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SOFT HEAP

Canterbury Scene • United Kingdom


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Soft Heap biography
SOFT HEAP was a Canterbury supergroup consisting of HUGH HOPPER, ELTON DEAN, ALAN GOWEN, and PIP PYLE. By the time of their formation, KARL JENKINS had basically taken over THE SOFT MACHINE and ROBERT WYATT was long gone, although he still produced a wealth of solo work and headed up MATCHING MOLE. SOFT HEAP is basically a continuation of what THE SOFT MACHINE did around the time of "Fourth."

SOFT HEAP only released one studio album in the late Seventies. The best way to describe it is to make references to the mid period SOFTS releases, namely the avant jazz albums ("Fourth" and "Fifth" respectively). Another album of live material was released in the mid-Nineties, which also featured the likes of John Greaves and Mark Hewins. Both albums are of high interest for Canterbury afficiandos.

Zac M
----

SOFT HEAD are primarily the same band as the original SOFT HEAP, but with DAVE SHEEN taking over from PIP PYLE on drums, due to PYLE's commitments with NATIONAL HEALTH. SHEEN filled the drum stool for live concerts, and it was then that the 1978 live album "Rogue Element" (Ogun Records) was recorded under the band named SOFT HEAD. The music remained in the same vein, so SOFT HEAD's "Rogue Element" is also worth seeking out, if you like SOFT MACHINE and SOFT HEAP.

Additional SOFT HEAD biography by James R. Yeowell

Why this artist must be listed in www.progarchives.com:
SOFT HEAP are an important part of the Canterbury scene puzzle.


Discography:
Soft Heap, studio album (1978)
Rogue Elements (as Soft Head), studio album (1978)
A Veritable Centaur, live (1995)

Soft Heap official website

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SOFT HEAP Videos (YouTube and more)


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Buy SOFT HEAP Music


Al DenteAl Dente
Import
Reel Recordings 2008
Audio CD$11.84
Soft HeapSoft Heap
Import · Remastered
Esoteric 2009
Audio CD$9.82
$25.00 (used)
Soft HeapSoft Heap
Import
Spala 2006
Audio CD$22.82
$46.51 (used)
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SOFT HEAP shows & tickets


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SOFT HEAP discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

SOFT HEAP top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.49 | 30 ratings
Soft Heap
1978

SOFT HEAP Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.99 | 12 ratings
Rogue Element (as Soft Head)
1978
3.05 | 2 ratings
A Veritable Centaur
1995
2.14 | 5 ratings
Al Dente
2008

SOFT HEAP Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

SOFT HEAP Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

SOFT HEAP Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

SOFT HEAP Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Soft Heap by SOFT HEAP album cover Studio Album, 1978
3.49 | 30 ratings

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Soft Heap
Soft Heap Canterbury Scene

Review by BORA

3 stars Challenging - to say the least! 3.5

Firstly - and I am sorry to say - all members of this band have left us over the years. Great artists who left their mark on the music scene collectively and individually. RIP.

There is little point for me to repeat what's already stated in the Bio. Suffice to say that comparisons can be drawn between this album and Soft Machine's "Fourth", but there is a major difference.

"Fourth" was released in 1971, a time when every new album was eagerly awaited for, every note keenly absorbed - regardless of how difficult some works may have been. Fast forward to 1978 by which time, there is a glut of accumulated releases. Many of those are more accessible and Soft Heap chose to defy the trend for "popular Prog" and went the other way to. create "difficult" music instead. Music that may have appeal to, a degree of appreciation by a small section of society. I give it to SH that they had the courage to do that.

The end result is an album that's extremely difficult to get into, even for those, like myself, who are very keen on Jazz. Whereas "Fourth" had a definite structure, here we are dealing with something bordering on Free Jazz with a bit of Avant on the edges. The musicianship is great, but the end product fails to sink in as pleasant listening. No, it's rather a challenge, one doesn't really want to encounter on a daily basis. Not even Yours Truly. It also gets to a point when Elton Dean's relentless soprano sax reaches irritation levels and amounts to something akin to punishment.

