Many years ago, in what seems like a lifetime ago, major record labels signed bands and artists with much more of a long-term philosophy then they do now. Artists knew that they could develop over time without the fear that if their first record didn't reach #1 on the charts that they would not get dropped. Many artists who defined the 70s generation might not have had a string of hits but as they grew and honed their craft, their audience grew along with them. For the English band Camel, this honing of their craft came quicker than for others...
Originally called The Brew, the band (which at the time consisted of guitarist and vocalist Andrew Latimer, bassist Doug Ferguson and drummer Andy Ward) added keyboardist Peter Bardens and renamed themselves Camel. After having played around Britain for the better part of a year, the band was signed by MCA in the summer 1972 and released their debut, self-titled effort. When MCA declined to release the band's second record, Gama Records (who was a subsidiary of Decca/Deram) signed the band immediately. The band's first album for Gama, 1973's 'Mirage', is a fan favorite to this day, but wasn't the smash the band had hoped for.
Returning to the studio in the summer of 1974, the band had already decided that their third album was to be a concept piece. A number of ideas were presented, but it was Ferguson who suggested the concept be inspired by a 1941 short novel written by American author Paul Gallico. The novel, entitled "The Snow Goose", had such imagery that the band took to it immediately. "The Snow Goose" is based around a teenage girl named Fritha and disabled artist Philip Rhayader and their nursing back to health of a snow goose who has been wounded by gunfire. Once healed, the goose follows Rhayader to the city of Dunkirk where he assists in the evacuation of British solders from the beaches of Northern France where a German army was advancing. With Rhayader killed during the evacuation, the snow goose returns to the marshes near Rhayader's home. While there, the goose circles above Fritha, who takes this action as symbolic of Rhayader's soul leaving this world.
Written primarily by Bardens and Latimer in just two weeks, the original intention was to have excerpts of the novel be read on the album, linking the musical pieces together. The publishers of the original novel declined the use of their material, so with Gallico's words not available, the decision was made to make the album completely instrumental. Released in April of 1975, 'The Snow Goose' (renamed 'Music Inspired By The Snow Goose' after a threatened lawsuit from Gallico) was an album that caught the eye of both the public and the press (in the UK, at least). Considered by many to be a masterpiece of symphonic progressive rock (due to the massive orchestration and arrangements which were composed and conducted by David Bedford), the album reached #22 on the UK album charts and #162 on the US Billboard Charts.
The finale of the band's 'The Snow Goose' tour was a sell out concert in October of 1975, at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with the London Symphony Orchestra (led by Bedford), finally bringing to life the vision the band had put on tape. An album that is, even though it is an instrumental one, one the band's most accessible releases, 'The Snow Goose' relies on textures rather than musical experimentation. With the band (with Latimer, who had stopped performing for years due to the treatment of myelofibrosis) poised to perform the album in its' entirety in the autumn of 2013 (for the first time since that 1975 show), it's safe to say that these textures (led by Latimer's guitar playing and Bardens' mastery of his keyboards) are what makes 'The Snow Goose' not only one of the most well known progressive releases of the 1970s but of the entire progressive genre.