Concert Review Archive

 

Camel

Friday, 25th October 2013
Oosterpoort, Groningen, the Netherlands

Article By Menno von Brucken Fock

Monday, 28th October 2013
Barbican Hall, London, the UK

Article By Basil Francis and Jez Rowden
All photos By Menno von Brucken Fock

Groningen

Ten years after Camel's 'Farewell Tour' nobody expected to see Andrew Latimer again, alive and kicking. Nonetheless Andy overcame a ferocious attack on his body and after a bone marrow transplant and a long period of doubts and physical problems he managed to recover and decided he was now ready to revive Camel.

He chose to work with the band mates that accompanied him on his last tour: longtime member Colin Bass on bass guitar, acoustic guitar and vocals, Nathan Mahl's Guy LeBlanc on keyboards and background vocals, Denis Clement on drums en bass guitar. With these musicians he rerecorded one of Camel's most successful albums in the band's history: The Snow Goose. Dedicated to the late Pete Bardens, Andy carefully re-interpreted all the songs, changing little bits in several solo's and adding music in the same vein.

Camel

The orchestra was replaced by all keyboards played by Guy & Andy. This was the focus of the short tour Camel undertook, kicking off at Harrogate (UK), via Groningen and Amsterdam (NL) and London (UK) ending up in Germany (Bochum and Mannheim). Firstly Andy had asked his former band mate Jan Schelhaas to join the live band but Jan had to decline because of conflicting tour schedules with Schelhaas 'own' band Caravan. Therefore the youngest addition to the live band was Jason Hart on keyboards and acoustic guitar, also playing in Renaissance featuring Annie Haslam.

As all other venues the lovely theater in Groningen had been sold out for this show and when Andy set foot on stage, he was welcomed by an audience giving him a standing ovation. Of course he was moved and upon someone shouting 'good to see you Andy' he replied with a grin 'yeah it's good to see you too!' One fan wore a t-shirt especially made for this occasion: albums covers and the text "Good to see you Andy". The whole atmosphere and vibe were extremely positive and the performance of the 'new Snow Goose' went very well in spite of minor imbalances in the sound at the very beginning. Making his usual faces Latimer seemed to playing at the same level as ten years ago, although he skipped a few fast notes during the early section of the show. Again a standing ovation and good deal of enthusiasm of all the people present who could make this wonderful trip down memory lane, hearing this exquisite music from 1975.

Camel

After the intermission Latimer returned with a lovely acoustic version of Never Let Go, primarily sung by the man himself. Several tracks from Moonmadness followed. Moving people to tears was the rendition of the Harbour of Tears song The Hour Candle dedicated to his late father. The audience was brought to ecstasy when Camel played Wait, also being one my personal favourites. Colin Bass, standing in the shadow most of the time, seemed to enjoy himself immensely bringing the story of the fox and bringing a superb version of Fox Hill. After another classic For Today the band waved goodbye but returned after another standing ovation.

Andy had been playing really well after the intermission and although he looked rather skinny seemed to be on top of the game again. On more than one occasion he showed his fans his appreciation for their loyalty and support and he concluded Camel was to play a song, never played live before: Lady Fantasy which of course wasn't true, Camel must have performed this particular song over a thousand times. Still the enthusiasm of the version in Groningen must have been one of their best. The Mirage album brought me to become a fan of Camel and I never regretted that decision for one minute.

Camel

Although it seemed the rest of the band would have liked to play another encore, Andy looked a bit tired and having recovered to such a great extent, he'd better not push it to the limit so wisely this magnificent show had come to an end.

Surely everyone hopes this revival will last and we will see and hear more of Camel in the (near) future!!

 

London

Basil Francis

Four months on from Van der Graaf Generator and I'm back. The same - or at the very least, rather similar - couple of thousand scruffy-looking prog fans have returned to the same classy venue to see what promises to be yet another momentous concert. Tonight, Camel have been resurrected from the edge of oblivion to play the entirety of their well-loved The Snow Goose.

