Camel - Live At The Royal Albert Hall

Camel – Live At The Royal Albert Hall

Finally, it’s been a long time coming: the new live Blu-Ray/DVD/double audio CD from Camel saw the light of day earlier this year. Being present on the night, I noticed the presence of an extensive crew of cameramen to record the performance for posterity. And now, more than a year later, we may finally see the result of said work. It’s about time. The reason for the delay is somewhat unclear, but it has to be said: it was well worth the wait. We are presented with a beautiful document from a band that has reached the end of a long tour. A well-oiled machine, in perfect shape and clearly looking forward to the gig, the closing night in their London ‘backyard’. Where last time they stood, more than forty years ago, to perform their album Music inspired by the Snowgoose live with an orchestra in front of a frenzied audience. This performance was also recorded, albeit not with images but only with sound (A Live Record from 1978).

The band, which to everyone’s surprise, re-appeared live in 2013 after many personnel changes and a hiatus of approximately ten years due to Andy Latimer’s health problems, still has quite a loyal following. This is not so much due to any recent material, since 2002 no new work has been released, but to the extensive oeuvre that the band has entrusted to vinyl (yes!) since the early seventies. One of those iconic albums, Moonmadness from 1976, is the main theme for this particular series of shows that would take the band to no less than thirty theatres in eight countries during the spring/summer of 2018. And eventually find its apotheosis in this closing gig at the magnificent, century and a half old, theatre in the heart of London on 17th September the same year.

I have already mentioned the many personnel changes over the past decades. Once performing with more than ten musicians on stage in the early 1980s, the band is now back where it started: as a quartet. With some old-timers, such as bassist Colin Bass, since the late seventies, and drummer Denis Clement, for over a decade, now also including blind, super-talented musician Pete Jones (Tiger Moth Tales) as a more recent addition to the ensemble surrounding founder/composer/guitarist Andrew Latimer. Only four men, but a bloody good bunch of musicians. There are frequent three-part harmony vocals, Latimer also plays keyboards in addition to guitars, recorder and flute, while multi-instrumentalist Jones not only plays great keyboards and sings brilliantly, he is also a master of the saxophone. An instrument that once played an important role in the varied music that typifies Camel’s sound. The foursome raises the 41-meter-high domed roof of the ancient rock temple, metaphorically speaking.

Since TPA has already reported extensively on the band’s previous shows, (see Jez Rowden’s report on the gig at the Forum, Bath), I will suffice with a number of items that truly stand out: first things to highlight are the close interplay and the sound. It’s quite remarkable how just four musicians can produce such a rich and full sound whereas usually six or seven musicians would be necessary. In addition, an extra compliment for the vocal department, often two, and sometimes even three-part. With the low parts accounted for by Andy, the middle by Pete and high notes reserved for Colin. The music of the Brits is mainly characterised by long melodic lines, when those lines come together in brilliant unison style, Camel is at its strongest. As witnessed by jazzy Chord Change, spacy Lunar Sea, both instrumentals, and personal favourite Air Born. It has already been mentioned, but the addition of the saxophone makes the sound palette even more colourful. Jones is completely in his element on Another Night and especially Rajaz.

Guitarist Andy Latimer, at the time 69 years-old, still looks youthful despite wrist brace and thinning gray hair. Camel’s music is largely dependent on his characteristic playing, with long fluid, melodic lines and warm, emotional notes. The sustain on both his Gibson and Fender remains fabulous. Buddy, Colin Bass is much less prominently present than usual, lead vocals mainly come from Jones, but his performance on bass is still solid. Above all, he radiates peace and stability. The images show even better what an excellent and underrated drummer Denis Clement really is. From powerful punches to subtle shuffles, it all flows smoothly from the Canadian’s supple wrists. But the secret weapon has to be relative newcomer Pete Jones, the youngest of the bunch, as if he has been playing with the band for decades, rendering his own interpretation of the well-known songs without going out of control. What a super talent, musician in heart and soul, and what a voice!

The light show is simple but very effective, lots of blue and red rays. The sound is truly perfect, transparent and clean, even some miniscule errors are clearly audible, it does not distract at all. Nice and steady camera work, no flashy moves, great edits as well, perfectly capturing the momentum. Apparently there had been some problems with the production, but nothing is really noticeable. Shots of the enormous church organ, the Persian carpets on stage and various views and vistas make the images attractive and intimate. The majestic building itself, with shots from the top, and the overall ambiance is clearly visible as if you yourself were present. The close-up views are amazing; from the expression on Latimer’s face, Jones’s hands, Bass’s characteristic head and Clement’s blissful grin, it’s all caught by the cameras, in sharp focus. The only point of criticism are the images of the entire band on stage: they were shot from too far a distance, but that’s just splitting hairs.

All in all, as previously mentioned, a brilliant document from a band, at the top of their game, on the final day of a long tour. The sheer pleasure on stage is contagious and the excitement of the audience knows no bounds. As evidenced by frequent standing ovations, even without the musicians playing a single note. It was magical to have witnessed the event, now everyone can experience with their own eyes (and ears) what a privilege it is to see Camel play live for almost two hours and twenty minutes. Gather round, folks!

Set 1:

01. Aristillus (2:05)
02. Song Within a Song (7:49)
03. Chord Change (7:37)
04. Spirit of the Water (2:49)
05. Another Night (7:07)
06. Air Born (5:42)
07. Lunar Sea (10:38)
Set 2:
08. Unevensong (7:48)
09. Hymn To Her (5:54)
10. End Of The Line (7:46)
11. Coming Of Age (8:03)
12. Rajaz (12:23)
13. Ice (9:28)
14. Mother Road (9:29)
15. Hopeless Anger (5:31)
16. Long Goodbyes (11:51)
17. Lady Fantasy (14:40)

Total Time – 136:40

Andrew Latimer – Guitars, Flute, Recorder, Vocals
Colin Bass – Bass, Vocals
Pete Jones – Keyboards, Saxophone, Vocals
Denis Clement – Drums

Record Label: Camel Productions
Country of Origin: U.K. CP814DVD
Date of Release: 21st February 2020
Recorded: 17th September 2018

– Live at the Royal Albert Hall [live] (2019)
– Ichigo Ichie [DVD] (2017)
– In from the Cold [DVD] (2014)
– The Snow Goose (2013)
– The Opening Farewell [DVD] (2010)
– Moondances [DVD] (2007)
– A Nod and A Wink (2002)
– Rajaz (1999)
– Coming of Age [live] (1997)
– Harbour of Tears (1996)
– Never Let Go [live] (1992)
– Dust and Dreams (1991)
– Pressure Points [live] (1984
– Stationary Traveller (1984)
– The Single Factor (1982)
– Nude (1981)
– I Can See Your House From Here (1979)
– Breathless (1978)
– A Live Record (1978)
– Rain Dances (1977)
– Moonmadness (1976)
– Mirage (1943)
– Camel (1973)

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