When we think about the psychedelic 60s we often fall back on the folk-jam stoners like The Grateful Dead, the guitar theatrics of Jimi Hendrix, and the ubiquitous “White Rabbit” of Jefferson Airplane. All of them important in their own right, and of course there are dozens of others who’ve inspired generations of musical psychonauts: Cream, Pink Floyd, The Zombies, The Beatles. But the one band that gets overlooked time and time again is Soft Machine, in my estimation one of the most important and influential of them all. Soft Machine, under the leadership of Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt, hammered out a grammar that innumerable musicians would be using for their own musical language. Soft Machine combined jazz and noise into a smart but heady psychedelic stew. Ayers left Soft machine in it’s early years to craft some terrific and whimsical albums that blended pop with avant garde.
“I would have made a very unlikely star with a voice like mine,” he told the Guardian in 2003. “I mean, a public school rocker with a plummy BBC accent … hardly.”
Peter Bebergal is the author of Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood