Soft Machine formed in Canterbury, Kent, in 1966 with a line-up of Daevid Allen (guitar), Mike Ratledge (keyboards), Kevin Ayers (bass) and Robert Wyatt (drums).
The name came from a William Burroughs novel and the band played a free-form improvised style of music and became the main standard-bearers for jazz/rock fusion.
Their 1967 single Love Makes Sweet Music was penned by Kevin Ayers after the band had been booked for a week’s residency at the Star Club in Hamburg, only for the apoplectic manager to pull the plug after just half an hour of the band’s typically uncompromising first-night performance.
The B-side, another Ayers composition called Feelin’ Reelin’ Squeelin’ was an avant-garde maelstrom of fuzz guitar, flute, organ and was clearly purpose-built for the band’s performances in early 1967 at hip underground venues like the Electric Garden, Happening 44 and UFO.
The single was promoted in a suitably surreal manner. A press reception at the Speakeasy featured a jam with Jimi Hendrix, while Polydor publicised the single in the music weeklies with a predominantly blank panel, with the legend “this waste of valuable advertising space comes to you courtesy of The Soft Machine” scrawled in the bottom right-hand corner.
Over the course of their career, they changed from being a fun, eccentric psychedelic band, to being jazz fusioneers, to changing virtually all their personnel until the only thing really linking them to the spirit and ideas of the original band was the name.
When Kevin Ayers left for a solo career in 1968 he took with him such songs as Clarence In Wonderland. His early albums, such as Joy Of A Toy and Shooting At The Moon, matched Syd Barrett for unhinged English eccentricity, yet for some reason, he has never received quite the same acclaim.
Elton Dean passed away on 7 February 2006 from heart and liver-related health problems.