Soft Machine was formed in 1966 by Robert Wyatt, MikeRatledge, Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen. Wyatt had already worked withAllen in the Daevid Allen Trio (which Ratledge occasionally jammedwith) in 1963, and with Ayers in the Wilde Flowers in 1964. Althoughthe band had its roots in Canterbury, it soon became a London-basedband.

In January 1967, the band's one and only single ever was recorded: it had two songs on it, "Loves Make Sweet Music" and "Feelin',Reelin', Squeelin'". Three months later, a collections of demos wasrecorded at DeLane Lea Studios with producer Giorgio Gomelsky, butnot officially released until 1971 (on two compilations on the FrenchByg label). At that time, Soft Machine had already becomesomething of a 'cult' band on the London psychedelic scene, giggingat places like the Roundhouse or the UFO. On April 29th, 1967, theytook part in an event set up by the underground paper 'InternationalTimes', which also featured the Pink Floyd, and was given the name,'14 Hour Technicolor Dream'.

During the summer, the band was involved in an avant-garde theatreproject in St.Tropez, on the French Riviera, and it was on the wayback that Daevid Allen was refused re-entry to England. So he stayedin France, moving on to various projects before forming Gong twoyears later, while Wyatt, Ratledge and Ayers decided to carry on as atrio.

In February 1968, Soft Machine embarked on a 3-month UStour (opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience), recording their firstalbum in New York in four days in April, with production handled byTom Wilson and Chas Chandler, former Animals bassist and Hendrix'sproducer. Although quickly made (most tracks are first takes) and notparticularly well-recorded, "The Soft Machine" is nowconsidered a classic of the extraordinarily creativepost-psychedelic, pre-progressive, period of the late 60's... andquite rightly so!

In May, a guitarist by the name of Andy Summers (also on theearlier Hendrix US tour, backing Eric Burdon... later in The Police,of course!) joined, for the second leg of the American tour(July-September), but left mid-tour. Disagreements on the musicaldirection began to arise between Ayers and Wyatt-Ratledge, leading totheir parting company after the tour was completed. Wyatt stayed inHollywood to work with Jimi Hendrix, while Ratledge and Ayers flewback to Europe. In December 1968, Wyatt was contacted by Probe, whohad just released the first album, to discuss possible live dates bythe band to promote it. With Ayers unavailable, Hugh Hopper was askedto join (he was about to sell his bass!), and after a month ofrehearsal, the new line-up made its live debut at the Royal AlbertHall in February, a few days before entering Olympic Studios torecord the second album.

For "Volume Two" and most of the subsequent gigs, the triowas augmented by Hugh's brother, Brian, who played tenor saxophone.This was the symptom of the band's gradual evolution towards jazz,clearly apparent on the album. In the Autumn of 1969, a permanentbrass section was recruited from pianist Keith Tippett's jazz band :Elton Dean on alto sax, Marc Charig on trumpet, Nick Evans ontrombone. Another sax (and flute) player, Lyn Dobson, was addedfollowing Dean's recommendation. The resulting septet was onlytogether for a few weeks, recording BBC sessions in November andtouring France quite extensively towards the end of the year; Evansand Charig then left to pursue successful careers on the Europeanjazz scene (although they guested on subsequent albums).

During the first months of 1970, Soft Machine recorded"Third", a double album which included four sidelongcompositions. Hugh Hopper's angular "Facelift" was a collage of liveperformances made in January, and is the only track featuring LynDobson, who had left by the time the studio sessions for the otherfour sides had begun. Mike Ratledge contributed two sides : "SlightlyAll The Time", a progressive jazz masterpiece made all the moresuccessful by the inclusion of the "Backwards" theme (bookended byHopper's transition theme "Noisette") from previous live medleys; and"Out-Bloody-Rageous", which showcased the band's use of tape loopsand featured strong group interplay. Finally, "Moon In June", RobertWyatt's side, was something of a farewell to Soft Machine'soriginal style, the last piece by the band ever to feature vocals; itwas actually a montage of several old songs, some of them dating backto the 1967 Gomelsky sessions, but superbly linked together (Wyatthad recorded a demo of the suite in the USA in 1968). A goodindication that the rest of the band weren't too keen on pursuingthat kind of direction was that, although uncredited as such, "MoonIn June" was largely a solo performance by Wyatt, who played organand keyboard bass as well as drums and vocals. Hopper and Ratledgeonly appeared for a brief instrumental extravaganza at the end of themain part; Wyatt didn't even ask them to play on the rest.

So by mid-1970, Soft Machine had become a purelyinstrumental band; Wyatt being the only member wanting vocals in themusic, the majority won... During the summer, Wyatt recorded hisfirst solo album, "The End Of An Ear", on the sleeve of which hedescribed himself as an 'out-of-work pop singer'... But a collectionon pop songs the album was not : no lyrics, no conventional singing,rather a very experimental collection of mainly improvised material(the titles of the tracks referred to several Canterbury figures :"To Caravan And Brother Jim" etc.) except for a cover of Gil Evans'"Las Vegas Tango", with the voice used as an instrument and heavilytreated, mostly through tape speed alterations. The results were,depending on one's taste, unlistenable or startlingly original andunique.

