Soft Machine

Soft Machine are an English rock and jazz band from Canterbury formed in mid-1966, named after the novel The Soft Machine by William S. Burroughs.

Australian poet, guitarist, singer, composer and performance artist Daevid Allen moved to Paris in 1960. Inspired by the emerging 'Beat Generation' of writer's works he'd discovered whilst working in a Melbourne bookshop he moved into a room in Paris's 'Beat Hotel' and spent time around the city's Latin Quarter. There, he rubbed shoulders with Terry Riley and William S. Burroughs, gaining free access to the area's jazz clubs. Influenced by the music philosophies of Sun Ra he formed the Daevid Allen Trio, a free-jazz outfit which performed in Burroughs' theatre pieces based on that writer's novel 'The Ticket That Exploded'.

In 1961 Allen travelled to Canterbury, England, where he met 16 year-old Robert Wyatt (who was the son of his landlord). Their mutual interest in jazz resulted in a few gigs, in London in 1963, as the Daevid Allen Trio (with Hugh Hopper on bass and Mike Ratledge occasionally guesting on piano). Around the same time, Wyatt formed the Wilde Flowers with the Hopper brothers, Hugh and Brian Hopper, with Kevin Ayers on vocals.

The impetus behind the formation of Soft Machine occurred in a meeting of Daevid Allen and Kevin Ayers with Texan millionaire Wes Brunson in Deya, Majorca, on Easter Sunday 1966. Brunson agreed to put up the money for a new band, which allowed the group to buy equipment and rent a rehearsal room near Canterbury. The original line-up consisted of Robert Wyatt on drums and vocals, Mike Ratledge on keyboards, Daevid Allen on guitar and Kevin Ayers on bass and vocals. From May 1966 they gigged as Mister Head (aka Mr Head) and became Soft Machine in August 1966.

The name was taken from a William S. Burroughs novel 'The Soft Machine' (part of The Nova Trilogy), with agreement from the author. The title The Soft Machine encapsulates the Human Body, and the main theme of the book - as explicitly written in an appendix - concerns how control mechanisms invade the body. One poem, entitled Mens (Man, as in 'human'), by Dutch-American hematologist and poet Leo Vroman starts with the line: "Man is a soft machine..."

Mike Ratledge says of this : "... Soft machine was a generic term for the whole of humanity, and we were all soft machines... I guess our basic assumption was that what we liked, everybody else was going to like as well, that we all had things in common, and therefore we all are soft machines, and we were all going to like Soft Machine music. It might have been a false assumption, but I hope it's true".

In January 1967, the band's first single release, The Soft Machine* - Love Makes Sweet Music, was recorded.. Celebrating its release on February 22nd 1967 the band gave a press conference at The Speakeasy, performing that evening at The Roundhouse as the opening act for the Jimi Hendrix Experience - where Hendrix jammed with them on bass.

Allen recalls their introduction to The Speakeasy by Giorgio Gomelsky, the promoter, producer, founder of the Crawdaddy Club and original manager of both The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones; “He would take us there and ply us with whiskeys on the expense account. We’d meet all the big stars at the time. It was like being at court, only a rock ‘n’ roll court. ‘Cause The Beatles were there, the Rolling Stones were there – everybody, all the big names, would gather at the Speakeasy at this particular time.” [From the book 'Soft Machine: Out-Bloody-Rageous' by Graham Bennett].

Three months later, a collection of demos was recorded at DeLane Lea Studios with producer Giorgio Gomelsky, but not officially released until 1971 as two compilations on the French BYG Records label. At that time, Soft Machine had already become something of a 'cult' band on the London psychedelic scene, gigging at places like the Zebra Club, The Marquee, The Roundhouse, UFO (Underground Freak Out club) and Middle Earth. Light shows were also developed with Mark Boyle's Sensual Laboratory. On April 29th, 1967, they took part in the '14 Hour Technicolor Dream', an event set up by the underground paper 'International Times', which also featured Pink Floyd, The Move, Alexis Korner, Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, Tomorrow, Mothers Of Invention, Velvet Underground and artists such as Alan Ginsberg and Yoko Ono.

