Soft Machine - Facelift France & Holland

Soft Machine – Facelift France & Holland

There are many recordings of Soft Machine’s French tours in late 1969 and early 1970. Both official and unofficial, some come from hopelessly unreliable audience recordings and really poor bootlegs. Cuneiform Records have taken a different approach. Using the best possible sources, they set to work with carefully curated performances. The result is the three disc Facelift France & Holland which saw the light of day earlier this year. Although the band toured France as a septet with a horn section in late 1969, they had been reduced to a quintet by early 1970 when they returned to complete the tour. In addition to drummer Robert Wyatt, bassist Hugh Hopper, saxophonist Elton Dean and keyboardist Mike Ratledge, the band was augmented with English saxophonist Lyn Dobson. The five-man line-up was short-lived: only from January to March could this particular composition be admired on stage.

This release contains restored video footage of the band’s great performance at the Théâtre de la Musique in Paris on 2nd March 1970. It was originally broadcast in two 40-minute parts, in April and July 1970, on French TV’s Pop 2. Unfortunately, despite repeated requests, I have not been provided with the video footage of the full concert (an error in judgement by the record company), however, the seven-minute trailer is fascinating to watch. Drummer Robert Wyatt in particular makes an overwhelming impression, at times the resemblance to Animal from the Muppets is striking. On the other side of the spectrum we have Hopper’s subdued and concentrated bass playing, while the introverted Ratledge keeps things together on his organ. Dean regularly steals the show with razor-sharp solos.

The first audio disc concerns the performance in Paris. The mix is mediocre in some places, nevertheless the sound remains quite good and the individual instruments are well distinguishable. Besides fine versions of Mousetrap and Eamonn Andrews, this is the only professionally recorded version of Out-Bloody-Rageous with Dobson. However, there is one dissonance: Ratledge’s Slightly All The Time doesn’t sound quite right at all. The song was also not heard during the TV broadcast at the time. Instead, an audience recording has been added to complete the picture; a minor niggle.

The second audio disc features Soft Machine’s concert at Holland’s very own Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on 17th January 1970. The source is a pretty good soundboard recording. In addition to opener Facelift, it contains a real rarity: Hugh Hopper’s 12/8 Theme, which wouldn’t appear on a studio version until 1996. The show also features a long version of Esther’s Nose Job, which has been shortened in the Pop 2 version. I am particularly impressed by those moments when both saxophonists play together in unison, those few occurences are the most appealing to me personally. Just listen to the beginning of Out-Bloody-Rageous.

Facelift France & Holland shows Soft Machine at a special moment in their history. During much of 1968, the band had not appeared in Europe due to the American tours with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, coupled with line-up changes. After the period as a septet, the band demonstrates here that they were making the transition from psychedelic pop to progrock and jazzrock. This is indispensable material, especially for true fans of the Softs.

CD1 : Théâtre de la Musique, Paris, France, 2nd March 1970

01. Eamonn Andrews (9:42)
02. Mousetrap (3:56)
03. Noisette (0:36)
04. Backwards (4:03)
05. Mousetrap (reprise) (0:24)
06. Out-Bloody-Rageous (15:11)
07. Facelift (18:34)
08. Slightly All The Time (6:40)
09. Moon In June / Vocal Improvisations (3:19)
10. Esther’s Nose Job / Pigling Bland (8:49)

Time – 71:18

CD2: Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 17th January 1970
01. Facelift (9:57)
02. Moon in June (6:27)
03. 12/8 Theme (in Drum Solo) (10:52)
04. Esther’s Nose Job / Pigling Bland (16:31)

Time – 44:35

Total Time – 115:53

Elton Dean – Alto Sax, Saxello
Lyn Dobson – Soprano & Tenor Sax, Flute, Harmonica, Vocals
Hugh Hopper – Bass
Mike Ratledge – Hohner Pianet, Lowrey Holiday Deluxe Organ
Robert Wyatt – Drums, Vocals

Record Label: Cuneiform Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 25th March 2022

– Facelift France & Holland (2022)
– Live at the Baked Potato (2020)
– Hidden Details (2018)
– Switzerland 1974 (2015)
– Tales of Taliesin (The EMI Years Anthology 1975-1981) (2011)
– NDR Jazz Workshop (2010)
– Live at Henie Onstad Art Centre (2009)
– Drop (2008)
– Grides (2006)
– Middle Earth Masters (2006)
– Floating World Live (Bremen 1975) (2006)
– British Tour ’75 (2005)
– SoftStage (BBC Radio One Live In Concert 1972) (2005)
– Breda Reactor 1971 (2005)
– Live in Paris 1972 (2004)
– Somewhere in Soho (2004)
– Kings of Canterbury (2003)
– BBC Radio Volume 2 (Peel sessions 1971-1973) (2003)
– BBC Radio 1967-1971 (2003)
– Facelift (2002)
– Backwards (2002)
– Noisette (2000)
– Live 70 (1998)
– Virtually (1997)
– Spaced (1996)
– Live at The Paradiso (1995)
– Live in France (1995)
– Rubber Riff (1994)
– BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert (1994)
– BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert (1993)
– The Peel Sessions (1990)
– Live at The Proms 1970 (1988)
– Land of Cockayne (1981)
– Alive & Well Recorded in Paris (1978)
– Triple Echo (1978)
– Softs (1976)
– Bundles (1975)
– Seven (1973)
– Six (1973)
– Face and Place Volume 7 (1972)
– Fifth (1972)
– Fourth (1971)
– Third (1970)
– Volume Two (1969)
– Soft Machine (1968)

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