Soft Machine were an English rock band from Canterbury, named after the book The Soft Machine by William S. Burroughs. They were one of the central bands in the Canterbury scene, and helped pioneer the progressive rock genre. Though they achieved little commercial success, they are considered byAllmusic to be "one of the more influential bands of their era, and certainly one of the most influential underground ones."
- 2 Legacy
- 3 Personnel
- 4 Discography
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
Soft Machine (billed as The Soft Machine up to 1969) were formed in mid-1966 by Robert Wyatt (drums, vocals), Kevin Ayers (bass, guitar, vocals), Daevid Allen (guitar) and Mike Ratledge (organ) plus, for the first few gigs only, American guitarist Larry Nowlin. Allen, Wyatt and future bassist Hugh Hopper had first played together in the Daevid Allen Trio in 1963, occasionally accompanied by Ratledge. Wyatt, Ayers and Hopper had been founding members of theWilde Flowers, later incarnations of which would include future members of another Canterbury band, Caravan.
This first Soft Machine line-up became involved in the early UK underground, featuring prominently at the UFO Club, and subsequently other London clubs like the Speakeasy and Middle Earth, and recorded the group's first single 'Love Makes Sweet Music', as well as some demo sessions that were released several years later. They also played in the Netherlands, Germany and on the French Riviera. During July and August 1967, the promoter and manager Giorgio Gomelsky booked shows all along the Côte d'Azur with the band's most famous early gig taking place in the village square of Saint-Tropez. This led to an invitation to perform at producer Eddie Barclay's trendy "Nuit Psychédélique(fr)", performing a forty minute rendition of "We Did It Again", singing the refrain over and over, achieving a Zen-like quality. This made them instant darlings of the Parisian "in" crowd, resulting in invitations to appear on leading television shows and at the Paris Biennale in October 1967. Upon their return from their sojourn in France, Allen (an Australian) was denied re-entry to the United Kingdom, so the group continued as a trio, while he returned to Paris to form Gong.
Sharing the same management team as Jimi Hendrix, the band were rewarded with a support slot on the Jimi Hendrix Experience's North America tour throughout 1968. Soft Machine's first album - a psychedelic rock/proto-prog classic - was recorded in New York in April at the end of the first leg. Back in London, eventually guitarist Andy Summers, later of The Police, joined the group, fresh from his stint with Dantalian's Chariot (previously Zoot Money's Big Roll Band). After a few weeks of rehearsals, the new quartet began a tour of the USA with some solo shows before reuniting with Hendrix for a final string of dates in August–September 1968. Summers, however, had in the meantime been fired at the insistence of Ayers, who departed amicably as well after the final tour date at the Hollywood Bowl, and for the remainder of 1968 Soft Machine were no more. Wyatt stayed in the US to record solo demos, while Ratledge returned to London and began composing in earnest. One of Wyatt's demos, Slow Walkin' Talk, allowed Wyatt to make use of his multi-instrumentalist skills (Hammond organ, piano, drums and vocals) and featured Jimi Hendrix on bass guitar.
In January 1969, in order to fulfil contractual obligations, Soft Machine reformed with former road manager and composer Hugh Hopper on bass added to Wyatt and Ratledge, and set about recording their second album, Volume Two, which launched a transition towards a purely instrumental sound resembling what would be later called jazz fusion. In May 1969, this lineup acted as the uncredited backup band on two tracks of Syd Barrett's solo debut album, The Madcap Laughs. The base trio was late in 1969 expanded to a septet with the addition of four horn players, though only saxophonist Elton Dean remained beyond a few months, the resulting Soft Machine quartet (Wyatt, Hopper, Ratledge and Dean) running through Third (1970) and Fourth (1971), with various guests, mostly jazz players (Lyn Dobson, Nick Evans, Mark Charig, Jimmy Hastings, Roy Babbington, Rab Spall). Fourth was the first of their fully instrumental albums, and the last one featuring Wyatt.
Their propensity for building extended suites from regular sized compositions, both live and in the studio (already in the Ayers suite in their first album), reaches its maximum in the 1970 album Third, unusual for its time in each of the four sides featuring one suite. Third was also unusual for remaining in print for more than ten years in the United States, and is the best-selling Soft Machine recording.
