1978-1983 (as Soft Head/p)
1999-2002 (as Soft Ware)
2002-2004 (as Soft Works)
2004-2015 (as Soft Machine Legacy),
|Labels||ABC Probe, Columbia, Harvest, EMI, Major League Productions (MLP)|
|The Wilde Flowers, Caravan, Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, Matching Mole, Nucleus, Gong, Isotope, Adiemus, Soft Heap, Soft Head, Soft Bounds, The Police, The Keith Tippett Group|
Soft Machine are an English rock and jazz 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. Though they achieved little commercial success, they are widely considered by critics to have been very influential in rock music, with AllMusic describing them as "one of the more influential bands of their era, and certainly one of the most influential underground ones".
Soft Machine (billed as The Soft Machine up to 1969 or 1970) 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 The Wilde 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 Club and Middle Earth. Their first single, 'Love Makes Sweet Music' (recorded 5 February 1967, produced by Chas Chandler), was released on Polydor Records in February, backed with 'Feelin' Reelin' Squeelin' (January 1967, produced by Kim Fowley--rumoured to have Jimi Hendrix, who was recording "Hey Joe" in the same studio, playing rhythm guitar). In April 1967 they recorded seven demo songs with producer Giorgio Gomelsky in De Lane Lea Studios that remained unreleased until 1971 in a dispute over studio costs. They also played in the Netherlands, Germany and on the French Riviera. During July and August 1967, Gomelsky booked shows all along the Cte 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 Psyche;de;lique[fr]", performing a forty-minute rendering of "We Did It Again", singing the refrain over and over, achieving a trance-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, guitarist Andy Summers, later of The Police, joined the group following the breakup of 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 himself also departed amicably after the final tour date at the Hollywood Bowl in mid-September, 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 Hendrix on bass guitar.
In December 1968, in order to fulfill contractual obligations, Soft Machine re-formed 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 line-up acted as the uncredited backing band on two tracks of Syd Barrett's solo debut album, The Madcap Laughs. The base trio was, later 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), reached its apogee in the 1970 album Third, unusual for its time with each of the four sides featuring one suite. Third was also unusual for remaining in print for more than ten years in the US, 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 on national TV 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. This line-up toured extensively in Europe during the end of 1971 (attested by the "Drop" 2008 release) and attended the recording of their next album, but further musical disagreements led to Howard's dismissal after the recording of the first LP side of Fifth before the end of 1971 and, some months later, in 1972, to Dean's departure. They were replaced respectively in 1971 by John Marshall (drums) and in 1972 by Karl Jenkins (reeds, keyboards), both former members of Ian Carr's Nucleus, for the recording of Six (1973), and the band's 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 album Softs (1976), Holdsworth 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, their very last performance (until the 1984 reformation) being the only Soft Machine concert of 1978.[nb 1]
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[nb 2], featuring Jenkins and Marshall leading an ad hoc lineup of Etheridge, Warleigh, pianist Dave MacRae and bassist Paul Carmichael.
Soft Machine having been a much loved band since their inception in the late 1960s and having always been at the cutting edge of many music genres (including the early progressive and psychedelic rock scene and then the burgeoning jazz rock and fusion scene), it was inevitable that former Soft Machine members would reconvene over the years, to continue on their legacy.
The first such conception in September 1999 was Soft Ware which featured Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Marshall and long-time friend Keith Tippett. This line-up would only remain together briefly. Then in 2002, another former Soft Machine member, Allan Holdsworth, joins the remaining three members of Soft Ware who would rename themselves Soft Works in June 2002. They had changed their name to avoid confusion with Peter Mergener's band Software. As Soft Works, they made their world live debut on 17 August 2002 at the Progman Cometh Festival (at the Moore Theater in Seattle, Washington), released (on 29 July 2003) their only (studio) album, Abracadabra, consisting of all new material recorded at the Eastcote Studios in London on 5-7 June 2002, and toured Japan in August 2003, Italy in January-February 2004 and Mexico in March 2004.
In October 2004, a new variant of Soft Works, with John Etheridge permanently replacing Holdsworth, took the name of Soft Machine Legacy and performed their first two gigs (two Festival shows on 9 October in Turkey & 15 October in Czech Republic), Liam Genockey temporarily replacing John Marshall who had ligament problems (the first Soft Machine Legacy line-up being consequently: Elton Dean, John Etheridge, Hugh Hopper and Liam Genockey). Later on, Soft Machine Legacy released three albums: Live in Zaandam (2005), the studio album Soft Machine Legacy (2006) recorded in September 2005 and featuring fresh material and the double CD Live at the New Morning (2006). After Elton Dean died in February 2006, the band continued with British saxophonist and flautist Theo Travis, formerly of Gong and The Tangent.
