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The Soft Machine

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The Soft Machine Middle Earth Masters album cover
2.63 | 26 ratings | 4 reviews | 4% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Live, released in 2006

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Clarence In Wonderland (4:33)
2. We Know What You Mean (3:02)
3. Bossa Nova Express (2:39)
4. Hope For Happiness (13:19)
5. Disorganisation (6:03)
6. We Did It Again (5:48)
7. Why Are We Sleeping? (6:16)
8. I Should've Known (9:47)
9. That's How Much I Need You Now (2:20)
10. I Should've Known (6:44)
11. A Certain Kind (3:46)

Total: 64:17

Tracks 1 to 8, recorded Middle Earth, Convent Garden, London on 16th September 1967
Tracks 9 and 10, recorded Middle Earth, Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, London during May 1968
Track 11, unknown location, Autumn 1967.

Line-up / Musicians

- Mike Ratledge / keyboards
- Robert Wyatt / drums, vocals
- Kevin Ayers /bass guitar, vocals

Releases information

Recorded at two of the venues that housed the legendary London underground club Middle Earth in 1967 and a third recording from elsewhere in 1968, this apparently has only recently beeen "unearthed" - elsewhere it is suggested a couple of tracks can also be found on a Blueprint Soft Machine release. Cuneiform Records continue doing their sterling work and archealogical digs of British live recordings while offering this proviso:
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!

Issues by Cuneiform Records Sept 2006. catalogue No: CUNE235

Thanks to dick heath for the addition
and to dick heath for the last updates
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Buy THE SOFT MACHINE Middle Earth Masters Music

THE SOFT MACHINE Middle Earth Masters ratings distribution

(26 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(4%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(15%)
Good, but non-essential (62%)
Collectors/fans only (15%)
Poor. Only for completionists (4%)

THE SOFT MACHINE Middle Earth Masters reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Dick Heath
3 stars At last we have a missing link between the 'Rock Generation' demo recordings (subsequently a decade later gained the name 'Jet Propelled Photograph') and the first legitimate Soft Machine studio recording of 1968. Many of the tunes on the 'Middle Earth Masters' will be found on both these other recordings - but here the gloves are off, as recording studio restrictions are not imposed. This is early Machine (post Daevid Allan), freaking out with audience and having the space to improvise.

At first listening, a non-Machine fan will be most disappointed, however, a Machine freak should be delighted. But I would ask anybody curious about early prog and jazz rock fusion bands to have a little tolerance, wrt the sonic quality heard here. Beneath the distortion, the channel imbalance and vocals lost in the distance, a gold mine of great inventive music lurks. We are lucky to have these recordings (as most of the text of liner notes will reveal), and this is an important oral document in the form of three snap- shot live recordings of progressive music evolving out of the British pop and pop- psychedlia heard for the first time in the mid 60's.

The album has a mix of the 2 to 4 minute pop or psychedelic pop songs which takes few risks, interdispersed with what the out-of-London club and hall managers too often disliked because the longer tunes were almost impossible to dance to. For example there is an extended version of Brian Hooper and co.s 'Hope For Happiness', kicking off with Wyatt giving out a vocal drone, but a minute or so later, Ratledges' Lowery smashes in - with Ayer's bass - so that Wyatt's voice is drown out by startlingly innovative keyboard solo. The imbalance of the mix favours Ratledges' organ, but this is what I want, it is superb. It most certainly reminds me that when this site has polls about keyboard players, any omission of Ratledge should instantly invalidate the poll - what you smacks you in the ears here is that in 1967 Ratledge is so ahead of Emerson or Wright, and he ain't playing in the blues-jazz style of Brian Auger, Graham Bond or Georgie Fame (to name a few). His technique is excellent, the rock improv is innovative (sorry I have to keep using that word - or literally 'progressive'), and the use of sonic distortion to achieve effects from a pre- synth keyboard was then frightenly new. The CD is worth its price for these insights to what really was happening almost night by night in the progressive underground scene in the UK.

As Jon Newey (current editor of Jazzwise), reminds in a second set of liner notes: what you hear on this CD, is remarkably like being in the acoustically unfriendly cellar of the Middle Earth Club, front row, watching the Soft Machine trio energetically sweat out this new progressive music for the punters. I'm reminded so much of that wall of sound, painfully loud in many other clubs and halls at the time for many other 60's bands - and loving it.

Alas probably not an album for all, but Machine freaks and rock historians ought to be queuing up for it.

Review by febus
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam

MIDDLE EARTH MASTERS is more interesting on a historic side than it is is musically, really! This is a very young SOFT MACHINE recorded in a London club at the height of the psychedelism era .CUNEIFORM records did again a good job at finding these old tapes and more importantly at cleaning them to offer us a -relatively- good sounding concert from -yes- 40 years ago...already!!

The line-up is KEVIN AYERS on bass and vocals, playing occasionaly the guitar, ROBERT WYATT on drums and vocals and ,of course, MIKE RATLEDGE on organ. This album was recorded just after DAEVID ALLEN left because he was not allowed a visa to re-enter the UK after a France tour. Most of the songs has been recorded in the fall of 1967 while 2 others comw from another concert at the same club in the spring of 1968.