This period saw them gaining unprecedented acclaim across Europe, and they made history by becoming the first 'rock band' invited to play at London's Proms in August 1970, a show which was broadcast live and later appeared as a live album.
After differences over the group's musical direction, Wyatt left (or was fired from) the band in August 1971 and formed Matching Mole (a pun on machine molle, French for soft machine. Also said at the time to have been taken from some stage lighting equipment "Matching Mole".). He was briefly replaced by Australian drummer Phil Howard, but further musical disagreements led to Howard's dismissal after the 1971 recording of the first LP side of Fifth (1972) and, some months later, to Dean's departure. They were replaced respectively by John Marshall (drums) and, for the recording of Six (1973), Karl Jenkins(reeds, keyboards), both former members of Ian Carr's Nucleus, and The Softs' sound developed even more towards jazz fusion.
In 1973, after the release of Six, Hopper left and was replaced by Roy Babbington, another former Nucleus member, who had already contributed with double bass on Fourth and Fifth and took up (6-string)electric bass successfully, while Karl Jenkins progressively took over the role of band-leader and main composer. After they released Seven (1973) without additional musicians, the band switched record labels from Columbia to Harvest. On their 1975 album Bundles, a significant musical change occurred with fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth adding guitar as a very prominent melody instrument to the band's sound, sometimes reminiscent of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, setting the album apart from previous Soft Machine releases, which had rarely featured guitars. On the last official studio albumSofts (1976), he was replaced by John Etheridge. Ratledge, the last remaining original member of the band, had left during the early stages of recording. Other musicians in the band during the later period were bassists Percy Jones (of Brand X) and Steve Cook, saxophonists Alan Wakeman and Ray Warleigh, and violinist Ric Sanders. Their 1977 performances and record (titled Alive and Well, ironically) were among the last for Soft Machine as a working band. The Soft Machine name was used for the 1981 record Land of Cockayne (with Jack Bruce and, again, Allan Holdsworth, plus Ray Warleigh and Dick Morrissey on saxes and John Taylor on electric piano), and for a final series of dates at London's Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in the summer of 1984, featuring Jenkins and Marshall leading an ad hoc lineup of Etheridge, Warleigh, pianist Dave MacRae and bassist Paul Carmichael.
Since 1988, a wealth of live recordings of Soft Machine have been issued on CD, with recording quality ranging from poor to excellent. In 2002, four former Soft Machine members - Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean, John Marshall and Allan Holdsworth - toured and recorded under the name 'Soft Works' (initially called 'Soft Ware', debuting at the 2002 Progman Cometh Festival).
From late 2004 onwards, with John Etheridge replacing Holdsworth, they toured and recorded as Soft Machine Legacy. They released three albums: Live in Zaandam (2005), the studio album Soft Machine Legacy (2006) and Live at the New Morning (2006). Although Elton Dean died in February 2006, the band has continued with British saxophonist and flautist Theo Travis (formerly of Gong andThe Tangent).
In December 2006, the new line-up recorded the album Steam in Jon Hiseman's studio, released by Moonjune Records in August 2007 before a European tour in autumn. In 2008 Hopper was sidelined by leukemia and the band continued live performances with Fred Baker. Following Hopper's death in 2009, the band announced that they would continue with Babbington once again stepping into the role formerly held by Hopper. In February 2013, founding Soft Machine bassist Kevin Ayers died, aged 68.
In 2013 the band released new studio album Burden of Proof. In an early 2013 interview, Travis said that, "Legally we could actually be called Soft Machine but for various reasons it was decided to be one step removed."
- 1968: The Soft Machine
- 1969: Volume Two
- 1970: Third
- 1971: Fourth
- 1972: Fifth
- 1973: Six
- 1973: Seven
- 1975: Bundles
- 1976: Softs
- 1981: Land of Cockayne
- 1972: Rock Generation Vol. 7 - one side only, 1967 demo recordings.
- 1972: Rock Generation Vol. 8 - one side only, 1967 demo recordings; This and the preceding entry were combined on subsequent releases, under such titles as Faces & Places Vol.7 (BYG Records, 1972), At The Beginning (Charly Records, 1976), Jet Propelled Photographs (Picadilly Records, 1980 [LP], Charly 2003 [CD]), and others.