I've always seen this album as a very beautiful oddity, both in respect to Camel's canon and more generally relative to other prog music. Based on a heart-warming yet tragic novella by Paul Gallico, Camel's third album featured no words whatsoever, using just the power of music to convey the emotions of the story. The result is a shimmering masterpiece, but it is a difficult listen on the first few hearings. For a concept album to have no lyrics, not even liner notes, is a very bold move and one that only pays off because of Peter Bardens' and Andrew Latimer's incredible composing ability.

Camel

Tonight, the only member of the band that played on the original album is Latimer himself, and he is joined by stalwart member Colin Bass on bass - you couldn't make it up - Guy LeBlanc and Jason Hart on keyboards and Denis Clement on drums. I myself have a perfectly central view of the stage, and am sitting next to Andy Tillison of The Tangent - who is simply Andy, long-time Camel fan this evening - with my staunch editor Jez Rowden one row ahead of me. I might have thought that the night wouldn't get more special but, astonishingly, signs posted around the theatre inform us that this concert is going to be filmed. The stage is set for a night to remember.

The band appear on stage to a standing ovation and without a word, begin playing The Snow Goose in full. It's an incredible set. The band are quite faithful to the original recording, right down to the sounds of the keyboards that are played. Occasionally they add embellishments to really spice up the piece and give the audience something different for their money. Importantly, in all 45 minutes of the performance, the band remain taciturn; a single word would take away from the experience of this entirely instrumental piece.

Camel

The playing is absolutely phenomenal. Latimer is as strong as he's ever been, gurning like an idiot as he stuns the audience with powerful guitar playing. I was particularly impressed with Clement too; though he has chosen to play by his own rules, he is not adverse to playing Andy Ward's rhythms to retain authenticity when it is most important.

Fan favourites like Rhyader Goes to Town and La Princesse Perdue naturally take the audience's breath away, but surprisingly, the one track from the album that seemed to benefit the most from being played live was Preparation, the four-minute prelude to Dunkirk. A 10/8 riff repeated ad infinitum with sound effects played over the top, this track can feel like the band is stalling for time on the album. Played live, it is totally transformed. The music largely stays the same, but the atmosphere is enhanced by the inventive use of lighting; the background lights flicker to represent lightning, and two floor-mounted disco-balls create an eerie and slightly dizzying effect of stars flying around the audiences head. The band stay relatively motionless as the tension mounts for the beginning of Dunkirk. It's a simply stunning sight.

Camel

After finishing The Snow Goose, there's a 15-minute break allowing the audience to collect their wits. When Camel reappear, it's with a more friendly, talkative manner than during The Snow Goose. It's time now for a selection of fan favourites, taken from all eras of their music, from an acoustic rendition of Never Let Go from the self-titled debut album to the soulful, heart-wrenching For Today from the band's most recent album, A Nod and a Wink. The set is presented in roughly chronological order, meaning that the audience are fired by classic tracks like the spacey Song Within a Song and the energetic Echoes before hearing the less well-known yet still wonderful tracks from their latter-day period such as the stunning The Hour Candle and the Genesis-like Fox Hill. It's a set that really incorporates the best of Camel in such a short space of time, although Andy Tillison is upset that Lunar Sea is omitted from the proceedings.

Once again, the band are on top form. Besides Latimer, Bass is the only other member who has been playing with the band since the '70s, and his touch gives a sense of authenticity to the evening. However, it's fair to say that we were all mesmerised by Clement. When he wasn't totally killing it on the drums, as in Echoes, he showed his worth by borrowing the bass guitar from Bass on the acoustic version of Never Let Go, as well as the very faithful rendition of Tell Me. In fact, Never Let Go was split into three parts: the acoustic section, which drew out those simplistic lyrics at an almost comical pace, a transitional guitar solo from Latimer, and lastly a killer instrumental section with the force of any metal band that represented the outro on the original recording. It made the well-structured Song Within a Song seem quite tame in comparison.

Camel

It's safe to say, however, that Latimer was very much the star of the show, as he rightly should be. Both The Hour Candle and For Today allowed him to live in the spotlight and dazzle the audience with truly brilliant guitar playing, gurning all the while. One could easily see how he poured his heart out through the instrument and gave it everything. It's passion like that that made it such a joy to watch him. Despite the health problems that have plagued him in the last decade, he played on the night as if nothing had happened. He even chucked in some humour, with light banter between songs. A true inspiration.

