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Soft Machine: A Story

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AZF View Drop Down
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Joined: January 17 2012
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    Posted: February 05 2017 at 11:47
Last year I wrote a short story about Soft Machine.
It isn't a fanfic!! Thanks for reading.

THE SOFT MACHINE by AZF


There were still railway stations, but once the required passport and entitlements were by unrepresented governance withdrawn, there were fewer people around to wait on their platforms. A lot of the length of the actual platform had been scaled back to accommodate another small building. If there were more people travelling it would surely be discussed more. Instead, people these days just looked to ignore it and talk about something else.

I noticed this as I walked up the ramped slope onto Leasowe Station's platform. There were only two other waiting. A man in his early 50’s talking to a young woman. Long left School age but miles before 47. I had missed the start of the conversation. The woman blanked me and kept focusing directly on the words spoke by the man who just nodded at me, and carried on his conversation.

I just walked closer to the newly constructed wall on the platform, as the man's words bounced back at my preferred distant standing mark.
“I did think it weird a woman of 21 had never married, but then you told me you are a fan of Pink Floyd! So you've got your own journey!” he laughed unconvincingly, as the woman acknowledged then in silence, turn to look down the track for the Train's arrival.
“Did you ever hear about one of Pink Floyd’s mates? Called 'The Soft Machine have you ever heard of them?” The Man had asked in a last effort to prevent those awkward silences. The silences that made the strongest argument that something had happened.
The woman suddenly turned her head in interest. The man seemed to delight I just stared down the reduced platform at him. Instead of shouting “NO! THAT IDEA IS TERRIBLE!” at him, and rushing down to prevent him, the man took the topic and control of the platform with my apparent consent.

“Well see there was this club Pink Floyd and this group played at in the mid-60’s called “U.F.O.”.
“Oh, I've heard of the band “U.F.O.!” the woman interrupted out of wanting to show she had not just been listening but had declared checkmate on the man's impromptu lecture.
“That was just the name of the club! The band I'm talking about played on the same nights as Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd. In 1967.”
Suddenly, as my body stood on the platform, internally I transported my mind to bounce into speculative fantasy. That I too was around and in a band in the late 1960’s. Accommodation and hand to day in sunlight not thought of, just assumed, took out of history and was actually there. To defy and cancel out the rage at the disappointment not had decade earlier than my birth of six years later. And of course one of the first thing I did in London was befriend Jimi Hendrix.

“It’s a bit of a cheat calling some demos they recorded as a guitar, bass, keyboard, drums and vocals in 1967, as their first ever album. The “Jet Propelled Photographs” album wasn’t released until the 1970’s. But if I'm recounting chronologically, so there’s a bit of controversy as to that being their debut album.” The man continued, and listening in, a wave of false setbacks and disappointment crashing into my whimsy. Dragging me closer to the 2020 decade of loss. The man added;
“ Especially as that album was the last of their albums to feature a lead guitarist! Daevid Allen. He went on to form 'Gong'.”
“Oh I've heard of them, my mate’s brother plays one of their CD's! Did Soft Machine ever make any records?” the woman asked.

When I heard the band had made a debut in 1968, I was able to reconnect with the junked fantasy of being around in a band during the late sixties came alive once more. And I was compelled to tell my hearing and seeing to be a lie of no real importance. As I was back on the scene after shedding those false starts. I didn’t even think what my music sounded like. I was just in a contemporary band around the time of Soft Machine.
“Volume One is a brilliant insight to what they sounded as a live three piece.” The man had fixed everything and not a single one of us on the platform cared for when the train would arrive. All wanted the man to carry on reciting lyrics from the album.

“Dope For A Penis?” the woman interrupted loudly. Before corrected amused by the speaker.
“HOPE FOR HAPPINESS!” HAPPINESS! Happiness!” the man carried on describing badly the front cover. And back in my time tunnel to my never band, I felt the toil and enforced overtired to push my ideas in the band. I was thinking “This Soft Machine probably isn’t as good as my music that doesn’t even exist!” but the man explained the true genius of Soft Machine’s debut album.