- 1977: Triple Echo - 3 LP compilation, includes their first single and tracks from all albums up to this date (except Third) plus the previously unreleased septet version of "Esther's Nose Job" and "Moon in June" (with completely reworked "here at the BBC" lyrics) - both re-released in 1990 on The Peel Sessions.
- 1978: Alive & Well: Recorded in Paris - recorded 6~9 July 1977 at the Theatre Le Palace, Montmartre, Paris; reissued in 2010 in a 2-CD edition; CD 1 matches the original 1978 release; CD 2 with tracks from 7-8–9 July 1977, plus the A & B side of the April 1978 single "Soft Space Part One" (Edited version) / "Soft Space Part Two" (Disco version).
- 1988: Live At The Proms 1970 - recorded 17 September 1970; in this version, "Esther's Nose Job" is a single continuous track, and "Out-Bloody-Rageous" appears in its 11:54 minutes full-length.
- 1988: Turns On: Paradiso - recorded 29 March 1969 (re-released in 1994/95 by Voiceprint/Blueprint as Live at the Paradiso).
- 1990: The Untouchable - compilation from Bundles, Softs, and Alive and Well.
- 1990: The Peel Sessions - BBC recordings, recorded 10 June 1969, 10 November 1969, 4 May 1970, 15 December 1970, 15 November 1971 (all these tracks are included in the 2003 HUX issues BBC Radio '67-'71 and BBC Radio '71-'74 ).
- 1991: As If... - Curious (probably unathorized) compilation with 6 Ratledge/Hopper compositions ranging from 1970 (Third) to 1973 (Six) in sparse order.
- 1993: BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert 1971 - recorded 11 March 1971; also issued as Soft Machine & Heavy Friends (HUX 2005).
- 1994: BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert 1972 - recorded 20 July 1972; also issued as Softstage (HUX 2005).
- 1994: Rubber Riff - library music originally recorded for De Wolfe Music in 1976 under Karl Jenkins' name; re-issued on CD as a Soft Machine title by Blueprint.
- 1994-95: Live at the Paradiso - recorded 29 March 1969 (same as the 1988 issue, published by Voiceprint/Blueprint).
- 1995: Live in France - recorded 2 May 1972; also issued as Live in Paris (2004); it's one of Elton Dean's last concerts with Soft Machine.
- 1995: The Best of Soft Machine - The Harvest Years' - Anthology 1975-1978; includes tracks from Bundles (1975) to Alive & Well (1978).
- 1996: Spaced - recorded May/July 1969 for a Broadway Art Programme; tracks of this issue were edited and shortened for publication; for the sake of precision, the Art Programme was finally broadcast by BBC as a short television excerpt, with Pink Floyd backing tracks!
- 1998: Live 1970 (Also known as Live in Europe 1970) - Live; tracks 1 & 2 recorded on 13 February 1970 at Swansea (or 14 at the London School of Economics); tracks 3-11 also in Live At The Proms; here, with the edited version of "Out-Bloody-Rageous" from 11:54 to 8:46 minutes, and "Esther's Nose Job" split in 7 contiguous tracks
- 1998: Virtually - Live, recorded 23 March 1971 at the Gondel Filmkunsttheater for the Radio Bremen, Bremen.
- 2000: Noisette - Live, recorded 4 January 1970 at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon (it does not include "Facelift", for copyright issues, because it is the first part of the official version published in Third, 1970).
- 2001: Turns On vol. 1 - Includes tracks from the Middle Earth and Speakeasy Clubs in London, recorded in 1967, including a low-quality remaster of "She's Gone" (2:37) previously available only on Triple Echo (1977).
- 2001: Turns On vol. 2 - Includes tracks from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, 10 December 1967, the Middle Earth Club, 10 November 1967 and from the Col Ballroom, Davenport, Iowa, 11 August 1968.