In December 2006, the new Legacy line-up recorded the album Steam in Jon Hiseman's studio. Steam was eventually 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.
On 4 October 2010, Soft Machine Legacy released their fifth album, a 58-minute new live album entitled Live Adventures recorded live on 22 October 2009 in Austria and Germany during a European tour.
In February 2013, founding Soft Machine bassist Kevin Ayers died, aged 68. On 13 March 2015, following a short battle with cancer, Ayers' fellow Soft Machine co-founder Daevid Allen died, aged 77.
On 18 March 2013, the Legacy band released a new studio album, titled Burden of Proof. In an early 2013 interview, Travis stated that, "legally we could actually be called Soft Machine but for various reasons it was decided to be one step removed."
On 11 February 2015, Soft Machine Legacy gave one show at The Y Theatre, Leicester, UK.
Later on, Soft Machine Legacy performed a few shows in Spring and Summer 2015.[nb 4]
In September and October 2015, it was announced that the band Soft Machine Legacy (made of guitarist John Etheridge, drummer John Marshall, bass player Roy Babbington and sax, flute and keyboard player Theo Travis) would be performing under the name "Soft Machine" in late 2015 and early 2016: two shows in the Netherlands and Belgium in early December 2015[nb 5] and a series of seven UK shows in March-April 2016.[nb 6]
In December 2015, it was confirmed that the band had dropped the "Legacy" tag from their name, as the band featured three of the group's 1970s era members - John Etheridge, John Marshall and Roy Babbington - joined by Theo Travis on sax, flute and keyboard.
At least at one Spring 2016 show (on 26 March in Sheffield Green, East Sussex, UK), Nic France (from Theo Travis's band Double Talk) deputised for John Marshall on drums and percussion.
On 25 October 2017, Soft Machine announced a 10-date UK tour due to take place the next month in November 2017. The run of shows should start in Wavendon on 2 November and end in New Brighton on 26 November.[nb 9] Theo Travis reported that the band should be playing material from the 70s era - compositions by Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge and Karl Jenkins - as well as other pieces composed by John Etheridge or himself plus some band improvisations. The band (still) features John Etheridge on guitar, Roy Babbington on bass and John Marshall on drums and yours truly on sax, flute and keyboards.
After a unique Spring show on 26 May 2018 in Stoke-On-Trent, UK and a unique North-American Summer show on 7 July 2018 in Montre;al, Canada, Soft Machine will embark on 6 September 2018 in Oslo, Norway on a 5-date Summer tour of Europe to be followed on 7 October 2018 in Philadelphia, PA by the 9-date North-American leg of their Fall tour and on 8 November 2018 in Kinross, UK by the 7-date European leg of their Fall tour due to end on 22 November 2018 in Southampton, UK.
Soft Machine's music has been described by critics and journalists as progressive rock,experimental rock,jazz rock,jazz and psychedelic rock, as well as being a part of the Canterbury scene of progressive rock. According to Hugh Hopper, "We weren't consciously playing jazz rock, it was more a case of not wanting to sound like other bands; we certainly didn't want a guitarist."
