19 September 2018

Review: Camel – Birmingham Town Hall 14th Sept 2018

Having lived thru the “golden years” when Prog reigned supreme and arenas around the World throbbed to the sound of Hammond organs, mellotrons and 25 minute epics, smaller venues around the UK were host to a growing number of “B-List Bands” like Gentle Giant, Greenslade, Refugee, Argent and Camel….

In Birmingham, the NEC was but a twinkle in its designer’s eye and in the city the three most popular venues were the Odeon, Hippodrome and Town Hall. Here we are, 40 odd years later and the only venue from the above list still operating as a music outlet (after an EXTENSIVE revamp and overhaul) is the Town Hall, as many existing Prog bands tend to aim for the nearby Symphony Hall, which is a superb venue, not that the Town Hall is even the slightest bit shabby, I hasten to add, quite the contrary !!

…and so here we are in the prestigious Town Hall to enjoy an evening of Camel music albeit with a very different line-up to what graced its hallowed stage back in the 70s /80s when the legendary Andy Latimer was joined on stage by the late Pete Bardens on keys, Andy Ward on drums and Doug Ferguson on bass.

With only Mr Latimer left from the original lineup that came together back in 1971, the band have suffered a number of members coming and going and with Andy’s past chronic health issues, the future of the band was very much in question for a while, but here they are – back with a vengeance. Joining Andy L on stage we have the incredible Pete Jones ( who could probably create a Prog masterpiece on an old drainpipe tbh !!) on keys, sax and vocals, Denis Clement on drums and percussion and the aptly named and holder of the “most interesting eyebrows in Prog ” award – Colin Bass on, well errr, bass…..

The set-list was split in two and the band took to the stage just gone 8.00pm, in darkness with the pre-recorded and recognisable tones of “Aristillus” playing in the background while the guys found their spot, immediately launching into “Song Within A Song” (the second track on their classic “Moonmadness” album) and so it went until every track on the album was covered in note perfect resonance, no words were spoken, no introductions, just the album, in all its glory – you could have been sitting at home with it playing on the stereo, brilliant.

After a short break, where we could all queue for a piss and very over-priced pint, we returned to our seats for the second half, which was way more interesting and inter-active, even though the first half was memorable. I noticed the second half concentrated on the albums “Rain Dances” (Unevensong), “Harbour Of Tears” (Coming Of Age), “Stationary Traveller” (Long Goodbyes), “Rajaz” (title track), “Dust And Dreams” (End Of The Line, Mother Road and Hopeless Anger) and “I Can See Your House From Here” (the very wonderful “Ice” and “Hymn To Her”), certainly nothing before Moonmadness……………….until the encore !!! (More of that later)

This was a well oiled machine in action, delivering an evening of quality music to an eager and enthusiastic, virtually sold-out audience, even though, looking around from our seats in the circle, was of a “certain age” – the only thing going up to 11, I suspect in a few cases, was maybe the odd hearing aid !!

With a band that’s been around since 1971, it was inevitable that there would be a lot of long-term and die-hard fans, keen to see their Prog heroes back in action after such a lengthy period of uncertainty, it was fantastic to see Andy Latimer doing what he does best, wielding that axe like a true legend, awesome and with a solid backline from Colin and Denis, Pete Jones was the icing on the cake, is there an end to this guy’s talent, he has totally nailed the original keyboards sounds used on the original studio albums and at one point was playing sax AND keys AT THE SAME TIME– whaaaaat ?????

So, just when you thought it was all over and the entire stalls took to their feet with mucho whooping, whistling and hollering, the band left the stage before the inevitable encore and just as my friend said – “Wouldn’t it be great if they did “Lady Fantasy” !!” – would you believe it ???

With more than ample lighting effects and a few witty repartees with the audience, what an absolutely amazing way to conclude an awesome set with a few surprises thrown in. In some ways, I’m glad they focused on the latter albums, having toured Snow Goose a few years ago, it was time to check out the rest of the band’s back catalogue and with the last studio album making an appearance in 2002 (Nod and A Wink), we all wait with bated breath to see where Camel and the mighty Andy Latimer go next – memorable !!

Full credit to Mark Busby Burrows for the pix, thanks man….