SOFT MACHINE : 1966 - 2018

Soft Machine : One of the greatest UK avant/jazz-rock bands of all time.

Their work, from their earliest performances as a psychedelic band who were contemporaries of, and shared stages with, Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, all the way to being one of Europe's best known 'fusion' groups, has influenced several generations of bands, and continues to be name-checked by today's hip experimentalists.

Whilst the line-up of Soft Machine may have changed many times since the heady days of the late 1960’s, the band’s spirit of musical adventure, and the ease with which it freely avoids being pigeon holed and can move from powerful progressive jazz fusion to atmospheric psychedelia to free improvised jazz-rock to ambient loop music continues to make it both unique and totally contemporary.

Soft Machine 2019

Photo Avraham Bank

We arrived in Baltimore and stayed at the Holiday Inn, Inner Harbour. A standard but comfortable US Holiday Inn, near the buzzing Inner Harbour area. The Beatles stayed at this hotel in September 1964 and in the lobby were several black and white photos of the Beatles arriving here and all the fans on the street outside. This is ‘Fleet week’ which means there are lots of Navy displays in the harbour, with visiting ships, air displays and performances by the various (impressive) Navy brass bands bands on an open air stage. We did look around and saw for example the stationed ship that is the last surviving boat from Pearl Harbour and an enormous brand new aluminium ship that can carry many tanks or large amounts of humanitarian aid (which is what it is mainly for). Roy visited the Aquarium which he got very excited about! We all noticed how incredibly helpful and animated the waiting staff were in cafes and restaurants compared to the rather grumpy and surly waiters we had encountered in Vienna and Prague. The hotel has a swimming pool in the basement and I took the opportunity of having a swim each of the three mornings here before breakfast. Luxury!

Our first gig was at Orion Studios, which is a small but great venue in an industrial estate in Baltimore. It is run by a fantastic team (Joe, Chris and Mike) who did a great job and were super helpful and friendly. There was a palpable feeling of excitement and anticipation as it was the first gig by Soft Machine in the USA for 44 years. The sound was clear and well balanced and they had a fabulous Fender Rhodes electric piano for me to play which was a treat. I have quite a complicated set up with this band, as I play not just tenor and soprano saxes and flute, but also the electric piano, and run 2 chains of effects pedals. One is from the flute microphone and one from the electric piano. These are for live looping, and various delays. I also run an iPad as I use the Sampler and Garageband. Although we all had adapters to convert UK plugs to US plug sockets we also need a transformer as American electricity is at a completely different voltage to UK electricity. So there were lots of cables, plugs, sockets, and adapters to sort. Although I had carefully checked I had everything I needed before I left the UK, I did annoyingly forget one of my pedals which was frustrating but manageable. Also one of my mains supplies decided to not work which was a pain, though not a disaster as I could run the pedal on batteries.

The gig itself was a blast and went down an absolute storm. We got a standing ovation and came back for 2 encores. The venue already want us back next year. A great start to the tour.

The following morning we set off for Philadelphia, the fourth largest city in the USA. We headed off and after about 2 hours found ourselves in a cool part of town at the Theatre of the Living Arts where we were playing. I immediately recognised the inside of the venue as this was the last gig on the ill fated Gong tour of America in 2000. On that tour, a complete lack of tour management had meant the tour was not budgeted at all and it was to be a financial disaster. Although a good time was had and the gigs were pretty good (some, like at the Knitting Factory in New York were great actually), by the time we reached the gig here, I was very much looking forward to going home! Anyway, this band and this tour is a very different animal. We set our gear up and for various reasons I set up a little differently for this gig. Also my guitarist friend Tim Motzer was playing the support slot with Beledo, who is a friend of Leonardo’s who was also driving the tour van and helping out on the tour generally. Tim arrived soon after we did and we all went to a local rather funky cafe across the road for an afternoon cup of tea (what an English band we are!). The last time I had seen Tim was at his storming gig at Ronnie Scott’s with Kurt Rosenwinkel earlier in the year, so it was good to catch up.

Tim and Beledo’s support set was great (what I heard anyway) and we went onstage to a tumultuous welcome. Fans said they had been waiting 40 years to see Soft Machine play in America and they were very excited. Also, on the merchandise stall, the vinyl edition of the album was going down particularly well with copies selling out and some super fans buying 3 copies - the orange vinyl, the blue vinyl and the special tour edition marbled vinyl. Amazing!

The atmosphere was fantastic and the sound engineers were really good too. Our onstage sound was clear and big and I received reports later that the sound out front in the theatre was particularly good. We changed the setlist around a bit removing ‘Voyage Beyond Seven’ and ‘Out Bloody Rageous’ and adding ‘Life on Bridges’. It worked well and the crowd was ecstatic. For the first time we played ‘One Glove’ for the first encore. I think it worked. Afterwards we signed autographs and went out for a ‘hang’ with Tim and his interesting photographer friend Avraham Banks (who took some of the photos on this page) which was most enjoyable. Thank you Philadelphia. Next stop New York.

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