Nothing Soft About This Machine

The Soft Machine

Taking their name from a William S. Burrough’s novel the English group Soft Machine denotes a point in rock history where groups begin to turn away from the pop and rock music that so dominated the 1960’s. One of Britians original psychedelic groups they were present at the birth of both the progressive rock and jazz- rock (fusion) movements. By the end of the 1970’s the excesses associated with those movements would in turn create a musical counter-point to those excesses…. Punk.

They were to become the central foundation of the British progressive rock movement, the so called “Canterbury Scene”; a scene that also included groups like National Health, Matching Mole, Gong, and Caravan; and would eventually include the solo careers of Soft Machine founders Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers.

“Soft Machine were never a commercial enterprise and indeed still remain unknown even to many listeners who came of age during the late ’60s, when the group was at its peak.”

The roots of the group lay with the mid 60’s Canterbury group Wilde Flowers, where Robert Wyatt both sang and drummed. Future Softies Kevin Ayers and Hugh Hopper would also pass through the group. Originally Wilde Flowers played conventional pop and soul covers but slowly their original material took a turn towards improvised jazz. Soft Machine was formed in 1966, the original lineup was Wyatt (drums), bassist/singer Ayers, keyboardist Mike Ratledge and Australian guitarist Daevid Allen.

WithPink Floyd and Tomorrow the original Soft Machine lineup was Britians original underground psychedelic bands. Early recordings were pop oriented but showed a flair for surreal wordplay and complex instrumental interplay.

Visa issues, following a performance in France, forced the departure of Allen and later in 1968 the trio recorded their first album, The Soft Machine . 1968 also found them touring America in support of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Following the tour they were almost better known in the States then they were at home; to the point where their debut album was initially only released in the U.S. The grueling tour took a toll on the group with Ayers leaving by the end of the year and being replaced by former road manager and composer Hugh Hopper on bass.

Released in 1969 their second album, Volume Two shows the group turning towards extended jazz compositions, submerging any pop elements, and relying less on lyrics and vocals. 1970’s Third moved the group even further along in that direction, expanding to a seven piece group with the addition of a horn section, and dispensing with both vocals and conventional rock songs. Released as a double album with one song per side it

“is considered a landmark by both progressive rock and jazz-rock aficionados, though it was too oblique for many rock listeners.”

Cost forced the group to scale back to a quartet for 1971’s Fourth, retaining only Elton Dean on sax. By the end of 1971 Wyatt had left, briefly leading Matching Mole and then beginning a long solo career. While Ratledge and Hopper would keep the group going with other musicians

“Wyatt’s humor, humanism, and soulful raspy vocals could not be replaced.”

Hopper left in 1973 and the last original member, Ratledge, was gone by 1976. Until the 1990’s other lineups continued to play under the Soft Machine name, but they were Soft Machine in name only.

Peel Sessions, recorded between 1969 and 1971 finds the group in fine form, playing with both assurance and confidence and includes full versions of two of Third‘s four songs (“Moon In June” and “Facelift”).

Live In France contains full versions of the other two of Third‘s four songs, “Slightly All The Time” and “Out-Bloody-Rageous.”

With such an extensive catalog it might be difficult deciding which one(s) to buy. If you can only buy one make it 1970’s Third. I bought it when it first came out and after listening to it recently concluded that I couldn’t clean it up enough to post. (so much for thirty-seven year old vinyl). I would have liked to post it as it contains the definitive versions of “Moon In June”, “Facelift”, “Slightly All The Time” and “Out-Bloody-Rageous.” Third remained in print for more than ten years in the United States, and is the groups best-selling recording.

Concerning the groups catalog; most of it consists of live recordings, but the sound quality these releases may vary from great to abysmal. I’ve also read that the sound quality of the Cuneiform Records releases are generally better than the Voiceprint releases, so before you buy do your homework first.

SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY

Singles

“Love Makes Sweet Music”/Feelin’, Reelin’, Squeelin’ mono (Polydor UK, 1968)

Joy Of A Toy”/”Why Are We Sleeping” mono (ABC Probe USA, 1968)

“Soft Space Parts 1 & 2” (Harvest UK, 1978)

Albums

The Soft Machine (ABC/Probe), 1968

Volume Two (ABC/Probe), 1969

Third (Columbia), 1970

Fourth (Columbia), 1971

Rock Generation Vol. 7 (BYG), 1972

Rock Generation Vol. 8 (BYG), 1972

Five (Columbia), 1972

Six (Columbia), 1973

Seven (Columbia), 1973

Bundles (Harvest), 1975

Softs (Harvest), 1976

Rubber Riff (Recorded 1976) (Blueprint), 2001

At the Beginning (Rock Generation) also issued as Jet-Propelled Photographs (Charly), 1976

Triple Echo (3 record compilation, 1967-1976) (Harvest), 1977

Alive & Well: Recorded in Paris (Harvest), 1978

Land of Cockayne (EMI), 1981

Live at the Proms 1970 (Reckless), 1988

The Peel Sessions (recorded 1969-1971) (Strange Fruit), 1991

BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert 1971 (Windsong), 1993; also issued as Soft Machine & Heavy Friends (Hux), 2005

BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert 1972 (Windsong), 1994; also issued as Softstage (Hux), 2005

Live at the Paradiso 1969 (Voiceprint, 1995)

Live In France (recorded 1972; also issued as Live in Paris ) (One Way), 1995

Spaced (recorded 1969) (Cuneiform), 1996

Virtually (recorded 1971) (Cuneiform), 1998

Noisette (recorded 1970) (Cuneiform), 2000

Backwards (recorded 1968-1970) (Cuneiform), 2002

Facelift (recorded 1970) (Voiceprint), 2002

BBC Radio 1967-1971 (Hux), 2003

BBC Radio 1971-1974 (Hux), 2003

Somewhere In Soho (recorded 1970) (Voiceprint), 2004

Breda Reactor (recorded 1970) (Voiceprint), 2005

Out-Bloody-Rageous (compilation, 1967-1973) (Sony), 2005

Floating World Live (recorded 1975) (MoonJune Records), 2006

Grides (CD/DVD Recorded 1970) (Cuneiform Records), 2006

Middle Earth Masters (Recorded 1967) (Cuneiform Records), 2006

The Peel Sessions (Strange Fruit), 1991

Soft Machine - Peel Sessions

Disc 1

Playing Time: 49 minutes 12 seconds

1. Moon In June (13:05)

2. Esther’s Nose Job (11:59)

3. Mousetrap > Noisette > Backwards > Mousetrap Reprise (8:48)

4. Slightly All The Time > Out-Bloody-Rageous > Eamonn Andrews (15:20)

Peel Sessions – Disc 1

Disc 2

Playing Time: 47 minutes 4 seconds

1. Facelift (11:58)

2. Virtually (9:58)

3. Neo Caliban Grides (7:34)

4. Drop (6:59)

5. As If (7:50)

6. Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening (2:45)

Peel Sessions – Disc 2

Buy Peel Sessions from Amazon.com

Live In France (One Way), 1995

(also issued as Live in Paris)

Soft Machine - Live in France

Disc 1

Playing Time: 47 minutes 10 seconds

1. Plain Tiffs (3:31)

2. All White (6:23)

3. Slightly All The Time (13:10)

4. Drop (7:42)

5. M.C. (2:59)

6. Out-Bloody-Rageous (13:25)

Live in France – Disc 1

Disc 2

Playing Time: 58 minutes 28 seconds

1. Facelift (17:52)

2. And Sevens (8:55)

3. As If (8:29)

4. Lbo (6:07)

5. Pigling Bland (6:05)

6. At Sixes (11:00)

Live in France – Disc 2 Part 1 Live in France – Disc 2 Part 2

Buy Live in France from Amazon.com

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