Sopwith Camel’s first gig was with The Charlatans in an old firehouse on Sacramento St. in San Francisco in February 1966. The opening act was a black Labrador named Pot Pan. The “Camel” was the first of the, “San Francisco Psychedelic Ballroom Bands” to get a hit and go on the road later in 1966, playing large concerts with major acts including: The Who, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, The Animals The Velvet Underground and the Rolling Stones. They also appeared on numerous TV shows with other acts such as: Marvin Gaye, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and The Stone Poneys (Linda Ronstadt). Sopwith Camel regarded their hit “Hello Hello” as a greeting from the San Francisco scene from whence they came.
In ’66 when they did a tour of big college concerts with The Lovin’ Spoonful. The promoters still thought New York was where the all the cool music came from and would introduce the Camel with, “And now di–rect — from– New–York–City—Sopwith Camel!! When “The Camel” took the stage one of them would always say: You know, actually we’re from San Francisco, Hello! The audiences would then erupt with deafening applause. The band’s first album “Sopwith Camel” was released in early 1967 on Kama Sutra Records. It featured the first great op-art cover by Victor Moscoso plus the first infra-red band photo on the back by Jim Marshall. A second album “The Miraculous Hump Returns from the Moon” came out on Reprise in 1974, with a cover by Satty and the earliest known video-feedback band photo.
The band, still from San Francisco features three original members: Martin Beard (bass & vocals), Nandi Devam; the artist formerly known as Terry MacNeil (guitar, keyboards & vocals) and Peter Kraemer (lead vocals, lyrics, flute and saxophone). Mike McKevitt (lead guitar, sitar & vocals) and Bruce Slesinger, (drums) have been with Sopwith Camel since 2009.
The band’s repertoire includes songs from six decades! One song “Counting” was on the original 1966 demos that got a record deal with Kama Sutra, but was not on the album. Some of the songs are new and others are “works in progress”. For those who are familiar with the band’s records, songs to be expected are: “Fazon”,” Coke Suede and Waterbeds”, “Frantic Desolation”, “Dancing Wizard”, “Orange Peel”, and occasionally even “Hello Hello”.
Peter Kraemer: 2012
“Describing Sopwith Camel”
This version of Sopwith Camel has power and punch. Describing music requires the use of many adjectives and can be an inaccurate art. The music is unique and at times hard rock n’ roll, it is very danceable, full of energy, packed with wonderful vignettes about odd characters and incisive social commentaries. There are moments of subtle exotica, Oriental fantasias in space-time: some very modern electro-instrumentation as Kraemer plays his many saxophones through synthesizers while the rest of the group ventures forth with superb, subtle and strong skill.
Beyond all this; the important thing is that Sopwith Camel has returned. This band is vital; they play with a fiery zeal and have something to say about the current state of affairs in America (“A Thousand Mansions” for example). So, I suggest you do yourselves a musical favor and discover a Bay Area treasure reborn, learn about the band and come out to support them when they play. And while you are there don’t forget to stop by and say, “Hello” at least once, maybe thrice.
Keith Keller: 2012