Soft Machine

Soft Machine was an English jazz-rock band that was active between the late 1960s and early 1980s. They were among the first rock acts to make use of asymmetric and compound meters.

Due to numerous lineup changes, the first and final Soft Machine albums feature none of the same members. Nonetheless, the nameplate was passed between dedicated hands that ensured quality control throughout the band’s existence, from the avant-psychedelia of their early recordings to the electrified jazz of subsequent years.

Members: Mike Ratledge (organ, keyboards, flute, 1966-76), Robert Wyatt (drums, vocals, piano, bass, 1966-71), Kevin Ayers (bass, guitar, vocals, 1966-68), Daevid Allen (guitar, 1966-67), Andy Summers (guitar, 1968), Hugh Hopper (bass, acoustic guitar, alto saxophone, 1969-73), Elton Dean (alto saxophone, saxello, electric piano, 1969-72), Lyn Dobson (flute, soprano saxophone, 1969-70), Mark Charig (cornet, 1969), Nick Evans (trombone, 1969), Phil Howard (drums, 1971), John Marshall (drums, 1972-84, 2015-present), Karl Jenkins (keyboards, oboe, baritone saxophone, soprano saxophone, 1972-84), Roy Babbington (bass, double bass, 1973-76, 2015-present), Allan Holdsworth (guitar, 1973-75, 1978, 1980), John Etheridge (guitar, 1975-77, 1984, 2015-present), Alan Wakeman (saxophone, 1976), Ray Warleigh (flute, saxophone, 1976, 1980, 1984), Ric Sanders (violin, 1976-78), Steve Cook (bass, 1976-78), Dave MacRae (keyboards, 1984), Paul Carmichael (bass, 1984)


Background

Soft Machine formed in April 1966 when singer–bassist Kevin Ayers and guitarist Daevid Allen met in Spain with Texan millionaire Wes Brunson, who agreed to fund the new band.

Ayers (b. Aug. 16, 1944; Herne Bay, Kent) hailed from The Wilde Flowers, a Canterbury R&B band that included guitarist Richard Sinclair and the Hopper brothers: saxophonist Brian Hopper and bassist Hugh Hopper (b. April 29, 1945; Canterbury, Kent).

Allen (b. Jan. 13, 1938; Melbourne) headed the Daevid Allen Trio, a Dover-based free-jazz combo with keyboardist Mike Ratledge and drummer–singer Robert Wyatt. An expat Australian, Allen migrated in 1960; first to Paris, where he immersed in the city’s Beat culture and jazz scene.

Ratledge (b. May 6, 1943; Maidstone, Kent) trained as a junior classical pianist and jammed in a teenage combo with Brian Hopper. He earned a degree in psychology from Oxford’s University College and attended campus lectures by avant-garde violinist Rab Spall.

Wyatt (b. Jan. 28, 1945; Bristol) drifted from DAT to The Wild Flowers, then reteamed with Ratledge in The Korean War, Spall’s free-jazz outfit. Both accepted Allen and Ayers’ invite to the first Soft Machine lineup. They took their name from the 1961 novel The Soft Machine by William S. Burroughs. Hugh Hopper initially worked as their roadie. (Meanwhile, Sinclair and three late-period Wild Flowers formed Caravan.)

Soft Machine immersed in London’s burgeoning psychedelic rock scene. As 1967 loomed, they played the first two Fridays at the underground UFO Club with fellow up-and-comers Pink Floyd.


“Love Makes Sweet Music”

Soft Machine linked with Polydor for the February 1967 single “Love Makes Sweet Music” b/w “Feelin’ Reelin’ Squeelin’,” produced respectively by ex-Animal Chas Chandler and Kim Fowley. They cut further tracks with Swiss producer Giorgio Gomelsky (Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll and the Trinity, Blossom Toes) but the tapes wound up vaulted over a money dispute.

During the summer of 1967, Soft Machine toured Europe and gained a cult following in France, where they performed a forty-minute rendition of “We Did It Again” at the Nuit Psychédélique. On returning to the UK, Allen was denied reentry for having overstayed his visa on his last visit. He settled in Paris, where he assembled the psychedelic space-rock ensemble Gong.

The remaining trio spent the first half of 1968 supporting Chandler’s main client, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, on a cross-country US tour. In April, they recorded their self-titled debut album at NYC’s Record Plant Studios with Chandler and MGM–Verve soundman Tom Wilson.

On the second leg of their ’68 US tour, Soft Machine welcomed guitarist Andy Summers, recently of Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band and its psychedelic mutation Dantalian’s Chariot. After two weeks, Ayers axed Summers, who reteamed with Money in Eric Burdon & the “New” Animals. Once the tour wrapped, Ayers departed Soft Machine and launched a solo career. With the band on hold, Wyatt demoed his song “Slow Walkin’ Talk” with Hendrix on bass.


The Soft Machine 

The Soft Machine released their self-titled debut album in December 1968 on Probe–ABC. It features thirteen run-together originals (41:30).

