CAMEL 2015 SUMMER TOUR.
After the successful continuation of the Snowgoose tour, last March, got
Camel's management for the summer of 2015 made several requests for major
to do festivals. It is now legendary Night of thé among prog enthusiasts
Prog in Loreley, Germany, the Ramblin 'Man Festival in Maidstone (UK) and one
festival in Barcelona that was burdened by the curious name 'Be Prog My
When these three festivals were completed, the management decided
set up a tour so that the members of Camel spend the 20 intervening days
would not wear out in idleness and threatening inertia. That meant there were 6
gigs in England, 1 in Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands, and 2
in Poland. Especially the concerts in Switzerland and Poland aroused my interest
because I had never played in those countries. In fact, I was even more so
never been to Poland.
A three-week rehearsal period was scheduled. Despite the fact that 70%
the repertoire would be new - at least compared to the previous tour - seemed to me
that is a bit on the long side: with Kayak we usually rehearsed only three
days. That may be a bit small, but with band members who are rarely
available at the same time, there was nothing else.
Nothing is more annoying than playing repertoire without an audience
you actually already know. The result is usually not there after a certain moment
better on. Fortunately, Jason Hart (the other keyboard player) and I were able to play the first week
to skip. Andy Latimer (guitarist and leader of the group), drummer Denis Clement and bassist Colin Bass started to go through the set list thoroughly before we were flown in.
Then those two weeks turn out to be not that long: if you have the time, you can also take it and many snails can be supplied with salt and try things out.
In my case, flying should not be taken too literally: for my transport I depend on train, bus, car, or - when the water is concerned - the boat. As many already know, I long ago decided to leave the skies for what it was. That has pleased me so far.
The rehearsals took place in a kind of outbuilding of the famous Real World Studios in the town of Box near Bath, in the south of England. That seems like a lot, but as sophisticated and luxurious as this studio is, as simple, if not spartan, is the rehearsal space. It is some distance from the studio. After the meal, prepared by the French chef Jerome and usually served by the ever-cheerful Maggy, one goes down a garden path along the pond, through a gate, over a bridge, past a stream, and through a gate again. Then one sees a sort of shed there that seems to have had its best time. The practice room is located in this shed, which must be more solid than it looks at first sight because it can get quite windy - and the thing is still there.
In addition to our rehearsal space, there were also some studio-owned offices in this warehouse, as well as the private studio of engineer / producer Stephen Tayler, who once (in 1977) recorded in London's Trident studio Starlight Dancer and some other songs from that era. More than worth a Facebook photo!
Because the sleeping quarters of the Real World Studios were fully booked, we were accommodated in an estate a little further away. It houses the language institute of Marcus Evans. An exclusive and undoubtedly expensive club, of which, after some calculations, we could hardly imagine that it could be profitable. We have breakfast amid the roughly 15 teachers and students, for whom we must have been an attraction, in the late 16th century mansion, overlooking golf course, swimming pool, tennis court, and a huge garden. The twenty-minute walk to and from the shed through the beautiful surroundings of Box and Ditteridge was certainly not a punishment if it was dry.
After two weeks it was finally there: the sleeper coach (the tour bus with sleeping accommodation) came to pick us up. That was not so easy: the narrow streets of Box and the railway bridge made it impossible for the bus plus trailer (for the instruments) to get to the shed. So the stuff first had to be loaded into a truck, and then transferred to the trailer a few miles away before the journey could begin.
Before the bus left and the tour manager made sure that everyone was actually on board, the sleeping cabins were divided. An important moment. These sleeping cabins are located on the top floor of the bus, with fourteen in total: seven below and seven above. The overhead booths are preferred, as they still offer some opportunity to sit (almost) upright. Furthermore, it is a small size single bed with a storage booth, bedside lamp and sliding hatch that offers a view to the outside. The booths, where the only privacy consists of a sliding curtain that can be closed, are separated by an aisle where only the smaller fellows can walk upright without bumping their heads.
In itself there is reasonable sleep in such a tour bus, but there are hindering factors. First, the bumps, cranks and bumps of the moving vehicle. No matter how modern, sprung and comfortable a bus can be, and no matter how great the driver may be, when the road is bad, it stops. Usually the caravan leaves about two hours after the encore, so somewhere between 1 and 2 at night. The equipment is loaded by the men of the technology and hall staff, and after changing, the band is signing at the merchandise stand. Often you are tired enough or have enough alcohol in it to fall asleep despite the bumps and bumps, but not all European roads are equally merciful. In Poland and Belgium, in particular, there is still much room for improvement. The night after the concert in Poznan (on the way to Krakow) but also the ones after Zurich (towards Limbourg) were, at least by me, mainly watched. It is striking that often when you think you can sink into the arms of Morpheus, the bladder reports. And you can't ignore it, so you carefully lower yourself out of your bed, and then try not to get into someone else's cabin through the moving aisle, down the stairs, and into the toilet.
