Soft Machine tonight. By 1972, the Soft Machine of opening for Jimi Hendrix, and who boasted such figures as Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen and Robert Wyatt were long gone. The Psychedelia was replaced by what became known as Jazz Fusion, even though many in Rock circles maintained they were in fact, a prog-Rock band.
By the time of this concert, July 20, 1972, the only remaining founding member was keyboard player Mike Rattledge (and perhaps Hugh Hopper, but it isn’t clear if he left before this concert of after). It also marked the era without Robert Wyatt, who had gone off to form Matching Mole.
It was, for all intents and purposes, Soft Machine in name only. And while the fans who held on from the start were starting to fall by the wayside, newer fans were coming on board – those who were discovering Jazz Fusion for the first time, or who had started in Prog, but like many bands around this period, went in the direction of Fusion as a natural progression to what was a genre based on high technical skill, and not so much on songs. During this period of time, the band were experimenting with different instruments, using the Oboe as a solo instrument and working more with synthesizers.
This concert also comes around the time of the release of Five, which was in marked contrast to Soft Machine 4, the last album featuring Wyatt and his influence with more Psych-based themes and instrumentation. 4 was also the biggest selling album Soft Machine had, and so there was much anticipation over the release of 5. But with this new direction, there was a great sense of disappointment, as is clearly evidenced by the tepid applause from the audience by the end, and the album didn’t sell well. Subsequently, Soft Machine during the post-4 period is often dismissed by critics and fans. But in retrospect, its worth a listen.