Side One contains “Joy of a Toy,” an Ayers–Ratledge number bookended by “Hope for Happiness” and its reprise, written with additional input by Brian Hopper. Hugh Hopper co-wrote the miniature “Why Am I So Short?” as a lead into “So Boot If at All,” a group-written jam followed by Hugh’s “A Certain Kind.”

Side Two opens with Wyatt’s “Save Yourself,” followed by the group-written miniature “Priscilla” and a sequence of Ayers numbers: “Lullabye Letter,” “We Did It Again,” and “Plus Belle qu’une Poubelle.” They climax with the group-written epic “Why Are We Sleeping?” and end with “Box 25/4 Lid,” a Ratledge postlude with Hugh Hopper on fuzz bass.

1. “Hope for Happiness” (4:21)
2. “Joy of a Toy” (2:49)
3. “Hope for Happiness (Reprise)” (1:38)
4. “Why Am I So Short?” (1:39)
5. “So Boot If At All” (7:25)
6. “A Certain Kind” (4:11)

7. “Save Yourself” (2:26)
8. “Priscilla” (1:03)
9. “Lullabye Letter” (4:32)
10. “We Did It Again” (3:46)
11. “Plus Belle qu’une Poubelle” (1:03)
12. “Why Are We Sleeping?” (5:30)
13. “Box 25/4 Lid” (0:49)

Chas Chandler produced The Soft Machine in April 1968 at New York’s Record Plant between work on the second and third Experience albums, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland. The co-producer, Tom Wilson, also worked on 1967–68 albums by Eric Burdon & the Animals, Harumi, Ill Wind, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention (We’re Only In It for the Money), Nico, and one track (“Sunday Morning”) on the Velvet Underground‘s debut.

Wyatt sings everything on The Soft Machine apart from Ayer’s “We Did It Again.” The Cake, a Manhattan female vocal trio, sing backing vocals on “Why Are We Sleeping?”

Probe lifted “Joy of a Toy” as a single, backed with an edit (3:32) of “Why Are We Sleeping?”

The Soft Machine is housed in a green gatefold credited to ABC in-house designers Byron Goto, Henry Epstein, and Eli Allman. The front cover has a circular die-cut to a spinning wheel of industrial machinery with die-cut cogs that show portions of a group photo. The rear cover shows the three members seated before a giant wind-up nude, who appears on the inner-gates, which features background bios on each member and liner notes by Arnold Shaw, who describes Soft Machine  as “a NOW sound [that] swings like jazz, rocks like rhythm-and-blues, hairy with fuzz-box distortion, off-the-keyboard with electronic atonalities — the sound of music updated by the music of sound.” He further states that their “drive is to synthesize the diverse sounds of jazz and rock in an electronic continuity.”

Subsequent pressings of The Soft Machine appear in a single green sleeve with no die-cut details. In France, Barclay issued the album in a b&w sleeve with industrial imagery (front) and details from the original Probe inner-gates (back). Goto and Epstein also did 1968–69 covers for Bit ‘a Sweet, Ford Theatre, Graffiti, Influence, The Litter, Saint Steven, Salvation, and Wool.

Between the completion and release of The Soft Machine, the group paused after their late-summer US tour. Back in the UK, Wyatt and Ratledge regrouped with Hugh Hopper in lieu of Kevin Ayers, who employed them on his 1969 debut solo album Joy of a Toy, titled after its opening track “Joy of a Toy Continued.”


Volume Two

The Soft Machine released their second album, Volume Two, in September 1969 on Probe–ABC. Side One consists of the ten-part “Rivmic Melodies” suite comprised of miniatures by Wyatt (“Pataphysical Introduction”) and Hopper (“A Concise British Alphabet,” “Thank You Pierrot Lunaire”), intermixed with song-length pieces by Ratledge (“Hibou, Anemone and Bear”), Hopper (“Dada Was Here”), and the group-written “Out of Tunes.”

Side Two consists of short songs by Ratledge–Wyatt (“As Long as He Lies Perfectly Still”) and Hopper (“Dedicated to You But You Weren’t Listening”) and the five-part “Esther’s Nose Job” suite, comprised of four Ratledge miniatures and the group-written final track “10:30 Returns to the Bedroom.”

