9 March 2014

Camel - The Snow Goose

I really ought to be circumspect and choose the wording more carefully. This album given its full title is called Music Inspired By The Snow Goose, it's a concept album inspired by a wartime novel, and sparked Camel's love affair of writing songs allied to the original text. It's also a good bet that the Progressive Rock forefathers inspired Jeff Wayne to pen music to H.G. Wells' War Of The Worlds. I'll explain the synopsis of the book later on, but first to the band itself.

The creative force behind this instrumental cult classic were guitarist and flautist Andrew Latimer along with keyboardsman Peter Bardens which was composed in a hideaway Devonshire cottage inside two weeks, culminating into what would become a musical masterpiece. Sadly, Bardens passed away through cancer in 2002 but not before leaving behind a legacy including working along the nobility of Rod Stewart, Mick Fleetwood and Peter Green save for a host more acts. Latimer himself in recent times sustained a blood related life threatening illness though I'm happy to report that he appears to be recovering, evidenced by a full live album performance at the Royal Albert Hall as recently as 2013.

This album is based on the work of Paul Gallico and is set about the time of the Dunkirk Evacuations. The character in question is a lighthouse dweller called Rhayader with a disfiguring appearance. He forges an unlikely friendship with a local girl Fritha who in turns nurses a wounded snow goose back to health which then makes the lighthouse a regular calling point on its migration path. After Rhayader disappears with his boat during his assistance in the evacuations, his lighthouse is destroyed by a lone German bomber, and the goose's continuing appearances in years to come is interpreted by Fritha as a message of farewell from her unlikely companion, having realised the platonic love that they shared.

Originally, while unable to apply lyrics to the songs, it was Latimer and Bardens' intention to include excerpts of the book in the music, that is until the threat of legal action put paid to the idea. So this left the listening world with a full blooded instrumental, and let me tell you, this is one beautifully crafted piece from start to finish. The Great Marsh is the curtain raiser, from fade, it begins with an slow ethereal backdrop and opens up to a gentle awakening, or if you like, the awakening of the Goose, orchestrated by an electric piano. The first character dealt  next is the protagonist Rhayader, The Watcher of the Lighthouse, which Andrew Latimer plays flutework in the "verses" while Bardens' Minimoog does the bridge part of the tune. Next is Rhayader Goes To Town, where things become a little more hurried, the guitars are more involving here, and Andy Ward's dexterity on the toms is more prominent.

The acoustic guitars are the basis for Sanctuary and the following track, Fritha, where some "whistling" synthesisers accompany the atmosphere. The final entity, The Snow Goose is where Latimer's Gibson leads portray the last character introduced. There's a gentle beat flowing in the 3 minute opus, where what feels very much like a Hammond organ moves the fore. Friendship is an audio illustration of the relationship forming between the three characters, played through by a piccolo and clarinet and about three other related wind instruments. When the Goose recovers enough to fly in Migration, the gentle urgency returns through Ward's drumming and some slight unintelligible chorals. Now we come to Rhayader Alone which does sound heavy hearted and forlorn before Flight Of The Snow Goose features all manner of keyboards, guitars.

The flute joins in the continuing narrative for next track Preparation which things begin to feel slightly more intense followed by the longest track of the album at five minutes Dunkirk. Here, the drumming becomes more purposeful, more regimental while the guitar/hammond joint leads increases the intensity ever more slightly. Past midpoint of the song, the beat and rhythm change altogether, and there's slide guitar taking the leads, while Epitaph, charting the aftermath involves some percussion, then a piano solo for Fritha Alone. La Princesse Perdue has orchestral arrangements lead by Bardens' Moog, then Latimer's stringwork takes over the reins before the closing track The Great Marsh (Reprise) finishes where the opener left off. Maybe a slight anticlimax as it's only a brief minute and signs off proceedings all too quickly.

I've deliberately tried to avoid explaining the storylines behind the music, although the song titles are a strong indicator. Still, must be said The Snow Goose has been a thoroughly enjoyable 45 minutes of my listening time, plus the discoveries I made upon researching it. But I think to get the cut of its jib behind the themes, you would need to read Paul Gallico's book that the album chronicles, or at least attain some knowledge from it. Aside from the narrative, it's easy to see why Music From The Snow Goose is so involving and very compelling. Just one of many classic Prog Rock albums that 40 years on it feels ageless.

10 out of ten. This is proof there is a God.
Best track : Rhayader

Buy The Snow Goose here on Amazon
Listen to the album in full here on Spotify
Or alternatively, listen to it here on Deezer. Also has the 1975 full live recording
Official Website of Camel here on this link

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