Friday, May 6, 2011


Camel are an English progressive rock band formed in 1971. An important group in the Canterbury scene, they have been releasing studio and live recordings steadily, with considerable success, since their formation.


Andrew Latimer (guitar), Andy Ward (drums) and Doug Ferguson (bass) had been playing as a trio called The Brew around the GuildfordSurrey area of England. On February 20th, 1971, they auditioned to be the back-up band to singer/songwriter Phillip Goodhand-Tait and released an album with him in August 1971 titled "I Think I'll Write a Song" on DJM Records. This would be their first and last album with Goodhand-Tait.  They recruited Peter Bardens (keyboards) and after an initial gig to fulfill a Bardens commitment on 8 October 1971 in Belfast, Northern Ireland under the name of Peter Bardens' On, they changed their name to Camel. Their first gig was at Waltham Forest Technical College, London supporting Wishbone Ash on 4 December.
In August 1972 Camel signed with MCA Records and their eponymous debut album was released six months later. The record was not a success and the band moved to the Deram Records division of Decca Records (UK).
In 1974 they released their second album, the critically acclaimed Mirage on which Latimer showed he was adept on flute. Although failing to chart at home, it gained success on the U.S. west coast, prompting a three month tour there.
Released in 1975, the instrumental, orchestrated concept album Music Inspired by The Snow Goose, had been inspired by the Paul Gallico short story of the same name. This was the breakthrough album that brought Camel wider attention, but not without controversy. Gallico, who loathed smoking, thought the band were related to the cigarette brand and threatened to take legal action. Camel avoided this by adding the prefix 'Music inspired by...' to the album's cover. The album's success led to a prestigious sell out concert at the Royal Albert HallLondon, with the London Symphony Orchestra in October 1975.
A fourth album, Moonmadness in 1976, continued the success, but was the last to feature the original line up. Mel Collinssaxophone and flute augmented the band for the subsequent tour, beginning an eight year association. Drummer Ward was pushing for a more jazz direction and this demand on Ferguson led to Ferguson's departure in early 1977.  Ferguson is now a property developer.
Richard Sinclair (previously in Caravan) replaced Ferguson and this line-up released Rain Dances (1977) and Breathless (1978). The latter was the last album to feature Bardens, who announced his departure before the supporting tour. He was replaced by two keyboard players: Dave Sinclair (cousin of Richard and also from Caravan) and Jan Schelhaas (also of Caravan). The Sinclair cousins both left the band after the tour, replaced by Kit Watkins and Colin Bass.
This line up recorded the more commercial I Can See Your House from Here (1979), an album which caused problems for the advertisers due to its irreverent cover, displaying a crucified astronaut looking at earth. Despite some fans' reservations about commercial leanings, the album concludes with a ten minute instrumental 'Ice', showcasing Latimer's lead guitar skills.


Camel returned to the concept album for their next recording. Nude (1981), is based on a true story about a Japanese soldier (Hiroo Onoda) found on an island many years after World War II had ended, not having realised the war was over. Duncan Mackay provided most of the keyboards in lieu of Watkins and Schelhaas, who were involved in other projects, but returned for the tour. This was the first album to feature lyrics by Latimer's future wife Susan Hoover (who had in fact contributed lyrical ideas, albeit anonymously, to I Can See...). In mid-1981, Ward stopped playing drums due to alcohol and drug abuse and Camel quietly disbanded. Years later it was revealed that Ward had attempted suicide.
Without a band, but a contract to fulfill and pressure from Decca for a 'hit song', Latimer was joined by an array of guest and session musicians, including David PatonChris Rainbow and Anthony Phillips at Abbey Road studio in early 1982. The resultant album, ironically entitled The Single Factor, was a far cry from the band's early hard rock/progressive sound, but it scraped the lower regions of the charts and enabled a successful Tenth Anniversary Tour, featuring Paton, Rainbow, Watkins, Stuart Tosh (drums) and Andy Dalby (guitar) accompanying Latimer. Legal wranglings over royalties then began with their former manager which took five years to resolve.
Ton Scherpenzeel (of Dutch prog-rock band Kayak) joined Latimer as Camel's new keyboardist with Paul Burgess on drums for 1984's Stationary Traveller. Bass returned (for good) to fill the bass position for the tour, which also included Rainbow on backing and occasional lead vocals and some keyboards. For the Hammersmith Odeon shows which were filmed, an additional keyboard player, Richie Close (who died a few years later from Legionnaires' disease) was also added, and former members Peter Bardens and Mel Collins made guest appearances.
After the release of the resulting live Pressure Points in late 1984, Camel disappeared without trace as far as the public was concerned. Finishing the contract with Decca, Latimer was unable to interest other British record companies and eventually moved to California when the lawsuit ended (successfully for him).

