By Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Camel never achieved the mass popularity of fellow British progressive rock bands like the Alan Parsons Project, but they cultivated a dedicated cult following. Over the course of their career, Camel experienced numerous changes, but throughout the years, Andrew Latimer remained the leader of the band.
Formed in 1972 in Surrey, Camel originally consisted of Latimer (guitar, flute, vocals), Andy Ward (drums), Doug Ferguson (bass), and keyboardist Peter Bardens, previously of Them. By the end of 1973, the group signed with MCA and released their eponymous debut. In 1974, the band switched record labels, signing with Decca’s Gama subsidiary, and released Mirage. In 1975, Camel released their breakthrough album The Snow Goose, which climbed into the British Top 30. The band’s English audience declined with 1976’s Moonmadness, but the album was more successful in America, reaching number 118 – the highest chart position the band ever attained in the U. S. Following the release of Moonmadness, Ferguson left the band and was replaced by Richard Sinclair (ex-Caravan); at the same time, the group added saxophonist Mel Collins. Latimer and Bardens conflicted during the recording of 1977’s Rain Dances and those tensions would come to a head during the making of 1978’s Breathless. After Breathless was completed, Bardens left the band. Before recording their next album, Camel replaced Bardens with two keyboardists – Kit Watkins (Happy the Man) and Jim Schelhaas (Caravan) – and replaced Sinclair with Colin Bass.
By the time Camel released their 1979 album, I Can See Your House From Here, rock & roll had been changed by the emergence of punk rock, which resulted in less press coverage for progressive rock, as well as decreased record sales. Camel suffered from this shift in popular taste – I Can See Your House from Here received less attention than any
of the band’s releases since their debut. Latimer returned to writing concept albums with 1981’s Nude. In 1982, drummer Andy Ward was forced to leave the band after suffering a severe hand injury. Camel’s 1982 album, The Single Factor, was a slicker, more accessible affair than previous Camel records, but it failed to chart. Stationary Traveller (1984) was another concept album.
After the release of the 1984 live album, Pressure Points, Camel entered a long period of hibernation that lasted until the early ’90s. In 1985, Decca dropped Camel from its roster. Latimer wasn’t able to find a new label because he was embroiled in a difficult legal battle with Camel’s former manager Geoff Jukes; Camel eventually won the lawsuit in the late ’80s. Throughout this period, Camel produced no new music. In 1988, Latimer sold his home in England and moved to California, where he founded the independent label Camel Productions. By the time Camel recorded their follow-up to Stationary Traveller in the early ’90s, the band was, for most intents and purposes, simply Andrew Latimer and a handful of session musicians. Dust and Dreams (1991) was the first release on Camel Productions. In 1993, PolyGram released a double-disc Camel retrospective, Echoes. In early 1996, Camel released Harbour of Tears.
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.