Soft Machine are a British rock band from Canterbury formed in mid-1966 by Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen. As a central band of the Canterbury scene, the group became one of the first British psychedelic acts and later moved into progressive rock and jazz fusion, becoming a purely instrumental band since 1971. The band has undergone many line-up changes, with musicians such as Andy Summers, Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean, John Marshall, Karl Jenkins, Roy Babbington and Allan Holdsworth being members during the band's history. The current line-up consists of John Etheridge, Theo Travis, Fred Thelonious Baker and Asaf Sirkis.
|Discography||Soft Machine discography|
1978–1988 (as Soft Heap / Soft Head),
1999–2002 (as Soft Ware),
2002–2004 (as Soft Works),
2003 (as Soft Mountain),
2004 (as Soft Bounds),
2004–2015 (as Soft Machine Legacy)
|Labels||ABC Probe, Columbia, Harvest, EMI, Major League Productions (MLP)|
Fred Thelonious Baker
|Past members||See: Members|
Though they achieved little commercial success, Soft Machine are considered by critics to have been influential in rock music. Dave Lynch at AllMusic called them "one of the more influential bands of their era, and certainly one of the most influential underground ones". The group were named after the novel The Soft Machine by William S. Burroughs.
1960s (1966–69) Edit
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). Allen, Wyatt and future bassist Hugh Hopper first played together in the Daevid Allen Trio in 1963, occasionally accompanied by Ratledge. Wyatt, Ayers, Hopper and Hopper's brother Brian, another future Soft Machine member, had been founding members of The Wilde Flowers, incarnations of which would also include future members of another Canterbury band, Caravan.
In late 1966/early 1967, Soft Machine became involved in the early UK underground, performing at the UFO Club and other London clubs like the Speakeasy Club and Middle Earth. According to Wyatt, the negative reactions the Soft Machine received when playing at venues other than these underground clubs were what led to their penchant for long tracks and segued tunes, since playing continuously left their audiences no chance to boo. Their first single, "Love Makes Sweet Music" (recorded 5 February 1967, produced by Chas Chandler), was released by Polydor in February, backed with "Feelin' Reelin' Squeelin'" (January 1967, produced by Kim Fowley). It was a commercial flop. In April 1967 they recorded nine 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 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 rendering of "We Did It Again", singing the refrain over and over in a trance-like quality. This made them instant darlings of the Parisian "in" crowd, resulting in invitations to appear on television shows and at the Paris Biennale in October 1967. When returning from 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 as Jimi Hendrix, the band supported The Jimi Hendrix Experience's North America tour throughout 1968. Soft Machine's first album was recorded in New York City in April at the end of the first leg of the tour. Back in London, guitarist Andy Summers, later of The Police, joined the group following the breakup of Dantalian's Chariot. After a few weeks of rehearsals, the quartet began a tour of the U.S. with some headlining shows before supporting Hendrix during August and September 1968. By the time the Hendrix tour began, Summers had been fired at the insistence of Ayers. Ayers himself departed amicably after the final tour date at the Hollywood Bowl in mid-September, and Soft Machine disbanded. Wyatt stayed in the U.S. 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, to fulfill contractual obligations, Soft Machine re-formed with former road manager and composer Hugh Hopper on bass added to Wyatt and Ratledge and recorded their second album, Volume Two (1969), which started a transition toward jazz fusion. In May 1969 this line-up acted as the uncredited backing band on two tracks of The Madcap Laughs, the debut solo album by Syd Barrett. That same month, Brian Hopper was added to the band on saxophone. He was with them until October 1969, after which Soft Machine became a septet with Ratledge, Wyatt and Hugh Hopper recruiting four horn players, saxophonists Elton Dean and Lyn Dobson, cornet player Mark Charig and trombonist Nick Evans, though the latter two departed after two months.
1970s (1970–78) Edit
The resulting Soft Machine quintet (Wyatt, Hopper, Ratledge, Dean and Dobson) continued until March 1970, when Dobson departed. The remaining quartet recorded Third (1970) and Fourth (1971). 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 U.S., and is the best-selling Soft Machine recording.
They received unprecedented acclaim across Europe, and they made history by becoming the first rock band invited to play at London's Proms in August 1970. The show 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 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 2008 release, Drop) and began 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 (1972) at the beginning of 1972, with the second LP side recorded with his replacement, John Marshall. Later in 1972, Dean left the band, and was replaced by Karl Jenkins, who also played keyboards in addition to saxophone. Both Marshall and Jenkins were former members of Ian Carr's Nucleus, and the band's next album, Six (1973), saw their sound develop even more towards jazz fusion.
After the release of Six in 1973, Hopper left the band. He was replaced by Roy Babbington, another former Nucleus member, who played 6-string bass guitar, while Karl Jenkins took over as bandleader and composer. After they released Seven (1973), the band switched record labels from Columbia to Harvest. On their 1975 album, Bundles, a significant musical change occurred with Allan Holdsworth adding guitar as a prominent melody instrument to the band's sound, sometimes reminiscent of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, setting the album apart from previous Soft Machine albums which had rarely featured guitars. Holdsworth was replaced by John Etheridge in 1975, while saxophonist Alan Wakeman was added at the beginning of 1976. Wakeman's time with the band was brief, but did record with them on the next album Softs (1976), the first album without Ratledge, the last remaining original member of the band, who left in March 1976. Other musicians in the band during the later period were bassists Percy Jones (of Brand X) and Steve Cook, saxophonist 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 last performance (until the 1984 reformation) being the only Soft Machine concert of 1978, at the Sound & Musik Festival in Dortmund, Germany on 8 December.[nb 1]
1980s reunions (1980–81; 1984) Edit
The Soft Machine name was resurrected for the 1981 record Land of Cockayne. Soft Machine also briefly reformed for a series of dates at London's Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in the summer of 1984,[nb 2] featuring John Marshall, Karl Jenkins, John Etheridge, Ray Warleigh, bassist Paul Carmichael and pianist Dave MacRae.
Alternative bands (1978–2015) Edit
Soft Heap / Soft Head (1978–88) Edit
Soft Heap (Hugh, Elton, Alan, Pip) formed in January 1978, featuring Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean from Soft Machine, and Alan Gowen and Pip Pyle from the band National Health. The newly formed band toured in the spring and summer of 1978 as Soft Head as Dave Sheen replaced Pip Pyle, due to the latter's commitments with the band National Health. The live album Rogue Element was recorded on that tour and was released in 1978.
The original Soft Heap line-up reconvened in October 1978 to record their eponymous studio album Soft Heap which was released in 1979.
After two line-up changes that occurred in 1979–81, the new line-up toured intermittently throughout the 1980s, embarking on four tours during the decade with a total of 25 European concerts, culminating with a gig on 11 May 1988 at the Festival "Jazz sous les pommiers" in Coutances, France.
Soft Ware (1999–2002), Soft Works (2002–04), Soft Mountain (2003) and Soft Bounds (2004) Edit
Soft Ware (sometimes SoftWhere) formed in September 1999, featuring Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Marshall (on drums) and longtime friend Keith Tippett. This line-up would remain together only briefly, and played just a single gig (Augustusburg Hunting Lodge, Germany, Sept. 4, 1999). Then in 2002, with Tippett unavailable, another former Soft Machine member, Allan Holdsworth (on guitar), was brought in with the remaining three members of Soft Ware, who renamed themselves Soft Works in June 2002 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 and February 2004, and Mexico in March 2004.
During a Japanese Soft Works tour in August 2003, Elton Dean (on saxophone) and Hugh Hopper (on bass) formed the (very) short-lived band Soft Mountain along with Japanese musicians Hoppy Kamiyama (on keyboards, whose name translates as "God Mountain"), whom Hopper had met a couple of years earlier, and Yoshida Tatsuya (from the band Ruins) on drums. Indeed, looking for a break from relatively fixed set lists and song forms, Hugh Hopper had contacted Kamiyama with the idea of hitting a studio for a day to see what might happen. Kamiyama brought in Tatsuya, and, with no discussion, the quartet dove right in, playing two 45-minute improvisations. In 2007, a year after Elton Dean unexpectedly died aged 60, the one-time meeting band released their eponymous album Soft Mountain that they had recorded on that 10 August 2003 day in Tokyo, Japan. The two-part "Soft Mountain Suite" extracts the best thirty minutes from each improvisation. Soft Mountain named themselves after Hoppy Kamiyama, whose name translates to "God Mountain" in English.