After a seven year hiatus, Latimer revived the Camel name, releasing a new album, Dust and Dreams, in 1991. Part of it had actually been recorded as early as 1988, before Latimer's departure to the US, and featured all members of the previous incarnation, i.e. Bass, Burgess, Scherpenzeel, alongside a number of additional musicians. The album was largely instrumental and inspired by John Steinbeck's classic novel The Grapes of Wrath. It was released under Latimer's own label Camel Productions and, whilst according to some it was a triumphant return to their progressive roots, to others it was a disappointingly middle-of-the-road effort.

Scherpenzeel's fear of flying made him largely unavailable for touring. So former Mike Oldfield and Fish keyboardist Mickey Simmonds joined Latimer, Bass and Burgess for the 1992 "comeback" world tour from which in 1993 a double live CD, recorded in Holland, Never Let Go, was released. In 1994, former members Bardens and Ward formed Mirage with members of Caravan. In this incarnation, it played a short European tour, with a setlist including numerous Camel pieces, but it quickly gave way to a Bardens-led band with no other Camel or Caravan alumni.
Inspired by the death of Latimer's father, he and Hoover then wrote Harbour of Tears (nickname for Cobh (pronounced 'cove') harbour in Ireland from which many sailed off to the USA during the Potato Famine) under the Camel name, which was released in 1996.
In 1997 Camel again toured the west coast of the U.S., Japan and Europe (as they had in 1992) with Latimer supported by Bass, Foss Patterson (keyboards) and drummer Dave Stewart. The tour resulted in Coming of Age, a live double-CD and DVD.
In 1999 Latimer, Stewart, Bass and guest Scherpenzeel, recorded Rajaz. Set in ancient times, Rajaz was a spontaneous composition inspired by the rhythm of the camel's footsteps to help weary travelers reach their destination. Latimer was smitten with the theme, and this album truly took Camel back to their prog-rock roots.


Stewart left the band when he was offered the chance to manage a drum store in Scotland before the following live tour, to be replaced by French CanadianDenis Clement on Drums. The 2000 tour was augmented by Guy LeBlanc on keyboards. Latimer, Bass, LeBlanc and Clement then went to a tour of South America in 2001.
In 2002 this quartet released A Nod and a Wink, - a reflective, mellow album, prominently featuring Latimer's flute. The album was dedicated to Peter Bardens, who died in January 2002.
Following somewhat-troubled live tours of recent years, Camel Productions announced the 2003 tour to be Camel's "Farewell Tour". Guy LeBlanc had to quit shortly before going on the road due to the illness of his wife, and was replaced by Tom Brislin (in the US) and a train-travelling Ton Scherpenzeel (European leg). The US leg of the tour was highlighted by a headline appearance at NEARfest, the world's most prestigious progressive rock festival.
Latimer started work on unplugged (acoustic) versions of old Camel material, but this was aborted.  In 2006, Latimer accepted an invitation to audition for a guitar/vocal role on Roger Waters tour, the position eventually being filled by Dave Kilminster.
In October 2006 Latimer completed a move back to the UK with intentions of recording and releasing future Camel albums from his home country and completing a project started in 2003 with Andy Ward and Doug Ferguson.
In May 2007, Susan Hoover announced through the Camel Productions website and newsletter that Andrew Latimer has suffered from a progressive blood disorder Polycythaemia vera since 1992 which has progressed to Myelofibrosis. This was part of the reason why Camel ceased extensive touring. Latimer underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant in November 2007. He responded well to treatment, but has suffered from fatigue and cycles of severe joint pain. In the September 2008 newsletter, she reported that Latimer was gradually regaining strength and they are adopting a positive frame of mind that Camel will eventually be able to play a mini-tour and release a new studio album.


Latimer's health has progressed and he contributed guitar solos and vocal tracks to David Minasian's album Random Acts of Beauty (released August 2010).  In September 2010 Camel Productions announced that Latimer and Denis Clement have started writing material for a new Camel album.

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