During the summer of 1967 the band toured France, performing at psychedelic events along the Cote d’Azur such as Jean-Jacques Lebel’s “Sunlove Happening” and Eddie Barclay’s “La Nuit Pschedelique”. For three weeks they provided daily musical “transmissions hallucinatoires” for wildly popular performances of “Le Désir Attrapé par la Queue”, a Pablo Picasso play produced by Lebel at the Festival de la Libre Expression outside Saint-Tropez. A legendary performance of “Do It Again” helped Soft Machine to make an enormous impression in France and, by the end of the Summer of Love, they became the favorite band of the French avant-garde.

On the way back Daevid Allen was refused re-entry to England and stayed in France, moving on to various projects before forming Gong two years later, while Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge and Kevin Ayers decided to carry on Soft Machine as a trio.

In February 1968, Soft Machine embarked on a three month US tour (opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience), recording their first album during their touring schedule in New York in four days in April 1968, with production handled by Tom Wilson and former Animals bassist and Hendrix producer Chas Chandler. Although quickly made and not particularly well-recorded, the band's eponymous album The Soft Machine (1968) is now considered a classic of the extraordinarily creative post-psychedelic and pre-progressive period of the late 1960's.

The band split up in December 1968, re-formed in February 1969 and carried on until the late 1970's through many line-up changes and leaving no original member onboard. It re-formed briefly in 1980 and 1984. Robert Wyatt formed Matching Mole in October 1971. "Matching Mole" is a clever mis-pronounciation of "La Machine Molle", the French title of William Burroughs' novel "The Soft Machine".

Years active:
1978–1983 (offshot band Soft Head), followed by Soft Heap
1999–2002 (pre-reformation band Soft Ware)
2002–2004 (pre-reformation band Soft Works)
2004–2015 (as Soft Machine Legacy)

Other offshot bands featuring core members Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean were briefly created during the 2000s : Soft Bounds, Soft Mountain...

Current members:
John Marshall – drums, percussion (1971–1984, 2015–present)
Roy Babbington – bass (1973–1976, 2015–present)
John Etheridge – guitar (1975–1978, 2015–present)
Theo Travis – saxophone, flute, piano (2015–present)

Guest/Substitute musicians:
Nic France – drums, percussion (at least for one show: on 26 March 2016 in Sheffield Green, East Sussex, UK; substitute for John Marshall)

Former members:
Mike Ratledge – keyboards, flute (1966–1968, 1969–1976)
Robert Wyatt – drums, vocals, keyboards, bass (1966–1968, 1969–1971)
Kevin Ayers – bass, vocals, guitar, keyboards (1966–1968; died 2013)
Daevid Allen – guitar, vocals, bass (1966–1967; died 2015)
● Larry Nowlin – guitar (1966)
Andy Summers – guitar (1968)
Hugh Hopper – bass, saxophone, guitar (1968–1973; died 2009)
Elton Dean – saxophone, keyboards (1969–1972; died 2006)
Lyn Dobson – flute, saxophone (1969–1970)
Marc Charig – cornet (1969)
Nick Evans – trombone (1969)
Phil Howard – drums (1971)
Karl Jenkins – oboe, saxophone, keyboards, synthesisers (1972–1984)
Allan Holdsworth – guitar (1973–1975; died 2017)
Alan Wakeman – saxophone (1976)
Ray Warleigh – saxophone (1976; died 2015)
Ric Sanders – violin (1976–1978)
Percy Jones – bass (1976–1977)
Steve Cook (2) – bass (1977–1978)