|1968||The Soft Machine||Ratledge, Ayers, Wyatt|
|1969||Volume Two||Ratledge, Hopper, Wyatt|
|1970||Third (double album)||Ratledge, Dean, Hopper, Wyatt|
|1971||Fourth||Ratledge, Dean, Hopper, Wyatt|
|1972||Fifth||Ratledge, Dean, Hopper, Howard/Marshall|
|1973||Six (double album)||Ratledge, Jenkins, Hopper, Marshall|
|1973||Seven||Ratledge, Jenkins, Babbington, Marshall|
|1975||Bundles||Ratledge, Jenkins, Holdsworth, Babbington, Marshall|
|1976||Softs||Jenkins, Wakeman, Etheridge, Babbington, Marshall|
|1981||Land of Cockayne||Jenkins, Marshall|
|September 1967 - May 1968||Middle Earth Masters||2006||Ratledge, Ayers, Wyatt|
|March 1969||Live At The Paradiso 1969||1996||Ratledge, Hopper, Wyatt|
|November 1969 / May 1970||Backwards||2002||Ratledge, Hopper, Wyatt, Dean, Dobson, Evans, Charig|
|January 1970||Noisette||2000||Ratledge, Dean, Dobson, Hopper, Wyatt|
|January 1970||Breda Reactor||2005||Ratledge, Dean, Hopper, Wyatt|
|April 1970||Somewhere in Soho||2004||Ratledge, Dean, Hopper, Wyatt|
|April 1970||Facelift||2002||Ratledge, Dean, Hopper, Wyatt|
|August 1970||Live at the Proms 1970||1988||Ratledge, Dean, Hopper, Wyatt|
|October 1970||Grides||2006||Ratledge, Dean, Hopper, Wyatt|
|February 1971||Live at Henie Onstad Art Centre 1971||2009||Ratledge, Dean, Hopper, Wyatt|
|March 1971||Virtually||1998||Ratledge, Dean, Hopper, Wyatt|
|March 1971||Soft Machine & Heavy Friends - BBC In Concert||1993||Ratledge, Dean, Hopper, Wyatt|
|November 1971||Drop||2008||Ratledge, Dean, Hopper, Howard|
|May 1972||Live in Paris||2008||Ratledge, Dean, Hopper, Marshall|
|June 1972||Soft Stage - BBC In Concert 1972||1994||Ratledge, Jenkins, Hopper, Marshall|
|Nov-Dec 1972||Six (Disc 1)||1973||Ratledge, Jenkins, Hopper,Marshall|
|May 1973||NDR Jazz Workshop Hamburg, Germany||2010||Ratledge, Jenkins, Babbington, Marshall|
|July 1974||Switzerland 74||2015||Ratledge, Jenkins, Holdsworth, Babbington, Marshall|
|January 1975||Floating World Live||2006||Ratledge, Jenkins, Holdsworth, Babbington, Marshall|
|October 1975||British Tour 75||2005||Ratledge, Jenkins, Etheridge, Babbington, Marshall|
|July 1977||Alive & Well: Recorded in Paris||1978||Jenkins, Etheridge, Marshall|
|1972||Jet Propelled Photographs||1967 demos with the original line-up.|
|1977||Triple Echo (triple album)||A "best of" album, including their first single (available on an album for the first time) and material from all the studio albums up to Softs.|
|1990||The Peel Sessions (double album)||Recorded during 1969-71.|
|1994||Rubber Riff||Stock music composed by Jenkins, 1976.|
|1996||Spaced||Recorded in 1969. Is the soundtrack for a work of artist Peter Dockley.|
|2001||Turns On Volume 1||Lo-fi quality recordings from April to December 1967.|
|2001||Turns On Volume 2||Lo-fi quality recordings from November 1967 to August 1968.|
|2003||BBC Radio 1967-1971 (double album)|
|2003||BBC Radio 1971-1974 (double album)|
These albums were released by various small labels, and most of their content is available on the "main" albums listed above.
|1972||Rock Generation Vol. 7||one side only, April 1967 De Lane Lea Studios demo recordings with Giorgio Gomelsky.|
|1972||Rock Generation Vol. 8||one side only, more April 1967 demo recordings; This and the preceding entry were combined on many subsequent releases, under such titles as Faces & Places Vol.7 (BYG Records, 1972), At the Beginning (Charly Records, 1976), Jet Propelled Photographs (Piccadilly Records, 1980 [LP], Charly Records 2003 [CD]), and several others. These issues contain the track "She's gone", recorded in April 1967, which is not the same track released in Triple Echo.|
|1975||Soft Machine 1&2 (Architects of Space Time)|
|1990||The Untouchable||compilation from Bundles, Softs, and Alive and Well.|
|1991||As If...||Curious (probably unauthorized) compilation with six Ratledge/Hopper compositions ranging from 1970 (Third) to 1973 (Six) in sparse order.|
|1994||Soft Machine||Live At The Paradiso 1969 plus six tracks from Jet Propelled Photographs|
|1995||The Best of Soft Machine - The Harvest Years - Anthology 1975-1978||includes tracks from Bundles (1975) to Alive & Well (1978).|
|1998||Canterburied Sounds, Vol.s 1-4||Voiceprint Records released four CDs, containing several tracks by various musicians from the Canterbury scene (mainly from the Soft Machine and the Caravan bands), compiled and with notes by Brian Hopper. The four single CDs are re-released in 2013 in a boxed set|
|1998||Live 1970 (Also known as Live in Europe 1970)||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.|
|1999||Fourth / Fifth|
|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), recorded in June 1967, previously available only on Triple Echo (1977).|
|2001||Turns On vol. 2||Includes low-quality 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.