The sound is good considering the way the gig was recorded, yet some parts are missing or the vocals can be heard only in the background like on WE KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN or HOPE FOR HAPPINESS .This was very difficult music for the time and you will understand why SOFT MACHINE was seen as a pioneer of the underground psychedelic in London at this time with the likes of PINK FLOYD. I even don't think that BARRETT and co went as far as SOFT MACHINE on being the wildest or weirdest one.

Just listen to the performance of MIKE RATLEDGE here; this is not the RATLEDGE from THIRD we all know. Sounds more like an halucinogenic RATLEDGE to me.There is this- very wild-organ experimentation with an apropiated name ''DISORGANISATION'', i mean no way, you can listen to that all the time; the same goes for another strange early 13mns version of HOPE FOR HAPPINESS with RATLEDGE ''playing'' or getting some sounds, i would say, out of his organ.

The KEVIN AYERS songs are of course, considering his forthcoming solo career the most accessible tracks on this album. CLARENCE IN WONDERLAND and YOU KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN will appear later with different versions on JOY OF ATOY, his first solo album..with the 2 other SOFT MACHINE members.However, it doesn't mean it is mainstream as KEVIN is one unique artist, one of the kind. There have never been 2 KEVIN AYERS.

HUGH HOPPER, a roadie of the band at the time, contributes I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN and A CERTAIN KIND. I SHOULD HAVE KNOW show us already some signs where SOFT MACHINE would be heading in the future with a long wild distorted organ solo from the master.However, if this is a pleasant album to listen to, this is no masterpiece as the musicians rely on a lot of self indulgence to make the CD really worthy, especially MIKE RATLEDGE. Maybe the musicians had fun this evening, i guess the attendance was under the charm as well, but those were the times for that.

Now listening to that now sounds a little bit childish or amateurish, kind of approximate experimentations that have not held very well the passage of times; but that it is rather a rare opportunity to hear what SOFT MACHINE was all about in 1967; a very unique young band that will become a prime force in the burgeonning prog scene.

2.5 STARS.

Review by Alucard
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars The Middle Earth Masters CD presents concert exerpts from 1967 & 1968 from two Middle Earth shows. The CD is released on Cuneiforme and produced by Michael King who had also mastered the original tapes. The original recordings were made by the famous Bob Woolford, who had taped a lot of concerts in the 60's with his homemade reel to reel machine. So far so good for the mythological side of the 60's ! Back then electric amplification, miking and recording of amplified sounds were in the heydays and most mikes weren't made to deal with such a high sound level not to speak about the voluntary distortion. The main part of the tracks (eight out of eleven) come from the 1968 show and apart from some (few) quiet passages the tracks are completely distorted. Michael King explains his procedures to clean up the source tapes and explains the bad quality of the mikes and his limits to get rid of the distortion in the liner notes. The overall sound is overly distorted and hard to listen to. The vocal parts are so low in the mix, that you can hardly hear Ayers and Wyatt singing. Mike King had already participated on the BBC/Hux Soft Machine 1967-1971 2CD release with five tracks from the same period, recorded in the BBC studios. Four of these five compositions are also on the Cuneiforme release, but the BBC tracks are far superior in audio quality. Two tracks are unreleased, Bossa Nova Express a composition by Kevin Ayers and Disorganisation a composition by Mike Ratledge. The two 1968 tracks have slightly better quality and the last track A Certain Kind is the same as on the BBC/HUX release. There is a short hidden track 12, with some band conversation.

Seen that there exists already live material from this period with Wyatt, Ayers and Ratledge in much better quality and that the two unreleased tracks are only mildly interesting, the bad audio quality makes this CD a collectors only item. BTW the photos on the cover and in the booklett are exatly the same as the one in the BBC/HUX release.

Review by HolyMoly
2 stars Very Early Softs

All but the most fanatical fans (guilty as charged!) will want to avoid this release. This captures the band in concert around the time of their first album, the trio of Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, and Mike Ratledge. The acoustics, in what sounds like a concrete basement, are fairly rough, and most of Robert Wyatt's vocals are all but inaudible, though that may be his own fault for not singing directly into the mic (which can be tough to do when you're busy drumming).

This set is notable for showcasing a couple of early Kevin Ayers tunes which did not appear on a Soft Machine album but later were recorded by Kevin as a solo act -- "We Know What You Mean" (aka "Soon Soon Soon") and "Clarence in Wonderland". The versions are unremarkable, but it's fun to hear them in such early, intimate versions.

Much of the set, however, is given to extended versions of tracks from the debut, which give some idea of how noisy and unhinged this band could be in their early days. "Hope for Happiness" runs for 13 minutes, with Mike Ratledge's organ screeching away at top volume. "I Should've Known" (later retitled "Why Am I So Short/So Boot if at All" for the debut) takes a similar path. As if such free form insanity weren't enough, there's a fully improvised piece called "Disorganization" that will certainly test your patience.

I'm glad to own this, but honestly it's a rough listen. Recommended to historians only.

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