Camel are an English progressive rock band formed in 1971. An important figure in the Canterbury scene, the group has been releasing studio and live recordings steadily, with some success, since their formation.
In August 1972 Camel signed with MCA Records and their eponymous debut album was released six months later. The record was not a success and the band moved to the Deram Records division of Decca Records (UK).
In 1974 they released their second album, the critically acclaimed Mirage on which Latimer showed he was adept on flute also. Although failing to chart at home, it gained success on the U.S. west coast, prompting a three month tour there.
The instrumental, orchestrated concept album Music Inspired by The Snow Goose 1975, inspired by the Paul Gallico short story of the same name, was the breakthrough which brought Camel wider attention. Gallico, who loathed smoking, thought the band were related to the cigarette brand and threatened to take legal action. Camel avoided this by adding the prefix 'Music inspired by...' to the album's cover. The album's success led to a prestigious sell out concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with the London Symphony Orchestra in October 1975.
A fourth album, Moonmadness in 1976, continued the success, but was the last to feature the original line up. Mel Collins' saxophone augmented the band for the subsequent tour, beginning an eight year association. Drummer Ward was pushing for a more jazz direction and the demand for this on Ferguson led to his departure in early 1977.
Richard Sinclair (previously in Caravan) replaced Ferguson and this line-up released Rain Dances (1977) and Breathless (1978). The latter the last album to feature Bardens, who announced his departure before the supporting tour. He was replaced by two keyboard players: Dave Sinclair (cousin of Richard and also from Caravan) and Jan Schelhaas (also of Caravan). The Sinclair cousins both left the band after the tour, replaced by Kit Watkins and Colin Bass.
This line up recorded the more commercial I Can See Your House from Here (1979), an album which caused problems for the advertisers due to its irreverent cover, displaying a crucified astronaut looking at earth. Despite some fans' reservations about commercial leanings, the album concludes with a ten minute instrumental 'Ice', showcasing Latimer's lead guitar skills.
Camel returned to the concept album for their next recording. Nude (1981), is based on a true story about a Japanese soldier (Hiroo Onoda) found on an island many years after World War II had ended, not realising the war was over. Duncan MacKay provided most of the keyboards in lieu of Watkins and Schelhaas, who were involved in other projects, but returned for the tour. This was the first album to feature lyrics by Latimer's future wife Susan Hoover. In mid-1981, Ward stopped playing drums due to alcohol and drug abuse and Camel quietly disbanded. Years later it emerged that Ward had made a suicide attempt.
Without a band, but a contract to fulfill and pressure from Decca for a 'Hit Song', Latimer was joined by an array of guest and session musicians, including David Paton, Chris Rainbow and Anthony Phillips at Abbey Road studio in early 1982. The resultant album, ironically entitled The Single Factor, was a far cry from the band's early hard rock/progressive sound, but it scraped the lower regions of the charts and enabled a successful Tenth Anniversary Tour, featuring Paton, Rainbow, Watkins, Stuart Tosh (drums) and Andy Dalby (guitar) accompanying Latimer. Legal wranglings over royalties then began with their former manager which took five years to resolve.
Ton Scherpenzeel (of Dutch prog-rock band Kayak) joined Latimer as Camel's new keyboardist with Paul Burgess on drums for 1984's Stationary Traveller. Bass returned (for good) to fill the bass position for the tour, which also included Rainbow and Richie Close on backup keyboards. (Close died a few years later from Legionnaires' disease.)
After the release of the live Pressure Points in late 1984, Camel disappeared without trace as far as the public was concerned. Finishing the contract with Decca, Latimer was unable to interest other British record companies and eventually moved to California when the lawsuit ended (successfully for him)..
After a seven year hiatus, Latimer revived the Camel name and with Bass, Burgess, Scherpenzeel and seven guests recorded the largely instrumental Dust and Dreams, a musical evocation of John Steinbeck's classic novel The Grapes of Wrath. It was released under Latimer's own label Camel Productions and, whilst according to some it was a triumphant return to their progressive roots, to others it was a disappointingly middle-of-the-road effort.
Mickey Simmonds played keyboards on the 1992 World comeback tour from which in 1993 a double live CD, recorded in Holland, Never Let Go, was released. In 1994, former members Bardens, Ward and D. Sinclair and former guest musician Jimmy Hastings formed Mirage: the band played numerous Camel pieces in their live set, but folded within a few years.
Latimer and Hoover then wrote Harbour of Tears (nickname for Cobh (pronounced 'cove') harbour in Ireland from which many sailed off to the USA during the Potato Famine) under the Camel name, which was released in 1996.
In 1997 Camel again toured the west coast of the U.S., Japan and Europe (as they had in 1992) with Latimer supported by Bass, Foss Patterson (keyboards) and drummer Dave Stewart. The tour resulted in Coming of Age, a live double-CD and DVD.
In 1999 Latimer, Stewart, Bass and guest Scherpenzeel, recorded Rajaz. Set in ancient times, Rajaz was a spontaneous composition inspired by the rhythm of the camel's 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, and this album truly took Camel back to their prog-rock roots.
Stewart left the band when he was offered the chance to manage a drum store in Scotland before the following live tour, to be replaced by French Canadian Denis Clement on Drums. The 2000 tour was augmented by Guy LeBlanc on keyboards. Latimer, Bass, LeBlanc and Clement then went to a tour of South America in 2001.
In 2002 this quartet released A Nod and a Wink, - a reflective, mellow album, prominently featuring Latimer's flute. The album was dedicated to Peter Bardens, who died in January 2002.
Following somewhat-troubled live tours of recent years, Camel Productions announced the 2003 tour to be Camel's "Farewell Tour". Guy LeBlanc had to quit shortly before going on the road due to the illness of his wife, and was replaced by Tom Brislin (in the US) and Ton Scherpenzeel (European leg). The US leg of the tour was highlighted by a headline appearance at NEARfest, the world's most prestigious progressive rock festival.
Latimer started work on unplugged (acoustic) versions of old Camel material, but this was aborted. In 2006, Latimer accepted an invitation to audition for a guitar/vocal role on Roger Waters tour, the position eventually being filled by Dave Kilminster.
In October 2006 Latimer completed a move back to the UK with intentions of recording and releasing future Camel albums from his home country and completing a project started in 2003 with Andy Ward and Doug Ferguson.
In May 2007, Susan Hoover announced through the Camel Productions website and newsletter that Andrew Latimer has suffered from a progressive blood disorder Polycythaemia vera since 1992 which has progressed to Myelofibrosis. Latimer has responded well to treatment, but suffers from fatigue. This was part of the reason why Camel ceased extensive touring. Messages of support can be sent via the official Camel Productions website.
Susan Hoover confirmed a new studio album is intended and that they were looking into the feasibility of some brief mini-tours.