Soft Machine Kendal Brewery Arts Centre 19 March 2016

Soft Machine Kendal Brewery Arts Centre 19 March 2016
brewery-arts-centreWhen I was a teenager I would listen intently to “In Concert” on the radio. There are three broadcasts that I recall very strongly. The first was by Led Zeppelin, recorded at the Albert Hall; the second Fleetwood Mac; and the other was Soft Machine. It will have been 1970 or 1971. Of the three, the Soft Machine concert was, for me, the most memorable. I still remember the impact it had. The strange sounds coming out of my radio intrigued me; I immediately became a fan. The music was so different to that of other bands, and to anything else I was listening to at the time. If I remember correctly, the concert was introduced by John Peel, who championed Soft Machine at the time. Their “songs’ sounded like long improvisations; however I now realise that was the nature of the band’s music and the songs were probably more planned than I thought. I think they may have played “Moon in June”, “Facelift” and a few other tracks from “Soft Machine 3”.
I only got to see Soft Machine live twice. Both occasions were in the mid-70s; by which time Soft Machine had completed its transformation from psychedelia to jazz-rock. The first time I saw the band was at the Reading Festival, and the second at Newcastle Guildhall as part of the Newcastle Jazz Festival. Last night I took up on the chance of seeing Soft Machine again; when the latest line-up performed at Kendal Brewery Arts Centre.
The current line-up of Soft Machine was launched (initially as Soft Machine Legacy) in 2004. The line-up consisted of Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Etheridge and John Marshall: four long-time members from different eras of the legendary group. In 2006 Elton Dean sadly passed away and his place on sax and flute was taken by Theo Travis, who has an association with Gong and David Gilmour and is a long time fan of Soft Machine’s music. Hugh Hopper sadly passed away in 2008. His place was taken by veteran bass player Roy Babbington, who first joined the group in 1970. This reunited 3/5ths of the 1975-77 Soft Machine line-up. SoftMachine_2016Since 2010 the band has recorded a new, and highly acclaimed album “Burden of Proof” and they continue to tour. “Burden of Proof” is (from the venue website): “a collection of songs that basically has something for everyone; challenging jazz-fusion, adventurous prog-rock, bits of chaotic free-jazz, atmospheric instrumental pop-jazz, and even a little hard rock. Extraordinary!”
I had an uneventful drive over to Kendal, and took my seat in the Malt Room of the Brewery Arts Centre. Last time I was here was to see Marianne Faithful; which was some years ago. It’s a great venue and regularly features some classic acts. I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from Soft Machine; I guess I thought I might find the jazzy instrumental nature of the songs a little hard going. But I also knew that it was going to be worth the effort in order to reacquaint myself with the music of Soft Machine.
The band came onstage just before 8.30pm and launched straight into “The Steamer” from the 2006 Soft Machine Legacy album “Steam”. The sound was clear, crisp. The music a mix of jazz and prog. Guitarist John Etheridge introduced the songs and seemed to be taking the lead. He explained how the last incarnation of Soft Machine had seen former members put old disputes behind them, and how time had allowed that to happen. He also explained that veteran Soft’s drummer John Marshall was unwell, suffering from a bad back and unable to make this tour. The guy standing in did an excellent job.
FullSizeRender(7)The concert comprised two sets and drew from Soft Machine’s extensive back catalogue, going back to 1970 and “3” for “Facelift” and to “4” for “Kings and Queens”. The music was much more varied than I had imagined, and ranged from guitar-riff-driven hard rock, through jazz (with mucho sax) to atmospheric flute-led prog; the latter songs being my own favourites. The musicianship was excellent, and Etheridge joked and talked to the audience a lot more than I had anticipated. In fact, he explained that “back in the day” the members of Soft Machine would never speak to, or acknowledge, the audience. The evening passed quickly, and I realised that I had after all enjoyed it; actually a lot. It was very much a concert; rather than a rock gig; but hey that’s just fine for me these days.
The concert finished shortly after 10.30pm; I was back home around 12.30am. I’ve spent this morning playing my vinyl copies of Soft Machine “3” and “4”. Happy days.
Set 1: The Steamer; Hazard Profile; Chloe and the Pirates; Voyage beyond Seven; Song of Aeolus; Grape Hound
Set 2: Burden of Proof; Facelift / the Last Day; Kings and Queens; Relegation of Pluto / Transit
Encore: Gesolreut

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks – I much enjoyed your memories and review of Soft Machine. I have never seen them live, and your lovely piece of writing makes me want to correct this omission.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Norm on July 26, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    Sorry to see the blog has stopped due to Peter having a life changing accident ! Hope you recover soon mate and continue going to gigs !

    Reply

  3. Everyone’s wishing you a speedy recovery from you’re accident mate.

    Reply

  4. Posted by vintagerock on August 17, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks Norm, and apologies to everyone to the delay in approving comments. Peter

    Reply

  5. Posted by Alan Morton on December 23, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Hi, I readbyour post from a few year ago regarding the festival held in the Exhibition Park in August 1986.
    I was thd bass player with local band Darkness And Jive. We played this Festival on the second day I seem to remember.
    Others on the bill included Nick Heyward (from Haircut 100) and Latin Quarter.
    It must have been a well publicised event as Don Arden attended it and took anninterest in us. We were eventually signed by him to Arena Records, a subsidiary to his JET lable.
    Wouldn’t mind a copy of your programme and ticket!

    Reply

  6. Posted by Michael Hopkinson on February 17, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    Dear Peter, I only just heard about your accident, Idid wonder why the blog had stopped. I hope you are coping ok and get well very soon. Your fantastic blog has brought back so many happy memories to me over the last few years. best wishes Mike/Hockey

    Reply

    • Posted by vintagerock on February 18, 2017 at 5:25 pm

      Hi Mike

      Thanks for your kind words and thoughts. My accident has left me quite disabled in a wheelchair. My concert going days are now sadly passed, at least for the foreseeable future. Hence I have had to give up the blog, still I have my memories! And the blog is a record of a lifetime spent going to concerts.

      Thanks for your support. Maybe one day I will start again?

      Best wishes Peter

      Reply

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