|2004||Six / Seven|
|2005||Out-Bloody-Rageous: An Anthology 1967-1973|
|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.|
|2010||Original Album Classics||includes the whole Third, Fourth, Fifth, Six and Seven in the 2007 remaster|
|2011||Tales Of Taliesin: The EMI Years Anthology 1975-1981||
|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 U.S. in 1968, after Soft Machine dissolution, and just before the new formation with Hopper in place of Ayers.|
|2013||Canterburied Sounds||re-issue in a single 4 CDs edition of the four titles previously released in 1998 by Brian Hopper on Voiceprint Records|
|2014||Tanglewood Tails||(2 CDs), Anthology; Disc 1 with tracks 1-4 from 1963 (also in "Canterburied Sounds"), tracks 5-12 from 1967 studio recordings (also in Turns On vol. 1); Disc 2 with tracks 1-4 live from the Col Ballroom, Davenport, Iowa, 11 August 1968 (also in Turns On vol. 2), tracks 5-6 live from the Paradiso, Amsterdam, 29 March 1969 (also in Live at the Paradiso), tracks 7-11 live from the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, 26 April 1970 (also in "Facelift"). The quality of tracks are far better than in both volumes of Turns On (especially "She's Gone" - June 1967 version that now has a quality comparable to the Triple Echo version - that is up to now the only acceptable CD version of this track).|
|2014||Soft Machine Turns On (An early collection)||(2 CDs) is a reprint (from Floating World Records) of the two Turns On volumes of 2001, with the same track list. The low quality of the former editions was here maintained.|
|2014||Live in 1970||(4 CDs) is a reprint of two live concerts, CD1 and CD2 recorded at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club on 20-25 April 1970 (already in Somewhere in Soho, Voiceprint 2004), CD3 and CD4 recorded at Het Turfschip, Breda, Netherlands on 31 January 1970 (already in Breda Reactor, Voiceprint 2005).|
|2014||Live in the 70s||(4 CDs) is a reprint of various live concerts, CD1 and the first four tracks on CD2 also issued as Live in Paris (Cuneiform 2004), tracks 5-7 of CD2 also appear on Backwards (Cuneiform 2002); Mark Charig is here wrongly mentioned as the trumpet player; CD3 was previously released as Noisette (Cuneiform 2000) and CD4 was previously issued as Drop (Moonjune 2008).|
|2015||Hugh Hopper - Volume 9: Anatomy of Facelift||Five performances of "Facelift", 1969 through 1971.|
The following is an incomplete list of Soft Machine concerts appeared only unofficially in bootlegs, rarely with good quality sound, to serve as a guide for those wanting to officially expand the Soft Machine discography with restored live gigs that made history.
|Year||Album||Soft Machine members involved|
|The Wilde Flowers|
|1965-69||The Wilde Flowers (released in 1994)||Ayers, Hopper, Wyatt|
|1978||Planet Earth||Ratledge, Jenkins|
|1978||Rogue Element||Hopper, Dean|
|1979||Soft Heap||Hopper, Dean|
|1979||Al Dente||Hopper, Dean|
|1982-83||A Veritable Centaur (released in 1995)||Dean|
|1979||Push Button||Ratledge, Jenkins|
|1980||First Steps||Etheridge, Sanders|
|2002||Abracadabra||Hopper, Dean, Holdsworth, Marshall|
|2003||Soft Mountain||Hopper, Dean|
|2004||Live at Le Triton||Hopper, Dean|
|Soft Machine Legacy|
|2005||Live In Zaandam||Hopper, Dean, Etheridge, Marshall
|2006||Soft Machine Legacy||Hopper, Dean, Etheridge, Marshall|
|2006||Live at the New Morning||Hopper, Dean, Etheridge, Marshall|
|2007||Steam||Hopper, Etheridge, Marshall|
|2010||Live Adventures||Etheridge, Babbington, Marshall|
|2013||Burden of Proof||Etheridge, Babbington, Marshall|
|Delta Saxophone Quartet|
|2007||Dedicated To You But You Weren't Listening: The Music Of Soft Machine||Hopper (as a guest on some tracks)|