Review By Paul Quinton
It’s not often you see a man receive a standing ovation just for walking on to the stage, especially when accompanied by a sizeable proportion of an audience composed of veteran progressive rock fans being in tears or straining at the sizeable lumps in their individual throats. But then the circumstances surrounding this gig weren’t exactly commonplace. Camel had been on hiatus for over a decade, as band leader and founder member Andy Latimer contracted a serious blood disorder culminating in him being given a choice between having a bone marrow transplant or reconciling himself to having less than two years to live. Happily, he is returning to health and the band are back on the road, easing themselves back in with due regard for Latimer’s health, but the fact that the Wulfrun sold out for this show shows how much their brand of essentially British progressive rock has been missed.
It was typical of the band to produce something slightly eccentric for the show. I can’t think of many things more Prog than opening up by playing the whole of a 38 minute instrumental concept album inspired by a novel about the Second World War, but when the album in question is the much loved and revered ‘Music Inspired by the Snow Goose’, it became something a little special. The current line-up of the band have re-recorded the album, mostly to take advantage of present day facilities and techniques, but this wasn’t a straightforward run-through of a new album, more a celebration of the highlight of a band’s career. It’s still almost impossible to listen to Andy Latimer’s flute on ‘Rhayader’ without wanting to sing or even whistle along, and the quirky synth part on ‘Rhayader Goes To Town’ never fails to raise a smile. The ‘Dunkirk’ sections were as compelling as ever, with Latimer’s guitar weaving in and out of the keyboards of Guy Leblanc and Jason Hart to terrific effect. The whole piece has lost none of its lustre and magic over the years, and while a standing ovation at the end was only to be expected, it had still been a thrilling performance and seemed to pass by in a flash.
After a break, the second half began in more laid back fashion with the band playing an acoustic opening to ‘Never Let Go’, the highlight of the band’s debut album. For this, both Jason Hart and bassist Colin Bass switched to acoustic guitars, with drummer Denis Clement switching to bass guitar, a configuration the band repeated at times throughout the second half. With a couple of exceptions, this part of the show was almost a chronological run through of the band’s career. From ‘Moon Madness’, described by no less an authority than Opeth’s Mikel Akerfeldt as one of the best records ever released, there were superb versions of ‘Air Born’ and ‘Song Within A Song’ the latter with some fine synth work from Leblanc, and from ‘Rain Dances’ an absolutely riveting ‘Tell Me’, that reduced the crowd to an awed hush. Most enjoyable of all, though, was ‘Fox Hill’, a lengthy, storytelling song, with strong English folk influences, that often sounds a lot like something from a Jethro Tull album than a Camel one. Finally in the main set was ‘For Today’, which Latimer said summed up everything around the band at present. The applause was loud and long.
The chronological aspect of the second half had been slightly off in that there had been nothing played from the band’s second, and breakthrough, album, ‘Mirage’. That was put right with the first song of the encore with the epic ‘Lady Fantasy’. Your reviewer has to confess that, in the unlikely event I am ever asked to appear on ‘Desert Island Discs’, this song will be a strong candidate to be played, and this was the first time I had ever heard it played live. It was everything I could have asked for, and more, and for me, was worth the price of the ticket alone. The show was completed by Latimer playing another song called ‘Never Let Go,’ a gentle acoustic song dedicated to fellow Camel member Peter Bardens, written before the latter’s tragically early death in 2002.
Giving any kind of assessment of the quality of this show sometimes seems a little superfluous, under the circumstances. Surely it’s enough that this much-loved and quietly influential band is back in action, but that they can come back in such fine shape musically and play such a memorable show is something to be treasured.