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Peter Bardens: Camel’s Keyboard Wizard

Peter Bardens came to the attention of record buyers when he joined Camel, but before this he’d already built a formidable reputation as a keyboard player.

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Camel Peter Bardens

Peter Bardens first came to the attention of record buyers when he joined Camel in 1972 to record their self-titled debut album that came out in early 1973, but well before this Peter had already built a formidable reputation as a keyboard player.

Bardens’s first band was The Cheynes, which happened to be Mick Fleetwood’s first band as well; it was Peter that enrolled Mick into the band. They recorded three singles for EMI’s Columbia label starting in 1963. Their third 45 was ‘Down and Out’ backed by ‘Stop Running Around’ that was produced by Glyn Johns and Bill Wyman, with the Rolling Stones bass player co writing the B-side as well as adding his ‘bottom end’ to the recording.

Shortly after their third single failed to sell the Cheynes broke up and Bardens joined Van Morrison’s band Them. In 1964 he had already played in the studio with Van the Man on ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, after the rest of the Them were not deemed good enough to record. Decca brought in Bardens to play organ and Jimmy Page to play guitar. A wise move as the single peaked at No.10 in the UK early in 1965 and scrapped into the American Hot 100 at No.93.

Peter Bardens Shotgun ExpressAfter Them, he formed Peter B’s Looners, which eventually became Shotgun Express, a band that played soul music and featured Rod Stewart, Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood; following Green and Fleetwood’s departure they were joined by singer Beryl Marsden and the trio made a couple of singles for Columbia.

After Shotgun Express broke up Bardens briefly joined The Love affair and the Mike Cotton Sound and by 1970 he formed a band called The Village and recorded an album. It was called, The Answer and includes Steve Ellis, Love Affair’s singer on the amazing title track, and may or may not include Peter Green, no one is entirely certain. He followed this in 1971 with an eponymous album that was released in America as Write My Name in the Dust

When Bardens joined Camel it was his keyboard wizardry that made them a force to be reckoned with. After their 1973 debut album they followed it with Mirage, whose ‘The White Rider suite’ (based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings) ushers in a new conceptual approach and brings them a certain cachet on the West Coast of America.

Their third album, The Snow Goose was inspired by Paul Gallico’s novel of the same name and saw Camel working with The London Symphony Orchestra for the first time: David Bedford conducts and arranges the superb pieces penned by Latimer and Bardens.

Pulling off such a feat on the back of an instrumental album won them huge kudos and Bardens’s brilliance in control of standard keys as well as the ARP Odyssey, Mini moog and pipe organ added extra flamboyance to their tightly arranged live shows.

In 1976 Moonmadness found them returning to a vocal song approach and was based on a concept describing each member of the group. The closing cut, ‘Luna Sea’, achieved legendary status for it’s terminal groove outro where a howling wind effect brings the disc to a superb conclusion. Rain Dances came along in 1977 and in 1978 Breathless, but it was Bardens last album with Camel and he quit.

Following his exit from Camel, Bardens joined Van Morrison’s band, recorded Wavelength and played live with the singer on the tour in support of the album. He then worked with Bobby Tench, joined the band, Keats two years later before working on his own electronic albums during the remainder of the 1980s, having some airplay success with the song, ‘In Dreams’, before recording the 1988 album he called Speed of Light that featured Mick Fleetwood.

Bardens released more solo albums in the 1990s but in the summer of 2001 he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and, on 22 January 2002, he died at the age of 56.

Follow the Camel Digging Deeper playlist to hear more of Barden’s influential work.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. almir mury marques

    January 22, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    É UMAS DAS BANDAS DE ROCK PROGRESSÍVO QUE EU MAIS GOSTO E OUÇO ATÉ HOJE

    • uDiscover

      January 23, 2015 at 8:24 am

      We agree!

  2. Fran

    January 23, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Only saw him play once live 1977 Blackburn. I have the poster on my wall. Sadly missed. His music and talent live on.

  3. Dean

    April 8, 2015 at 8:09 pm

    I was turned on to “The Snow Goose” by the incredibly beautiful and sharply witted Anne Corr during a tour of duty in Londonderry, Northern Ireland in 1976. Many years later I purchased the CD of that album. It has never left my collection. Latimer and Bardens outdid themselves.

  4. Roy Clay

    June 7, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    Err this article is a contradiction in terms at the start ! “Pete came to the attention of the record buying public when he joined Camel?” Camel at the start were struggling to be of any attention to the record buying public hence being dropped by MCA and picked up by the new DERAM gama imprint !!! Pete already had several solo albums and indeed Camel’s first shows were Pete’s own solo commitments in Ireland. Pete was already on the recordings of Shotgun Express, The Cheynes etc.. as pointed out in the article as well as his early solo material, so he was already known to the record buying public as well as his contempories i.e. Rod Stewart, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood etc… Yes he established himself as a force to be reckoned with in Camel. However Pete’s skill was in Melody, and in particular Hammond Organ, Electric Piano etc.. When it came to Synths he struggled outside of the studio. I say this as a former friend of his. But even players such as Kit Watkins never looked down at Pete’s his technical ability they heard the feel – the musical understanding. Pete would be the first to admit that he did not practise enough. In that regard he was lazy but writing and melody came to him easy, always. I am one of the few lucky friends to have a cassette copy of his unreleased Black Elk album. He had loads of unreleased music. At his Benefit concert at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills to raise funds for his Cancer Treatment – the stars turned out Mick Fleetwood, Joe Walsh, Ben Harper, to name but a few as well as a specially recorded intro by Whoopi Goldberg. I miss Pete loads but lazy written acolades wind me up even more. So much information missing. What about Mirage, What about Pete Bardens Mirage?, what about Leo Sayer, what about The Moles, what about his reasons for leaving Camel? What about his Daughter? and his two sons? What about the two albums he is on with Peter Green. How about some specifics i.e. proer Discography etc? Shoddy is not the word for this.

  5. Glenn

    January 23, 2017 at 2:54 am

    Nice job, Roy. I have his mirage live cd which i enjoy quite a bit, especially the gal singer. Also have the in the skies lp with peter green, which i haven’t heard in a long time…so thanks for that reminder. As always, there is something i learn from your every post….cheers, Glenn

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