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Soft Machine
Moon In June

"Moon In June" is an important milestone in the recorded history of Soft Machine. It is the last track on any of the ordinary Soft Machine albums to include vocals, Robert Wyatt's vocals.

For anyone not familiar with the band - named after a William Burroughs novel - here is the story in brief: Formed in Canterbury, Kent, England in August 1966 by Daevid Allen (later Gong and solo artist), Kevin Ayers (later his own Whole World band and solo artist), Mike Ratledge and the aforementioned Wyatt. The band finally folded in 1980, I believe, without any of the original members left. Different line-ups have included Andy Summers (later of Police fame), Elton Dean (well known and respected jazz sax player) and Allan Holdsworth (guitarist extraordinaire) among a host of others. At the beginning, their music was a blend of pop, rock, soul, jazz and psychedelia with quirky and funny lyrics, the beginning of and characteristics of what later has been known as the Canterburyscene. Soft Machine was among the most important pioneers of the British psychedelic underground movement along with Pink Floyd and the Move in 1966 and 67. Later the band turned more and more into a jazz-rock and pure jazz, even fusion, outfit. For further information about Soft Machine, check out the excellent Calyx web site about the Canterbury scene, or an article in the English MOJO music magazine of this very moon.

After two exhausting tours of North America supporting the Jimi Hendrix Experience, it seemed Soft Machine had come to an end by October 1968. Kevin Ayers sold his bass to Mitch Mitchell of the Experience and fled off to Majorca to recover. Keyboard player Mike Ratledge went home to London while drummer Robert Wyatt - the last of the trio at the time - enjoyed the company of Hendrix and his Experience, Eric Burdon and other musicians in California and New York where he did a couple of recording sessions in October and November, paid by Jimi Hendrix personally. One of the songs he recorded was "Slow Walkin' Talk" by Brian Hopper (the elder brother of Hugh Hopper - the Soft Machine roadie at the time and soon to be full time Soft bass player) with contribution from the left-handed Jimi on a right-handed bass guitar held upside down. Another one was the first demo version of "Moon In June" which lasted almost 10 minutes. A 3 minutes excerpt of the demo was released on a Wyatt compilation in 1994. Here Robert sings about the free and easy life in New York State though he is homesick and misses the trees and rain of old England. Maybe it was an excuse to his wife and two year old son at home because he had stayed behind and had a good time on the other side of the Atlantic. Apart from the nice opening of the excerpt where Robert plucks some metal rods or piano strings or something, the way the organ, piano and light percussion are played and recorded is remarkably similar to the sound of his recordings in the mid 1980s and early 90s.

Anyway, another Soft Machine trio got together again in London by the end of the year with Hugh Hopper substituting Kevin Ayers on bass. They recorded the innovative and highly recommended Soft Machine Volume Two album during the winter of 1969. By autum 69 Elton Dean had joined the band too, and they had turned into a much jazzier combo. Robert Wyatt was not happy with the direction the band was taking which eventually lead to his departure in 1971. coverpic The saying goes that when Robert wanted to include "Moon In June" on the Third album, the others were not very keen. It was eventually recorded - in May 1970 - though the first "vocal" part of the track was very much a Robert Wyatt solo recording. Listening closer to the recording, Hugh Hopper's bass playing can be heard early on. And isn't it Mike Ratledge's non-fuzzed Lowrey organ licks a little later? Both lyrics and melody had been expanded and changed, the recording lasts for more than 19 minutes and covers the entire side 3 of the album (there are only four tracks on this double LP all in all). It's a very good version and together with Hugh's composition "Facelift", it is one of the all time high from the ordinary Soft Machine recording catalogue along with most of Volume Two in my opinion. It includes a riff and a little bit of the lyrics from "You Don't Remember" and with some good will there may be traces of "That's How Much I Need You Now", too, both Robert Wyatt songs from early Soft Machine or pre Machine days. They were both included on the early Softs demo recordings with Giorgio Gomelsky as producer in April 1967 and released several times retrospectively as Rock Generation, At The Beginning, Jet Propelled Photographs and Shooting At The Moon. Anyway, Robert demonstrates he is a competent keyboard player, and we get a healthy dose of fuzz bass and organ during the edited mostly instrumental second half of the track, the trademark of the group of this era. Newcomer Elton Dean's sax cannot be heard, though. Instead, close to the end Rab Spall guests with experimental and manipulated electric violin sounding almost like a contemporary analog synthesizer not quite in control while Robert recites from the lyrics of Kevin Ayers' recently released single "Singing A Song In The Morning" and another one of Kevin's, "Hat Song".

