1. Fanfare 
  2. All White
  3. Slightly All The Time 
  4. MC 5. Drop 
  6. Stumble 
  7. One Across 
  8. As If 
  9. Riff 
10. Gesolreut 

Recorded: July, 20th 1972 for BBC Radio 1 In Concert at the Paris Theatre, London.
Released: 1994/2005

Hugh Hopper: bass
Karl Jenkins: keyboards, woodwinds
John Marshall: drums
Mike Ratledge: keyboards

first cd release- lesser tracks: BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert (Windsong, 1994)

This live BBC concert was recorded at London's Paris Theatre on 20.7.1972, just a few months before the live and studio material for band’s album Six was put together. The Six album is widely regarded as a great record, but as the critic Duncan Heining says in his liner notes to Soft Stage, this CD is actually even better. This concert was the fifth by this incarnation of Soft Machine, with Karl Jenkins joining Mike Ratledge, Hugh Hopper and John Marshall, adding his considerable skills on woodwinds and keyboards, not to mention his talents as composer. This performance also showcases the exceptional Hopper-Marshall rhythm section. ‘Slightly All The Time’, from the pre-Fifth days, is almost unrecognizable. The rest of the set is a mixture of compositions, mostly bearing only minor resemblance to the originals, from Fifth and Six Album. Although only weeks into its existence, this line-up of Soft Machine was already a very solid unit, as this performance testifies. The accompanying 8 page booklet includes extensive liner notes & rare band photo’s.

* text from Hux records website

Hugh-Mike-John and newcomer Karl
At the end of May 1972 Elton Dean, Soft Machine’s woodwind player, had left and once more the band was looking for a new musician to replace him. They had some time and during the last days with Elton, Hugh suggested Karl Jenkins as a new member. John was not only his former room-mate, but was also part of Nucleus, when Karl started that band. Karl played keyboards and oboe and was a composer as well. Both John and Mike agreed and they asked him whether he was interested in a new job. Karl was, and so he became the new, fourth member of Soft Machine. Mostly this was the way they searched for new musicians, they never asked people to audition; mostly they asked people they knew or had heard of and who could fit in the band. The first concert with the new band, in June, was a real bizarre one, they shared the bill with Matching Mole and Robert Wyatt and Just Us; Elton Dean’s new group! Soon thereafter they were invited to play for BBC radio once more. That is the performance which is now released on this cd. After the recording sessions a small tour took place, in France and Tunisia. Unfortunately their earned money was lost in Italy; that was bad enough, but another bad omen was hanging above the band. After three years of almost constantly touring, Hugh Hopper had enough of it. He didn’t found the pleasure again to compose and go on tour. One of the more intriguing reasons was Karl. Hugh just didn’t like him, not as a person and not as a composer: “I didn’t particularly like him personally and I found his music third-rate and third hand, He was very accomplished but I found the stuff he wrote was like a riff you’d heard an American playing ten years before. I was more interested in someone like Frank Zappa, who was interesting and energy.” (Quoted from Out-Bloody-Rageous, the book by Graham Bennett; p 246). Softstage is therefore once more a special moment in the band’s history, since it is one of the last live-concerts Hugh is playing on (he is of course to be heard in ‘Six’-album, but when that record was released Hugh had already left the band). As said before Softstage is recorded at the beginning of the band with Karl in the line-up. The show starts with a new, short composition: Fanfare. A fresh sound enters Soft Machine, because Karl plays the baritone sax. Mike contributes minimalistic piano themes and after a mistake from Karl, All White is intoned. The overall sound is bright, but Hugh’s bass is turned in some kind of deep anchor. The second new instrument is demonstrated: the oboe, also played by Karl. It is a beautiful instrument in sound and fits immediate with Soft Machine. It sounds a little bit like Elton’s saxello, especially in the higher parts, but the oboe is more rounded and not so sharp sounding. Slightly all the Time is by now a ‘golden oldie’ and played in an relaxed way with repeated piano patterns ad an old familiar Lowrey solo from Mike, but ends with an almost heavenly oboe solo. MC continues the same way and the same goes for Drop, but only until the screaming organ enters. Stumble has some short entrance themes, mainly played on pianos, but only seemed to pave the way for a fine drum solo in One Across. As If, known from recordings before is played slow again, but still doesn’t have the resemblance from the early performances which had more tension. And almost at the end of this show, the jazzy side of Soft Machine seems to have vanished into an, what you could call, ‘movie soundtrack’. Riff and Gesolreut (from the notes: ge-sol-re-ut) are new and strong compositions, also more thematic; more rock than jazz, more composed than free. It was by now very clear in which way Soft Machine was developing at this stage and also that the wilder jazz side was left behind. You could say that this was the third version of the Soft Machine; after psychedelic pop and (free)jazz it now seemed time for a broad sound palette in full cinemascope. If you like it, you’ll like this disc, if you were into jazz, you may have your doubts. If you like beautiful music, this is a fine record, but it certainly is not the Soft Machine you were used to.

Paul Lemmens © 2014