On February 28, 1973, "Camel" released her self-titled debut album.
This is an album that did not enjoy the love of the audience nor did it win the rave of the critics, in real-time. An album that failed commercially and even ended the band's short affair with MCA Record Company. Despite this, it is an excellent album that brings to light the amazing abilities of each member of the band. An album where the very unique sound and style of the wonderful group began to take shape, forging a style that would be perfected and reach its peak in the second half of the seventies with a sequence of wonderful albums.
The roots of this album are planted somewhere in the early 1960s, when a young guitarist named Andrew Latimer founded a blues band called "The Phantom Four" together with his brother Ian Latimer. Later the band will change its name to "Strange Brew" and in 1968 this name will be shortened to "Brew", at the same time as bassist Doug Ferguson joined it. A year later, Ferguson managed to attract a drummer, who was only 17 at the time, named Andy Ward to the band. The last to join in 1971 was keyboardist Peter Bardens, who completed the classic line-up of the band. At that time, Bardens was already an experienced keyboardist, having played, among others, alongside Rod Stewart in the band "Shotgun Express" and with Van Morrison in the band "Them". He even managed to release two solo albums.
After the addition of Bardens, "Brew" changed its name to "Camel" and the young group began to find its way up the music scene in various shows around the UK. The initial material with which the band played live were those written by Latimer during the "Strange Brew" era, as well as excerpts from Bardens' solo albums. But little by little, the two began to write new material for the new band that gradually took shape.
The opportunity came in 1972, when "MCA records" signed the band on a recording contract. During this time, the band was looking for a singer to take on all the vocal duties, as Bardens and Latimer did not feel they were good enough to serve as lead singers. The searches were unsuccessful, as none of the candidates impressed the band members, which led the band to continue as a quartet. This decision will be extremely significant for "Camel", as it will greatly influence its musical direction, materials and style, which will be based mostly on instrumental pieces.
Unbelievable, but the band's excellent debut album was recorded in just 11 days, between August 15 and 26, 1972. It combines musical styles such as jazz-rock, progressive and Canterbury, with influences from a variety of bands such as: Santana, "Caravan" Pink Floyd", "Gentle Giant", "Deep Purple" and more.
Already at the beginning of its journey, it was evident that "Camel" was a uniqe band in the progressive landscape of that time. What made it stand out and shine among the "progressive rock" bands of the classic era, was their style of playing and composing. Bardens' keyboard playing, that at times reminds Jon Lord's, Latimer's unique guitar sound that prefers feel over technique and sometimes corresponds with David Gilmour's playing and of course the melodic tunes that manage to convey an entire story through the music, without releasing even a single sound of vocals. Despite the complex and dynamic music, "Camel" was never as ambitious as "Yes", sophisticated as "Gentle Giant", theatrical as "Genesis" or avant-garde as "King Crimson". Still, they managed to maintain all the basics of "progressive rock" over the years, in their own unique way.
The very special style of the band started to take shape already in its debut album. It consists mostly of individual material written by the band's two brilliant minds Peter Bardens and Andrew Latimer, with only one section co-written by the two. This is the piece that opens up the album "Slow Yourself Down". This excellent song presents the various musical influences brought by each member of the band, especially Bardens and Latimer, when these different musical directions are consolidated into a unique style of the band. Already here, the elements so characteristic of this amazing group can be identified. The soft and catchy melodies, the changing dynamics, the frequent transitions, the sounds of Bardens' Hammond organ and Latimer's melodic solos, which he sometimes accompanies with vocal harmonies that imitate the melody. It is impossible to ignore Bardens' excellent keyboard playing, Latimer's amazing solos, Ferguson's dominant bass lines and Andy Ward's versatile drumming, especially the percussion that are so reminiscent of "Santana".
(Photo: Michael Putland / Getty Images)
If we mentioned the discomfort that the band members felt as singers earlier, then it is clearly visible on this album, when Bardens, Latimer and Ferguson divide the roles of singing and vocals, between them.
The second piece "Mystic Queen" was written by Bardens while Doug Ferguson takes over the singing role. A calm and quiet piece that opens up to the sounds of Latimer's acoustic guitar, but is based on the amazing keyboard work of Bardens. Later, the song continues to develop against while Bardens and Latimer's exchanges melodic solo between them, which are well supported by the excellent rhythm section of Ward and Ferguson.
Immediately after that comes "Six Ate" written by Latimer, which is the first instrumental piece on the album. The name of the piece hints at the unconventional time signature in which it is played - 6/8. Befitting a progressive piece (although the style here is mostly funky and bouncy) "Six Ate" is very dynamic and includes quite a few transitions and solo exchanges between Bardens and Latimer.
The first side of the vinyl ends up with another piece written by Latimer, called "Separation", which he also sings in. A relatively fast piece compared to its predecessors, with excellent drumming by Andy Ward and excellent guitar work by Latimer who presents different playing techniques.
The second side of the vinyl opens up with what probably deserves the title of the best track on the Album, "Never Let Go". The song was written by Latimer and sung by Peter Bardens and is simply a classic that defines all the good that this band has to offer. Starting with the arpeggio chords on Latimer's acoustic guitar (which the band "Opeth" will adopt for "Benighted"), the electric guitar that holds the entire melody during the verses on 3 string notes (!!), through the sounds of Bardens' Mellotron that alternate with the Hammond organ and vise versa, and ending with Ferguson's pulsing bass and Ward's dynamic and so special drumming. This is an incredible display of purpose by this wonderful quartet, which already in its first album manages to produce a wonderful classic that is "on demand" at the band's live concerts, even more than fifty years after it was written.
This wonderful album nearing the end with "Curiosity" written by Bardens and sung by Ferguson, in a way that reminds us so much of "Gentle Giant", especially given the bass and piano playing that accompany the vocals. It is impossible to ignore Bardens' keyboard playing, Latimer's explosive solos and his short guitar phrases, which sometimes repeat the melody in Ferguson's vocals, and of course Ward's jazzy drumming style.
The closing piece of the album "Arubaluba" is a powerful and rhythmic instrumental piece written by Bardens. It presents the more rockier side of the band and the amazing abilities of each of its members, especially Latimer and Bardens who sometimes play the same melody together and sometimes exchange virtuoso solos. An excellent way to end the album with one of the best tracks on it and one of the most beautiful of the band.
The "Camel" debut album is an excellent opening for a wonderful career of a great band, which will continue to produce masterpiece albums during the seventies, which deserves to be included in any ranking list of classic prog albums.
Here is a playlist of the album's songs that we prepared for you: YouTube