CPLP-4500, 20 165, 20.16.57 Soft Machine - The Soft Machine album art The Soft Machine* The Soft Machine (Album) Probe, ABC Command CPLP-4500, 20 165, 20.16.57 Netherlands 1968 Sell This Version
SR 348 Soft Machine - Volume Two album art ソフト・マシーン* Volume Two (Album) Probe, Probe SR 348 Japan 1969 Sell This Version
G 30339 Soft Machine - Third album art Soft Machine Third (Album) CBS G 30339 Canada 1970 Sell This Version
C 30754 Soft Machine - Fourth album art Soft Machine Fourth (Album) CBS C 30754 Canada 1971 Sell This Version
529.708 Soft Machine - Rock Generation Vol. 8 - Soft Machine + Mark Leeman 52, Deep Feeling, T-Bones album art Soft Machine + Mark Leeman 5*, Davy Graham Soft Machine + Mark Leeman 5*, Davy Graham - Rock Generation Vol. 8 - Soft Machine + Mark Leeman 52, Deep Feeling, T-Bones BYG Records 529.708 France 1972 Sell This Version
529.707 Soft Machine - Rock Generation Volume 7 - Gary Farr & The T-Bones + The Original Soft Machine album art Gary Farr (2) & The T-Bones (2) + The Original Soft Machine* Gary Farr (2) & The T-Bones (2) + The Original Soft Machine* - Rock Generation Volume 7 - Gary Farr & The T-Bones + The Original Soft Machine (Album) BYG Records 529.707 France 1972 Sell This Version
529.907, BYG 529 907 Soft Machine - Faces And Places Vol. 7 album art Soft Machine Faces And Places Vol. 7 (Album, Comp) BYG Records, BYG Records 529.907, BYG 529 907 France 1972 Sell This Version
KC 31604 Soft Machine - Fifth album art Soft Machine Fifth (Album) CBS KC 31604 US 1972 Sell This Version
S 65799 Soft Machine - Seven album art Soft Machine Seven (Album) CBS S 65799 Europe 1973 Sell This Version
KG 32260 Soft Machine - Six album art Soft Machine Six (Album) CBS KG 32260 Canada 1973 Sell This Version
50 130, 50.130 Soft Machine - Bundles album art Soft Machine Bundles (Album) Harvest 50 130, 50.130 France 1975 Sell This Version
SHSP 4056, OC 062 ০ 97761 Soft Machine - Softs album art Soft Machine Softs (Album) Harvest, Harvest SHSP 4056, OC 062 ০ 97761 UK 1976 Sell This Version
14C 062-60438 Soft Machine - Alive And Well Recorded In Paris album art Soft Machine Alive And Well Recorded In Paris (Album) Harvest, Harvest 14C 062-60438 Greece 1978 Sell This Version
EMC 3348 Soft Machine - Land Of Cockayne album art Soft Machine Land Of Cockayne (Album) EMI EMC 3348 New Zealand 1981 Sell This Version
CD RECK 5 Soft Machine - Live At The Proms 1970 album art Soft Machine Live At The Proms 1970 (Album) Reckless Records (2) CD RECK 5 UK 1988 Sell This Version
DEI8501-4 Soft Machine - The Peel Sessions album art The Soft Machine* The Peel Sessions (Album) Strange Fruit DEI8501-4 US 1990 Sell This Version
CN 1488/S Soft Machine - BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert album art Soft Machine BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert (Album) Windsong International CN 1488/S UK 1972 Sell This Version
CN 1605/S Soft Machine - BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert album art Soft Machine BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert (Album) Windsong International, BBC Transcription CN 1605/S UK 1972 Sell This Version
VP190CD Soft Machine - Rubber Riff album art Soft Machine Rubber Riff (Album) Voiceprint VP190CD Europe 1994 Sell This Version
MSIF-2360/61, OW 31445 Soft Machine - Live In France album art Soft Machine Live In France (Album) One Way Records (6) MSIF-2360/61, OW 31445 Japan 1995 Sell This Version
BP193CD, BP160CD Soft Machine - Live At The Paradiso 1969 album art Soft Machine Live At The Paradiso 1969 (Album) Voiceprint BP193CD, BP160CD 1995 Sell This Version
Rune 90 Soft Machine - Spaced album art Soft Machine Spaced (Album) Cuneiform Records Rune 90 US 1996 Sell This Version
VJP-080, BP290CD Soft Machine - Live 1970 album art Soft Machine Live 1970 (Album) Blueprint (4) VJP-080, BP290CD Japan 1998 Sell This Version
RUNE 100, Rune 100 Soft Machine - Virtually album art Soft Machine Virtually (Album) Cuneiform Records, Cuneiform Records RUNE 100, Rune 100 US 1998 Sell This Version
ARC-2130 Soft Machine - Noisette album art Soft Machine Noisette (Album) Cuneiform Records, Cuneiform Records ARC-2130 Japan 1999 Sell This Version