a further three tracks in this collection. However, fans should beware because this early mix and a live version of ‘Supertwister’ also appeared on the 2002 remaster.
And the earlier remastered albums have also included several other tracks such as the 19 minute ‘Homage To The God of Light’ recorded in October 1974 at the Marquee Club. I assume fans will already own these and therefore should tread carefully here.
Newcomers will be well served by ‘Rainbow’s End’ but may also want to seek out the more straightforward ‘Lunar Sea’ compilation, issued in 2001 which you can get now for a few pounds.
I didn’t see Camel live, but my wife did in 1980 and the abiding image – perhaps strangely for the times – was their afghan coats. For a time Camel typified suitably attired prog journeymen but as this superb set demonstrates there was much more to them than dubious on-stage clothing. *****
Good track annotation, most comprehensive anthology for the given period.
Certain tracks referred to in the liner note missing, including BBC radio material. Some “bonus” tracks recycled from previous remasters.
Review by David Randall
First published 2010
* PS David did get to see the band in 2014 and 2018.
Gig review (September 2018)
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