Soft MachineUK Jazz-Rock Pioneers
Canterbury psych-jazz sorcerers.
The old joke about The Velvet Underground -- not many people bought their albums, but everyone who did started a band -- applies equally well to highly influential cult heroes Soft Machine. The band's obscure original lineup purveyed a quirky brand of post-Merseybeat pop, coming off like a grittier Zombies. After guitarist Daevid Allen departed (eventually to form Gong), Soft Machine started flying its freak flag high, freely mixing spacey psychedelia with avant-jazz tendencies in an unprecedented approach that briefly made them the toast of England's burgeoning underground psychedelic circuit (alongside Pink Floyd, this iteration of the Softs were one of the house bands at London's flagship psychedelic club UFO) and the flagship band of the nascent Canterbury scene. Frontman Kevin Ayers left for a solo career after 1968's The Soft Machine; with the addition of bassist Hugh Hopper (and, later, saxophonist Elton Dean), things got jazzier and juicier, with the band reaching a peak on 1970's four-song double album Third and its 1971 follow-up Fourth. But following singer/drummer Robert Wyatt's departure (forming the short-lived Matching Mole, a pun on the French translation of Soft Machine, before beginning an eminent solo career), Soft Machine pursued a strictly instrumental jazz-fusion style, breaking up in the early '80s after many more personnel changes.