‘Hope for Happiness’: The Soft Machine live in Paris, 1967

The Soft Machine line-up was always kinda fluid but didn’t fully set until Kevin Ayers (bass, vocals) joined Robert Wyatt (drums, vocals), Daevid Allen (guitar), and Mike Ratledge (organ) sometime in the summer of 1966. Wyatt and Allen had played together in the Daevid Allen Trio in 1963, before Wyatt, Ayers, Ratledge and Hugh Hopper formed the Wilde Flowers which would later include members of Caravan.

The Soft Machine (always the Soft Machine until 1970) took their name from the book by William Burroughs. Allen had stayed at the “Beat Hotel” in Paris when Burroughs, Ginsberg, Gysin, and co. were in residency. He had been “the friendly straight with those guys.” He took drugs, made music (composing the soundtrack for a short film version of Burroughs’ novel The Ticket That Exploded), and soaked up the free-wheeling bohemian lifestyle. By the time he hooked-up with Wyatt, Ratledge and Ayers, Allen was a seasoned musician, poet, beatnik, and proto-hippie traveler.

Ayers arrived in England from Malaya at the age of twelve to attend “any school that would have me.” This turned out to be a high school in Canterbury called the Simon Langton Grammar, where he met Wyatt and Ratledge. Wyatt was into a range of music from jazz to classical, while Ratledge starting to experiment with tape loops. This potent mix of music and experimentation found its full expression in the Soft Machine.
The Soft Machine as a four-piece with Daevid Allen.
The band moved through various lineups before settling on the foursome of Allen, Ayers, Wyatt, and Ratledge. The band were resident at the legendary underground club UFO alongside house band Pink Floyd. There was a rivalry between the two until the Floyd trumped their opposition with the pop single “Arnold Layne.” The Softs were never as commercial (though they did release what is arguably the first psychedelic single “Love Makes Sweet Music” in February 1967) as they preferred live improvisation and experimental sounds. Theirs was truly the music of the underground and a sound that would see them rightly hailed as “one of the more influential bands of their era, and certainly one of the most influential underground ones.”

According to Allen, the Softs first gig as a quartet was at the launch party for IT (the International Times) which quickly turned into a happening when Yoko Ono joined the band on stage and encouraged the audience “to touch each other in the dark.” A motorcycle was brought onto the stage and a microphone placed against the cylinder for “a good noise.” According to IT publisher Barry Miles in his memoir In the Sixties:

They also gave young women rides around the outer rim [of the venue] the Roundhouse on [the bike], bumping through the dirt and debris, raising clouds of dust.

The Softs were under Chas Chandler’s management, ex-bass player with the Animals who was also manager to Jimi Hendrix. Through Chandler, the Softs toured Europe and as support to Hendrix in America. However, after a tour of France, Allen was refused re-entry into England as he had an Australian passport and no visa. Allen quit the band, returned to Paris and set about forming the prog rock Gong. After recording and releasing their brilliant and seminal eponymous-titled debut album in 1968, Ayers quit the band to pursue a solo career. That was almost the end of the Softs, but due to contractual reasons Wyatt, Ratledge and Hugh Hopper reformed the band to release Volume Two in 1969. Since then, Soft Machine has continued under different line-ups (though lacking its original members) right up to the present day.

In October 1967, Ayers, Wyatt, and Ratledge were filmed performing “A Certain Kind,” “Save Yourself,” “Priscilla,” “Lullabye Letter,” and “Hope For Happiness” for the French TV show Ce Soir On Danse, which was broadcast in August 1968.


Posted by Paul Gallagher
08:08 am
Mind-blowing early Soft Machine footage, 1968

The amount of high quality video footage of the Soft Machine unearthed in recent years has been truly impressive and a godsend to fans of the ever-changing line-ups of the Canterbury prog-rock greats. For me, the earlier the better, so this 1968 performance of the group on French TV is some of the best footage of the Softs, I’ve seen, period.

Showcasing the improvisational brilliance of the classic Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers and Mike Ratledge line-up in a way that their first album did not, this 24-minute long set is a barnstormer throughout, ending on an extended, energetic romp all over their classic,“Hope for Happiness.”

If you’re a Soft Machine fan, this will absolutely blow you away.

Posted by Richard Metzger
07:05 pm
And You Are There: Damon & Naomi’s collaboration with Chris Marker

Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, formerly of cult favorites, Galaxie 500, began recording in 1992 as Damon & Naomi. Their first album, More Sad Hits was produced by Bongwater’s Kramer (who produced Galaxie 500’s albums, too) and is one of my top favorite albums. It’s extremely pretty, has intelligent lyrics and one of the best guitar solos I’ve ever heard. The great Robert Wyatt said of that album: “Like real water in a world of soda pop.”

Too true! I was actually a silent onlooker in the studio when some of the record was being recorded and mixed, because Kramer and I were collaborating on a screenplay and they, and I, were house-guests at his Demarest, NJ home at the same time. It was a real treat for this fly-on-the-wall “rock snob,” I can assure you.

For their upcoming release, False Beats and True Hearts, the dreamy avant-gardists have just released a new “video” by French artist and filmmaker Chris Marker.

Naomi Yang writes on the Damon & Naomi blog:

We are delighted to announce a new “video” by visual artist Chris Marker. Consisting of a single still image set to a song from our forthcoming album, the project is being hosted by the Wire Magazine.

“The song, ‘And You Are There,’ is about the way time can compress when you are lost in a memory, something I have learned a lot about from Chris Marker’s work—his films (La Jetée, Sans Soleil), his writing (Immemory), his photographs. When the song was finished, I sent it to Chris with a note—since his work had provided inspiration for the song, I wondered, might he in turn have a visual response to it? He sent back this image, with the note:

“Dunno if it fits your pretty Proustian melancholy, but I thought it could… And thanks for linking me to music, the only real art for me as you know (cinema? you kiddin’...)”

Watch Chris Marker’s “video” for Damon & Naomi’s “And You Are There” here:

Below “E.T.A”—how incredible is this song?!?!

H/T Chris Campion of Berlin, Germany!

Posted by Richard Metzger
10:48 am
Robert Wyatt Sings Edward Gorey
12:25 pm

Here’s another excellent fan-made video syncing print to music via Michael Mantler’s wonderful 1976 LP The Hapless Child and Other Inscrutable Stories. It’s a collection of delightful and dark children’s verse by Edward Gorey set to music by a stellar cast including Wyatt, Carla Bley, Jack Dejohnette and Terje Rypdal. I’m pretty sure I could listen to Robert Wyatt sing a shopping list and find it to be genius but this is a real treat, a match made in heaven.

Posted by Brad Laner
12:25 pm