In June 2004, Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper formed the (very) short-lived band Soft Bounds along with Sophia Domancich (keyboards) and Simon Goubert (drums), playing at the Festival "Les Tritonales" at Le Triton in Les Lilas, France (a suburb in the northeast of Paris). This concert was partially released as the (unique Soft Bounds) album Live at Le Triton in 2005.
Soft Machine Legacy (2004–15) Edit
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 and 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 album 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.
Hopper left in 2008 because he was suffering from leukaemia, so the band continued live performances with Fred Baker. Following Hopper's death in 2009, the band announced that they would continue with Roy Babbington again replacing Hugh Hopper on bass.
Soft Machine Legacy released their fifth album in October 2010: a 58-minute album entitled Live Adventures recorded live in October 2009 in Austria and Germany during a European tour.
On 18 March 2013, the Legacy band released a new studio album, titled Burden of Proof. Travis stated that "legally we could actually be called Soft Machine but for various reasons it was decided to be one step removed."
A return to the name "Soft Machine" (2015–present) Edit
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 3] and a series of seven UK shows in March–April 2016.[nb 4]
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 members – John Etheridge, John Marshall and Roy Babbington – joined by Theo Travis on sax, flute and keyboard.
On 7 September 2018, Soft Machine released Hidden Details, their first new studio album in five years (first album as Soft Machine since 1981). In Fall and Winter 2018, they toured the world as part of their 50th anniversary celebration and in support of the new album, and the US in January and February 2019.[nb 5]
On 20 March 2020, Soft Machine released Live at The Baked Potato (on Tonefloat Records), their first original live album in decades. It was recorded live at The Baked Potato, Los Angeles, on 1 February 2019 and was initially only available as a twelve-track only-200-numbered-copy limited edition double vinyl LP; it has since been released on CD. The album documents their extensive 2018–2019 world tour. In June 2023, the band released a new studio album, Other Doors. The album was recorded with John Marshall before he retired.
Composed of John Etheridge (guitar), Theo Travis (saxophones, flutes, keyboards), Fred Thelonious Baker (bass) and Asaf Sirkis (drums), Soft Machine embarked on 3 February 2023 at the New Cross Inn in London on a seven-date UK "Spring 2023 Tour" ending on 26 May 2023 at City Varieties in Leeds.[nb 6] The band is also due to perform another show in Leeds on 7 November 2023 at Farsley Old Woollen.
Soft Machine's music encompasses progressive rock, experimental rock, jazz rock, jazz, proto-prog, psychedelic rock and art 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."
- John Etheridge – guitar (1975–1978, 1984, 2015–present)
- Theo Travis – saxophones, flutes, keyboards, piano (2015–present)
- Fred Thelonious Baker – bass (2020–present)
- Asaf Sirkis – drums (2023–present)
- Mike Ratledge – keyboards, piano, organ, synthesizers, flute (1966–1976)
- Robert Wyatt – drums, percussion, lead and backing vocals (1966–1971)
- Kevin Ayers – bass, guitars, backing and lead vocals (1966–1968; died 2013)
- Daevid Allen – guitar, bass, backing vocals (1966–1967; died 2015)
- Andy Summers – guitar (1968)
- Hugh Hopper – bass, guitars, alto saxophone (1968–1973; died 2009)
- Brian Hopper – tenor and soprano saxophones (1969)