- 2001: Man In A Deaf Corner - Anthology 1963-1970; CD1 mainly with live pieces from 1963 to circa 1967, with tracks 7-8-9 also in Turns On vol. 1, resp. tr. 2-1-16; CD2 with tracks 1-10 recorded at the Paradiso, 29 March 1969 also in Live at the Paradiso (circa 32 min. out of 40); tracks 11-12 ("Facelift" and "Moon In June" - short versions) also in Live 1970, resp. tr. 1-2; tracks 13-16 recorded at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon on 26 April 1970 also in Facelift, resp. tr. 4-7; track 17 is a Jakko Jakszyk rendition of "As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still" in conjunction with the two short tracks "That Still And Perfect Summer " and "Astral Projection In Pinner " to appear in his future album The Bruised Romantic Glee Club (Iceni 2006).
- 2002: Backwards - Live, tracks 1-3 recorded on May 1971 in London, tracks 4-5 recorded on Nov. 1969 in Paris; track 6 is a 20 min. demo of "Moon In June", at an late stage of development, recorded partly in Nov. 1968 in USA, and partly in mid 1969 in England.
- 2002: Facelift - Live, recorded 26 April 1970 at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, UK (audience recording).
- 2003: BBC Radio 1967-1971 - recorded 5 December 1967, 10 June 1969, 10 November 1969, 4 May 1970, 15 December 1970, 1 June 1971.
- 2003: BBC Radio 1971-1974 - recorded 15 November 1971, 11 July 1972, 30 October 1973.
- 2004: Live in Paris - Live, recorded 2 May 1972 (same as Live in France, 1995).
- 2004: Somewhere In Soho - Live, recorded 20–25 April 1970 at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club (re-released in 2011 on LP as At The Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club).
- 2005: Breda Reactor - Live, recorded 31 January 1970 in Het Turfschip, Breda, Netherlands (audience recording, re-released in 2012 on LP).
- 2005: Soft Machine & Heavy Friends - recorded 11 March 1971; same as BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert 1971.
- 2005: Softstage - recorded 20 July 1972; same as BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert 1972.
- 2005: Out-Bloody-Rageous - Official anthology 1967-1973, including their first 1967 single "Loves Makes Sweet Music" / "Feelin' Reelin' Squeelin'".
- 2005: Orange Skin Food - A 2-CD Live compilation of previously released live recordings; tracks from Somewhere In Soho, recorded 20–25 April 1971, Facelift, recorded 26 April 1970 and the entire Live In Europe 1970, recorded 13 or 14 February 1970 and 13 August 1970 at the Proms.
- 2005: British Tour '75 - Live, recorded on 11 October 1975 at the Nottingham University.
- 2006: Floating World Live - Live, recorded on 29 January 1975 at the Radio Bremen's Studio in Bremen.
- 2006: Grides - Live; the CD was recorded on 25 October 1970 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; the DVD was filmed on 23 March 1971 at the Radio Bremen's TV Studio in Bremen (and broadcast on 27 March 1971), and is a different concert than the one included in "Virtually", even if recorded on the same day.
- 2006: Middle Earth Masters - Live, recorded on 16 September 1967 and May 1968.
- 2008: Drop - with Phil Howard; Live, recorded during the German tour of Autumn 1971; tracks 1-7 from the concert in Berlin, 7 November 1971, tracks 8-10 from the concert in Donaueschingen, 17 October 1971.
- 2009: Live at Henie Onstad Art Centre - recorded on 28 February 1971.
- 2010: NDR Jazz Workshop, Hamburg, Germany, May 17, 1973 (CD + DVD) - Live, recorded 17 May 1973 in Hamburg, Germany; the DVD is the footage of the CD concert, though track-lists differ slightly.
- 2010: Original Album Classics (includes the whole Third, Fourth, Fifth, Six and Seven in the 2007 edition).
- 2011: At The Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club - recorded 20–25 April 1970, vinyl re-release of Somewhere In Soho; 2 LP.
- 2012: Live at Het Turfschip, Netherlands, 31 January 1970, (vinyl re-release of Breda Reactor); 2 LP.
- 2013: 68 - credited to Robert Wyatt, it nonetheless contains an 18 minutes early version of "Rivmic Melodies" (to appear in the 1969 album Volume 2) and a 20 minutes early version of "Moon in June" (to appear in the 1970 album Third), both recorded in US in 1968, after Soft Machine dissolution, and just before the new formation, with Hopper in place of Ayers.