I don't mean to knock this work, but truth is that I won't be putting it on very often. In it's place, I'd much rather prefer Soft Machine Legacy that also features Dean and Hopper. Less challenging, more fun.

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 Soft Heap by SOFT HEAP album cover Studio Album, 1978
3.49 | 30 ratings

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Soft Heap
Soft Heap Canterbury Scene

Review by seventhsojourn
Special Collaborator RPI

3 stars Despite the spag bol cover art, Soft Heap wasn't a legendary RPI band but the royal jelly of the late-seventies Canterbury scene. The music they inflict on listeners here is quite a challenge and to be honest I find it hard going in places. There's no denying the importance of this work and the technical virtuosity of the musicians involved but the end result is a baffling musical meshwork that a simpleton like yours truly can't fully untangle.

The music is generally listless, a characteristic that reaches its culmination on the half- somnolent but utterly beautiful ''Petit 3's'', although one or two tracks are interwoven with moments of almost fanatical intensity. A case in point is ''Terra Nova'' where sax and electric piano jockey for position while synthesizer hovers in the background, and this intro is nicely counterpointed by the energetic ululations of Elton Dean's sax in the main body of the piece.

The main problem for me is that there's not enough rock and a bit too much straight ahead jazz on offer, with the album's final pair of tracks being the main offenders in these respects. Overall there are some interesting moments but at its core this is a fairly dull listening experience. It doesn't quite make me want to pull my teeth out so I'll give it a generous 3-stars, but it's probably one to suck and see before you part with your hard-earned cash.

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 Rogue Element (as Soft Head) by SOFT HEAP album cover Live, 1978
3.99 | 12 ratings

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Rogue Element (as Soft Head)
Soft Heap Canterbury Scene

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This is a live album recorded in a club in France in 1978. Alan Gowen, Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean and Dave Sheen make up this band.The first three are all gone now sadly. It's hard to believe when looking at the pictures of Alan Gowen in the liner notes that just three years from this recording he died of cancer while still in his thirties. In the liner notes it describes Alan as "a jazzer by nature, but his writing was dominated by elaborate and expansive themes. His playing had litheness and lightness which blurred what was scored and what was improvised. Running parallel jaunts with Elton's bitter-sweet saxello, Alan could wail in a way that stretched tonality to it's limit".

"Seven For Lee" opens with bass as light drums join in then keys. Sax before a minute. Great sound here. A calm arrives around 6 1/2 minutes then it builds with bass and drums. Sax before 8 minutes then keys. "Seven Drones" is a Hopper composition. Drums and dissonant keys lead the way as sax comes and goes. Bass before 1 1/2 minutes as the sax starts to play over top. The sax and keys become dissonant. Crazy stuff. It figures that this is a Hopper tune. "Remain So" picks up quickly with piano but the tempo changes often on this one. Bass takes over before 3 minutes. Sax is back late.

"Ranova" is a Dean composition and the longest at almost 17 minutes. It's mellow and slow to start with atmosphere. A beat changes that 4 minutes in. Sax is back a minute later and it gets pretty dissonant. The sax stops 10 1/2 minutes in as keyboards take over. Bass leads 14 minutes in but the sax returns before 15 minutes to the end. "C You Again" opens with sax and Elton does put on a show. Drums, bass and keys join in after 1 1/2 minutes. It's building 3 minutes in. "C.R.R.C" is another long one at 14 minutes. I like the sound here as keys and sax lead while the bass and drums are also prominant. The tempo picks up after 5 1/2 minutes. It calms right down a minute later with piano, bass and drums. "One Three Nine" is a jazzy little number with sax and keys leading. A bass solo after 5 1/2 minutes.

A very important document really of these talented men playing live. The electric piano, sax, bass and drums are played as only these men could play them.

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 Rogue Element (as Soft Head) by SOFT HEAP album cover Live, 1978
3.99 | 12 ratings

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Rogue Element (as Soft Head)
Soft Heap Canterbury Scene

Review by snobb
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars The only (live) Soft Head album is excellent work! Having its roots in psychedelic jazz-rock of early Soft Machine music, this album is in fact Elton Dean's swan song. Plenty of soloing jazzy sax on each composition (with great support of all other musicians, especially - Alan Gowen's electric piano). Obviously more jazzy, than many Soft Machine albums, this album is excellent gem for Elton Dean sax lovers.

I can listen it again and again - fresh, very inspired improvs and possibly the best Elton Dean recordings ever! To be honest, I like all Soft Heap/Soft Head albums, they all are based on Elton Dean sax soloing with great support of Canterbury stars. But this live album is peak of all them for me!

If you like Elton Dean, jazzy side of Soft Machine music or just great sax-led progressive jazz, you must have this album for sure.

My rating is 4,5, rounded to 5!

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 Al Dente by SOFT HEAP album cover Live, 2008
2.14 | 5 ratings

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Al Dente
Soft Heap Canterbury Scene

Review by LionRocker

1 stars For some bizarre reason, I was pretty enthusiastic when I received this CD in the mail. For an even stranger reason, I believed this band was going to be a fantastic offshoot of the always lovable and laudable Soft Machine and going to focus on their former glories for musical inspiration. I hadn't even paid a great deal of attention to the fact that the band's original creative genius, Robert Wyatt, (One of the primary writing forces in the Machine's first three albums) had nothing to do with this project, and the fact that Soft Heap was mainly put together by the notorious sax player and villain, Elton Dean, who's style of sax playing doesn't fit my tastes at all. I've got nothing personal against Dean but whenever the occasion is (and believe me, it's quite frequent) that he doesn't utilize his woodwind playing skills for melodic purposes, he's often near unlistenable.

To this day, I still remember a little exchange I had with my brother before I randomly popped the CD into the stereo. As, I was removing the plastic wrap from the CD's attractive digipack container, my fairly prog rock opposed brother (No, he's not a fan of RIO; he simply hates most forms of music) asked me what kind of sounds would plague his eardrums today. The ensuing banter will be typed in the form of a playwright:

Me: You're going to be listening to Soft Heap, man.

Bro: (pauses, then has a wry smile) Why are you listening to Soft Heap? Doesn't the band's name say itself that it's obviously a load of crap?

Well, I'll be danged, this silly, little anecdote was the first time the kid was ever right about music. Soft Heap does live up to its name. If an album comprised of six lengthy, sax dominated jams made up right on the spot with no form or structure appeal to you, go ahead and waste fifteen dollars on it. I'm no specialist on free jazz but I personally can't stand this record. Individually, these musicians are great and I'm not going to deny that. Every single one of them has shown promise on a non-Heap album. (Even the noisy Dean got his time to shine on Soft Machine's Third.) Alan Gowen may be second only to Keith Emerson in terms of finger flashing keyboard abilities, Pip Pyle's "Octopus" trade name is surely justified for those who have heard the man's dexterous drumming, Hugh Hopper has shown signs of being a great, fluent, (and loud!) bass player and songwriter, and in terms of talent, I'll begrudgingly admit that Elton Dean is an ultra talented sax player even if Frank Zappa might think he's blowing his nose into the poor instrument. (See "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" for the in-joke reference)

I'm not even going to discuss the songs individually. They all tend to blend together stylistically (They're all sax jams!) and Gowen's subdued, electric piano showcases on a few tracks are the only reprieve you're going to get from the sax attacks! And why do jazz bands always have one track that's name is just an acronym of random letters? Do they think they're more elitist and accomplished since they named one of their jams, "C.R.R.C"? Does anyone care? Oh and be sure to check Amazon.com later, jazz fans, a slightly used, slightly smelly copy of Soft Heap's Grammy nominated "Al Dente" has made it's debut.

Btw, R.I.P. all the members of Soft Heap. Now I shall have a feeling of guilt dwell upon me every time I maliciously rip on sax jams for being annoying. For fear of being haunted by the ghost of Elton Dean's saxophone, let's dedicate a moment of silence to each and every one of these virtuosos. Like I said, they're all really talented chaps, this album just puts them in a bad light.