Given that this concert was being recorded, I'd have expected the audience to be on their best behaviour, but some impolite fans found the need to shout out the names of tracks that they wanted to hear, regardless of what everyone else thought. That said, I don't think anyone in the hall wanted to leave the theatre without hearing Lady Fantasy. As the band left the stage for a second time, I knew that I was going to clap until I heard the first keyboard notes of the beloved track from Mirage. Inevitably, the band came back on and gave the fans exactly what they wanted. It was a brilliant track to close on, although, having played it through myself many times on the drums, I wasn't so happy with Clement on this occasion; during the slow reprise of the initial theme midway through the song for example, he neglected to switch between the hi-hat and ride cymbals. It's one of those cases where you know a song so well that it just doesn't sound right when you play some off notes. All this was a minor quibble however, and certainly didn't spoil what was the perfect closing track.

Camel

In terms of performance, settings and atmosphere, it was an incredible evening. When bands start celebrating their 40th anniversary, their live concerts can often see them trying to reclaim some of their former glory. The difference with Camel is that they never lost it in the first place, as proved by the consistency of a setlist that spanned the band's whole career. Those I saw the concert with agreed with me wholeheartedly.

Jez Rowden

It's 28th October 2013 and 10 years ago tonight I was in a packed Astoria in London for the penultimate date of Camel's Farewell Tour. Since that wonderful show guitarist Andrew Latimer, who, as the last founding member, has kept the Camel flag flying for the last 30 years, ably assisted by bassist/vocalist Colin Bass, has suffered a long and debilitating illness that resulted in a bone marrow transplant in 2007. News from the Camel camp during this period was scarce but earlier this year the surprise announcement of a show at the Barbican resulted in a dash to get tickets. And here we are, 10 years on, Camel are back in London for a tour that I never thought I'd see.

Camel

The band had warmed up during a handful of dates in the U.K., Belgium and The Netherlands starting in Harrogate on 19th October and had clearly bedded in, playing particularly well as a unit. Colin Bass, a hugely underrated bassist, was excellent throughout as were returning Canadians, drummer Denis Clement and keyboardist Guy LeBlanc. Denis is a powerhouse drummer whose style suits Camel well, driving them along with flair and panaché. His jaw-dropping technique caught the attention of many as he gave the band an attack that they have sometimes lacked in the past. He even stepped out from behind the kit to unexpectedly add very nice fretless bass to Tell Me and the acoustic section of Never Let Go. Guy, who also plays in the band Nathan Mahl, was a key member of Camel at the start of the millennium but had to step aside due to personal issues, thus missing the Farewell Tour. It was great to see him back and his majestic playing was a joy to hear, reinterpreting the work of many of his predecessors whilst retaining the spirit of the music. He has also been integral to the updated version of The Snow Goose, more of which later. Finally, a new addition in the form of keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Jason Hart who is also a member of the current incarnation of Renaissance. Jason's playing did much to fill out the sound, giving it the colour that Camel are renowned for from their albums.

Camel

But tonight was all about one man. The whole audience were there to celebrate not only the music of a wonderful band that should be heralded alongside other greats (and not so greats) that have a much better position in the public perception, but also Andy Latimer himself and his recovery from life threatening illness. The anticipation in the hall was electric before the lights dimmed around 8 o'clock, the rest of the band appearing on stage to great applause. Lastly, Latimer appeared and the intensity of the welcome he received was unlike anything I have ever experienced at any gig. A standing ovation and a storm of cheering before he'd even got to his guitar. Not the reception that you might expect from a London audience which can be quite reserved, a seen-it-all-before attitude resulting from the number of great shows that benefit the capital on an almost daily basis, but tonight there were people from not only all over Britain present but all over the World and numerous languages could be heard during the evening. Andy looked overcome by the response a number of times throughout the show. I can't remember how many standing ovations the band got during the set but it was a heartfelt outpouring of love and respect that must have validated his decision to reactivate the beast.

Opening with The Snow Goose made for a perfect first hour and it was absolutely wonderful to hear the whole piece, these being the first shows where it has been played in its entirety since the Royal Albert Hall in 1975. The sound of gulls eased in The Great Marsh and the whole evocative and atmospheric work unfolded before us, a piece that is rightly regarded as a cornerstone of progressive rock. With Latimer adding additional keys for the opening he then returned to the mic for the familiar flute theme to Rhayader. He looked well, his flute playing excellent and showing no sign of being hampered by his customary London cold! Then the Strat was on for Rhayader Goes To Town, the tone and control still as good as I remember if not better, and the first solo of the evening. There really is no one who does what Andy Latimer does and another storm of applause ensued.

New elements have been added to this updated interpretation of The Snow Goose, all beautifully in keeping with the original and expanding it slightly rather than altering it in any major way. The classical ensemble sections were beautifully recreated, the two (or three including Latimer) keyboards doing a fine job. Latimer's guitar sections were beautifully realised and brimming with emotion. Preparation inparticularly was very effective with great use of lighting while the tension ramped up through Dunkirk to the emotional final sections, all performed with real passion.

Camel

After a 20 minute or so break, the second set opened with a new (to me at least) version of Never Let Go, Latimer, Bass and Hart all playing acoustic guitars while Clement took over on bass. A nice change although I much prefer the original, but no matter as we also get the finale of that original version. Next Andy introduces Song Within A Song, saying "it's great to be here. At my age it's great to be anywhere!" and it's this easy bon homie with his audience that endears Latimer to many. The song itself was beautifully done, the melancholy flute particularly memorable, before he returned to his Gold Top Gibson Les Paul to duet with LeBlanc.

Echoes is the supercharged romp it always was, Bass providing real bounce in the bassline, and then we get The Hour Candle from the Harbour of Tears album, a track which contains one of my favourite Latimer solos which he delivers with masterly control, ringing every emotional note out of his instrument. Spellbinding. Coming as up to date as we currently can with Camel we get a couple of numbers from A Nod and a Wink - did that really come out in 2002?! - separated by a beautiful rendition of Tell Me from Rain Dances, Clement recreating Richard Sinclair's sublime bass sound while Bass sings, and Watching the Bobbins, another high point from Harbour of Tears. Fox Hill is classic Camel whimsy but, this aside, it really has some fine instrumental sections that the band deliver with style, and ends in a humourous flourish with Bass and Latimer making fox ears gestures at each other. For Today, which contained more awesome soloing from Latimer, a man at the top of his game, is all the more poignant given Andy's health issues over the last decade. Its message of living life to the full and not wasting time is clearly one that Latimer holds dear.

Camel

And so the second set ended on a particularly emotional note, the hall erupting in appreciation, Andy thanking everyone for their support.

The Barbican is the perfect venue for a show like tonight, excellent sound quality from where I was sitting and fantastic views from just about wherever you are in the hall. The setting also made it a memorable event, the only downside being the strict curfew which resulted in a slightly shorter set than anticipated. As such the sole encore was the evergreen Lady Fantasy, a perfect way to finish, a classic from the heyday of the band and always a fitting memorial to the band as it started out. With final thanks to the crowd from Andy, the whole band came to the front of the stage to soak up the applause before departing to a storm of calls for another encore which sadly did not happen. A cliché but they could have played all night; absolutely marvellous.

Camel

The trip to London had been a very stressful one but all the pains and trials of the day were completely forgotten by the end of such a mesmerising performance. As a bonus the show was filmed for a future DVD release and I can't wait to enjoy this set again.

A huge thank you to the whole band but particularly Andrew Latimer for his perseverance and determination to make this tour happen. You're an inspiration, Sir.

Slideshow

Setlist
The Snow Goose Album
The Great Marsh
Rhayader
Rhayader Goes to Town
Sanctuary
Fritha
The Snow Goose
Friendship
Migration
Rhayader Alone
Flight of the Snow Goose
Preparation
Dunkirk
Epitaph
Fritha Alone
La Princesse Perdue
The Great Marsh (reprise)

Never Let Go
Song Within a Song
Air Born (only Groningen)
Echoes
The Hour Candle (A Song for My Father)
Tell Me
Wait (only Groningen)
Watching the Bobbins
Fox Hill
For Today

Lady Fantasy

Links
camel official Website

Oosterpoort

Barbican Hall

 


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