“Rivmic Melodies” (17:07)

“Pataphysical Introduction – Pt. 1” (1:00)
“A Concise British Alphabet – Pt. 1” (0:10)
“Hibou, Anemone and Bear” (5:58)
“A Concise British Alphabet – Pt. 2” (0:12)
“Hulloder” (0:52)
“Dada Was Here” (3:25)
“Thank You Pierrot Lunaire” (0:47)
“Have You Ever Bean Green?” (1:23)
“Pataphysical Introduction – Pt. 2” (0:50)
“Out of Tunes” (2:30)

“As Long as He Lies Perfectly Still” (2:30)
“Dedicated to You But You Weren’t Listening” (2:30)
“Esther’s Nose Job” (11:13)

“Fire Engine Passing with Bells Clanging” (1:50)
“Pig” (2:08)
“Orange Skin Food” (1:52)
“A Door Opens and Closes” (1:09)
“10:30 Returns to the Bedroom” (4:14)

Soft Machine self-produced Volume Two in February–March 1969 at London’s Olympic Studios. Ratledge plays piano and the Lowrey Holiday de Luxe organ. “Dedicated to You But You Weren’t Listening” features Mike on harpsichord and Hugh on acoustic guitar. “Hibou, Anemone and Bear” features them respectively on flute and alto saxophone, which Hopper also plays on “Pig,” “Orange Skin Food,” and “A Door Opens and Closes.” His older brother, Brian, plays soprano and tenor sax on select passages.

Original US copies of Volume Two are housed in a Goto–Epstein gatefold. The front depicts a smiling female cyborg with Medusa hair and stone extremities. Photographer Eric Goto took the group shots of Soft Machine on the back (color) and inner-gates (monochrome). The liner notes (uncredited) state “The Soft Machine plays music for the mind,” defined as “music [that] floats you gently downstream, through pleasurable twists and turns, ups and downs, rapids and calm waters.”

UK copies sport a single sleeve with a shaded monochrome back-cover photo. In France, the album appeared on Barclay in a b&w cover. On subsequent releases, Soft Machine dropped the definite article (“The”) from their name.


Elton Dean Joins

In October 1969, the three-man Soft Machine welcomed four live auxiliary players: reedist Lyn Dobson (Keef Hartley Band), trombonist Nick Evans (Manfred Mann Chapter Three, Brotherhood of Breath), and ex-Bluesology members Marc Charig (cornet) and Elton Dean (alto–saxello saxophone), both sidemen of pianist Keith Tippett.

Dean (b. Oct. 28, 1945; Nottingham) inspired the stagename of Bluesology pianist Reginald Dwight, who combined “Elton” with the forename of frontman Long John Baldry. (After a late-period stint with R&B rivals Simon Dupree & the Big Sound and a revoked invite to the Shulman brother’s followup band Gentle Giant, Dwight went solo with the 1969 release Empty Sky, his debut album as Elton John.) Dean joined Soft Machine as a fourth member.


Third

Soft Machine released their third album, Third, on June 6, 1970, on CBS (UK) and Columbia (USA). It’s a double-album with one long piece per side; one each by Hopper (“Facelift”) and Wyatt (“Moon In June”) and two by Ratledge: “Slightly All the Time” (with Hopper’s “Noisette” insert) and “Out-Bloody-Rageous.” Apart from Wyatt’s piece, the album (75:15 total) is instrumental.

Third is the first of two Soft Machine albums with the four-piece lineup of Hopper, Ratledge, Wyatt, and saxophonist Elton Dean. Two additional players from the expanded 1969–70 touring lineup — reedist Lyn Dobson and trombonist Nick Evans — appear as guests.

“Facelift” (18:45)
“Slightly All the Time” (18:12)
“Moon in June” (19:08)
“Out-Bloody-Rageous” (19:10)

Soft Machine self-produced Third in April–May 1970 at London’s IBC Studio. They pieced “Facelift” together from January live performances in Croydon (1/4: Fairfield Hall) and Birmingham (1/11: Mothers). Dobson plays flute and soprano sax on the piece, which features studio-added tape loops at variable speed. IBC soundman Andy Knight engineered Third in succession with titles by Brass Monkey, Cravinkel, and Deep Purple (In Rock).

Third features Ratledge on piano, Hohner Pianet, and Lowrey organ. “Slightly All the Time” and “Out-Bloody-Rageous” both feature guest performances by Evans and flutist–clarinetist Jimmy Hastings, brother of Caravan guitarist–singer Pye Hastings. Evans plays on King Crimson‘s 1970 third album Lizard, which also features Keith Tippett, who assembled Centipede, an experimental big band of fifty players, including Evans and Dean.

On “Moon in June,” Wyatt plays multiple keyboards (Hammond, Mellotron, pianet, piano) in addition to drums and bass. Robert’s piece also features ex-Korean War violinist Rab Spall, whose current project, The Amazing Band, featured guitarist Jim Mullen and cartoonist Mal Dean, the artist on Pete Brown’s Piblokto! and Battered Ornaments albums. Wyatt plays percussion on the 1970 Amazing Band recording Roar, released in 1997 by archivists FMR Records.

Third is housed in a cardboard-patterned gatefold with three-dimensional letters that thrice spell the title. Photographer Jürgen D. Ensthaler took the inner-gate group shot, which shows the four members sprawled about in their rehearsal space. At Hopper’s foot stands a balalaika, a triangular Russian string instrument (not heard on the album). The designer on Third, John Hays, also has visual credits on 1970–71 albums by Argent (Ring of Hands), The Peddlers, Rock Workshop, Skin Alley, and the elaborate cross-shaped six-fold cover to Brass Rock 1, the singular album by jazz-rockers Heaven.


