Soft Machine

2-23-11

Soft Machine

Two members of the Soft Machine have already passed away:  Elton Dean (1945 – 2006) and Hugh Hopper (1945 – 2009).  Still walking the Earth:  Mike Ratledge (b. 1943), Robert Wyatt (b. 1945) and Kevin Ayers (b. 1944).  My main interest in Soft Machine pretty much only goes as far as when both Wyatt and Hopper were still in the band (up to “Fourth”, from 1971).

Of the living members of Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt is the most active.  Kevin Ayers had a new album a short while that was very good (“The Unfairground”, 2007); Mike Ratledge – to my obviously limited knowledge = has yet to ever make a ‘solo’ album.

I suppose one could also classify Daevid Allen (b. 1938) as a former member of Soft Machine; he’s still active.  The first 5 years worth of Gong albums are worth a listen…”Angel’s Egg” is probably my favorite Gong album.

Hugh Hopper made some extremely excellent solo albums, notably “Hoppertunity Box” and “Monster Band” – instrumental British jazz LP’s that really sound excellent to me.  I return to these records again and again.

I’ve long been a fan of Robert Wyatt – I loved both Matching Mole albums a lot.  I was quite young when I first found out about his accident that left him crippled.  However, his 2nd and 3rd solo albums (“Rock Bottom” and “Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard”) remain touchstone albums for me, the keys to a wider view of British rock music that gradually turns towards jazz for it’s inspiration.  I love those two albums.

Again and again, I return to the first three albums by Soft Machine.  There’s a gorgeous version of the debut album, as a little paper album sleeve CD – complete with the ‘wheel’ and die-cut cover; and fairly good sound!  I’ve never found such an item for “Vol. 2” – I will have to console myself with an original US LP of it, and the two-fer UK CD.  Finally, there is a dynamite Japanese paper sleeve CD from 2006 that features DSD mastering for “Third”, so it’s as good as it can look and sound in the digital world.

Robert Wyatt appears on the debut Hatfield & The North album; he’s also on a Lol Coxhill & Steven Miller LP (“Oh Really / The Story So Far”).  If you liked the debut Hatfields album, you could easily follow them towards National Health.  Oh, and let’s not forget the first 5 or 6 albums by Caravan – certainly cousins to the Soft Machine.

It’s a bit sad that Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean have both been silenced.  Both men were totally capable of coming up with neat new music that would surprise and beguile.  I guess the best I can hope for is that Robert Wyatt continues to record, and that maybe we won’t have to wait so long for another Kevin Ayers album!

2011 and still no proper solo album from Mike Ratledge.  Guess some guys never get around to it, the “I’ve got to make a solo album” phase.  If you ever decide to, Mike, we’ll definitely have a listen.

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