CAMEL played their first gig at Waltham Forest Technical College supporting Wishbone Ash on 4th Dec 1971.
By August of '72, CAMEL were signed to MCA Records. They quickly entered the studio to record their first self-titled album, 'CAMEL'. A collection of individual songs, chiefly from Latimer and Bardens, the album was greeted with muted success and MCA did not take an option for a second album. By now, the group had acquired management, Geoff Jukes and Max Hole of Gemini Artists (later to become GAMA Records), and moved to Decca Records where they would remain for 10 years. The push & pull relationship between Latimer and Bardens brought out the best from their compositional skills. They inspired one another with their individual solo work both in the studio and on stage. Energies were high. CAMEL gigged 9 months of the year and firmly established a reputation for their excellent live sound.
Their second album, 'MIRAGE', heightened their profile and the album sleeve attracted the unwanted attention of the USA branch of Camel cigarettes who demanded the band change the cover or face legal action. The USA record company quickly fashioned a new sleeve to avoid legal hassles. The original sleeve remained unchanged throughout the rest of the world as Geoff Jukes had already struck a deal with the European branch of the cigarette company to release tiny packets of cigarettes (5 cigarettes to a packet) using the CAMEL artwork, including track-listing. So enamoured were the executives in Europe, they visited the band in the studio trying to talk CAMEL into renaming the songs on 'MIRAGE' (e.g., "Twenty To The Pack"). They also wanted CAMEL to cover their amps with camel skins, allow advertisements and give away cigarettes at all the performances. The latter was successful as Jukes had struck a deal the band were never privy to. The band were getting 'belligerent' and a sarcastically amusing Peter Bardens suggested an album song-title of "Twenty Sticks Of Cancer".
Thus ended the association twixt the beast and the leaf.
In 1975, CAMEL 'concept' album came about. For 'MIRAGE' Latimer had written 'White Rider' (inspired by Tolkein's 'Lord Of The Rings') and Ferguson suggested doing a an entire album based on a book. All band members were fond of reading at the time so each set out in search of a good story. Bardens suggested 'Siddhartha' and 'Steppenwolf' but when Ferguson suggested Paul Gallico's 'THE SNOW GOOSE' the emotional appeal was strong. 'THE SNOW GOOSE' took fans by surprise. Entirely instrumental, 'THE SNOW GOOSE' earned them Melody Maker's "Brightest Hope" award and firmly established the band with a strong and loyal fan base. It also took author Paul Gallico by surprise. Gallico, a fierce opponent of cigarette smoking, hated the name of the band believing it to be connected to the cigarette company and threatened to sue if the title was not changed. Legalities observed, the album title had the additional words "inspired by" and the threat was subdued. This behind-the-scene drama had no effect on the appeal of the album. On 17th October 1975, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra, CAMEL performed 'THE SNOW GOOSE' at The Royal Albert Hall to a sold-out crowd.