Outside Work

In August 1970, Robert Wyatt recorded The End of an Ear, a vocal free-jazz album that features Dean, Charig, Caravan organist David Sinclair, and Kiwi jazz bassist Neville Whitehead. The album contains Wyatt’s interpretation of the Gil Evans piece “Las Vegas Tango” (divided into two lengthy portions) and seven originals dedicated to his associates, including Ayers (“To the Old World,” a reference to Kevin’s backing band The Whole World), Allen (“To Oz Alien Daevyd and Gilly”), and singer–songwriter Bridget St John (“To Saintly Bridget”). Wyatt’s half-brother, Mark Ellidge, plays piano on The End of an Ear, which appeared in December 1970 on CBS.

Elton Dean, along with Charig and Evans, back Tippett on the 1970–71 albums You Are Here… I Am There and Dedicated to You, But You Weren’t Listening (a personal spin on the Volume Two number). Early Softs soundman Giorgio Gomelsky produced You Are Here with Emerson Lake & Palmer engineer Eddie Offord, subsequently famed for his work with Yes.


Fourth

Soft Machine released their fourth album, Fourth, on February 28, 1971, on CBS (UK) and Columbia (USA). It contains one piece by Ratledge (“Teeth”) and one by Dean (“Fletcher’s Blemish”). Hopper composed the album’s balance: “Kings and Queen” and the four-part “Virtually” suite, which consumes Side Two. Fourth is their first entirely instrumental album and their last with Wyatt.

“Teeth” (9:15)
“Kings and Queens” (5:02)
“Fletcher’s Blemish” (4:35)

“Virtually Part 1” (5:16)
“Virtually Part 2” (7:09)
“Virtually Part 3” (4:33)
“Virtually Part 4” (3:23)

Soft Machine self-produced Fourth in October–November 1970 at Olympic Studios. Ratledge plays piano, Hohner Pianet, and Lowrey organ on Fourth, which features guests appearances on “Teeth” and “Virtually Part 3” by Jimmy Hastings, tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore, and Delivery double-bassist Roy Babbington, a Centipede player. Babbington also plays on “Fletcher’s Blemish” and “Virtually Part 1” with fellow Tippett sideman Mark Charig (cornet), who plays on “Kings and Queens” with Softs auxiliary trombonist Nick Evans, who also plays on “Teeth.”

Fourth is housed in an embossed sleeve with a protruding, translucent numerical “4” character on the front and back against a rust-tinged serious photo of the four members.


Robert Wyatt Exits

Between the completion and release of Fourth, Robert Wyatt left Soft Machine. He objected to their abandonment of vocals and felt alienated by the overtly serious nature of their newer music.

In October 1971, Wyatt and David Sinclair teamed with Delivery guitarist Phil Miller, Kiwi jazz pianist Dave MacRae, and Quiet Sun bassist Bill MacCormick in Matching Mole, a phonetic play on the French translation of Soft Machine: Machine Molle. They made the 1972 CBS albums Matching Mole and Little Red Record.

In June 1973, Wyatt fell from a fourth-story window and incurred a vertebrae fracture that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He kick-started his solo career with the 1974–75 Virgin titles Rock Bottom and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard. As a vocalist, he appears on the 1976–77 albums The Hapless Child and Silence by Michael Mantler and the 1986 release Letters Home by the Henry Cow-spinoff News From Babel. He continued into the late-2000s with sporadic solo activity.

Soft Machine hired drummer Phil Howard, a member of Elton Dean’s Just Us. They cut three tracks in November–December 1971, then Howard cleared out for John Marshall, a veteran jazz drummer recently heard on albums by Bill Fay (self-titled), Jack Bruce (Songs for a Tailor), the Mike Westbrook Concert Band, ex-Affinity singer Linda Hoyle (Pieces of Me), and the 1970–71 Nucleus albums Elastic Rock, Solar Plexus, and We’ll Talk About It Later.

Meanwhile, Dean cut his first solo album, backed by Charig, Howard, and (on “Blind Badger” and “Neo-Caliban Grides”) Babbington and Ratledge. Offord engineered Elton Dean (later retitled Just Us), which first appeared in mid-1971 on CBS.


Fifth

Soft Machine released their fifth album, Fifth, in July 1972 on CBS (UK) and Columbia (USA). Side One features two numbers by Ratledge (“All White,” “Drop”) and one by Hopper (“M C”) recorded during the autumn 1971 Howard sessions. Side Two contains two Ratledge pieces (“As If,” “Pigling Bland”) and one by Dean (“Bone”), recorded in January–February 1972 with John Marshall, who contributes the interlude “L B O.”

“All White” (6:06)
“Drop” (7:42)
“M C” (4:57)

Side two
“As If” (8:02)
“L B O” (1:54)
“Pigling Bland” (4:24)
“Bone” (3:29)

Soft Machine self-produced both sessions at London’s Advision Studios. Both sides feature Ratledge on Fender Rhodes electric piano and Lowrey organ. Dean, who plays alto saxophone and saxello throughout, also plays the Fender Rhodes on “Drop.” Prior guest Roy Babbington plays double-bass on Side Two.

