Monday 17th September
The Royal Albert Hall, London
I’m going to try to get one key message across in this review. Anyone seeing them on their current tour will already realise that Camel have significantly raised their game i.e. they sound better than ever. Yes, I mean ever, despite touring for well over 40 years. That comes as a surprise for those of us reaching a certain age where some of our favourite bands are reaching the ‘old age’ bracket and can no longer, understandably, quite capture the glories of the past. Even if equipment has improved down the years, Camel’s wonderful performance at The Royal Albert Hall demonstrated a remarkable ability to overcome major challenges and emerge literally stronger than ever.
Camel’s 1976 fourth studio album, ‘Moonmadness’, was the focus of this tour (having majored on their most famous album ‘The Snow Goose’ more recently) and the band played this in its entirety as the first part of the show. The band have had and tragically lost some fine keyboard players but by the end of ‘Song Within A Song’ you already knew that the new addition to the band, the young Pete Jones on keyboards but also vocals (and later saxophone), was considerably enhancing the overall sound of the band. Andrew Latimer, the only remaining original member and driving force behind the band admits that vocals have perhaps not been their main strength, but Jones actually sounds like he’s got Camel’s own DNA in his genes. At times, he was singing the lead where Colin Bass (the band’s long-standing and solid bass player since 1979) used to sing. What really worked was how Bass and often Latimer sang harmonies together to deliver a really powerful vocal sound.
After ‘Unevensong’ had finished the opening of the second set, we need to highlight Andrew Latimer’s development too. As someone who must have been to hell and back to overcome life-threatening illness and then had to adapt his guitar playing because of the after-effects to his hands, Latimer keeps developing both technique and feeling in his playing. An additional guitar solo at the end of 'Unevensong' really took it to a new level, one that I’d never seen before. Considering Camel are considered by many to be a Melodic/Soft Rock band, the material from the relatively newer ‘Dust And Dreams’, ‘Harbour Of Tears’ and the classic track ‘Ice’ really rocked along in every sense. This was carefully balanced by the atmospheric ‘Rajaz’, as its mesmerising sound-stage tracked through the desert landscape accompanied by Jones’s beautiful saxophone solo. The four of them, including Denis Clement on drums, looked as though they were simply having a great time.
‘Long Goodbyes’ was a nice surprise ending of the second set before the audience demanded an encore. I think Latimer was understandably looking somewhat emotional as he shared the band’s thanks for the marvellous response before ending with ‘Lady Fantasy’. After all, you had to go back forty-three years to find a time when they could command an audience at The Royal Albert Hall. Their long ‘come back’ from 1992 onwards has involved playing a lot of much smaller venues in the meantime. I’m pleased to say that this time though, they didn’t even need to play anything off ‘The Snow Goose’.