The death last month of Hugh Hopper saw me pulling out my Soft Machine CDs and giving them a listen again. I go through a Soft Machine phase every couple of years and Hopper’s passing was a good excuse for another. It was also an excuse for me to pull “Out-Bloody-Rageous,” Graham Bennett’s exhaustive Soft Machine’s bio off the shelf again, too. It will forever be the definitive book on the band.
Eccentric pioneers, first of psychedelia, then prog rock, then of jazz-rock fusion, the innovative avant-garde onslaught of the Soft Machine was probably best encountered as a live experience.The odd time signatures and sheer complexity of the music would have been almost stressful to play. This musical tension was probably personally wearing as the band went through 24 different line-ups in its long career.
Sadly, I never had a chance to see the Soft Machine play live, it was before my time, but I have had a chance to see Gong and Kevin Ayers and both shows were delightful experiences. Here’s a particularly hot performance of the Soft Machine performing “Ester’s Nose Job” from French TV circa 1970: