Upon hearing an album by a group called "Happy The Man" in 1979, Andrew Latimer and Andy Ward immediately agreed Kit Watkins was a keyboardist they wanted in CAMEL. Bassist Colin Bass had been highly recommended and became Camel's lasting bassist. Jan Schelhaas had remained with CAMEL after the 'BREATHLESS' tour both for his playing skills and his easygoing temperament. Watkins and Bass arrived during rehearsals at Wood Farm, Suffolk, in early '79. A remarkable technician, Kit impressed all who heard him; Colin's solid, earthy sound melded with Ward in a seemingly perfect harmony.
For awhile, it appeared CAMEL would settle but, again, unavoidable circumstance would prevail. CAMEL worked nearly 12 months of '79, enjoying only short breaks in-between recording and touring. Originally titled 'Endangered Species', this title would be changed at the last minute to 'I CAN SEE YOUR HOUSE FROM HERE' a poor attempt at humour that would give the band problems, not only from their advertisers. The intensive schedule would create conflict and misunderstandings between the musicians. Watkins left the band shortly before CAMEL entered the studio to record 'NUDE' in 1981, but he would return for the tour and leave again immediately after.
The recording of 'NUDE' and the subsequent promotional tour would be the most devastating for CAMEL. In mid-1981, as he would tell 'Q' Magazine some 10 years later, Andy Ward succumbed to alcohol and drug abuse and attempted suicide, unsuccessfully to the relief of all. But it rendered Ward unable to play drums in the foreseeable future. In shock, the band dissolved, the remainder of the tour was canceled and recording for the next album was postponed in the hope that Ward would recover...
Internal problems of the band were not the concern of Decca Records to which CAMEL were contractually bound for a specific recorded output. Decca refused to be put off any longer and upped the pressure for a hit single. With delays no longer possible, Latimer had to accept that his friend and drummer would not recover and thus, with Andrew Latimer the sole surviving member of CAMEL, 'THE SINGLE FACTOR' was recorded and duly released in April 1982. Writing on demand had produced an odd mix of songs but entering the studio provided an unexpected bright spot. During the recording of NUDE in studio 3 at Abbey Road Studios, the Alan Parsons Project were recording just down the hall in studio 2. Curious by nature, singer Chris Rainbow and bassist/singer David Paton popped in on the CAMEL sessions and new friendships were forged. Unbeknownst to all at the time, this laid the groundwork for a new lineup. Eventually, 'THE SINGLE FACTOR' would see a whole new line of artists including Rainbow and Paton aswell as Anthony Phillips (former Genesis), Francis Monkmon (Sky), and guest drummers Simon Phillips (The Who, Jeff Beck, Toto), Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention) and Graham Jarvis (Cliff Richard). Time had healed the rift between Latimer and Bardens and although their opposing musical styles would not see eye-to-eye again, Bardens made a guest appearance on the album, forging new friendships himself that would later become 'Keats'. But Ward was unable to appear on the album and hoping to keep the matter private, CAMEL naively included a simple footnote in the liner notes that Andy Ward did not appear due to an injury to his hand.
The promotional tour for 'THE SINGLE FACTOR' turned out to be just the breath of fresh air Latimer needed. The mix of personalities was magical with a ceaseless, positive energy from Chris Rainbow who, with Paton and Tosh (Scotsmen, all three) maintained a flow of laughter from start to finish of the tour. Kit Watkins had returned for his third CAMEL tour and the level of musicianship delighted audiences. Latimer would call it "the funniest tour I've ever been on".
It would be a temporary respite, however, for soon after in late October, manager Max Hole, unexpectedly announced his departure for a position with a major record company, leaving CAMEL effectively without management. Then, as 1983 dawned, the inevitable came to be. Unable to stop abusing alcohol, Ward could not continue with CAMEL. On a sad January day at the offices of Fleet Street lawyers, Ward's association with CAMEL ended. Nearly 13 years to the day he had joined Ferguson and Latimer, Andy Ward formally left CAMEL never to perform with them again.
The loss of Ward left Latimer in limbo and musical pursuits, for the most part, were overshadowed by the need to concentrate on sorting out legal problems that had plagued the band for years. Former manager Geoff Jukes had filed a lawsuit against CAMEL claiming past commissions from CAMEL's earlier days. Having literally abandoned the band in 1978 at the point of Bardens' departure and upon the eve of a world tour, Jukes' lawsuit would ultimately prove futile. The legal battle began to heat up by 1983. Latimer battled the suit alone despite all members being named and it would take 5 stressful years at great expense, both spiritually and financially, before settlement in Camel's favour. In this year of change, Latimer fought hard. CAMEL was worth the battle.
There were musical bright spots in 1983 including a new contract with Decca Records which had just been taken over by PolyGram. In preparation for the new recording committment, Latimer had gotten in touch with Dutch keyboardist, Ton Scherpenzeel (KAYAK) whose playing he had always admired. Ton visited London and the two musicians quickly made plans to record Camel's new studio album 'STATIONARY TRAVELLER'.
'STATIONARY TRAVELLER' was released in April of '84. Flush with critical acclaim of the album, CAMEL were once again on the road. Former CAMEL bassist Colin Bass returned to the UK, after having moved abroad in 1981. Bass got in touch with Latimer and the former bandmates patched up past differences. Chris Rainbow joined the tour and Paul Burgess (Jethro Tull, 10cc) who had approached Latimer prior to recording 'STATIONARY TRAVELLER' did so again for the tour. Although not fond of touring, Ton Scherpenzeel never let it show. Ton made a superb addition to CAMEL that thrilled KAYAK and CAMEL fans, though his fear of flying would severely limit his time with CAMEL to the disappointment of fans and musicians alike.
Meanwhile, producer Mike Mansfield had heard the band and wanted to include CAMEL in his upcoming television series, "Mirror Image", for the UK's Channel 4. Video recording plans mingled with tour production and an atmosphere of excitement followed throughout the tour and carried on into post-production for the live album and video that was to follow. CAMEL participated in the video recording of extra visuals for the broadcast and the pleasure of this experience concluded the year on a high note.
The live performance video and CD of the 'STATIONARY TRAVELLER' tour was appropriately called 'PRESSURE POINTS' . CAMEL wanted to include the entire concert but due to lighting problems on the night of recording, the first half was too dark for Mansfield's approval so only the second half of the performance made it to broadcast and a video cassette. Astonishingly, the earlier portion of the concert would actually be erased by PolyGram and lost forever! Decca Records (now owned by PolyGram) flexed their muscles and insisted on dividing the concert material so that both recordings had different track listings, under the auspicious assertion that it created more diversity for the buying public. There was an added pleasure for many fans when Richie Close joined the tour at the 11th hour on backup keyboards. Sadly, Richie died just a few years later from Legionnaire's disease. He will be forever young on Camel's video.
The lawsuit with Jukes reached fever pitch by 1985. Latimer divided his time between lawyer's offices and record companies as he sought an outlet for Camel's new material titled ''DUST AND DREAMS''. Each pursuit was filled with roadblocks but the lawsuit would finally take a sudden turn for the better. As Latimer scrutinized old contracts it came to light that CAMEL were owed royalties that had never been paid by Camel's management/production company, GAMA Records. Highly charged by this discovery, Latimer gathered support from Bardens, Ward and Ferguson to file a suit against GAMA. This lawsuit, by comparison, would be brief and glorious. On 25th March 1985, long overdue, they finally reaped the benefits of their past work together. Reunited in the same attorney's office that had accepted Ward's resignation from CAMEL just two years earlier, happier times now prevailed. The former bandmates settled their lawsuit with GAMA and received their first of many royalty payment to come. Formalities completed, they celebrated at a local pub until closing time. Old wounds healed, memories flourished and, though they no longer had interest in playing together, all parted as friends.
Geoff Jukes would finally accept the futility of his lawsuit and offer settlement. After lawyer's fees, court costs and general expenses were paid, CAMEL received "...just enough money to buy dinner for one (in a Bistro)". But it was a moral victory of momentous proportions and the end of a long haul for CAMEL.
Since the PolyGram takeover, the changes at Decca had reached the extreme and Latimer could see that CAMEL needed to get out of their contract. After a 10 year association, Decca and CAMEL would mutually and amicably agree to go their separate ways on 10th April 1985. CAMEL was free to search for a more like-minded record company, yet this newly found freedom also brought a shock to Latimer when he would later remark he "couldn't get arrested with new CAMEL material". That material would evolve to become ''DUST AND DREAMS''.
When not a lawyer's office, Latimer had hawked CAMEL for a deal. In late 1987, he began negotiating with EG Records, on a seemingly successful course. A small label, EG hosted such names as Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Brian Ferry to name a few, and a CAMEL/EG marriage seemed a promising step. But negotiations dragged on for 6 months only to come to an abrupt end when Latimer was asked why Peter Frampton wasn't in the band any longer...
Disillusioned, Latimer made a drastic change. In mid-1988, he sold his London home and moved to America. He would take a 1-year sabbatical and during this time, he realised the "slap in the face" EG Records had given him was the sign of the future for CAMEL. He decided the second half of 'DUST AND DREAMS' "wasn't quite right", and rewrote it in 1990. He used the proceeds from the sale of his London home to finance construction of a small studio where he recorded and produced 'DUST AND DREAMS'. He then set out, once again, to find a deal but this time around, 'DUST AND DREAMS' was a finished product and things would be different. Or so he thought...
Latimer would look back on his experiences and eventually laugh. With 'DUST AND DREAMS' completed and ready for release, finding a record company seemed a mere matter of formality. But the same attitudes greeted him and time dragged on without success. After a lengthy and unproductive meeting with a Virgin Records A&R rep, Latimer, along with partner Susan Hoover, decided to use the remaining finances from the sale of the London home to set up their own production company, Camel Productions (CP). They would release 'DUST AND DREAMS' themselves.
'DUST AND DREAMS' would give Latimer yet another shock only this time it was the shock of unprecedented success. Dealing directly with distributors who knew of CAMEL, sales took off. The high energy output was intoxicating. CP soon began organising a world tour and set about licensing Camel's first album for release on compact disc. Thus began the resurgence of CAMEL with the two recordings most poignant... the first, 'CAMEL' and the newest, 'DUST AND DREAMS'.
During the move to set up the studio, Latimer stumbled upon some old reel-to-reel tapes. These rare gems would launch the hugely successful 'Offical Bootleg' series. Latimer was disgusted by the poor sound quality and extortionate prices bootleggers charged for such recordings. Soon, 'WARNING: CAMEL ON THE ROAD 1972' would become the flagship for this series, the artwork inspired by a bumper sticker a fan had sent to Latimer years before which proved amusingly appropriate. It was lovingly mastered and fairly priced. By August, CAMEL were ready to hit the road after a 7 year absence. Paul Burgess resumed his drum stool and keyboardist Mickey Simmonds (FISH, Mike Oldfield) was drafted in. Colin Bass and Andrew Latimer were now the mainstays of CAMEL and fans greeted CAMEL with open arms. So emotional would this tour become, it would find some bandmembers fighting to hold back tears on-stage.
The tour ended at London's Town & Country Theatre (now defunct). At the hotel afterwards, there would be a celebration that lasted long into the night.
In early '93 as Latimer was preparing to produce 'NEVER LET GO', a live recording from the '92 tour, sadness loomed on the horizon. By March, instead of working in the studio, Latimer would see his father die and begin a new learning process in life. A musician himself, Stan Latimer had been the one to recognise young Andrew's talent and send him to lessons. The experience stunned Latimer and delayed production of 'NEVER LET GO' until August '93. Afterwards, he spent personal time with his family. As they shared stories and recollections of Stan Latimer and their mutual past, Latimer discovered his fraternal roots. In 1994, he returned to the studio seeking solace in music and began work on the album that would become 'HARBOUR OF TEARS'. Latimer would pour his heart into the album and end it with a track titled 'The Hour Candle (A song for my father)' which had been inspired by a hymn sung at the funeral. Fans would write to share their experiences of loss and recovery. Latimer's grief would gradually ease and CAMEL began to prepare for another tour.
CAMEL prepared to set out on the road once again. On the '92 tour, fans proved that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder and turned out in droves. The '97 tour was even more successful, reaching new territories in a now opened Eastern Block including the Czech Republic and Poland. CAMEL would see the customary changes in their makeup, with Paul Burgess and Mickey Simmonds struggling to balance time with their young children and life on the road. Dave Stewart would take Burgess' place and Foss Patterson would replace Simmonds. Thus, another live performance was captured on tape and video recorded for posterity.
In 1998, joining the highly successful collection of live recordings, 'COMING OF AGE' was released on both video and compact disc. Recorded in Los Angeles, California, the performance was attended by fans and friends alike including original keyboardist, Peter Bardens whose appearance was announced to the audience when Latimer dedicated 'Never Let Go' to "Me old mate, Pete". By evening's end, an impromptu party ensued and the two musicians privately reminisced until the early hours while the rest of the entourage danced the night away.
'COMING OF AGE',would prove a superb visual and audio testament to the enduring strength of CAMEL. The appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet in the heavens added an allure to the tour, seeming to follow the band around the world. This tour would be as emotional as the '92 tour. The affection for CAMEL was tangible.
As the 20th Century wound towards the 21st (metaphorically speaking), CAMEL would reach a quiet turning point. No longer bound by the shackles of record company whims and pressures, CAMEL has attained a level of acceptance and maturity. Independence is hard work, but ultimately satisfying, and artistic freedom a price worth paying. CAMEL prepared for the final release of the century. Bass, long since involved in the world music scene, had given Latimer a gift of a book entitled 'World Music - A Rough Guide'. In the section on Arabic music, Latimer read about a form of musical poetry called 'rajaz'. Sung in ancient times, 'rajaz' was a spontaneous composition inspired by the rhythm of the camels footsteps to help the weary travelers reach their destination. Latimer was smitten with the idea that the rhythm of the camel would help people reach their journey's end. Returning to his musical roots, Latimer composed chiefly on the guitar and in October 1999, 'RAJAZ' was released. A beautiful collection of songs, hypnotically interwoven, 'RAJAZ' also welcomed the return of Ton Scherpenzeel on keyboards (courtesy of CD-ROM). Sending files electronically and communicating directly, the two former bandmates plan future projects together including a guest appearance by Latimer on a Y2K Kayak album.
For more than 27 years, CAMEL have been and endearing, enduring musical force. Players have come and gone; some have returned. Some albums have been better than others but this is always an assertion for the beholder. Few agree on which album is their best. But there is no doubt that the single, most durable force behind CAMEL has been and always will be Andrew Latimer. Latimer has guided CAMEL through the highs and lows of musical tastes, trends and fashions. He has, from time to time, stumbled beneath the pressures of outside forces and these times are left to the listener to decipher. But all will agree that Latimer has never compromised the sound, feel and integrity of CAMEL. Latimer has stayed true to himself and it is his 'sound' that transports you back or holds you in the present. Like good friends getting together after a long break, you pick up right where you left off, as if you'd never parted.
Official website: www.camelproductions.com