Fifth is housed in a matte off-black sleeve with a glossy numerical “5” on the cover. In the US, Columbia issued the album as 5.

“Pigling Bland” appears on the 1973 Columbia double-album The Progressives, a sampler of modern jazz-rock and avant-garde music with cuts by Gentle Giant (“Knots”), Matching Mole (“Marchides”), Keith Jarrett (“Sundance”), Compost (“Compost Festival”), Bill Evans (“Living Time – Event V”), Mahavishnu Orchestra (“You Know You Know”), Weather Report (“Unknown Soldier”), Charles Mingus (“Jump Monk”), Ornette Coleman (“The Men Who Live In the White House / Love Life”), and Paul Winter’s Consort (“Icarus”).


Karl Jenkins Joins

Months after Fifth appeared, Elton Dean left Soft Machine. He plays on the 1972–73 Polydor albums Somewhere and Stress & Strain ‎by Mike Hugg, the onetime drummer of Manfred Mann and the keyboardist–singer in its followup, Manfred Mann Chapter Three. In 1976, he cut the album Oh! For The Edge with Ninesense, comprised of Skidmore, Charig, Evans, Tippett, Harry Beckett, and South African jazz players Harry Miller (Isipingo) and Louis Moholo.

Soft Machine hired Marshall’s Nucleus colleague: Welsh reedist and keyboardist Karl Jenkins, a Centipede participant with credits on recent albums by Elton John (Tumbleweed Connection), Mick Softley, Mick Greenwood, and Neil Ardley (A Symphony of Amaranths).

Meanwhile, the vaulted Allen-era recordings with Giorgio Gomelsky surfaced on the French BYG release Faces and Places Vol. 7, later issued as At the Beginning and Jet Propelled Photographs.


Six

Soft Machine released their sixth album, Six, in February 1973 on CBS (UK) and Columbia (USA). Six is a double-album with one live and one studio record.

The live record features eleven numbers from Soft Machine’s autumn 1972 tour. They perform new material apart “All White,” a rendition of the Fifth piece on Side One (19:21), which also contains originals by Ratledge (“37½”), Jenkins (“Riff I”) and the co-write “Between.” Side Two (22:24) contains standard-length numbers by Ratledge (“Gesolreut”), Marshall (“5 from 13”), and the entire group (“Lefty”), plus three shorter Jenkins cuts: “Stumble,” “Riff II,” and “E.P.V.”

The studio record features four lengthy numbers: two by Ratledge (“Stanley Stamp’s Gibbon Album,” “Chloe and the Pirates”) and one apiece by Jenkins (“The Soft Weed Factor”) and Hopper (“1983”).

Live Record

“Fanfare” (0:42)
“All White” (4:46)
“Between” (2:24)
“Riff I” (4:36)
“37½” (6:51)

“Gesolreut” (6:17)
“E.P.V.” (2:47)
“Lefty” (4:56)
“Stumble” (1:42)
“5 from 13 (for Phil Seamen with Love & Thanks)” (5:15)
“Riff II” (1:20)

Studio Record

“The Soft Weed Factor” (11:18)
“Stanley Stamp’s Gibbon Album (for B.O.)” (5:58)

“Chloe and the Pirates” (9:30)
“1983” (7:54)

The live numbers come from autumn 1972 concerts in Brighton (10/20: The Dome) and Guildford (11/1: Civic Hall). Gary Martin, a recent engineer for Yes (Fragile) and Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, mixed the live material at Advision, the recording site of “1983.” Soft Machine self-produced the other studio tracks in November–December 1972 at London’s CBS Studios with engineer Roger Beale, a soundman on 1970–71 albums by Amazing Blondel, Clear Blues Sky, Family, Hannibal, Keith Christmas, and Spooky Tooth.

Six features Jenkins on oboe and saxophones (baritone and soprano). He splits keyboard tasks with Ratledge; both play celeste, Fender Rhodes, and grand piano.

Six is housed in a gatefold sleeve designed by Barbara Salisbury with art by Terry Pastor (Byzantium, Three Man Army), whose painting depicts a name-branded, gut-like gord formation attached to bars and tubes in outer space. The inner-gates feature light-tinted live and studio pics by photographer Mike Putland, who also has visual credits on 1973 albums by Curved Air, Elton John, Rory Gallagher, and T. Rex.


Hugh Hopper Exits

After the release of Six, Hugh Hopper left Soft Machine. He debuted as a solo artist with the 1973 CBS release 1984, an instrumental suite cut with Evans, Marshall, Pye Hastings, Centipede saxist Gary Windo, and two recent Babbington cohorts in Solid Gold Cadillac: saxist Lol Coxhil and trumpeter Malcolm Griffiths. Hopper joined Stomu Yamashta‘s East Wind for the 1974 release One by One. He then joined jazz-rockers Isotope for the 1974–75 Gull releases Illusion and Deep End. In the late seventies, Hopper reteamed with Elton Dean on a string of projects, including Soft Heap, a supergroup with Gilgamesh keyboardist Alan Gowan and Hatfield & The North drummer Pip Pyle (“Heap” derived from the first letters in each forename).