“If you think of it as two sides of an album, it's three songs with musical jams between each song. All played in one take. Muddy production could of been better, but after listening to the first side you still want more.”
“So why aren’t they massive and more well known?”. The woman asked and I remembered thinking that question sooner? Before calling my brain a traitor, and insisted it returned to my 60’s band fantasy.
“The Bass player and second singer, Kevin Ayers, left the band after a really gruelling American tour supporting The Jimi Hendrix Experience... during which Kevin decided he could do the tour living on a macrobiotic diet!” the man explained. The woman laughed, but the man then explained due to a contractual obligation in the record contract, they had to produce a second album or no doubt face financial ruin. Kevin wasn’t interested so they got Hugh Hopper, who had previously been the bands Roadie, as well as writing some of the songs from their first proper sixties album. I personally feel their next album “Volume Two” is that line-ups greatest achievement on record. The idea of extended medleys more engineered and cut into shorter pieces. But production precision of one track after the other, just skating past your ears!” the man suggested.

From where I was standing on the platform I could see the woman had enough interest in the man's explanation. Out of the question to think of him sexually, and far too tedious to befriend. Nevertheless she paid a contagious interest in the story, as I too returned to my attention of my imaginary contemporary psychedelic combo. Not an idea of how it sounded or looked, by now our second album would increase our profile. And hopefully with as many of the people who made the preceding album along for each. The realisation it could never be sustained for decades, was cancelled out by the man telling me of Soft Machine’s line up augmentation of an extra brass four piece containing Elton Dean. A player so phenomenal Reg Dwight took his first name and became a megastar. They even played the Royal Albert Hall in 1970. And although the four piece brass didn’t last, Elton Dean and the core writers and musicians who made the man’s favourite album, went and made a double album. They had signed to Columbia Records for a five album deal. And “Third” was their first release that usually gets voted the highest in polls and attracted many approving statements from Rock Critics down the past handful of decades.

“Is that album any good?” the woman asked. The man replied he found something of value in each of their albums. Then explained to us that unlike the preceding album of dozens if short pieces, this album had four tracks. Each just under 19 minutes a side. Highest charting album the band had, according to the man testifying to The Soft Machine as we waited on the platform. In direct competition I imagined my band had mastered an extended album. And imagined if I ever played the Royal Albert Hall, it would trigger a series of concerts of larger venues, playing awkward and uncomfortable music. Regardless of the wishes of the rest of my unbreakable band when contemporaries with Soft Machine.

“Of course 1971 saw a massive change, as the singing drummer Robert Wyatt was fired after the albums release. His vocals had been cut back to nothing, and shortly after the album ‘4’. It gets compared to the band's preceding double album a lot. But my favourite part is Hugh Hopper's “’Kings And Queens'. As most music is powered by drum patterns, here a Bassline instead repeats four notes and the band relax around it. And Robert was only sacked because when drunk after a gig that he'd like to try and do something else was seized upon and Mike Ratledge and Hugh Hopper basically said ‘Go on then!’. His replacement was fired after recording the first side of their next album “Fifth”. The replacement of Robert Wyatt Phil Howard, was replaced by John Marshall. A musician that stayed to the end of Soft Machine’ efforts” The man took a breath.

“It makes a change to see a stable line up!” the woman bantered. As I stood, not moving forward or nearer the pair of them. Just taking a break from how my band survived and what cost our identity for my contemporary Rock Band. Of which I was sure I was still a member of.
“Actually Elton Dean had left but the band replaced him with Karl Jenkins.” Carried on the man, having absorbed the woman’s question and interest.
“Did the band have a death wish or something? No, a Sack List!” the woman joked, all distrust and judgement melted around us. But I still didn’t feel the need to speak. I was horrified at both the carnage indiscriminate of the leaving the band, and both the speed of the turnover of band membership. And in my imaginary band I realised at last I had been staring out of the glass penthouse down at the city lights and actioned. I can hear no music, and of course it is a darkened room and I have been so blinded to achieve another double album., I have no idea or memory of the people who I worked with to get me where I was in the darkened penthouse staring out. Lost and frightened.

