Recorded in early 1969, probably in May. Released in 1996.
THE SPACED STORY:
After supporting Hendrix on the USA tour of 1968, the shell-shocked Softs
said "No More!". Kevin Ayers left to begin a lifelong devotion to sunshine and
Mediterranean islands; Robert Wyatt planned to stay in the States and become a
solo artist; Mike Ratledge hoped never again in his life to see the inside of
another club, theatre, stadium...
Hugh Hopper, France, February, 1996
But they had forgotten the two-record deal they had signed up for - and a man has to do what a man has to do! They asked me to fill in for Kevin - just to do a studio record and then carry on with real life. Ha ha. Of course it became: "Well, just a spot on Hendrix's London concert to promote the album, fellers..." Then: "Got this little tour of France and Holland for you..." And off again for another ten years.
But early in 1969 one of the more interesting projects suggested by the association of Softs managers Ian Knight and Sean Murphy with Keith Albarn (yes, Damon from Blur's dad) was Peter Dockley's lunatic multimedia show at the Roundhouse, Spaced. Ballet dancers and ex-army gymnasts (and you don't get a much more incongruous mix than that) were choreographed to bound about all over a geodesic structure made of construction scaffolding. Commonplace nowadays, of course, but still fairly freaky then. They wore wonderful rubber costumes with octopus suckers up and down their arms and legs.
They wanted a backing tape of suitably deranged and doomy sounds, so we recorded chunks of music as a trio, in a converted warehouse in London's deserted ex-docklands that we used for rehearsals. (It wasn't a chic yuppie area in those days, it was grim: dead cats floating in the weed-choked docks and so on). My brother Brian came up at the weekend to add some sax blasts here and there, and we then spent a week or more playing around with tape loops and ancient mechanical aids to produce an hour and a half of finished tape. Now of course with a computer you could do the whole thing in an afternoon, but in those analog days it was strictly scissors and tape. And lots of third-generation hiss. However, we knew we could ask our captive recording engineer Bob Woolford to do the weirdest things with his Stellavoxes and Brenells and Ferrographs - he was open to trying the unorthodox. Which is perhaps why Bob is now living a fulfilled life in the snowy hills of Connecticut pretending to be a bicycle repair man and not a boring record company executive. And it's thanks to Mike King, author of the Robert Wyatt biography Wrong Movements who tracked Bob down.
I don't recall the week-long show taking London by storm. One review said something like "...accompanied by clanking noises from The Soft Machine." Aggrieved punters complained that they were expecting a live Soft Machine concert. Halfway through the run the management pleaded with us to come on and do a short live spot during the show, but we felt we had already contributed an honest chunk of our creative lives to the project.
The show didn't transfer to Broadway, but a BBC arts program ran a short televised excerpt to publicize it. Using Pink Floyd as a backing track.
The version here has been fairly radically edited - the original had long building and fading sections to go with the onstage action and to usher the unsuspecting audience into the Roundhouse. Very long, some of those sections, believe me...
Hugh Hopper, France, February, 1996
liner notes copyright © Cuneiform Records 1996