But we need to get back almost a year - to 10 June 1969 at one of BBC's studios at Maida Vale - to find the best doughnut in this bag. That day Soft Machine made a live in the studio recording for John Peel's Top Gear show of the medley "Facelift/Mousetrap/Backwards/Mousetrap Reprise" and "Moon In June". This version of our Moon lasts 13 minutes, and some 13 minutes it is! The playing by the Hopper, Ratledge, Wyatt trio is splendid throughout. Parts of the lyrics Robert put together minutes before the recording:

'I got fed up with songs where the main accents would just make you emphasize the words in a way you wouldn't if you were saying them, and I got interested in the technique of writing songs where the melody line fits the way you'd say the words if you were just talking. ... And that meant singing about things that were true as far as I understood it. And if you're muddled, the only things you're certain are true, are that there's a tea machine in the corridor and it works or it doesn't. This is true, it's not wishy-washy bullshit. It may be low profile, but it's true.'

Here's some of the special lyrics for the occasion:

I can still remember
The last time we played on Top Gear
And though each little song
Was less than 3 minutes long
Mike squeezed a solo in somehow

And although we like our longer tunes
It seems polite to cut them down
To little bits
They might be hits
Who gives an afterall
Tell me how would you feel
In the place of John Peel
You just can't please all of the musicians
All the time

Playing now is lovely
Here in the BBC
We're free to play almost as long
And as loud
As a jazz group
Or an orchestra on Radio Tree

There are dance halls and theatres
With acoustics worse than here
Not forgetting the extra facilities
Such as the tea machine
Just along the corridor

So to all our mates like Kevin,
Caravan and the old Pink Floyd
Allow me to recommend Top Gear
Despite it's extraordinary name

Yes playing playing now is lovely
Here in the BBC
We're free to play almost as long and as loud
As the foreign language classes
And that John Cage interview
And the jazzgroups
And the orchestras on Radio Three.

What more is there to say. This version of "Moon In June" is probably the track that I've listened most frequently to since first I got hold of a copy some 15 years ago. The combinations of fuzz and non-fuzz bass and organ are more striking than ever. After about 12 minutes there is a break where Hugh plays one bass-note (an E flat if I'm not mistaken) several times while Mike produces a fluctuating organ drone. It's also present on the Third version, but doesn't quite reach the same heights. You can hardly get closer to Nirvana (the state, not the band) with clothes and headphones on...

______

This article was originally written for our very first full moon in June menu way back in 1997. Since then not only lots of water have passed under the bridge. A substantial number of new versions of "Moon In June" have also seen the light of day. Due time for an update then:

The most notable new version came in 2002 when Cuneiform released Backwards, maybe the best sounding and most interesting archive album of live recordings by Soft Machine from the 1969 and 1970 era. It also includes an almost 21 minutes long studio demo of "Moon In June". The first half is allegedly the original first American solo recording by Robert from autumn 1968. But whereas the earlier release from 1994 only was an excerpt lasting a little less than three minutes, here is the lot, which means three and a half minutes prior to the 1994 excerpt and almost three and a half minutes afterwards. Nearly 10 minutes all in all. It's been spliced with another demo recorded by the new Soft Machine trio probably some time in the spring 1969. As far as I recon, the entire band kicks in after 9:51. I cannot say that all of Robert's solo part stems from the American recording or if some of it was recorded later, in England, and then cunningly edited. The sound of the organ doesn't seem so and the booklet indicates that it's an all American recording. The lyrics of the first and last third of the solo part are far from identical with the ones of the official Third release, whereas the middle third of course is the one we've mentioned before, from New York State. The superficial way to describe the lyrics might be that the American 1968 version deals with relationships and memories whereas the English 1970 version deals with sex. And both of them include tendencies towards Canterburian whims partly of the stream of consciousness kind, though not as cunningly as the BBC lyrics.

