Camel is no rock dinosaur

Who would have thought that an obscure 1970s British progressive rock band would cause such a buzz in Israel four decades later? Then again, maybe Camel isn’t so obscure.

They have their own Israel-based tribute band, The Humps, and musicians as disparate as Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, Marillion’s Steve Rothery and new waver Rick Astley have cited them as a beloved influence, and this month they’ll be performing at the Zappa Shuni Amphitheater on May 25, 26 and 27 (the first two concerts are already sold out).

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Not bad for a band whose creative engine – Andrew Latimer – was near death’s door not so long ago. Guitarist Latimer formed Camel in the heady days of 1971, when British bands were expanding rock’s boundaries with excursions into classical, jazz, Baroque and incorporating long instrumental passages, experimental synthesizers and non-rock instruments like the flute.

Camel did that all and more, and their mid-1970s albums Mirage, The Snow Goose and Moonmadness became FM rock mainstays and established the band in progressive rock circles (i.e., they didn’t have any hit singles). Their complex sounds struck a chord in Israel as well, where the burgeoning kibbutz hippie scene latched onto the long solos, the dreamy music and the philosophical lyrics.

By the mid-’80s, Camel quietly faded away, but Latimer brought the band back a decade later and sporadically released new music amid occasional tours. Health issues, including a rare progressive blood disorder that involved a bone marrow transplant, curtailed Latimer’s activity for many years, but following a slow and full recovery, he’s revived Camel and has gone back on the road.

The band’s current tour includes a performance of 1976’s Moonmadness – their highest regarded moment – in its entirety. Expect old kibbutzniks, young prog-rock enthusiasts and discerning music aficionados of all ages to collectively find nirvana.