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 Soft Heap by SOFT HEAP album cover Studio Album, 1978
3.49 | 30 ratings

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Soft Heap
Soft Heap Canterbury Scene

Review by stefro
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Made up from members of Gilgamesh, Soft Machine and Caravan, Soft Heap were a complex, jazzy and, sadly, short-lived supergroup-of-sorts, who were active at the back-end of the seventies for a short while, producing this memorable studio album in 1978 as well as a live release called 'Al Dente' a year later. Featuring the supremely-talented Alan Gowen(keyboards) - who would die tragically at just 33 thanks to cancer - as well as Pip Pyle(drums), Elton Dean(sax), Hugh Hopper(bass) and Marc Charig(trombone), Soft Heap failed to generate any genuine commercial success in their truncated time together but did garner a cult following that has slowly grown over the years, thanks in part to progressive rock's rise in popularity since the early 1990's. Those familiar with either the 'Seven' or 'Bundles' albums by many of this group's former employers Soft Machine will find muc to admire here, though, 'Soft Heap' does add an electronic glaze to the sophisticated jazz overalls that cultivates an identity of it's own. Alan Gowen is very much the lead player, showcasing his phenomenal keyboard abilities to full effect whilst never completely dominating proceedings and thus allowing each his of cohorts the space and time they need to develop their own individual ideas and themes. Loose and mellow jazz-prog, expertly delivered. STEFAN TURNER, LONDON, 2010

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 Soft Heap by SOFT HEAP album cover Studio Album, 1978
3.49 | 30 ratings

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Soft Heap
Soft Heap Canterbury Scene

Review by snobb
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Short-lived Canterbury scene supergroup, founded by ex-Soft Machine sax player Elton Dean after he left SM (he had few more short-lived projects in between). Other members all are Canterbury scene great musicians: Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine) , Pip Pyle and Alan Gowan (Hatfield and The North both).

And if still in similar key with jazz-rock period Soft Machine, this album is more Elton Dean - project. His sax is main instrument, even if all musicians are excellent and total musicianship is great. The music, comparing with Soft Machine's is more jazz, than slightly psychedelic jazz-rock. Some compositions are almost pure sax-led jazz, with vintage (read-bop) influences. Much more melancholic and even romantic..

Unhappily, this album is the only studio work of great project. You will like it more if you like jazzy roots in Canterbury sound, those more in rock side could be a bit disappointed. But in whole - must have album for every Canterbury sound fan. Three and half for sure.

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 Rogue Element (as Soft Head) by SOFT HEAP album cover Live, 1978
3.99 | 12 ratings

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Rogue Element (as Soft Head)
Soft Heap Canterbury Scene

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

Second album of Soft Heap where Pip Pyle had obligation elsewhere and he was replaced by Dave Sheen, thus Soft Head and the album Rogue Element, of which I'm sure, the elephant occupying the artwork is certainly aimed at. So this album was recorded the following year than the debut and released on the Ogun label, already familiar to progheads for Keith Tippett's works. This is the recording of gig in deep France.

Opening the album on the Dean-penned Seven For Lee, the album starts on a Soft Machine mode with Dean soaring over the rest of the band, but Gowen and Hopper are just behind Elton, making this track the easiest of the album. Hopper's seven Drones veers instantly into dissonant ground, proof that not only Dean was able to follow Marshall around the Machine's fifth album. Nothing too hard for the novice's ears with Gowan's soft electric piano bedding the track. More accessible is the Gowan-penned Remain So, a piano- dominated tune.

The flipside opens on CRRC, written by Alan, and last some 14 minutes, which is enough to let you know that he's a full member of Heap, despite having Gilgamesh still under way (with Hopper appearing), but the "tune" appears more real jazz than fusion or jazz-rock, the mid-song energy outburst not bringing much new. The closing One Three Nine is just more of the same as the album offered you so far.

