Prog royalty Camel released their ground breaking Moonmadness album in 1976, and their most recent tour has been a long overdue celebration of the album. The successful tour has finally come to a close with a stunning, borderline emotional performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall for the first time since 1975.
As the opening notes of ‘Aristillus’ echo around the huge, bustling Albert Hall, the appreciation of Camel’s unique music can be felt. The band, led by Andrew Latimer and followed by both past Camel alumni such as the ironically named bassist Colin Bass, and keyboard newcomer Pete Jones, take to the stage to politely thunderous applause.
Moonmadness suits the acoustically perfect Albert Hall, with Latimer’s flute lines bouncing off of the walls and Dennis Clement’s surprisingly funky drumming acting as a soft backbone to the tight band. The winding, complex riffs of ‘Chord Change’ standout, with Latimer strolling around the stage with Bass, beaming and showing absolutely no signs of the ill health that nearly ended his career a few years ago. It is newcomer, Pete Jones (who quite successfully competed in the first season of X Factor- nice to see that his life took a rather more proggy turn), however, who already stands out. Blind since he was just 15 months old, his command of the keyboard is stunning, his voice is the strongest on stage and his saxophone sits next to him, eager to be played.
After a standing ovation for Moonmadness, and praise for the band (particularly Jones) and Latimer’s successful overcoming of a terminal illness ring around the Albert Hall, Camel return for the second of tonight’s sets. Kicking things off with the rhythmically complex ‘Unevensong’, it is a testament to the often overlooked talents of this band as they keep up with the ever-evolving time signatures without so much as a glance at each other. The beautiful ‘Hymn To Her’ comes next, before the band perform the strange, almost unknown ‘Mystic Dreams’. This unexpected addition to the set prompts a huge reaction from the crowd, and with its almost metal-tinged middle section, you almost expect the Albert Hall to burst into a very polite, time-signature-conscious mosh pit.
Latimer, clearly still as theatrical as ever, introduces ‘Rajaz’ by asking the audience to imagine they’re “sitting round a campfire under the stars telling stories”. Normally, that kind of introduction is a bit of a wishy-washy, throw away comment, but the twinkling opening notes and slowly twirling lights really do transport you, with the track quickly becoming the highlight of the show. The guitar solo that normally fills the last few minutes has been replaced by a long Pete Jones saxophone showcase, which ends up as one of the most transcendent, thrilling and beautiful musical expressions live music can provide. The feeling Jones is able to create takes the sadness of the end of Marley And Me, and multiplies it by the uplifting ending of The Shawshank Redemption. His virtuosity and genuine feeling is felt around the whole room, with Latimer standing at the front of the stage leading the audience in a clap, and them giving a long, emotional standing ovation that almost flows over into ‘Ice’.
It’s Jones himself who introduces this next track after a modest note of thanks to the overwhelmed audience, explaining that ‘Ice’ was his audition piece for the band. It was now the turn of Latimer to impress the audience, and his virtuosic 8-minute solo did just that, achieving a similar ovation to Jones before him despite the emotional impact not being quite as consuming. As ‘Mother Road’ (which begins sounding like ZZ Top have been infiltrated by Van Der Graaf Generator) and ‘Hopeless Anger’ followed, the set became just slightly too reliant on their later, self-released albums such as Dust And Dreams, filling space that could have housed prog masterpieces like ‘Nimrodel’. The main set closes with the poppy, but stunningly catchy ‘Long Goodbyes’, with a visibly emotional Latimer thanking the audience, occasionally gazing around the venue taking it all in.
The audience stay on their feet until the band return for an exceptional, note-perfect rendition of ‘Lady Fantasy’, which sees some spot on three-part harmonies and that explosive overdriven bassline from Bass, who’s huge, white, fluffy eyebrows dance along with him. This truly was both the perfect way to round off the tour, and an exceptional celebration of everything we love about the world‘s most glorious genre.
“See you next time!”, Latimer shouted as he left the stage. I bloody hope so.
This show concluded Camel’s Moonmadness tour.
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