This gig was originally scheduled for Talking Heads, where we first saw the Soft Machine (see Soft Machine at Talking Heads ) back in 2016. How can it be more than two years already? Sadly, that lovely venue has now closed, and all the bands now play at the 1865. It’s under the same management, I believe, but the 1865 has previously had less character. However, for this gig there have been tables and chairs put in, so there is a much more pleasant atmosphere.
On this occasion we took- with some trepidation- my oldest friend, MSC, who is more of an Eagles, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young man.
Soft Machine now comprise John Etheridge, a superb and versatile guitarist who I first saw play with Stephane Grapelli; Theo Travis, a great sax player who played with Gong for quite a while, and has recently played with David Gilmour; then Roy Babbington on bass and John Marshall on drums, both now in their 70s.
In their 70s? You wouldn’t know it, given the verve and indeed attack with which they play.
The band have a new album out, ‘Hidden Details’, and open with the title track and another, before a long introduction to everybody from John Etheridge. There follows another new one, with some remarkably free jazz blowing, which I feel leaves MSC a little uneasy. My apologies; I haven’t played the new CD yet, leaving it as a treat to myself, so can’t necessarily name all the tracks.
They play two sets, with a wide range from the 1970s up to 2018. It’s lovely to hear the older pieces given complete reworkings, principally with the keyboards of Mike Ratledge and Karl Jenkins replaced by sax and flute. Stand out older tracks are the Ratledge compositions ‘The Man Who Waved at Trains” and “Gesolreut”, as well as the lovely Jenkins piece “The Tale of Taliesin”. Modern pieces range from the heavy to the delicate, including “Fourteen Hour Dream” and “Life on Bridges”.
The oldest piece is “Out-Bloody-Rageous” from the “Third” album, a huge favourite of mine, updated with respect and care.
It’s all played with wonderful musicianship, great and relevant improvisation, and huge enjoyment. This is the sort of gig where the musicians get up on stage from the audience, John Etheridge carrying his guitars on, and chat during the interval. It’s the sort of gig where they are watching what the others are doing and even smiling.
They finish with a four part medley: a Theo Travis piece about Pluto (really), “Tarebos”, a Mike Ratledge riff, a great and powerful John Marshall drum solo and finally “Hazard Profile Part 1”, another huge favourite, with an awesome riff and lovely soloing.
There is an inevitable encore, after John Etheridge has told us that we’ve made “a bunch of happy men very old”: it’s “Chloe and the Pirates”, a beautiful track from the album “Sixth”.
I’m sorry to say that that, my friends, was the last gig of this tour, which has ranged from Japan to America, Canada and Europe. It was lovely for me that they finished in Southampton. If you ever get a chance, and you appreciate great musicianship, go and see them. I don’t think the album will disappoint, if it’s anything like the gig.
Note 1: MSC did enjoy it, which made me very happy.
Note 2: The support act were “Silas and Saskia”. Saskia has a good voice. Silas makes interesting techno noises. However, the two don’t seem to us to complement each other. They needed a better sound mix which made the vocals clearer. (And they did play glissando guitar, Gong folks.)
Note 3: The photo is courtesy of Mr Mark Cole.