Ogun released a Mini-Lp reissue of this album in 96, and had the luck to find two extra unreleased tracks (apparently from the same concert, since the ambiance and sound are the same as on the album) and included them as bonus on this release. The 17-mins Dean composition Ranovais a slow starting tune on piano, than sax with Sheen Hoppering on the train a while later. Not too dissonant, but definitely beyond the huge majority of Machine standards, but by Heap/Head standard, quite normal C You Again is really very slow and mega-dissonant, making this track the weaker point on the album, but it remains part off that night's concert.

So the two bonus tracks are excellent added value for the original album, which makes the new version lasting some 60 minutes, which is plenty enough and not lasting too long. I wouldn't call any Heap/Head album essential Canterbury scene music, but they are exactly the kind of albums that consolidate the genre.

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 Soft Heap by SOFT HEAP album cover Studio Album, 1978
3.49 | 30 ratings

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Soft Heap
Soft Heap Canterbury Scene

Review by Joćo Paulo

4 stars I like very much Soft Machine and I can listen all Soft Machine athmosphere in this album. Great Guitar and bass works that the improvisation is excelent. Some very fast guitar scales and a very good drum's work. Great drumer player because to me, drums in jazz works, are very dificult to play and is very dificult create, the balanced and atmosphere with other music instruments. The sax work are insane and very crazy. To me, is a crazy work and very nice for all that like the psichedelic jazz fusion rock made in final 60 and in 70 years. This work, continue the Soft Machine work when Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper can scape. They don't made a different album of his last works in Soft Machine band. An album for Soft Machine Fans and to me very good.

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 Soft Heap by SOFT HEAP album cover Studio Album, 1978
3.49 | 30 ratings

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Soft Heap
Soft Heap Canterbury Scene

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

3 stars 3.5 stars really!!

After leaving Soft Machine after their fifth album (in 72), Elton dean returned to the jazz scene for a few years and created his own groups and projects like Just Us, Elton Dean Quartet and big band Ninesense. Around Jan 78, Soft Heap was created by him with ex- Hatfield and Gligamesh members Pip Pyle and Alan Gowan, and Elton thought of inviting his old buddy and ex-Machinist Hugh Hopper. Thus the name of the band being a bit of revenge, using the Soft part of the Machine, the Heap being their respective forename's first letter. (Thus Soft Head was the same, when Pyle was unavailable and they called upon Dave Shean). Sadly Esoteric Record did not find any extra tracks lying around for this album's only second reissue, but deliver some neat liner notes.

Starting slowly , as if from a Tery riley album, the gorgeous Circle Line is the only Hopper- penned track, but certainly the most poignant on this album, in no small part due to Elton's impression of Coltrane. The collective jamming AWOL is a much more furious affair, breathing Elton's intentions with Phil Howard's short tenure of the drum stool in Soft Machine. Demented and sometimes spacey, but never really totally dissonant either. Gowen's Petit 3's is a much quieter affair with the dominating electric piano, but the slow groove is evolving a bit in an early Nucleus lava stream, pouring down a volcano's cone. Cool yet torrid, but not reaching the apex you'd wish it had.

The flipside starts on the Terra Nova were the Softs would be meeting Coltrane on the way to Ascenscion, but not reaching the summit either, even though this is the album's best track. The other Dean composition Fara is a slow jazz, close to standard granddaddy jazz and it sticks out a bit from the rest of the album. Not even old Tippettt mate Mark Charig can bring much excitement to this crooning jazz track that's only missing Louis or Ella's vocals. The closing short Hand is a free-form jazz piece written by Gowan, and sticks out just as muchas its predecessor, but in the opposite direction. True enough, Soft Heap has the inevitable Soft machine traits, but you won't catch this writer to say that they were trying to revive a spirit, even though by now, the SM mothership had folded after much more line-up changes.

A very worthy one shot album from a group that would go on to record under this name but with different personnel, their debut remaining their best. Both Gowan and Pyle woud go on in National Health (this album was a bit delayed to that group's schedule), but today as I write this review, Soft Heap is the first prog group (let's put aside Jimi Hendrix Experience), with Hugh Hopper's death, this group is the first to extinct by all of its members, something I'd have rather not seen or known

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