This toilet offers the user two options: sitting or standing. Sitting is the safest option recommended by the bus company. The driver does not warn about the corner. The moving toilet is not for people with a weakly developed sense of balance. The bus just keeps thundering while you try to hold your own at the pot, and try to make the best of it in terms of aiming. There is a sticker with a visual indication that you have to relieve yourself while sitting. However, that is no easy task with a chemical toilet: such a pot is limited in size and depth. You also never know for sure whether the driver has refilled the rinse water. No, with the bacteria fluttering around in such a tight housing and whatever else it was, the motto remains.
I have to say: you do get some skill at some point. But it never gets comfortable. In such a small booth, in such a bumpy and bendy bus, nasty fear images can also arise: what if the bus suddenly had to brake when you were there - or in fact, had an accident? What a miserable, unworthy way to say goodbye to this life! If my fans could see me now! Successful keyboard player died during toilet visit. I found out, when inquired among the other band members, that I was not the only one who walked around with these kind of gloomy visions.
Second inconvenience: snoring from fellow passengers. This can be a very disturbing element, because you are close to each other and if you can get a bad sleep, nothing is more annoying than the loud snoring of someone else who does not bother you at all. But I was lucky. All around me, I heard mainly soft, contented throbbing, and that is good to live with.
So we usually drove at night. I am large parts of Europe vertically, with my legs forward, of course, hurried through the dark. Seen a lot? Well no. Travel times were usually around 6 to 8 hours, so by the time you woke up (or went to sleep, depending on road quality), you had already arrived at your destination. There you were in a complete stranger parking lot, or parked near the building. When you looked out through the hatch, the view was always surprising but sometimes rather limited: a blank wall, a vague shopping street - the same became more beautiful.
The morning meal suffered from that. There were some basic necessities on the bus (tea, crackers), but a good breakfast is half the battle. Because everyone kept his or her own daily rhythm, and therefore had a different time to get up (Andy was from the early batch, sometimes to my dismay he was already downstairs at half past seven) you never knew if anyone was could go with you to find a tent nearby where they served breakfast. Some were already gone, others were already back, and I have eaten many a breakfast alone. It is a lonely existence, with fourteen in a bus.
A day hotel was often arranged: two rooms where everyone could go, showering, sleeping, internet, etcetera. But I hardly used it myself. The halls usually opened at 10am, and there too were showers and changing areas with a couch. Sometimes I preferred to rest on the bus (as long as it was nearby and at least not stood still in the burning sun).
The distances to be bridged between the performances were considerable. The first three shows in England (St. Alban's, Bath and York) were fairly close together, but after that the journey went via the ferry Dover-Calais to Barcelona in Spain. We arrived there about thirty hours later, just in time to have breakfast in the rustic and authentic looking (but only reconstructed a few decades ago) city square near the Olympic Village. The huge and luxurious hotel where we would spend the night was located in another suburb. With 32 degrees in the shade and after such a long journey, I usually don't feel like visiting the crowded center of Barcelona as a tourist. Colin and Denis went, but I stayed in and around the hotel after the sound check (a day before the festival) until we had to get out. Well, it is not very adventurous. Most guinea pigs experience more in their cage. And after all, it remains just work.
The next day was the festival, where I knew very few of the announced groups. That will probably stay that way, because the genre metalprog doesn't really fascinate me personally. What Camel did in between was a mystery to all of us.
Now I am not a fan of festivals anyway, so some prejudices are not foreign to me. I have left too many traumatic memories of aimless lugging through the mud, boredom, unrelenting noise from other bands, hopelessly delayed time schedules, untraceable or non-paying organizers, half-lukewarm meals and makeshift soundchecks. But it must be said: the Loreley festival in particular was fun to do. Especially because of the idyllic location then, as far as I am concerned.
The third festival, in England (Ramblin 'Man) excelled by a very strange programming. The organization had had the ill-fated idea to plan the performance of the Scorpions at the same time as Camel. That was theoretically fine, because there were several stages. But on closer inspection, the combination turned out to be less than convenient. With every softer passage we played - and that happens quite often at Camel - we heard the German hard rockers come through loud and clear from the south side. And if we heard them, it must have been a cacophony for the public. Andy announced the song 'Ice' as 'and now another song by the Scorpions'.
Unfortunately I will not be on the upcoming tour. It leads to Japan, which is a country I will probably never visit - unless a highway or direct train connection will be constructed across Siberia and over the Sea of Japan towards Tokyo. Via Alaska is also allowed, as far as I am concerned. Unfortunately? Certainly. Very sorry. Playing in Camel is a lot of fun. Not only because of the beautiful music and the extremely pleasant company. At Kayak I sometimes feel that playing is a side issue because of the many other things I have to do. At Camel I only have to play.
Hopefully I'll be back some other time. Then there will undoubtedly be another blog.
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pics: a.o. Wouter Bessels