What’s the difference between a Pink Floyd and a Camel gig? In a Pink Floyd gig, all the fans knows the name of each musician on the stage. In a Camel gig, all the musicians know the name of each fan!
This joke is a classic amongst Progressive Rock fans. And while the difference between Floyd and Camel is monumental in terms of commercial appeal, Camel remain a cult favorite with devoted followers all over the Proggosphere. Although their line-up changed quite a few times, it’s with albums like Music Inspired by The Snow Goose that they justified their iconic status as the best musician’s musicians around.
Following the relative success of their previous album Mirage, Camel decided to embark on that staple of prog rock, the concept album. When they were finished, they produced an instrumental one that holds together quite well. The Snow Goose is a beautiful work of prog grandeur, one that lovers of melodic prog should enjoy. It is an all instrumental release that is written around Paul Gallico’s short story of the same name. To many, this was Camel’s finest moment on record and I would be hard pressed to disagree. The music is superb, and it follows the mood of the book’s sections well.
The concept is based on Paul Gallico‘s novel “The Snow Goose”. Phillip Rhayader is a man who isolates himself due to his disfigurement (hunchback). His love of nature and his disfigurement leads him to live in a lighthouse in the great marsh isolated from society. He is a painter, and also constructs a bird sanctuary where he takes care of sick and injured animals. A little girl named Fritha brings to him an injured Canadian Snow Goose , which they both nurse back to health. They form a bond, and the girl returns to see Rhayader and the Snow Goose, which they name La Princess Perdue (Lost Princess in French). Fritha only returns when the Snow goose returns for winter. Rhayader feels lonliness and isolation which is well relayed in the music. Eventually, Rhayader goes off to help stranded British soldiers and The Snow Goose follows overhead; he rescues many soldiers at Dunkirk but is ultimately killed on one of his rescue missions. Stories are told of the bird that flew with him, and how it protected his dead body from any approaching ship. Fritha had stayed at the lighthouse to care for the sanctuary while Rhayader was gone, and The Snow Goose returned to signal to here Rhayader had passed. The lighthouse was destroyed by a German plane and the birds would never return.
Music Inspired by The Snow Goose proved to be Camel’s breakthrough album. Although critics had difficulties with the fact that it was an all-instrumental album, it reached a respectable 22nd position in the UK charts. Paul Gallico threatened to sue Camel for the use of the title and subsequent releases of the album therefore had the title ‘Music inspired by The Snow Goose’ instead of just ‘The Snow Goose’ as in the first edition. It seems Gallico, who was a non-smoker, wasn’t too happy with the implications a band name like Camel’s could have for his image!
The Snow Goose defined Camel’s style in two ways: musically and conceptually. Musically, in that on subsequent albums, Camel wrote shorter songs in the vein of the ones on The Snow Goose, with a very strong sense of melody, with solos that supported the melody instead of the other way round. Conceptually, in that the mostly instrumental concept album format would be used again several times in later years, in albums like Nude, Dust and Dreams and Harbour of Tears.
This very tasteful album, the one that introduced me to Progressive rock, is a most sublime slice of pretty sympho. May even bring a tear to your eye…Simply exceptional!