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Nude / Pressure Points
Artist: Camel
Label: Esoteric Recordings
Time: Nude: 25 Tracks / 69 mins
Pressure Points: 16 Tracks / 85 mins

Before we go any further it is only fair to mention my bias. If I get asked my favourite band, among names like Yes, U2, Iona, Talk Talk and early Genesis, it is probably Camel who will come to mind in first or second place. But this is no blind loyalty: plenty of bands (Wishbone Ash, REM, Free) have had good albums, but not maintained either the variety or strength for as long. By contrast, in two decades Camel had only one disc ( The Single Factor ) that was less than consistently very strong. Through all that time they evolved in gradual stages, but always kept their intrinsic DNA ­ beautiful instrumentals often hinged around Andy Latimer’s powerfully expressive solos alternating with singable songs, with everything totally melodic and bathed in swathes of warm keyboards. At times they ventured into the outskirts of jazz, and coloured their material with flute and saxes. If this sounds good and you don’t yet know Camel, please take serious note: - they are not a band to be missed, especially if your frames of reference are around Santana, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Moody Blues and Caravan.

They began as a four-piece, whose main protagonists were Latimer and keyboard player Peter Bardens (ex- of Them and, at different times, fellow band member with Mick Fleetwood, Bernie Marsden and Rod Stewart). The two would trade solos as well as any other ‘70s rock or prog band. While some of their most popular tunes came from their first two discs, it was the third ­ Music inspired by The Snowgoose ­ that brought them to a much larger audience, possibly because it was wholly instrumental and of such class that when friends bought it purely from your recommendation, they were never disappointed.

Nude: For fourth disc Moon Madness and a couple of jazzier ones (at which point Bardens and original bass player Doug Ferguson left) they returned to a more conventional balance of material, but 1980’s Nude was a strong nod back to Snowgoose : both were tuneful and flowing concept albums involving World War Two stories with plenty of character across the whole collection and a couple of riff-based military action pieces (“Beached” reprises the feel of Snowgoose’s “Dunkirk” section, and both are preceded by quieter instrumentals.)

Nude had just a few vocal tracks unobtrusively carrying the story forward, as well as being that little bit more up-to-date. From draft to homecoming, the disc tells the true story of a Japanese soldier who spent many years defending a remote island long after the war ended, having no idea that peace had been declared.

There aren’t that many bass players that draw the ear, but the appropriately-named Colin Bass’s resonant fretless bass holds the disc together, while being enjoyable to listen to on its own.

Nude Bonus material: For this release Esoteric have added a whole BBC Radio One In Concert set that condenses the album into 30 minutes. With the keyboard role changing from studio player Duncan Mackay (ex-Roxy Music) to the duo of Kit Watkins and Jan Schelhaas, the live sound keeps the lushness of the original, while changing tone slightly for interest (and the studio’s sax solos are now done on keyboards).

While the odd vocal wobble and closeness to the original material mean that the set would not be strong enough for a single release, it is a fantastic slab of bonus music.

Pressure Points: Four years later, at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, Camel ­ now with Tom Scherpenzeel and Chris Rainbow on keys and Paul Burgess on drums ­ recorded this live set that works approximately backwards to encore with their earliest tracks. With most of their early highlights lumped onto the superb A Live Record, this second live collection majors on mid-era Camel. Esoteric have taken a fine live disc and turned it into two. Most of the added tracks ­ which would have been too recent to release when Pressure Points originally came out ­ come from the Stationary Traveller album.

That material also has a European warfare theme (this time the cold war around Berlin) and now totals around half an hour of the first disc, plus two tracks on the second. The other twelve minutes of disc one comprises three of Nude’s finest tracks: “Drafted”, “Captured” and “Lies,” on which the guitar work is pretty blistering. These three are phenomenal, with Latimer’s playing drenched in emotion and up with their best. The Traveller material varies. “Refugee” sounds like so-so Supertramp fare, but other tracks are far stronger. “Vopos” has absorbed plenty of the early ‘80s synth loop sound, à la early Talk Talk or Eurythmics, and laid it underneath Latimer’s playing. “Stationary Traveller” itself has a slow, sustain-laden guitar, very similar in style to their great ten-minute guitar solo “Ice” ­ a close-your-eyes-and-screw-your-face-up type of piece. Closing song “Fingertips” includes a sax solo from fans’ favourite Mel Collins over some gorgeous fretless work from Bass.

Disc two opens with the rock instrumental “Sasquatch,” where solos are traded between guitar and synth, then descends to “Wait,” which has a great instrumental break but was otherwise an annoying track, overrated by Latimer. Then it’s back up all the way. Stationary Traveller single “Cloak and Dagger Man,” its insistent two-chord riff ideal for the synth to solo over, gives way to ballad “Long Goodbyes,” before they climax with the really early stuff. The late Peter Bardens rejoins the band for two tracks from Snowgoose , and their epic “Lady Fantasy.” I doubt anyone else could get that organ feel just right, and having Collins playing too, and extra synth harmonies, “Rhayader Goes to Town” is immense, starting off with some of the dirtiest and most beautifully grimace-inducing guitar chords of the whole set.

When Latimer introduces the thirteen-minute “Lady Fantasy,” he apologises that they had not played it for the previous eight years, so its appearance ­ with Bardens on organ ­ is a thrill for both band and crowd.

This set has plenty of variety and nearly all of it is superb. The band is on fine form with full and fluid playing, and plenty of energy broken up by the odd slow piece to give some light and shade.

Both Nude and Pressure Points re-masters have clear, bright sound and are boosted by thick booklets (20 and 16 pages respectively) which share largely the same story of the band, but feature different photos. For Camel fans these expanded versions are essential. Any fans of the bands mentioned at the start are highly recommended to investigate these discs.

Pressure Points: 

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