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 A fantasy come true, by Robert Wyatt - Sounds - November 28, 1970



LlKE many other bands that I find musically interesting and emotionally exciting, Soft Machine depend a lot on the contrasts between the members of the group to bring their music to life.
It is not a clash of personalities, but a constant interchange of ideas and approaches that keeps what they do fresh, both in their performances and when working out arrangements. These differences show up a bit on their last album "Third" (CBS 66246), but what shows up even more clearly is the way that four very different people come together to enrich each other's playing, and the music as a whole.
Obviously this works with all groups to some extent, but often there is either one person who dominates, or the musicians come together in the first place because they work with similar ideas.

With bands like The Whole World, Pink Floyd, and the Softs the approach is different and it produces music that is more likely to evolve in new directions.
"Obviously, the changes in the music depend a lot on the people in the group," said Robert Wyatt, drummer and more extrovert quarter of the Softs. "For instance, when Kevin (Ayers) loft and Hugh (Hopper) joined, it made a great difference."
Robert is probably the most basic, least technicallyminded of the four. Does he find it restrictive playing within the comparatively tight framework of Mike Ratledlege's compositions, which are pretty much worked out and arranged?
"I find it difficult" he said "but the discipline is probably very good for me, and it brings out things that nobody could have thought of."

Of course, there is plenty of room for improvisation and individual interpretation within Mike's compositions, and even more in Hugh's, Robert's and Elton Dean's. And the group go further along this path by adding other musicians to the lineup on occasion.
" When I talked to Robert, they were working on the last track of their new album at Olympic Studios, and working with them on the session were Alan Skidmore, Nick Evans, and Roy Babbington.
The effect of that horn section and of the two bass players on the track, one of Mike's called 'Teeth", was incredible - it had so much life about it.

One side of the new album is devoted to Hugh's "Virtually", and other tracks are "Kings and Queens" by Hugh and one by Elton - "Five minutes of total insanity" according to Robert.
Using two bass players has worked well, and there are plans for Mike Giles, formerly drummer with King Crimson, to do some things with Robert and the Softs - another combination that should produce some very interesting music.

Though the Soft Machine is Robert's main interest, he likes to branch out in other directions. Mike and Hugh do most of the writing for the group and there really isn't enough time to cope with aIl their ideas.
Robert has just completed his own "solo" album, he has been involved with Keith Tippett's Centipede project, and he hopes to start doing some gigs with a sextet soon. Earlier this year he left the Soft Machine to work with Kevin Ayers band, but he soon went back.

"I suddenly realised that I was in my mid-twenties and I had got a job. Everything was very tidy, much too predictable. I just felt like a bit of musical promiscuity."
But it didn't work out quite as he had hoped: "I realised that the things that I could achieve musically with Kevin would probably take far longer than with the Soft Machine. What really happened was that from a distance, I was able to re-appraise the Softs."
His album, out on Friday, is the product of about three weeks recording at Sound Techniques in Chelsea.

"We just went in blank and played and doodled around to see what came out. It's nearly an hour long, and probably the only real tune on it is a Gil Evans thing called 'Las Vegas Tango'."
Robert plays piano and electric piano and sings - "not songs, more as an alternative to playing instruments" - and other people on the album are Elton Dean, Mark Charig (cornet), Neville Whitehead (bass), and Dave Sinclair from Caravan (organ).
"It's not supposed to be some kind of great alternative to the Soft Machine," said Robert. "I just thought it would be nice to have an album like that by somebody."
The sextet he hopes to do some gigs with will be Nick Evans, Mongezi Feza, Gary Windo, Roy Babbington, and Steve someone - Robert couldn't remember his surname.
But the thing that has really excited him recently is the Centipede project, Keith Tippett's monster amalgamation of 48 musicians
"It was like a gathering of the tribes, such a happy occasion," he said. "I really enjoyed it so much - all those people just playing together and enjoying it.

The only thing that brought him down was the critics' reaction to the gig.
"I don't want to complain too much, because if any group has been helped by critics, we have," he said, "but I think with the Centipede thing those guys missed such a lot. It was such a happy occasion, and when someone goes away and says, 'oh yes, quite interesting in parts,' he just misses the point.
"We're musicians, we realise what is wrong with it and that it was ragged and everything. Critics just don't seem to realise that musicians are people as well, and they can be hurt like anyone else.
"I don't hate critics, because that is silly, but l'd like to point out that they've probably depressed and discouraged Keith again. I hope they are proud of their achievement."
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