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Music Review: Camel – Esoteric Re-Issue Series

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There was a time in the seventies when if you went to a fellow music lover’s house the chances were that they would predictably reach for one of the classic albums of the time. There was Dark Side Of The Moon, of course, or Tubular Bells, or several others.

However, you knew you were in the house of an altogether discerning music lover if they reached for Mirage by one of the better known bands of the progressive Canterbury scene, Camel. Sadly though, many who loved that album never ventured any further. This would leave them unaware of Camel’s rich catalogue and heritage. There are a number of other classics and, Nude, Rain Dances, and Moonmadness all spring to mind.

Now you can re-visit this excellent back catalogue, as many of them have been re-released, all with a wealth of information in the liner notes, re-mastered sound, new photographs, and additional bonus goodies.

I have picked two of these re-issues chosen from different stages of the Camel story.

1978’s offering Breathless is permeated by a light airy breeziness that is best described in the album's liner notes as “whimsical and joyous”. This was achieved against a backdrop of internal strife which would see founder member, the late, Peter Bardens leaving shortly after they had finished recording at Oxford’s Manor Studios.

Breathless starts with a contender for any compilation album of Camel’s finer moments, “Echoes”. All the, by now, familiar elements that made this band so instantly recognizable are present. It is an uplifting classic and would sound comfortably familiar to any of the aforementioned people who didn’t explore beyond Mirage.

Camel’s line-up at the time consisted of founding members Andrew Latimer, drummer Andy Ward, Richard Sinclair (previously with Hatfield And The North, and Caravan), and Peter Bardens. Also present was saxophone legend Mel Collins who has played with anyone who is anyone throughout his career and was also a full time member of Camel from 1977 to 1979.

Further highlights include “The Sleeper”, “Starlight Ride”, “Summer Lightning”, sung by Sinclair, and the gorgeous “Rainbow’s End”, the single version of which is included as the bonus track.

Stationary Traveller
By 1984 Camel had been through many changes in their thirteen year history. Their album of that year Stationary Traveller was a concept studio album centred on the still divided city of Berlin.

By this time Camel’s line-had been through many changes. They were fronted by the ever present Latimer, who was joined by vocalist Chris Rainbow, drummer Paul Burgess who had been in 10cc and, briefly Jethro Tull, and keyboard player Ton Scherpenzeel, who had joined from Dutch progressive experimental band Kayak.

Also returning to guest was Mel Collins who adds his trademark sax on “Fingertips”. With subject matter built upon the then seemingly impregnable Berlin Wall, the album is predictably a little darker than previous efforts. As a result it sits in contrast to the general atmosphere created during Breathless.

Only one more album, the live recording Pressure Points, would appear before Camel slipped below the surface and called it a day. Andy Latimer would eventually revive the Camel name in 1991 with the album Dust And Dreams.

Rich in substance Stationary Traveller perfectly captured the grey bleak symbol of oppression and division that The Wall represented. The title itself highlighted the hopelessness of that division and the struggle of a divided people. It would be another few years before it all came crashing down.

The album opens with the instrumental “Pressure Points” which leads smoothly into the deceptively upbeat “Refugee”. The verse “there’s a rumor flying through the air, paranoia’s creeping everywhere, you’re gonna raise a wall, to draw a line”, sets the scene for what is to come.

The moving melancholy of the title track which has Andy Latimer’s beautiful 12- string acoustic in evidence is pure class. This is up there with the very best of Camel throughout the years. A spiky “Cloak And Dagger Man” captures some of the uneasy atmosphere prevalent at the time. A more commercial sounding “West Berlin” leads to the more downbeat “Fingertips”.

Two instrumentals “Missing” and “After Words” also act as highlights before the album closes with the soothing “Long Goodbyes.” The bonus material consists the missing gem that is the atmospheric “In The Arms Of Waltzing Fraulines” and the 12” single version of “Pressure Points."

Camel has an official website which contains information of their remarkable career. For details of these and a wealth of other re-issued gems please visit the Esoteric Recordings website.

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About Jeff Perkins

  • david

    Excellent reviews. You chose a couple of albums that many fans seem to think below the usual Camel standard but I have always loved as much as the others. Stationary Traveller in particular is a beautiful composition, full of atmosphere and haunting melodies. New DVD of the 2003 farewell tour out soon, Camel lives on. Keep up the good work.