REVIEW – Soft Machine @ LSBC, Devizes – Saturday 19th March 2022

Raising The Bar

Andy Fawthrop

Things are really gearing up on the music scene again, and Long Street Blues Club has a full programme over the next few months.  It’s such a pleasure to attend the Con Club in Long Street, when the atmosphere is so great, and the crowd are so supportive & enthusiastic.  Ian Hopkins has booked some fantastic acts over the years, but it seems as if the bar keeps getting raised that little bit higher every time.  And thus we got to Soft Machine, one of the most iconic bands of the 1960s, and still going strong.

But first up was support act local lad Ben Borrill, who bounced onto the stage in confident manner.  This was his second visit to the club, so he knew what to expect. It was a little surprising, therefore, when he chose to go with a set of mostly covers, including some fairly questionable and cheesy numbers. Ben’s done his time with pub gigs around the local circuit, so surely this was a great platform to show off his own material to an audience who would actually listen?  Instead we got Wicked Game, Teenage Dirtbag, When You Say Nothing At All, Yellow and (God Help Us!) Mr, Brightside.  These are songs that have been done to death many times before, and I’ve liked to have heard more of his own material. Perhaps an opportunity missed?

Then on to the main deal.  Originally formed in 1966 as a jazz/ fusion/ experimental/ progressive outfit, the Softs (who were contemporaries of, and shared stages with, Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd and the Jimi Hendrix Experience), have influenced several generations of bands, and continue to be name-checked by today’s hip experimentalists.  Since then, of course, the line-up has changed many times, and we’re a long way past the heady days of the likes of Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers.

Nevertheless, the spirit lives on and there was a huge back catalogue to draw upon.  The four-piece set about their single 90-minute set with several numbers from the earlier days.  From discordant jazz strains, we soon settled down into a musical master-class featuring flute, guitar, keys, bass and drums.  There were no “songs” as such, just whimsically-named tunes and themes – The Man Who Waved At Trains, Down To Earth, Tales of Taliesyn, Kings & Queens, One Glove, The Relegation of Pluto – but every one of them had a story or an anecdote behind it.  The linking commentary, provided by guitarist John Etheridge was engaging, gently understated and often self-mocking.

To my ears there was something of the Canterbury sound of the jazzier parts of Caravan, but it’s hard (and probably pointless) to try and pigeon-hole what we were hearing.  At times jazzy, at times melodic (some great flute work from Theo Travis), it was easy to shut your eyes and imagine that you were back in 1967.  This type of music is not everybody’s cup of tea, but I loved it, and so did the audience. Following a 15-minute long “play-out” the band received not only huge applause, but a rarely-seen standing ovation before a well-deserved encore.  A stormingly-good night of music, and, like I said, lifting the bar just a little bit higher.

Future Long Street Blues Club gigs:

Saturday 2nd April 2022                                 Malone & Sibun Band

Friday 8th April 2022                                       Billy Bremner’s Rockfile (Corn Exchange)

Saturday 9th April 2022                                  Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy (Corn Exchange)

Saturday 16th April 2022                               Billy Walton Band

Friday 6th May 2022                                        Birdmens

Saturday 17 September 2022                      CSN Express (New Rescheduled Date)

Friday 14th October 2022                               Black Sabbitch (Corn Exchange)

Saturday 5th November 2022                       Alastair Greene Band


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