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Group Members: Andy Summers, Ray Warleigh, Robert Wyatt, Allan Holdsworth, Militantes, Allan Holdsworth Group, Allan Holdsworth / Gordon Beck, Elton Dean, Elton Dean And Paul Dunmall, Elton Dean/Mark Sanders/Roberto Bellata, Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, Vince Clarke, Frances Knight, Elton Dean & The Wrong Object, Elton Dean Quintet, Elton Dean's Ninesense, Elton Dean's Newsense, Alan R J Skidmore/Amampondo, Alan Skidmore's Ubizo, Alan Skidmore, S.O.H., Daevid Allen's University of Errors, Daevid Allen, Russell Hibbs, Daevid Allen and Nicoletta Stephanz, Daevid Allen with Hugh Hopper and Pip Pyle, Kevin Ayers, Kevin Ayers & The Wizards of Twiddly, John Etheridge, John Etheridge And Ric Sanders, John Etheridge Trio North, John Etheridge with Liane Carroll, Liane Carroll and John Etheridge, Hugh Hopper, Hugh Hopper and Lisa S. Klossner, Hopper S.Klossner, Hugh Hoppe And Frances Knight, Hopper/Kramer, Hugh Hopper & Yumi Hara Cawkwell (Humi), Brian Hopper, Brian Hopper And Robert Fenner, Karl Jenkins, Karl Jenkins/London Symphony Orchestra, Adiemus, John Marshall, Andy Summers and John Etheridge
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Soft Machine were never a commercial enterprise and indeed still remain unknown even to many listeners who came of age during the late '60s and early '70s, when the group was at its peak. In their own way, however, they were one of the more influential bands of their era, and certainly one of the most influential underground ones. One of the original British psychedelic groups, they were also instrumental in the birth of both progressive rock and jazz-rock. They were also the central foundation of the family tree of the "Canterbury Scene" of British progressive rock acts, a movement that also included Caravan, Gong, Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North, and National Health, not to mention the distinguished pop music careers of founding members Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers and the jazz and jazz-rock explorations of saxophonist Elton Dean and bassist Hugh Hopper.
Considering their well-known experimental and avant-garde leanings, the roots of Soft Machine were in some respects surprisingly conventional. In the mid-'60s, Wyatt sang and drummed with the Wilde Flowers, a Canterbury group that played more or less conventional pop and soul covers of the day. Future Soft Machine members Ayers and Hopper would also pass through the Wilde Flowers, whose original material began to reflect an odd sensibility, cultivated by their highly educated backgrounds and a passion for improvised jazz. In 1966, Wyatt teamed up with bassist/singer Ayers, keyboardist Mike Ratledge, and Australian guitarist Daevid Allen to form the first lineup of Soft Machine.
This incarnation of the group, along with Pink Floyd and Tomorrow, were the very first underground psychedelic bands in Britain, and quickly became well loved in the burgeoning London psychedelic underground. Their first recordings (many of which only surfaced years later on compilations of 1967 demos) were by far their most pop-oriented, which doesn't mean they weren't exciting or devoid of experimental elements. Surreal wordplay and unusually (for rock) complex instrumental interplay gave an innovative edge to their ebullient early psychedelic outings. They only managed to cut one (very good) single, though, which flopped. Allen, the weirdest of a colorful group of characters, had to leave the band when he was refused reentry into the U.K. after a stint in France, due to the expiration of his visa.
The remaining trio recorded its first proper album, Soft Machine [Volume One], for ABC/Probe in 1968. The considerable melodic elements and vocal harmonies of their 1967 recordings were now giving way to more challenging, artier postures that sought -- sometimes successfully, sometimes not -- to meld the energy of psychedelic rock with the improvisational pulse of jazz. The Softs were taken on by Jimi Hendrix's management, leading to grueling stints supporting the Jimi Hendrix Experience on their 1968 American tours. Because of this, the group at this point was probably more well-known in the U.S. than in its homeland. In fact, the debut LP was only issued, oddly, in the States. For a couple of months in 1968, strangely enough, Soft Machine became a quartet again with the addition of future Police guitarist Andy Summers, although that didn't work out, and they soon reverted to a trio. The punishing tours took their toll on the group, and Ayers had left by the end of 1968, to be replaced by Wyatt's old chum Hugh Hopper.
