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

For our stint at the Iridium Club in New York Leonardo had booked for us a hotel very nearby which meant we could walk between the gig and the hotel which was to be very handy. As hotels are incredibly expensive in Manhattan he had waited until only a day or two before to book it as prices do drop if rooms are still free by then. It was a very comfortable hotel and I was on the tenth floor. As you looked out the window you could see into the neighbouring tenth floor of some run down block and looking into the window it looked like a shoot out scene in a derelict block in some TV crime drama. Weird to be so close to the next building given that I was ten floors up. Plus you could see an old church below, curiously crammed in between various high rise blocks of different styles and sizes.

The Iridium club is situated on Broadway by 51st Street. It is a basement club long associated with the guitarist Les Paul who played there regularly until his passing. It is the coolest of clubs with a great layout, friendly staff, legendary history and bang in middle of Manhattan near Times Square. We were to play five shows over three nights- two the first night, two the second and one third (Sunday). The first show was to be a live webcast available world and there were five cameras positioned ready to film. So it was important we got it right! The setting up was pretty smooth and we worked out what we were going to play. Then we had a quick bite to eat backstage and were asked to go outside with the famous photographer Annie Goodman for some publicity shots. While outside we saw our billing on the neon sign with our photo by the excellent Geoff Dennison which we have been using a lot for this tour and album (for which many thanks Geoff). An amazing experience to see one’s own face in lights in Times Square.

Showtime was 8pm and we did our thing. It went well and got a great response. It certainly felt buzzing to be playing in the heart of New York City -the world capital for jazz. After the set we had about 45 minutes while the audience left and a new one ushered in, before going back on. We played a different second show and there were quite a few people who stayed for both. All in all a good night.

The next day we were free until the get in at 6pm which was great because I was knackered! So I kicked back, chilled out and did very little until it was time to go. At the soundcheck we burned through a few jazz standards like Cherokee, There is No Greater Love and Tenor Madness, because, hey...we are in New York, the world’s jazz capital. It felt quite liberating not having a webcast, so we were probably more relaxed. Soon after we got onstage, however the guitar stopped working and with lots of cables and pedals it was not at all clear where the problem was. John is super experienced but it was not his amp and there were lots of leads to check. So there was a pause while this was sorted - which it was. We were all very glad however that this had not happened during the webcast in front of the cameras and with the world watching. Once it was all working again we carried on and I think did a good set. In the break we sold the last of our vinyls that we had brought to the US. They have been a big hit - very popular and well received. Thanks to Charles Beterams at Tonefloat Records for making these happen and doing such a great job.

The second show of the night was a blast. It started at I think 10.30pm and much of the audience were the hardcore fans who had already seen the first show. So they were super pumped and totally up for it. And being a New York crowd had a special energy about them. Again we changed the tunes around and added another new one (Ground Lift) that we had not played yet at the Iridium. I loved the set and even when one of the arrangements went a bit wrong, we laughed it off and made music out of it. It is interesting how sometimes when music does not go as planned, what ends up happening can be as exciting, vital and musical as what was supposed to happen - provided you have the confidence to carry it off and can use your ears and think on your feet. In this case I think that come across and talking to fans afterwards, they really liked what we did.. A friend of mine from New York (David) had come to the show as my guest with his friend and it was lovely to see him too.

The third night was slightly different as we had support act of Beledo and his fine trio and also my good friend from the Steven Wilson Band Adam Holzman (who is from New York) sat in on some tunes on keyboards. He played on the Mike Ratledge tune Gesolreut and also the mash up of Facelift, a free improv section then my tune the Last Day. He was fabulous and it was great to play with him again. I think it is fair to say the Iridium gigs were a big success.

So after gig we loaded out and said goodbye to John Marshall who is flying back to the UK, and Gary Husband will be taking over on drums for the rest of this leg of the US tour. Next stop, Toronto in Canada.

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