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Camel - Harbour Of Tears CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.75 | 620 ratings

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4 stars Brings Tears (of joy) to the Eyes

It's with breath of earthy folk, meditative and melancholy ambience combined with rich orchestral textures reminiscent of "The Snow Goose", that Camel present "Harbour of Tears" - a superb addition to any collection of prog rock, although largely retrospective as opposed to truly progressive. That is to say this album is prog rock styled and deeply rooted in the old school, but excellent prog nonetheless.

Irish Air - with all the Celtic charm of Clannad - begins with an a capella vocalist extolling Ireland in a slighty breathy and very pleasant voice that holds the key and shapes the melody very well - without the assistance of Antares. To me, it matters less that it sounds a bit like Enya, than it is pleasing, effective and above all, real in itself.

The instrumental reprise carries a similar flavour - with strong Camel undertones thanks to the soft 6ths in the harmonies. Latimer first reprises the melody on the flute, then with his trademark guitar sound - it's certainly not derivative, whatever my fellow esteemed reviewers may suggest - except of Latimer himself. These are the famous tones that carry the Camel "branding" from the first album to the present day.

The little piece then modulates and changes timbrally for a 4th time, to a pipe lead - Latimer pulling out the pseudo-Celtic devices somewhat over-enthusiastically for my taste, but the music is enjoyable enough to carry the sonic assault.

The air segues into the title track, and Latimer takes the mike and leads a heartfelt farewell to the "Harbour of Tears" accompanied by cello and piano, with a backing vocal that seems a little over intrusive. Melodically as strong as ever, this song would not have been out of place on the "Stationary Traveller" album, stylistically.

Latimer proves that he has not lost the golden touch, and provides some spine- tinglingly beautiful guitar work with single notes, as only he can. Perhaps they are somewhat reminiscent of Gilmour in "Echoes", but that's hardly the point - the seagull imitation is obviously intentional, and the musical punctuation so overwhelmingly appropriate that only a heart of stone would not melt before the majesty and yet humility of these pure tones.

The guitar work is not stunningly original here from a purely technical point of view - it reminds me too much of material on earlier Camel albums. Latimer seems to have worked more on the sound and emotional conveyance than the content - which is a very good and wondrous thing. The ambience is perfect, as the music segues into Cobh, with wonderful woodwind and choral textures producing an orchestral high that drives into "Send Home the Slates".

A mechanical rhythm suggests the monotonous work and builds the tension well, as the semi-melodramatic tale unfolds over sumptuous orchestral washes, until Latimer unleashes the guitar with some really fresh sounding melodies. The band seem to have issues keeping it together underneath - but frankly, I'd be distracted by playing of such exquisitness.

The orchestral arrangements - whether real instruments or synthesised - are better here than anything on The Snow Goose; Camel were on top form for this album.

"Under the Moon" is another chance for Latimer to shine (couldn't resist that one - but it is true...). Simple lines intertwining - but this is no Spinal Tap style bluff, this is pure melody and rich, soft harmony ebbing and flowing perfectly.

"Watching The Bobbins" is a surprising change of direction, and the drum production seems to spoil the overall effect for me. However, the clarity of the production overall allows the listener to hear the tremendous amount of detail in this song which, while not my favourite Camel number by a long chalk, keeps the listener's attention with the textural complexities, although the guitar solo is packed with Gilmour licks from "The Wall". The instrumental section is a real high point however, and Latimer develops it superbly in the second half - in fact the whole band swing into action to produce some beautiful and monumental ambient prog with subtle time and key changes and textural goodies.

"Generations" maintains the ambient theme moving into symphonic grandeur with ease, but providing a slightly puzzling link to "Eyes of Ireland", which reverts completely to the quasi-Celtic style.

"Running from Paradise" opens in a hugely symphonic style, reminding me a bit of Barclay James Harvest - but this is much more inventive and stylised than BJH, and grows organically in "proper" prog style. I find the major key orientation to be off- putting, when the ensemble band kick in around 3:00 however - but that's probably just my taste for darker music coming to the fore.

End of the day is a simple little song - but clearly meant as an intro to "Coming of Age", a Camel classic and mini masterpiece. You NEED to hear this piece!

Anyone complaining about the 14-odd minutes of wave sound at the end of "The Hour Candle" obviously hasn't been paying attention! This is a deeply meditative album, that rewards intense and deep listening - as it is so deceptively accessible that one could mistake it for easy listening MOR music. This is, of course, another Camel trademark - the depths are so carefully hidden that it is a mistake to try to hurry it along. You need to ride and live each note to get the maximum benefit from this album - and it's worth it.

Camel proved that they were back on form - and even raised their own game a little with "Harbour..." - but it's not quite the masterpiece that "Mirage" was, as there seems to be a little too much intention and not quite enough spontaneity for my liking. That's not to say that there is no spontaneity, of course - the Camel magic works well throughout this album, and any Camel fan should find much to revel in - perhaps not in the first few listens, but after the album has taken time to "mature" in your collection. Like the best wines and whiskies, this definitely improves with age.


If the quasi Celticness doesn't upset you, then the album as a whole really is a feast of subtle, gentle and inoffensive yet richly tailored music with sumptuous washes of great sound that you need to balance your prog collection. ENJOY!

Certif1ed | 4/5 |


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