Soft Machine on-boarded Babbington, the Fourth and Fifth auxiliary bassist who plays on 1973 albums by Chris Youlden, Harvey Andrews, Jonathan Kelly, and Tippett’s Ovary Lodge. Most recently, he joined Nucleus for their 1973 Vertigo release Labrynth.


Seven

Soft Machine released their seventh album, Seven, in October 1973 on CBS (UK) and Columbia (USA). It features eight standard-length cuts and four miniatures. Jenkins composed two pieces on Side One (“Nettle Bed,” “Carol Ann”) and everything on Side Two apart from “The German Lesson,” an interlude by Ratledge, who contributes “Day’s Eye,” “Bone Fire,” and “Tarabos.” Marshall submits the Side One closer “D.I.S.”

“Nettle Bed” (4:47)
“Carol Ann” (3:48)
“Day’s Eye” (5:05)
“Bone Fire” (0:32)
“Tarabos” (4:32)
“D.I.S.” (3:02)

“Snodland” (1:50)
“Penny Hitch” (6:40)
“Block” (4:17)
“Down the Road” (5:48)
“The German Lesson” (1:53)
“The French Lesson” (1:01)

Soft Machine self-produced Seven in July 1973 at CBS Studios. Jenkins plays Hohner Pianet and recorder in addition to oboe and sax. Ratledge plays the Lowrey Holiday Deluxe organ and EMS Synthi AKS synthesizer. Both plays Fender Rhodes electric piano. Babbington, the group’s onetime guest standup bassist, plays electric and acoustic bass.

Seven is housed in a gatefold with a grid illustration by Simon Cantwell, who also has visual credits on 1973–74 albums by A Band Called “O”, Colin Blunstone, Sailor, and Starry Eyed and Laughing. The inner-gates feature monochrome performance and profile pics by photographer Tim Fulford-Brown, also credited on the 1974 live album by Barclay James Harvest.

In mid-1974, Soft Machine hired guitarist Allan Holdsworth, recently of hard-rockers Tempest with erstwhile Colosseum drummer Jon Hiseman. Holdworth started in the jazz-psych combo ‘Igginbottom and backed Nucleus bandleader Ian Carr on the 1972 Vertigo release Belladonna.


Bundles

Soft Machine released their eighth album, Bundles, on March 22, 1975, on Harvest. Jenkins composed the five-part “Hazard Profile,” which consumes Side One apart from “Gone Sailing,” a postlude by Alan Holdsworth, who contributes “Land of the Bag Snake” on Side Two, which features two cuts each by Jenkins (“Bundles,” “The Floating World”) and Ratledge (“The Man Who Waved at Trains,” “Peff”), plus Marshall’s “Four Gongs Two Drums.”

Bundles, the only Soft Machine album with Allan Holdsworth, marks their first use of electric guitar since Ayers’ tenure.

“Hazard Profile Part One” (9:18)
“Hazard Profile Part Two (Toccatina)” (2:21)
“Hazard Profile Part Three” (0:33)
“Hazard Profile Part Four” (1:25)
“Hazard Profile Part Five” (5:29)
“Gone Sailing” (0:59)

“Bundles” – 3:14)
“Land of the Bag Snake” (3:35)
“The Man Who Waved at Trains” (1:50)
“Peff” (3:37)
“Four Gongs Two Drums” (2:31)
“The Floating World” (7:07)

Soft Machine self-produced Bundles in July 1974 at CBS Whitfield St Studios. Bundles was engineered by Bernie O’Gorman, a soundman on 1973–75 titles by Dave Carlsen, Johnny Nash, Mark-Almond, Osibisa, The Wombles, and Fox mastermind Kenny Young.

Ratledge plays Fender Rhodes electric piano, Lowrey Holiday Deluxe organ, and the EMS Synthi AKS synthesizer. Jenkins plays piano and (in his final role as reedist) oboe and soprano saxophone. Allan Holdsworth plays electric, acoustic, and 12-string guitars. Veteran Australian-expat reedist Ray Warleigh plays guest flute (alto and bass) on “The Floating World.”

Bundles is housed in a single-sleeve designed by Norman Batley Associates with a gray-framed cover painting by Reg Cartwright and back-cover member pics by Barrie Wentzell, whose photographer also appears on albums by Billy Cobham, Fleetwood Mac, and Genesis.


Holdsworth, Ratledge Exit

In April 1975, Melody Maker announced Holdsworth’s departure from Soft Machine. He joined the New Tony Williams Lifetime for the 1975–76 Columbia albums Believe It and Million Dollar Legs. Between one-album stints with John Stevens and Jean-Luc Ponty (Enigmatic Ocean), he debuted as a solo artist with the 1976 CTI release Velvet Darkness. In the late-seventies, he straddled memberships in Bruford and Gong and joined the symphonic-rock supergroup UK for its 1978 self-titled album.

