MIDDLE EARTH MASTERS

  1. Clarence in Wonderland
  2. We Know What You Mean
  3. Bossa Nova Express
  4. Hope For Happiness
  5. Disorganisation
  6. We Did It Again
  7. Why Are We Sleeping?
  8. I Should've Known
  9. That's How Much I Need You Now
10. I Should've Known
11. A Certain Kind

Recorded: 1-8 : Middle Earth, Covent Garden, London, UK, September 16, 1967
9-10 : Middle Earth, Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, London, UK, May 1968
11 : unknown, Autumn 1967
Released: 2006

Kevin Ayers: bass, guitar, vocals
Mike Ratledge: organ
Robert Wyatt: drums, vocals

The Soft Machine"Soft Machine were the grooviest, coolest psychedelic band of the era..."

Phil Manzanera

The Soft Machine were one of England's original and best psychedelic bands, emerging out of the same "UFO Club" London scene at the same time as Pink Floyd. While the band would always undergo constant personnel and stylistic change, their best known lineup in their psychedelic days was the trio of Kevin Ayers-bass, guitar, vocals, Mike Ratledge-organ and Robert Wyatt-drums, vocals. They played many shows and built an audience in “swinging London” and beyond. A link with Jimi Hendrix’s management culminated in the Softs touring the USA with the Jimi Hendrix Experience two different times in 1968, playing over 60 shows as their opening act and recording their first album while in the USA during their touring, after which the band collapsed and disbanded...temporarily. Middle Earth Masters captures the 1967-era Soft Machine trio in full concert glory, recorded live at London's legendary Middle Earth club. The performance is unbelievably freaky for 1967, with songs that feature unusual structures linked by wild solos and improvisations. Those of you who know and love the first Soft Machine album will be amazed at how much more insane and insanely loud the band actually were and also surprised to hear that Mike Ratledge was doing the crazy solo fuzz organ parts (ala the opening of Facelift) in 1967. Includes rare, previously unissued photographs and a short essay by Michael King about these tapes and his work to make them sound as good as possible.

IMPORTANT: The source tapes for this CD were recorded using semi-pro equipment under difficult conditions, at extreme volume in a concrete basement. Considering their age, their rarity, and the techinical limitations of sound reinforcement of 40 years ago, we feel that the music presented is very enjoyable, but these recordings are not anywhere near present-day standards!

* text from Cuneiform Records website
Just five month after the recording of the Gomelsky tapes (see Jet Propelled Photographs) Soft Machine performed most of those songs live in concert at Middle Earth club. Middle Earth, sort of a cellar, behind a black door, is named after the books of J.R.R. Tolkien and his now famous Hobbits. The books were also popular amongst the youth in the sixties. Middle Earth became very popular after the fall of the famous U.F.O. club. First of all Bob Woolford has to be mentioned, since he was the one who recorded the concert(s). In fact track 1-8 are from September, 16th, 1967, tracks 9 and 10 are from May, 1968. He probably recorded it in a very primitive way; just a simple tape-deck and two microphones. After discovering the tapes, Michael King of Cuneiform Records, was somewhat disappointed, because he couldn’t use them. Ten years later, audio restoration had improved a lot and the tapes could be transferred to a computer. The digital sound could be treated in a lot of ways and in the end the sound wizards could deliver a remarkable good sounding disc. The entire process is explained in the cd-booklet. Three tracks had distorted vocals and couldn’t be restored: ‘A Certain Kind, Lullaby Letter and That’s How Much I Need You Now’. Nevertheless that leaves us with a good impression of how Soft Machine’s concerts in 1967 sounded. Compared to the rather pop song like recordings of Jet Propelled Photographs, this is “the real stuff’. Long tracks, improvisation, organ soloing going on, good singing of Kevin and Robert and Kevin playing bass guitar as well as electric guitar. The concert starts rather friendly with ‘Clarence in Wonderland’ and ‘We Know What You Mean’, both sung by Kevin’s sultry voice. ‘Bossa Nova Express is written by Ayers, but is in fact a long organ solo from Mike. His organ sounds almost friendly, but be warned! ‘Hope for Happiness’ is the band in full flight: Robert starts rapping (as it sounds now) and after the first lines Mike gives a long, furious and screaming organ solo. Middle Earth is conquered by the Machine! You can imagine that those sounds in 1967 were almost alien to the public. Ratledge shows another far out sound perspective with ‘Disorganisation’. The title mentions it all; it is a journey into electronic music. ‘We Did it Again’, clock just less than six minutes, which makes it a short version. ‘Why Are We Sleeping’ is yet another song with mean sounding organ. ‘I Should’ve Known’ is a long track, with a long organ solo; Mike loved the longer tracks; that’s why he pushed the band in that direction. The track ends with a drum solo by and is also the end of the September concert. Soft Machine live is quite an experience, but it differs so much from their recordings. But even in the sixties their conventional recordings were ‘far out’; if this would have been released in those days I don’t know what would have happened. The two May ’68 tracks have a tighter sounding Soft Machine, with better bass parts from Kevin. You can hear that their sound has developed a lot. ‘I Should’ve Known’ as a great track, over six minutes, with yet another long and fine organ solo. ‘A Certain Kind’- autumn ’67 - sounds more like the recorded version of it, like a short pop song. As a surprise a ‘short secret track’ is added in which you can hear Robert and Kevin are singing a capella: ‘We Did it Again’; Kevin sings the line and Robert improvises his lyrics over it. The release of the Middle Earth Masters was a great surprise and a great disc to have and to listen to. Image this music in 1967; the Soft Machine really was ahead of its time!

Paul Lemmens © 2014