BACKWARDS

1. Facelift
2. Moon in June
3. Esthers Nose Job
4. Facelift
5. Hiboe, Anemone and Bear
6. Moon in June (demo)

Recorded: tracks 1 - 3 in London, May 1970; tracks 4 & 5 in France, November 1969; track 6 was recorded in the USA, 1968 with an edit from Spring 1969
Released: 2002

Robert Wyatt: drums, vocals (all instruments first half 6)
Mike Ratledge: keyboards
Hugh Hopper: bass
Elton Dean: alto sax, saxello
Nick Evans:  trombone (4-5 only)
Mark Charig: trumpet (4-5 only)
Lynn Dobson: soprano  & tenor saxes (4-5 only)


Hugh-Nick-Mark-Elton-Lynn-Mike

septet in the studio and in France

"Not only the best-ever line up in the bands' history, but one of the most amazing 'live' rock experiences then going"

Ian McDonald (music critic)


Backwards is the fourth (after Spaced, Virtually, Noisette) in our Soft Machine archival series. While I am really proud of all of our Soft Machine releases, this one is really special & something perhaps even close to magnificent. Backwards is comprised of recordings from three different and interesting eras of the band: First on the CD is a recording of the quartet from May, 1970, made just about the time that the band had finished recording their Third album. The recording is mono, but the sonic quality is superb; this may be the single finest recording of the quartet version of the band, surpasing even their official studio relases. Next is two performances from November, 1969, featuring the septet version of Soft Machine. Since the only other available material by this version of the band is 20' of BBC recordings, this is an invaluable addition to the band's recorded legacy. Lastly there is Robert Wyatt's original demo of "Moon In June", which would eventually appear on Third. The first half of this demo version was recorded in the USA in the fall of 1968, after Soft Machine had disbanded after their 2nd US tour, but before the band reformed for their 2nd album. Then, in 1969, the trio version of Soft Machine recorded the ending to their piece, and spliced on the final half. As I said before, this one is special, & anyone remotely interested in what was happening in English progressive music-jazz/rock (before it became known as jazz/rock) should be extremely happy with this release.

* text from Cuneiform website


elton - hugh
It isn’t that strange that Soft Machine’s music developed in a more jazz oriented direction. All members had been listening to Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk and others. Mike Ratledge was the man at the helm, steering the Machine in the jazz direction, but Robert Wyatt was fonder of simple song structures. With Hugh Hopper in the band, another jazzman came on board. Hugh’s brother Brian Hopper had blown many saxophone parts on Volume Two and everybody liked the ‘new’ sound. Around that time Keith Tippet was forming Centipede, his big band with lots of winds. Because in the small musical world everybody knew each other, Soft Machine asked Tippet if they could ‘lend ‘ some musicians and try out new structures in music, adding more wind instruments. Saxophone players Elton Dean and Lyn Dobson, trumpeter Mark Charig and trombonist Nick Evans came over and blew their parts and ideas into the Soft Machine. The septet lived for only a short period. There were some concerts, a few recordings, but in fact, the theory was nice, but live – on stage- things appeared too complicated. Amplification was a problem; money was a problem (it always was within Soft Machine) and all those people on stage. Mike Ratledge: “With seven people it was either conceptually too rigid or totally chaotic”. In the end only Elton Dean stayed, after a few trials with Lyn and Elton. The idea wasn’t completely forgotten; all the windy musicians helped out on Third and Fourth as well. The first recordings of the augmented band were released on Triple Echo, the three lp-set. Thy performed Esther's Nose Job and the small suite: Mousetrap / Noisette / Backwards / Mousetrap Reprise. Later on that concert was released on the BBC discs ‘The Peel Sessions’. And then, many years later, there was the cd Backwards, which added some more septet-tracks: ‘Facelift’ and ‘Hibou Anemone and Bear’; recorded in Paris, 1969, late November. Facelift starts with fuzz bass and off we go. It is a busy piece with lots of winds blowing around, in the end only Elton takes a solo. ‘Hiboe Anemone and Bear’ also starts with fuzz bass and after the theme, both Elton and Lyn take solo-parts; the track fades out just as Mike starts his solo. It gives us two more great momentums with the septet. The Moon in June – demo was a big surprise in 2002, now it is with much acclaim released on cd again: Robert Wyatt ’68. Most of Backwards contain a concert given in May, 1970 which was recorded just after recording ‘Third’. Soft machine had developed into a quartet, with Elton as fourth member. The tape of this concert was found in an attic; three tracks are performed: ‘Facelift’, ‘Moon in June’ and ‘Esther’s Nose Job’. On the go ‘Moon in June’ had lost all words and was now just another instrumental composition. Later on the Moon was skipped completely and not performed anymore. Facelift and Esther would become repertoire classics. All tracks are performed with lots of space for soloing from both Elton and Mike. Facelift is more vivid than the track which was released on Third, maybe it is because this is a completely live performance. Looking back(wards), it was not an easy period for Soft Machine fans; the pop component was changed in favour of the jazz one. Old fans lost interest, but new fans, who liked the jazzy sound, were enthusiastic. Nevertheless, there were great performance of a band performing in full flight and spirit. Backwards is the proof of that pudding.

Paul Lemmens © 2014