Soft Machine hired onetime Icarus guitarist John Etheridge, fresh off a three-album stint in Darryl Way’s Wolf.

Mike Ratledge, the last remaining Soft Machine co-founder, resigned from the band in March 1976 after ten years of membership. In 1977, he composed the soundtrack to the experimental British drama Riddles of the Sphinx and played on the Virgin release Instructions for Angels by classical–electronic musician David Bedford.

Ratledge supplemented the next Soft Machine album but handed the name to Jenkins, who dropped reeds to focus on keyboards. Karl hired saxophonist Alan Wakeman (Rick‘s cousin), a longtime sideman of rock singer David Essex and jazz bandleaders Graham Collier and Peter Atkin.

Jenkins also cut Rubber Riff, an album of short instrumental pieces on the library label Music de Wolfe.


Softs

Soft Machine released their ninth album, Softs, in June 1976 on Harvest. Side One contains four instrumentals with titles inspired by Shakespeare (“Ban-Ban Caliban”) and the ancient poets Homer (“Song of Aeolus”) and Taliesin (“The Tale of Taliesin”). Jenkins composed everything apart from four tracks on Side Two: the group-written “One Over the Eight” and one track (“The Camden Tandem”) by Etheridge and Marshall, the respective composers of “Etika” and “Kayoo.”

“Aubade” (1:49)
“The Tale of Taliesin” (7:15)
“Ban-Ban Caliban” (9:19)
“Song of Aeolus” (4:29)

“Out of Season” (5:30)
“Second Bundle” (2:35)
“Kayoo” (3:25)
“The Camden Tandem” (1:50)
“Nexus” (0:47)
“One Over the Eight” (5:26)
“Etika” (2:21)

Soft Machine self-produced Softs between January and March 1976 at EMI Abbey Road Studios. Ratledge, listed as an additional musician, plays synthesizer on “Ban-Ban Caliban” and “Song of Aeolus,” both from the earliest sessions before his departure. Jenkins’ arsenal includes regular and electric piano, Hohner Pianet, Minimoog, and string synthesizers; he also handles orchestrations.

The engineer on Softs, Abbey soundman John Leckie, earned prior credits with Kayak, Sharks, Roy Harper, Pink Floyd (Meddle), and the Plastic Ono Band. He recently moved into production on 1976 albums by Be-Bop Deluxe (Modern Music) and the Doctors of Madness (Figments of Emancipation).

Softs is housed in a single-sleeve designed by Peter Shepherd with photography by Italian photojournalist Guido Harari (PFM, Osanna, Acqua Fragile, Klaus Schulze). It shows a multi-tinted kaleidoscope collage of member pics around a pretzel-neon formation of the title (zoomed on the back with diagonal credits). Shepherd also has concurrent credits on EMI releases by Cliff Richard (I’m Nearly Famous), The Enid, Meal Ticket, and Kevin Ayers’ 1976 album Yes We Have No Mañanas, So Get Your Mañanas Today.

In September 1976, Babbington and Wakeman left the band. Babbington joined Barbara Thompson’s Paraphernali and played on late-seventies albums by City Boy, Judie Tzuke, and Harry Beckett.

Jenkins dispensed with reeds and hired violinist Ric Saunders, a Michael Garrick sideman and onetime touring member of Stomu Yamash’ta’s Red Buddha Theatre. Soft Machine toured Europe (Sept. 26– Oct. 15) with Brand X bassist Percy Jones. In November, Jenkins hired onetime CMU bassist Dave Cook, a pre-record member of Gilgamesh and a recent Don Rendall sideman.


Alive & Well: Recorded in Paris 

Soft Machine released their tenth album, Alive & Well: Recorded in Paris, in March 1978 on Harvest. It’s a live album comprised of all-new material, performed July 6–9 1977 at the Théâtre Le Palace. Side One consists of six Jenkins numbers that run-together, including the two-part “Odds Bullets and Blades” and the complementary “Puffin” and “Huffin.” Side Two contains two lengthy Jenkins pieces (“The Nodder,” “Soft Space”) and a one composition each by Etheridge (“Number Three”) and Sanders (“Surrounding Silence”).

“White Kite” (3:00)
“Eos” (1:22)
“Odds Bullets and Blades Pt. I” (2:18)
“Odds Bullets and Blades Pt. II” (2:33)
“Song of the Sunbird” (1:24)
“Puffin” (1:18)
“Huffin” (5:12) On original vinyl pressings, audience noises continue onto the runout groove.

