Last Friday, Cuneiform Records released a historical recording of one of the UK’s major exponents of early 1970’s jazz rock, Soft Machine.
The album titled “The Dutch Lesson” was recorded at the iconic Rotterdam venue the LantarenVenster in 1973 from the front row by local record store owner Bert Boogaard. Technically a bootleg recording, the album’s sonic quality is excellent given the manner in which it was recorded.
By 1973 Soft Machine already had a long history of playing in Rotterdam, appearing at major festivals such as Hippy Hippy Fair (1967), Kralingen (1970) and AHOY (1971, Phil Howard’s debut), and no less than four times at the city’s most prestigious venue, De Doelen, most recently (in September 1972) on a double bill with Robert Wyatt’s Matching Mole. This time, however, they were booked in a smaller venue, which they filled to capacity at around 400.
Until 2010, LantarenVenster was located in Gouvernestraat, in one of the oldest buildings with a cultural purpose. It was opened in 1909 as Ons Huis, a building intended for so-called ‘people’s development work’. Ons Huis was one of the few cultural buildings to survive the Second World War. After the war, it initially developed more into a center for the visual arts, with exhibition space and studios. Later, film and theater were added. In the 1990’s due to it’s cramped location in a narrow residential street and the increasing demands regarding comfort, safety, working conditions and noise pollution plans to renovate the complex were a topic of discussion however nothing came of this. In 2004 it was finally decided that the venue would move to a new location in a new film and theater building on the Wilhelminapier. Finally in 2010 the LantarenVenster moved to a beautiful new building at Otto Reuchlinweg 996 on the Wilhelminapier where it continues to present a cutting edge program to this day.
In attendance that October night was Bert Boogaard, a record store owner at the time, sitting in the front row with a Uher portable tape machine, and we have him to thank for this excellent ambient recording of the performance, only marred by occasional saturation in the drums. But Boogaard can be excused for not anticipating how powerful and loud John Marshall’s playing would be. This recording contains some of his most unashamedly “rock” drumming, likely egged on by Roy Babbington’s frequent use of a fuzz pedal on his bass, a long-time Soft Machine signature.
The band as a whole is a real powerhouse, nowhere better exemplified than on the encore, an infectiously funky fuzz organ-led jam based on the “Gesolreut” riff. Generally the tempos are much faster than usual, making the originals feel leisurely in comparison (“371⁄2” is a case in point), and even when they aren’t, as with “The Soft Weed Factor,” an unexpected switch to double time makes up for it.
Within a couple of weeks of this Dutch mini-tour (a double-bill with local Canterbury disciples Supersister at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, at the time featuring Marshall’s future Colours bandmate Charlie Mariano on sax, followed the next day), Soft Machine would enter a new phase of its history when, initially for a one-off Musicians’ Union workshop, the quartet teamed up with guitarist Allan Holdsworth (like Marshall, Jenkins and Babbington formerly of Nucleus, although only the latter was still a member when he joined it), a successful experiment repeated on two dates in Ireland before Holdsworth was made a full member in time for the band’s Christmas Party at the Roundhouse.Expanding the line-up to a quintet was to prove what had been needed to propel Soft Machine and its music to the next level. The amount of overdubbing on Seven, itself evidence that something was missing in the band as it was, probably accounted for the resulting material not working in a live context with just four people. But although the fifth man would change several times in the interim, the quartet of Mike Ratledge, Karl Jenkins, Roy Babbington and John Marshall would remain in place for nearly three years, until Ratledge’s departure in April 1976—a very long time by Soft Machine’s standards, and a sure sign of shared musical affinity.
The album is available as a double CD and digital download on Bandcamp and other selected outlets.
Last modified: May 2, 2023