“1973 saw the last of it's greatness, despite all albums having some things worth listening to.” The man seemed to relax as if sounding the final of the story. Still no light from the train, even from opposite direction. And myself realising I am ever closer to my birth year of 1974. What occurrence negates everything I had followed along to mask the harshness of a still dangerous time if they had done to passengers who once had invalid passports or none and how that was enforcing.
I was still dizzy from the destruction of my all-time supergroup in 1973 to notice what the man had told the woman about the albums “Six” (The man's second favourite album after “Volume Two”) and the album “Seven” which completed their deal with Columbia Records. But Hugh Hopper had left the band after “Six”. Describing Karl Jenkins music for the band “sixth-rate”. But now Hugh had dropped out, leaving Mike Ratledge on keyboards from the original line-ups. As the composition on the album began to tilt away and be controlled more by Karl Jenkins. Even outmanoeuvred by his interest waining, as Ratledge too also left the band after the release of “Seven”. When Soft Machine had began a recording deal with Harvest Records.

Yeah, that was the thing which was the most disastrous when I looked back inside the empire built on the music I had never created or given serious thought of. How long did I drive the project along? And who was there to take from my hands the direction and to change the sound from under my fingers? Right at the end for a performance tour of final curtains.
And just then the futility of this waste of attention and fantasy blew around me on the platform. Too busy distracting myself than face the brutal reality of a situation that had been imposed onto the country, while people had distracted themselves with impossible alternate histories and delusions. Rather than ask each other difficult questions. Or forensically assess where we had sleepwalked into. Instead of confronting the wrong to banish it's pathological thinking from these islands.


Suddenly all along the track came a giant floating worm like creature. It's flesh pulsated around the glass windows in it's sides. As at the front, it's human open face screamed open, and tentacles wrapped around the panic-stricken people on the platform. Myself included as we were snatched from were we had stood into the mouth of the giant worm-like creature. Screaming as the mouth closed and the creature hovered further down the track into the gloom.
I blinked and saw we were all safe and sound on the platform. No monsters, but the light from an approaching Train. Which seemed to be the signal for the man and woman to bring their conversations to a close.
“Well they sound amazing! I'll listen to what I can Online and see where my preferences take me!” the woman smiled and looked towards the Train's light. The man took the glistening open target which could seal his imposition on to her.
“I’ve got some records at my place in Hamilton Square. You could come and listen to them. We could go for a drink first?” in all sincerity he asked.
“I live in Orsmkirk...” the woman replied.
I then realised I had the chance to ask her if she wanted to come back to mine and listen to my music? I remembered my bedroom has my acoustic Bass guitar. But I then realised how I could just come out with that, after idiotically walking past them when I first entered the Station. Had I stayed in the woman and man's line of vision. I could of told them I already was a Soft Machine fan. And the likelihood of finding another fan and a woman interested in getting Soft Machine had clearly startled me enough to walk towards the wall of the small building constructed on the platform to assess.

But I had my training course in Moorfields to claim my benefit.

I was too intimidated to talk to them on the train due to other passengers. I watched their final gazes at me. The man’s was full of resentment I had two more stops with her. The woman’s gaze was full of could of been, but the thankful resolve of other tasks. One of them being to listen to Soft Machine. I never did even find out any of their names of the people on the platform. At her age I would of at least a dozen doomed failed relationships via penned pages. But the man’s age would be harder, with the pain of relationships when they fail. Did the three of us had a resolve that was basically a disguised survival?


And everything you see written you are just reading is written for the woman on the platform. What we could of been had I introduced myself to her on the platform when I walked up the raised slope. The nights I lay and just thought of her. Always the closest in parallel universe marriage.
The really insane thing is none of them exist apart from myself and the Soft Machine albums and personnel who performed produced and recorded them. I had really just used my knowledge of Soft Machine and invented two characters to tell you about Soft Machine albums. It really is this easy to deceive you if you accepted my projection. But what regrets with anger if not satisfied with answer of “Prepare It Is Happening See Storm Through”?

Isn't the whole point of it was always yelling for more?

THE. END
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Replayer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 05 2017 at 23:54
Your story was compelling and interesting enough that I finished it. The use of a framing device allows the reader to learn much about the band's history. I sent you a private message with some revision ideas.


Edited by Replayer - February 06 2017 at 06:53
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AZF Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 06 2017 at 10:05
Thank you!
I'll take on board what you said. No offence taken.
Funniest thing is that was the edited version! I still have the longer.
I think I spent so long writing poetry I forgot or got list to English usage.
Aaah! And my copy of that book given to a woman who we never were!
Thanks for everyone else who read as well. The super duper ultimate take will be in this thread soon.
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