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Soft Machine
Formed: 1966 in Canterbury, Kent, England
Disbanded: 1977
Active: '60s, '70s, '80s Major
Styles: Art Rock, Canterbury Scene, Jazz-Rock Major
Members: Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Allan Holdsworth, Daevid Allen, John Marshall Representative
Albums: "Vols. 1 & 2", "Triple Echo", "Noisette" Representative
Songs: "Save Yourself", "Hope for Happiness", "Facelift"

UPC Type Title
4582192933688 (i) CD 4(Mini LP Sleeve)
4582192933695 (i) CD 5(Mini LP Sleeve)
4582192933701 (i) CD 6(Mini LP Sleeve)
4582192933718 (i) CD 7(Mini LP Sleeve)
5013929733428 (i) CD Alive & Well Recorded in Paris
762189177026 (i) DVD Alive in Paris 1970
045775017020 CD Backwards
682970000671 CD BBC in Concert 1971
682970000473 CD BBC Radio 1971-74
604388318520 (i) CD Breda Reactor
5030820041728 (i) CD British Tour '75
741157159028 CD Bundles
5013929729629 (i) CD Bundles
692287902322 CD Drop
604388306725 (i) CD Facelift (Live)
4571191050724 (i) CD Fifth
4547366194791 (i) CD Fifth
692287900724 CD Floating World Live
4988005422569 (i) CD Floating World Live
4571191050731 (i) CD Fourth
828768729120 (i) CD Fourth
4547366194784 (i) CD Fourth
5099749334120 (i) CD Fourth/Fifth
045775023021 CD Grides
636551445627 CD Kings of Canterbury
5013929730847 (i) CD Land of Cockayne
4571136377015 (i) CD Land of Cockayne
604388112920 (i) CD Live 1970
775020975323 CD Live at Henie Onstad Art Centre 1971
889397901240 Vinyl Live at Het Turfschip Netherlands 31 January 1970
045775019529 CD Live in Paris
045775023526 CD Middle Earth Masters
045775030524 CD Ndr Jazz Workshop: Germany May 17. 1973
045775013022 CD Noisette
886977814426 (i) CD Original Album Classics
889397901226 Vinyl Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club
5060230860480 (i) CD Rubber Riff
4547366194814 (i) CD Seven
4571191050748 (i) CD Seven
883717700377 CD Shooting at the Moon
4571191050809 (i) CD Six
828768759127 (i) CD Six
4547366194807 (i) CD Six
090771630520 CD Soft Machine
090771630629 CD Soft Machine: Vol. 2
646315719628 CD Soft Machine: Vol. 2
600753205051 (i) CD Soft Machine
029667492027 (i) CD Soft Machine: Vol. 1-2
604388306527 (i) CD Soft Machine: Vol. 1-Turns on
4988005502230 (i) CD Soft Machine
690978345311 (i) CD Soft Machine
604388306923 (i) CD Soft Machine: Vol. 2-Turns on
4988005771797 (i) CD Soft Machine
090771534118 Vinyl Soft Machine
5013929730243 (i) CD Softs
604388310425 (i) CD Somewhere in Soho
5013929738126 (i) CD Tales of Taliesin: The Emi Years Anthology 1975-19
886972393421 CD Third
5099747140723 (i) CD Third
4547366190229 (i) CD Third
4547366194777 (i) CD Third
4571191050717 (i) CD Third
8713748981570 (i) Vinyl Third
4582192933671 (i) CD Third (Mini LP Sleeve)
8712177021277 (i) CD Turns on
045775010021 CD Virtually
090771534217 Vinyl Volume 2
600753205068 (i) CD Volume Two

Biography: 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, Hopper s 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 1981 s 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. ~ Richie Unterberger & Dave Lynch, Rovi