2. Slightly all the Time
3. Moon in June
* Facelift was recorded live at Fairfield Hall Croydon January 4th 1970 and at Mothers Club Birmingham, January 11th 1970
re-re-rerelease 2007, remastered version
2. Slightly all the Time
3. Moon in June
1. Out Bloody Rageous
3. Esther's Nose Job
The 'new' disc two contains the BBC Live Session, from the Royal Albert Hall; it is the same music as on Live at the Proms 1970
Recorded: The original album: april through may 1970 at IBC Studios, London; except Facelift (see above).
Released: 6 June 1970
Mike Ratledge: organ, piano
Hugh Hopper: bass
Robert Wyatt: drums, voice (3)
Elton Dean: alto sax, saxello
Lyn Dobson: flute, soprano sax
Nick Evans: trombone
Jimmy Hastings: flute, bass clarinet
Rab Spall: violin (3)
the 2007 cd release with bonus disc
adds for Third
|For most Soft Machine fans Third was
a shock. The happy hippie band (Volume One) and the more sophisticated
with daily vocals (Two) had turned into a jazz band... Loose songs had
vanished in favour of long improvised pieces. For some time
discussions had been going on to expand the band. As trio with
keyboards, bass and drums much credit would go to the keyboard player
playing solos (slightly) all the time. Lucky for us, Ratledge refused
that part. On Volume One Kevin Ayers had played guitar, as had Daevid
Allen done before. On Volume Two Hugh’s brother Brian had
guested on saxophones, which seemed a good idea. So the band decided
to expand. First to a septet with Lyn Dobson, Nick Evans, Elton Dean
and Mark Charig. But only Elton stayed as permanent fourth member, but
only after a short lived quintet with Dobson. The other musicians
didn't stay, but helped out now and then. Robert, who had written Moon
in June for the new record, wasn’t very pleased with the more
instrumental direction the band went into. To make matters worse he
almost had to record the song alone to get it even onto the record.
Third is a good example of the new direction jazz had taken in the late sixties. Frank Zappa had created Hot Rats, maybe the first rock-jazz album ever, Miles Davis had recorded In a Silent Way followed by Bitches Brew and Soft Machine gave us Third. It was a logical step at that point to take jazz into rock or rock into jazz. People all around the musical world were searching for new challenges and new fusions. It isn’t that strange that jazz-rock later was renamed 'fusion'.
Original, Third was a double album with just four compositions, each on one side. The live-recorded Facelift, written by Hugh, opens. Because of recording difficulties, live recordings weren’t that common in those days, the composition was ‘glued’ together from two different takes and locations, Croydon and Birmingham. The sound quality is rather thin and noisy. It sounds if the band has to warm up and/or the organ doesn’t work properly (it happened often on live situations). After about five minutes a theme is played and Mike takes the first solo, chased by Elton’s and Lyn’s saxes. Dobson than takes over the solo on flute, after which the band finishes in a rather muddy sound. The track ends with tapes played back (remnants of the Spaced tape experiments). It is not Hopper’s strongest composition. Side two has Slightly all the Time, including a minor composition itself with Noisette/Backwards/Noisette Reprise. Only the Noisettes were written by Hopper. Noisette was in fact part of another Hopper composition named Mousetrap. Slightly is mainly played by the new quartet with Elton Dean. Again the sound is a bit and muddy but the piece has a more open approach compared to Facelift. Ratledge had created a lot of themes, which played in certain logical steps created this track. Half way Dobson introduces his flute again. It is played against the Hohner Pianet (electric piano) which was used often by Mike before he bought a Fender Rhodes. After a Lowrey solo the track is slowed down using wah wah piano over which Elton gives a catchy solo. Once again the piece is speeded up and ends with a short theme. Wyatt’s drums are mixed in the back, which makes his playing sometimes inaudible.
Side three, Moon in June written by Wyatt, is the only song on the record, if you can call the long track a song. The short song was extended to almost twenty minutes. The happy vocals from the demo (can be heard on Wyatt’s CD Flotsam Jetsam and '68) and the up-front ones on the BBC recording were as it seems now loaded with a more sombre approach. Halfway Mike squeezed his solo in after which the song loses direction and ends with sound experiments augmented by a violin solo from Rab Spall. This is not the best version of the song but at the time (1970) it was the only one. It divided the Softs camp into pro-contra Wyatt and pro-contra vocal parts. Out-Bloody-Rageous (outrageous) written by Ratledge is in my opinion the best track on Third. It has the opening en ending with tape loops, and brings us repetitive elements and a strong theme in the middle section. Mike gives a Lowrey solo, the piece is slowed down and wah wah piano (it was popular early 70s) gives room to a new theme played by a small horn section. The repetitive piano theme re-appears and after a strong fuzz bass sound the track ends as it has started.
Although Third is not a record with an excellent sound quality, even the remaster isn't that good, it has its musical qualities. It made very clear what Soft Machine’s direction would be in the future, long tracks, no vocals. If you were happy with that, Fourth is a more than excellent follow up (better even than Third I think). If you didn’t like it you probably would leave the Machine in favour of Robert Wyatt’s musical path. But he didn’t make it easy on you either.
A cd-release from 2007 added a second disc with a live performance at Royal Albert Hall, 1970. Previously it had been released on a somewhat obscure label, Reckless Records. The Proms concerto, where Robert almost didn’t get in ‘because they only had proper music in there’, starts with Out-Bloody-Rageous. Mike has organ problems; it didn’t start well as said before. The sound of this recording is much brighter than Third and Robert’s drumming is more present and powerful here as well. Facelift is the second piece. Again this is a better performance than the recorded version on Third. The improvement lies in is the simple fact that both compositions are shortened to eleven minutes. The set ends with Esther’s Nose Job, which is the instrumental version of the biggest part of Volume Two’s side two. Now the keyboards are mixed in the back and the cymbals on the front, but the sound quality improves during the track. Robert is allowed vocal improvisations and sound effects as on the original piece. The composition is played with verve, but there are stronger versions I must say. It was a good decision to add this record to Third, because it gives you a better view on how the record could or should have been recorded.
Paul Lemmens © 2012/2014