In the autumn, following a controversial appearance at the RoyalAlbert Hall for the famous 'Promenade Concerts' in August, the'classic' line-up of Wyatt , Hopper, Ratledge and Dean recorded"4", in fact their first and last studio album as a quartet,although this incarnation would more or less survive for one moreyear. This effort carried on in the vein of "Third"'s instrumentaltracks (with a welcome return to the septet format on theextraordinary "Teeth" and "Virtually"), and in this respect was animpressive achievement, although the complete lack of vocals madesome listeners wonder if the band could still go on under the nameSoft Machine... If only they'd known how many changes ofpersonnel and musical direction were still ahead of them!!!

1971 was a year of experimentation, as one can tell from listeningto the radio sessions recorded on this period. Several musicians(various brass players, string-bassist Roy Babbington and drummerPhil Howard) were sometimes added to the basic quartet, furtheringthe evolution towards jazz. That same year, Elton Dean released hisfirst solo album, in much the same vein, with his own Elton Dean Bandmusicians (Howard and bassist Neville Whitehead), and Ratledge amongthe guests.

When Wyatt finally left in July, later forming Matching Mole, PhilHoward was a natural choice as replacement, but he rapidly left,midway through the sessions of the "5" album - his style wasconsidered too 'free' by Hopper and Ratledge... and a good majorityof the audiences who had seen the band play that autumn. He was inturn replaced by John Marshall, one of the very best drummers inBritain, formerly of Nucleus among other bands. With Marshall in,Soft Machine rapidly moved away from the straighter jazz feelof "5", into more 'jazz-rock' territory, which apparently wasn't tothe taste of Elton Dean, who left in May 1972. He subsequently workedwith mainly acoustic jazz ensembles, although he was also (quitesurprisingly) involved in the Dutch 'progressive rock' bandSupersister in 1973-74.

Ex-Nucleus pianist/reeds player Karl Jenkins wasn't really areplacement for Dean, as his multiple talents, including that ofcomposer, rapidly made him the co-leader of Soft Machine withRatledge. With the impressive Hopper/Marshall rhythm section at theirdisposal, the pair could allow themselves any level of complexity andmusical variety. "Six Album", released in early 1973, was adouble half-studio, half-live set. The latter showcases the interplaybetween the four musicians, while the former is more experimental,focussing on Jenkins and Ratledge's dual keyboard patterns and theuse of Echoplex, most notably on the hypnotic "The Soft Weed Factor".

In May 1973, Hugh Hopper decided that four years in SoftMachine was enough and that it was time to move on to pasturesnew. He had just released his first solo album, "1984", and went onto release several others, and work with countless jazz andprogressive bands throughout the decade, and again from themid-eighties onwards after he stopped playing for five years. RoyBabbington, who had guested on a couple of Soft albums adouble-bass player, was a natural replacement, except for the factthat he now concentrated on his 6-string bass guitar. The resultingline-up recorded "7", a natural progression from the studioalbum of "Six Album", with shorter compositions and even less jazzinfluence.

Perhaps sensing that, for the first time in the band's existence, Soft Machine's music tended to repeat itself, it was decided to add guitarist Allan Holdsworth to the line-up in December 1973. The resulting quintet (which toured North America in early 1974) was a fusion powerhouse, with possibly the best British drummer and guitarist at that time. Consequently, the music took a decidedly 'rocky' character, as documented on "Bundles", recorded in the summer of 1974 but only released in the spring of 1975. This was the first Soft album not to bear a number, a sign that times were surely changing : the band had left CBS for EMI/Harvest, and also left the underground scene for a more mainstream approach at a time when American fusion bands were a dominant force (and reached their commercial peak).

Holdsworth left shortly after the release of "Bundles", andrecommended fellow guitarist John Etheridge as a possiblereplacement. This proved satisfactory and in the summer of 1975Soft Machine embarked on an ambitious, but ill-fated, packagetour of European arenas with the likes of Caravan and the MahavishnuOrchestra. From then on, the band's popularity waned as it failed tosustain the momentum initially gathered by its new orientation.Ratledge, the last remaining founding member, left in March 1976,leaving Soft Machine's reins in the hands of Jenkins andMarshall. "Softs" appeared later that year, with Alan Wakeman(the cousin of famous keyboard wizard Rick) on saxophone; ashortlived addition as he left after less than six months, to bereplaced by a violin player, Ric Sanders. Babbington also left aftera last appearance in Edinburgh, and was replaced first by Brand X'sPercy Jones, and finally Steve Cook (ex-Gilgamesh/Mirage). The livealbum "Alive And Well, Recorded In Paris" (1978) documented aseries of French gigs in July 1977. Soft Machine subsequentlyground to a halt, perfoming its last gig in Bremen in December 1978.

Soft Machine was active again for one more album - thepurely studio affair, "Land Of Cockayne" (1981), with anall-star line-up featuring Allan Holdsworth and Jack Bruce alongsideJenkins and Marshall, but a rather uninspiring mixture of Americanfusion and orchestral 'muzak' - and a series of gigs at London'sRonnie Scotts club in the summer of 1984, with a line-up of Jenkins,Marshall, John Etheridge, Dave MacRae and bassist Paul Carmichael.Plans for further studio and live projects never materialized andindeed probably never will, as Karl Jenkins has found far morelucrative activities in the field of library, TV and advertisementmusic, most notably with his Adiemus project.