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Camel - A Live Record CD (album) cover

A LIVE RECORD

Camel

 

Symphonic Prog

4.31 | 362 ratings

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SouthSideoftheSky
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
3 stars Camel live in Canterbury-land (and too many other places and times)

This first official live album by Camel is often praised, but there are now several very much better and more representative live releases out there from this amazing band. I'm thinking particularly of Never Let Go (double CD) recorded on the tour for Dust And Dreams in the early 90's, and Coming Of Age (DVD and also available as a double CD) filmed and recorded on the tour for Harbour Of Tears in the mid 90's (both of which I rated with the full five stars!), but even Camel's second official live album Pressure Points (which I rated with four stars!) is preferable over A Live Record! The present double live album simply does not compare to those more recent live recordings, in my opinion, for several different reasons which I will now give you. One very obvious "problem" with A Live Record is the fact that it was recorded in the 70's and that the recording techniques were not what they were in the 90's, but this is really only a minor criticism.

A much more serious problem with A Live Record is that it was recorded on several different locations over a period of four years (1974-1977). These were very turbulent years for Camel with changes in both the line-up and the whole musical approach; this makes this live album (or, more correctly, this compilation of live tracks!) rather incoherent and disjointed in my opinion. The best live albums are usually those that feature a single show, giving an idea of how it was experienced by one and the same audience on one and the same night. All three of the other official live releases that I mentioned above feature material from one and the same show respectively, and Never Let Go and Coming Of Age feature complete performances.

The most serious problem I have A Live Record is, however, that the 1977 line-up, the one featuring Richard Sinclair of Caravan fame and which was responsible for the Rain Dances studio album, is not really that representative of Camel as I know and love them best. It is certainly not my personal favourite type of Camel, anyway. For Rain Dances, the band adopted more of a Canterbury-style similar to Caravan's and the live versions of some older songs here with added jazziness and strong presence of saxophone are really not representative of those classic songs. I don't particularly dislike the saxophone, but it simply does not suit Camel very well at all, in my opinion. At least not in the quantity found on of the many songs here. The strong presence of saxophone gives Camel a slick and jazzy sound that is incompatible with the Symphonic Prog sound I primarily love this band for. The Canterbury/Jazz version of the classic Camel song Never Let Go, for example, is simply awful to these ears! It is not that I am conservative and can't accept a radical overhaul of a classic song (the version of Never Let Go from the live album of the same name is also radically different from the original, but very much better than the present version), it is just that this particular style is not my cup of tea.

However, this only applies to the first of the two CDs (or the first two sides of vinyl). The second CD (or the two last sides of vinyl) of A Live Record is devoted entirely to a full performance of The Snow Goose with the original line-up together with The London Symphony Orchestra. This is without doubt the best part of this live album and actually an improvement over the original studio album version in some respects! This part of the album is what makes it worth having even for non-fans and non-collectors. The present version of Snow Goose has a little bit more energy and punch compared to the studio version of the same.

To sum up, I would say that the first CD is basically two-star material, while The Snow Goose performance is four-star material! This lands us at a three-star rating. The new re-mastered CD version of A Live Record adds many bonus tracks so this is the version to go for. Don't get me wrong though, A Live Record is still an enjoyable collection of live recordings, and it gives an insight into what Camel sounded like during the second half of the 70's. But this period was not among Camel's best eras.

Please do not make this live compilation album your introduction to Camel or even your live introduction to the band. Start instead with the early studio albums (particularly Mirage, the self-titled debut and Moonmadness) and the most recent live albums (Never Let Go and Coming Of Age) and you will get a much better overall picture of this brilliant band.

SouthSideoftheSky | 3/5 |

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