Their second ABC/Probe album, Volume Two (1969), further submerged the band's pop elements in favor of extended jazzy compositions, with an increasingly lesser reliance on lyrics and vocals. Ratledge's buzzy organ, Hoppers fuzz bass, and Wyatt's pummeling, imaginative drumming and scat vocals paced the band on material that became increasingly whimsical and surrealistic, if increasingly inaccessible to the pop/rock audience. For the 1970 double-LP opus Third, their first album for Columbia, they went even further in these directions, expanding to a seven-piece by adding a horn section. This record virtually dispensed with vocals -- aside from Wyatt's side-long "Moon in June" -- and conventional rock songs entirely, and is considered a landmark by both progressive rock and jazz-rock aficionados (upon its release, the album was hailed as a popular music milestone by The Village Voice), though it was too oblique for some rock listeners. Notably, Third marked the first appearance on a Softs disc by saxophonist Elton Dean, whose contributions on alto and saxello would, along with Ratledge's fuzz organ and Hopper's fuzz bass, become key elements of the band's signature instrumental sound.
Soft Machine couldn't afford to continue to support a seven-member lineup, and scaled back to what was later deemed by some listeners to be "the classic quartet" -- Ratledge, Wyatt, Hopper, and Dean -- for 1971's Fourth (also on Columbia), although the group was augmented by a number of guest musicians, including bassist Roy Babbington, who would become a permanent bandmember later. Wyatt left by the end of 1971, briefly leading the similar Matching Mole, and then establishing a long-running solo career. In doing so he was following the path of Kevin Ayers, who already had several solo albums to his credit by the early '70s; Daevid Allen, for his part, had become a principal of Gong, one of the most prominent and enigmatic '70s progressive rock bands (which continued in various incarnations into the 21st century).
Meanwhile, as of 1972 saxophonist Dean was pulling the band in a free jazz, more fully improvised direction, which led to the brief appearance of Phil Howard as drummer on the first side of that year's Fifth (the third Soft Machine album on Columbia). However, Ratledge and Hopper prevailed in favor of John Marshall as a replacement for Howard, and Marshall appears as drummer on the second side of Fifth and all the Soft Machine albums to follow. Dean also left by 1973's Columbia double LP Six (one disc live, and one recorded in the studio), replaced by keyboardist/reedman/composer Karl Jenkins. Hopper would be next to leave, with Babbington taking his place on bass, and by then (the release of 1973's Seven, Soft Machine's final Columbia album before signing with Harvest) Ratledge was the last original member in the band. (In fact, since Marshall, Jenkins, and Babbington were all former members of Nucleus, the group had evolved into a curious mix of three-fourths Nucleus and one-fourth Soft Machine.)
By now, Ratledge himself was beginning to lose interest during the band's so-called fusion years, and as Jenkins began focusing more exclusively on keyboards and dropping his reeds during the mid-'70s, Ratledge's retreat became all the more inevitable. The soloing spotlight shifted to a new recruit, guitarist Allan Holdsworth, on the group's 1975 Harvest debut, Bundles, and then guitarist John Etheridge (who replaced Holdsworth in April 1975) on the following year's Harvest follow-up, Softs -- on which Ratledge was relegated to "guest" status after departing the group in early 1976 when that album's recording sessions were underway. The band now known as Soft Machine -- but with no original members whatsoever -- still managed a decent fusion-oriented album with the 1978 Harvest-issued Alive and Well: Recorded in Paris, but lackluster efforts like 1981s Land of Cockayne (featuring Jack Bruce on bass!) and 1994's Rubber Riff (actually a '70s-era album of Jenkins library music rebranded as Soft Machine) were truly Soft Machine in name only.