- Elton Dean – alto saxophone, saxello, flute, keyboards (1969–1972; died 2006)
- Lyn Dobson – tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, backing vocals (1969–1970)
- Mark Charig – cornet, trumpet (1969)
- Nick Evans – trombone (1969)
- Phil Howard – drums (1971–1972)
- John Marshall – drums, percussion (1972–1978, 1980–1981, 1984, 2015–2023; died 2023)
- Karl Jenkins – baritone and soprano saxophones, recorder, flute, oboe, keyboards, piano, synthesizers (1972–1978, 1980–1981, 1984)
- Roy Babbington – bass (1973–1976, 2015–2020)
- Allan Holdsworth – guitars, violin, voices (1973–1975; died 2017)
- Alan Wakeman – tenor and soprano saxophones (1976)
- Ray Warleigh – alto saxophone, flute (1976, 1984)
- Ric Sanders – violin (1976–1978)
- Percy Jones – bass (1976)
- Steve Cook – bass (1976–1978)
- Paul Carmichael – bass (1984)
- Dave MacRae – keyboards, piano (1984)
Studio albums Edit
|1968||The Soft Machine||Ratledge, Wyatt, Ayers||Hugh Hopper|
|1969||Volume Two||Ratledge, Wyatt, H. Hopper||Brian Hopper|
|1970||Third||Ratledge, Wyatt, H. Hopper, Dean||Lyn Dobson, Nick Evans, Jimmy Hastings, Rab Spall|
|1971||Fourth||Evans, Hastings, Mark Charig, Roy Babbington, Alan Skidmore|
|1972||Fifth||Side one: Ratledge, H. Hopper, Dean, Howard
Side two: Ratledge, Hopper, Dean, Marshall
|1973||Six||Ratledge, H. Hopper, Marshall, Jenkins|
|1973||Seven||Ratledge, Marshall, Jenkins, Babbington|
|1975||Bundles||Ratledge, Marshall, Jenkins, Babbington, Holdsworth||Ray Warleigh|
|1976||Softs||Marshall, Jenkins, Babbington, Etheridge, Wakeman||Ratledge|
|1981||Land of Cockayne||Marshall, Jenkins||Holdsworth, Warleigh, Jack Bruce, Stu Calver, Dick Morrissey, John Perry, Alan Parker, Tony Rivers, John Taylor|
|2018||Hidden Details||Marshall, Babbington, Etheridge, Travis||Nick Utteridge|
|2023||Other Doors||Marshall, Etheridge, Travis, Baker||Babbington|
Live albums Edit
|September 1967 – May 1968||2006||Middle Earth Masters||Ratledge, Wyatt, Ayers|
|March 1969||1996||Live at the Paradiso 1969||Ratledge, Wyatt, H. Hopper|
|November 1969 – May 1970||2002||Backwards||Ratledge, Wyatt, H. Hopper, Dean, Dobson, Charig, Evans|
|January 1970||2000||Noisette||Ratledge, Wyatt, H. Hopper, Dean, Dobson|
|January 1970||2005||Breda Reactor|
|January 1970||2022||Facelift France & Holland CD 2|
|March 1970||2022||Facelift France & Holland CD 1 + DVD|
|April 1970||2004||Somewhere in Soho||Ratledge, Wyatt, H. Hopper, Dean|
|August 1970||1988||Live at the Proms 1970|
|February 1971||2009||Live at Henie Onstad Art Centre 1971|
|March 1971||1993||Soft Machine & Heavy Friends – BBC in Concert 1971|
|November 1971||2008||Drop||Ratledge, H. Hopper, Dean, Howard|
|May 1972||2008||Live in Paris||Ratledge, H. Hopper, Dean, Marshall|
|June 1972||1994||Soft Stage – BBC in Concert 1972||Ratledge, H. Hopper, Marshall, Jenkins|
|October – November 1972||1973||Six Disc 1|
|May 1973||2010||NDR Jazz Workshop Hamburg, Germany CD + DVD||Ratledge, Marshall, Jenkins, Babbington|
|July 1974||2015||Switzerland 1974 CD + DVD||Ratledge, Marshall, Jenkins, Babbington, Holdsworth|
|January 1975||2006||Floating World Live|
|October 1975||2005||British Tour '75||Ratledge, Marshall, Jenkins, Babbington, Etheridge|
|July 1977||1978||Alive & Well: Recorded in Paris||Marshall, Jenkins, Etheridge, Sanders, Cook|
|February 2019||2020||Live at The Baked Potato||Marshall, Babbington, Etheridge, Travis|
Related bands, projects & tributes discography Edit
|Year||Album||Soft Machine members involved|
|The Wilde Flowers|
|1965–69||The Wilde Flowers (released in 1994)||Ayers, B. Hopper, H. Hopper, Wyatt|
|1978||Planet Earth||Ratledge, Jenkins|
|1978||Rogue Element||Dean, H. Hopper|
|1979||Soft Heap||Dean, H. Hopper|