“Number Three” (2:25)
“The Nodder” (7:13)
“Surrounding Silence” (4:04)
“Soft Space” (8:17)

EMI soundman Mike Thorne recorded the on the Théâtre Le Palace shows on the Manor Mobile Unit, a portable extension of the Manor mansion studio owned by Virgin co-founder Richard Branson. The Manor Mobile was also used for 1977 live albums by Ange, Brand X, Genesis, and Man. Thorne used it months earlier for The Roxy London WC2 (Jan – Apr 77), a document of upstart acts (The Adverts, Buzzcocks, Wire, X-Ray Spex) that played at The Roxy, the epicentre of London’s punk scene in Covent Garden.

Thorne, a ten-year Softs fan, helped them secure replacement instruments after Parisian thieves hotwired their equipment van after the first night’s show. He also produced 1977–78 albums by Gryphon (Treason), The Shirts (self-titled), Téléphone, and Wire (Chairs Missing).

Alive & Well lists two engineers: Paul Hardiman and Paul Northfield. Hardiman engineered 1972–77 albums by Alan White, Brian Eno (Here Come The Warm Jets), David Essex (Out On the Street), Fleetwood Mac (Mystery to Me), Groundhogs (Hogwash), Mott the Hoople, The Movies, and Zzebra. He recently produced Druid Fluid, the second of two albums by symphonic-rockers Druid. Northfield engineered 1973–77 albums by Cado Belle (self-titled), Flash, Gentle Giant (Interview), Locust, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (The Roaring Silence), Peter Banks, and Steve Howe.

Soft Machine recut several tracks with Thorne at Advision Studios, including “The Nodder” and “Soft Space,” which they rearranged for a two-sided 1978 Harvest single.

For the 2010 CD reissue, mastering engineer Paschal Byrne of the Audio Archiving Company unearthered a long-vaulted track: “The Spraunce,” a co-write by Cook and jazz pianist Peter Lemer. This and nine other songs comprise the second disc of the two-CD remastered reissue of Alive & Well  on Esoteric Recordings. Disc Two also includes two Softs live numbers (“The Tale of Taliesin,” “Song of Aeolus”), a Marshall cut (“Sideburn”), an Etheridge–Marshall co-write (“Two Down”), a Jenkins rarity (“K’s Riff”), and a medley comprised of the group-written “Organic Matter” and Cook’s “One Over the Eight.”

“K’s Riff” (4:41)
“The Nodder” (7:13)
“Two Down” (2:27)
“The Spraunce” (6:27)
“Song of Aeolus” – 3:41)
“Sideburn” (7:44)
“The Tale of Taliesin” (8:08)
“Organic Matter” / “One Over the Eight” (5:55)
“Soft Space, Part One” (edited, 4:15)
“Soft Space, Part Two” (disco version, 5:41)


Land of Cockayne

The eleventh Soft Machine album, Land of Cockayne, appeared in March 1981 on EMI. Each side contains four proper pieces and a brief postlude, all composed by Jenkins.

On Cockayne, Soft Machine is a two-man band with six auxiliary players, including onetime member Allan Holdsworth and prior guest Ray Warleigh. The other musicians are outside name-players: bassist Jack Bruce (Graham Bond Organization, Cream), tenor saxist Dick Morrissey (If, Morrissey–Mullen), jazz pianist John Taylor (Azimuth), and session guitarist Alan Parker (Hungry Wolf, Rumplestiltskin).

“Over ‘n’ Above” (7:24)
“Lotus Groves” (4:57)
“Isle of the Blessed” (1:56)
“Panoramania” (7:07)
“Behind the Crystal Curtain” (0:53)

“Palace of Glass” (3:22)
“Hot-Biscuit Slim” (7:27)
“(Black) Velvet Mountain” (5:10)
“Sly Monkey” (5:00)
“A Lot of What You Fancy…” (0:35)

Sessions took place in June–July 1980 at Pye and Riverside Studios in London with Mike Thorne, who produced Cockayne in sequence with albums by Berlin Blondes, Colin Newman, John Cale, Metro, and the Urban Verbs.

Jenkins’ arsenal includes piano, Minimoog, Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer, and the recently introduced Synclavier digital synthesizer. Cockayne features three backing vocalists: onetime Harmony Grass frontman Tony Rivers and sessionists Stu Calver and John Perry, both longtime backing singer for Cliff Richard and Al Stewart. Conductor Bill Harman did the orchestral arrangements.

Land of Cockayne features cover art by Roy Ellsworth, whose illustration depicts a gravity-defying living room inside a cube that hovers above a snow-buried city under a blue sky. The back cover shows a floating pig (Pink Floyd reference) above the clouds. Ellsworth also did the cover art to the 1976 A&M release Be Bop ‘n’ Holla, the third solo album by onetime Amen Corner frontman Andy Fairweather-Low.


Discography:

  • The Soft Machine (1968)
  • Volume Two (1969)
  • Third (1970)
  • Fourth (1971)
  • Fifth (1972)
  • Six (1973)
  • Seven (1973)
  • Bundles (1975)
  • Softs (1976)
  • Alive & Well: Recorded in Paris (1978)
  • Land of Cockayne (1981)

Sources:

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