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Music inspired by The Snow Goose (to be precise, more later) - is in my opinion the Magnum Opus of Camel. Whilst lacking lyrics, and the musical variety of albums such as MoonMadness and Mirage, this epic showcases the band's talent and skill, and is also a perfect lazy Sunday track to listen to. As concept albums go, it has to be one of the more focused attempts ever performed.
Released in 1975, and following the acclaim of Mirage's White Rider Suite (based on the fall and subsequent rise of Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings), and their eponymous Debut, Camel wanted to purse more conceptual suites - in particular novel themes. This album is based on the short story The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico. The album title was changed to include the 'Music inspired by...' tag due to legal protest by Gallico, a vehement anti-smoker, who mistook the band's use of the Camel Cigarettes logo on the Mirage album to be an association with that brand.
Running to a fairly 70's 43 minutes long , the album has 16 parts, each titled after a character, location or event in the book.
Written in 1941, the story is a sentimental parable on love and its healing power. Mirroring the plot - the album opens with 'The Great Marsh', a haunting, droning intro that captures the eerie stillness of the wetlands, before moving into the more upbeat 'Rhayader', describing an artist living alone in an abandoned lighthouse in wartime Essex - alone because of his disabilities.
As the album progresses through 'Rhayader goes to Town', 'Sanctuary' and 'Fritha' - we meet a local girl, Fritha, with whom Rhayader develops a friendship. Fear and curiosity are slowly turned into acceptance and friendship, as the music takes a hopeful turn. The Bass lines are to the fore here, with suitably driven tones and winding Melody. The Keyboards in this early section alternate between the main riffs and background harmonies to solo lines that follow or lead the Guitar lines - often presaging later Melodies.
The allegorical Snow Goose appears in the next part, having crash landed far from home and wounded by gunshot, a mirror of the fate of soldiers on the Western Front. As Fritha nurses the Snow Goose back to health, her friendship with Rhayader grows until, in a metaphorical pairing, the Snow Goose continues its Migration, emboldened by care and the relationship between its human carers. The light melodies and playful guitar solos define the general feelings of Love and Hope in this middle section.
Then, suddenly the war intervenes - until now an event for the Radio - and the marching tones of 'Preparation' and the raw power of 'Dunkirk' provide a backdrop for Rhayader's selflessness as he uses his small boat to take part in the mass evacuation of Dunkirk, helping to save several hundred men in the retreat. A climax of frenzied Guitar illustrated the clamour and confusion of the battle scene.
Lost at the end of the retreat in 'Epitaph', the music turns to the loneliness of the expectant Fritha, before 'La Princesse Perdue' details the return of the Snow Goose, who had been with Rhayader during the retreat, to Fritha. Interpreting this as the passing of Rhayader's soul and his farewell to her, she takes comfort in his sacrifice.
The album finishes with a poignant reprise of the opener, which bookends the work neatly. In the book, however, a German Pilot destroys the lighthouse and all Rhayader's work - which doesn't sound nearly as good an ending - unless Iron Maiden were to do it.
Throughout the album the band define the tone of the story perfectly - varying pace, style and instrumental lead to highlight a theme. Whether the rambling flute of Rhayader's forays into town, the snarling Guitar and crashing Drums of war, or the haunting keyboards and guitar of tragedy and loss, the emotion and power of the record come through with masterful skill.
Formed in 1970 - the original 4 menbers (Latimer - Guitar, Vocals, Flute), Ferguson (Bass), Ward (Drums) and Bardens (Keyboards, Vocals), were easily the jazziest of the surge of British Progressive bands of the time, which included Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Yes. Signed to Decca Records, they put out several works of outstanding composition and skill - until line up changes and the vagaries of musical differences caused a slow meandering of the band's fortunes through the following decade. The death of Bardens in 2002 ended the original line up, and the others have sporadically worked on original Camel material and works with other artists.
Distinctly more noodly and laid back than other Progressive bands, Camel were one for the hardcore listener who appreciated esoteric eccentricity and offbeat lyrical themes. Using Latimer's flute and the saxophone of collaborator Collins, Camel were able to pursue more diverse leanings than with strings alone, and whilst never achieving the commercial successes of their counterparts, they nonetheless remain a critically acclaimed band of their time.
Along with their other Decca albums - the Snow Goose was remastered and re-released in 2002 - complete with Radio and Singles Edits, as well as rare Live versions of songs. These provide a real treat for the listener and make the albums outstanding value.
The Snow Goose for me remains an epic sweep of music - the lack of lyrics helps the music sink into the listener's ears, and the heroic sacrifice of the lead character is balanced by the hope of the migrating bird and the Love it signifies.
Alright - that was a cheesy summary, but it is truly a quality record. For a laid back and enjoyable listen - you'd be hard pushed to beat this album.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 The Great Marsh
3 Rhayader Goes To Town
6 The Snow Goose
9 Rhayader Alone
10 Flight Of The Snow Goose
14 Fritha Alone
15 La Princesse Perdue
16 The Great Marsh
17 Flight Of The Snow Goose
19 Flight Of The Snow Goose
20 Rhayader Goes To Town
21 The Snow Goose/Freefall