|1979||Al Dente (released in 2008)||Dean, H. Hopper|
|1982–83||A Veritable Centaur (released in 1995)||Dean|
|1979||Push Button||Ratledge, Jenkins|
|1980||First Steps||Etheridge, Sanders|
|2002||Abracadabra (released in 2003)||Holdsworth, Dean, H. Hopper, Marshall|
|2003||Soft Mountain (released in 2007)||Dean, H. Hopper|
|2004||Live at Le Triton (released in 2005)||Dean, H. Hopper|
|Soft Machine Legacy|
|2005||Live in Zaandam||Etheridge, Dean, H. Hopper, Marshall|
|2006||Soft Machine Legacy||Etheridge, Dean, H. Hopper, Marshall|
|2006||Live at the New Morning||Etheridge, Dean, H. Hopper, Marshall|
|2007||Steam||Etheridge, Travis, H. Hopper, Marshall|
|2010||Live Adventures||Etheridge, Travis, Babbington, Marshall|
|2013||Burden of Proof||'Etheridge, Travis, 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)|
- Soft Machine Legacy: New Morning – The Paris Concert, available in DVD format (2006)
- Alive in Paris 1970, available in DVD format (2008)
- Romantic Warriors III: Canterbury Tales, available in DVD format (2015)
- On 8 December 1978 at the Sound & Musik Festival in Dortmund, Germany; the probable line-up being Karl Jenkins, John Marshall, Ric Sanders, Steve Cook and Allan Holdsworth.
- A week of gigs from 30 July to 4 August 1984.
- On 2 December 2015 at Cultuurpodium Boerderij in Zoetermeer, Netherlands and on 4 December 2015 at N9 Villa in Eeklo, Belgium.
- On 18 March 2016 as part of the HRH Prog 4 Festival (scheduled from 17 to 20 March) at Camp HRH (Hafan y Môr Holiday Park), Pwllheli, North Wales, UK, on 19 March at the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal, UK, on 20 March at the Bristol Jazz Festival, Bristol, UK (once scheduled then cancelled and rescheduled for 16 November 2016 at The Robin 2, Wolverhampton, UK), on 24 March 2016 at the Talking Heads in Southampton, UK, on 26 March 2016 at Trading Boundaries, Sheffield Green, East Sussex, UK, on 30 March at the Assembly Rooms, Leamington Spa, UK, on 31 March 2016 at the Band on the Wall in Manchester, UK, on 1 April 2016 at Nell's Jazz & Blues Club in London, UK.
- Soft Machine embarked on 6 September 2018 in Oslo, Norway on a world tour starting with a 10-date Europe leg (ended on 19 September 2018 in Jena, Germany); followed on 6 October in Baltimore by a 12-date North American leg – their first North American tour since 1974 (ended on 23 October in Saint Paul, Minnesota); followed on 3 November in Canterbury by an 11-date second European leg (ended on 16 December 2018 in Bonn, Germany); and embarked on 21 January 2019 on a 14-date second North American leg (ended by a 5-date residency from 4 to 8 February 2019 at Key West, Florida through Cozumel, Mexico at the Cruise to the Edge festival).
- On 3 February 2023 at the New Cross Inn (a pub in New Cross) in London; 8 February at the Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne; 9 February at The Pavilion, Falmouth; 15 February at Band on the Wall in Manchester; 16 February at Backstage at The Green Hotel in Kinross; 17 February at Zeffirellis in Ambleside; 26 May 2023 at City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds
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Further reading Edit
- Official Website
- Soft Machine section at the Canterbury Music website
- Une discographie de Robert Wyatt (in French)
- Soft Machine discography (archived)
- Soft Machine discography at Discogs
- Soft Machine at IMDb
- Facelift Magazine, "exploring the Canterbury scene and beyond"
- Softs in "The (almost) authorised Robert Wyatt website"
- Elton Dean interview in Facelift Magazine
- Noisette, "The ultimate Soft Machine experience, music, pictures, movies, facts"