The following decades would see Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper particularly willing to continue Soft Machine-related journeys in groups like Soft Heap, Soft Works, and Soft Machine Legacy, although their deaths in the 2000s -- Dean in 2006 and Hopper in 2009 -- seemed to put a final end to the group's jazz-rock thread. Nevertheless, as of 2010 drummer Marshall, guitarist Etheridge, and bassist Babbington (all of whom appeared on Softs in 1976) could be heard along with former Gong reedman Theo Travis on the Soft Machine Legacy album Live Adventures, released by the MoonJune label and featuring an abbreviated version of Hopper's "Facelift," the album-opening track from the Softs' heralded 1970 Columbia double LP Third. And thanks to labels such as Cuneiform and Voiceprint, many archival recordings of the various incarnations of Soft Machine continued to be released into the 21st century. Meanwhile, of the band's original members, Daevid Allen and Robert Wyatt remained involved with various music-making projects while Mike Ratledge had long since disappeared from the public eye. Kevin Ayers released a well-received solo album, The Unfairground, in 2007, but his later years were largely spent in seclusion in the south of France; he died at home in Montolieu, France in February 2013 at the age of 68.
Wikipedia:This article is about the rock band. For the band's debut album, see The Soft Machine (Soft Machine album). For the William Burroughs novel, see The Soft Machine. For other uses, see The Soft Machine (disambiguation).
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 by Allmusic to be "one of the more influential bands of their era, and certainly one of the most influential underground ones."
ContentsHistory1.1 Beginnings, psychedelic, jazz fusion1.2 Post-Wyatt era1.3 Jenkins era
Beginnings, psychedelic, jazz fusion
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 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 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", 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 album Softs (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."Soft Machine-Chronology". Calyx.perso.neuf.fr. Retrieved 2013-08-12. Andy Summers, One Train Later, Thomas Dunne Books, 2006. ISBN 0-312-35914-4. "Robert Wyatt - The Soft Machine years I". Hulloder.nl. Retrieved 2013-08-12. "Cosmik Debris Magazine Presents: The 21st Century Be-Bop Of Soft Works; an interview of Hugh Hopper - May 2003". Cosmik.com. Retrieved 2013-08-12. Unterberger, Richie: 1996 Robert Wyatt interview at Perfect Sound Forever (online music magazine) "Steve Cook". Calyx.perso.neuf.fr. 1948-08-04. Retrieved 2013-08-12.
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 and The 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."Glenn Astarita. "Abracadabra - Soft Works | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-08-12. "Soft Machine @ All About Jazz". Allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved 2013-08-12. "Live in Zaandam - Soft Machine Legacy | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. 2005-05-10. Retrieved 2013-08-12. "Live in Zaandam - Soft Machine Legacy | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. 2005-05-10. Retrieved 2013-08-12. "Live at the New Morning - Soft Machine Legacy | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. 2006-07-01. Retrieved 2013-08-12. Dave Lynch. "Steam - Soft Machine Legacy | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-08-12. "Soft Machine Legacy: Steam". Allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved 2013-08-12. "Soft Machine Legacy: Steam". Allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved 2013-08-12. "Soft Machine Legacy". John Etheridge. Retrieved 2013-08-12. "Kevin Ayers Has Died | News | Clash Magazine". Clashmusic.com. Retrieved 2013-08-12. "R.I.P. Kevin Ayers « Consequence of Sound". Consequenceofsound.net. 2013-02-20. Retrieved 2013-08-12. "New Soft Machine Legacy album out now « New Releases «". Weirdomusic.com. 2013-02-27. Retrieved 2013-08-12. "Soft Machine Legacy", Cherry Red Records My Favourite Flavour 2013, issue 28, p. 11