Just over 50 years ago, guitarist Andy Latimer – along with Doug Ferguson (bass) and Andy Ward (drums) – created Camel from the ashes of jazz rock band Brew. Keyboardist Pete Bardens joined them soon after, and they released their often-unrecognized self-titled debut album in 1973.
Media widely dismissed or ignored camel and his successor Mirage. But with the uncompromising progressive rock concept album from 1975 Snow geese Camel achieved limited success in the charts, and even the previous scornful Melody maker presented the group with the Brightest Hope Award.
As with many of their albums, Snow geese was entirely instrumental – a fact which, while attracting applause from the musicians, was more the result of a crisis of confidence than a stubborn refusal to comply: âreveals Latimer.
âHalfway through recording the first album, the producer basically told us that neither of us could sing. Which obviously influenced us to do less vocals, and maybe that’s why we didn’t do it big.
âWe have also made some interesting decisions in our career. After Snow geese, our most successful album, we released Lunar madness, which was not the same at all. Most sane bands would have recorded the Son of the snow goose. “
Camel’s efforts to compete with Genesis, Yes, and Pink Floyd have been hampered by ongoing staff issues. First, Ferguson was fired (according to Andy Ward âhe couldn’t keep up, so he had to leaveâ). Then, the working relationship between Latimer and Bardens – which had never been exactly harmonious – finally disintegrated with Bardens’ resignation in 1978. All of this came at a time when Ward was succumbing to his own addictions.
âPete and I had always had an opposite relationship,â Latimer admits. âAs always, it was all about ego, and in the end we didn’t want to put up with all the tantrums and endless arguments. Andy was also going off the rails at this point as he had a lot of problems with drugs and alcohol.
In 1982, after the release of Camel’s underrated “Nude”, Latimer was the only remaining member. After âThe Single Factorâ (made with a bunch of employees for contractual reasons) and then the relatively unsuccessful âStationary Travelerâ in 1984, Latimer took a forced break from Camel to fight and ultimately win a royalty lawsuit. brought by their former director.
In the late 1980s, Latimer decided he wanted to revive Camel’s legacy, but this desire was met with skepticism and a dismal lack of interest on the part of the record companies.
âI toured the recording industry and was totally depressed by it all. I was told I was a ‘bloody dinosaur’, that Camel was a really dirty word, and basically to go.
By setting up their own label and operations center in the form of Camel Productions, the band eventually came back with a new line-up and recorded compelling and generally more accessible albums such as bearing tears in 1992 and 2002 notable A wink and a wink. The modernity of these albums caught the attention of a new generation of listeners, and the internet gave the band an invaluable bond with their fans.
âWe clung to our ideals; I think if you try to write things just to please others, you are a loser. And of course the website has allowed us to communicate directly with the people who buy our records.
With the sad loss of Pete Bardens to cancer in January 2002, the band’s original version could never be reunited. But Latimer continued: a re-recorded and extended version of Snow geese was released in 2013 and 2023 will see the band celebrate the 50th anniversary of their debut album with six dates across England and Scotland.
The original version of this feature appeared in Classic Rock 55.