Musically the 68/69 demo is constructed in a similar way to the 1970 studio version and to some extent bears the characteristics of a demo. The almost instrumental second half has rougher edges and even more fuzz than the official studio version. Hugh's fuzz-bass at the beginning of that half is as cool as can be. Mike's ramblings on his fuzzed-out Lowrey organ are not very melodic all the way, but it's saved by the unique Soft Machine organ sound; raw, rough and sophisticated at the same time. I never seem to get tired of it! Robert contributes some occasional wordless chanting in addition to his characteristic jazzy rock beat. The song fizzles out with non-conform noisy organ sounds a bit after that great one note bass sequence. According to the booklet of Backwards the recording of the first half stems from an acetate owned by Chris Cutler (of Henry Cow, Art Bears, Recommended Records etc. etc.). That's really amazing as the sound quality is pretty good. (And I've never heard of an acetate lasting nearly 10 minutes earlier...) The entire demo version is a most welcomed addition to the "Moon In June" legacy. It was relaunched in 2013 on the Robert Wyatt retrospective '68 , along with the rest of his recordings on his own in the USA from the autumn of, you guessed it, 1968.

But there is more. Several live recordings by Soft Machine from around 1970 have been unearthed in the present century, some including the instrumental second half of our tune, lasting from around 6 to more than 8 minutes. In the autumn of 1969 the Soft Machine trio was augmented by four horn players from Keith Tippett's Sextet with saxophones, cornet and trombone. It only lasted a couple of months and I haven't heard of any version of our song by the full septet line-up. By the end of 1969 the horn players had been reduced to Lyn Dobson (soprano sax, flute, scat singing) and Elton Dean (saxes) and "Moon In June" seem to have been incorporated into the standard set. It's interesting to see how the instrumental changed from the winter to spring 1970. There are two versions available from January 1970 with this short-lived quintet performing, and a few more from the spring with the more stable quartet after Lyn had left in March. They are all characterised by almost no horn blowing at all. The original trio from 1969 and particularly Mike Ratledge's organ dominate throughout. The album Noisette includes most of the newborn quintet's very first gig at Fairfield Hall in Croydon, England on 4 January 1970 that was professionally (well, almost) recorded by the Soft soundman at the time. This instrumental nearly 7 minutes version has kept the structure of the second half of the demo recorded the previous spring. But during the first part Mike's organ sounds even faster, more furious and jazzier than the demo counterpart, but alas without the great fuzz sound of the demo. It's eventually slowed down and move into calmer and more melodic terrain before the famous one-note bass theme signals the beginning of the end. Breda Reactor recorded on 31 January in Het Turfschip, Breda, Netherlands is similar, but with more prominent fuzz-bass at the start and even more dominating fuzz-organ in the jazzy part, though not quite the ultimate fuzz sound.

By the end of March Lyn had also left. Somewhere In Soho was recorded during the Softies' one week residency at the famous Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London in the second half of April. They had to play longer than the usual gig, two or three 45 minutes sets a night and needed to 'really stretch our repertoire and push ourselves into areas of freedom where we wouldn't normally need to go', according to Mike Ratledge. This album includes a shorter version of the instrumental part in the same vein as in January, but augmented by two minutes of free-form non-conform bass and organ improvisation at the end. You might even detect some singing or scatting by Robert in the background. I guess it's based on the same free-form-floating last part of the Third studio version recorded around the same time. This is not a professional recording and doesn't sound quite up to par, but not too bad. The aforementioned album Backwards also includes a recording of the band from late May 1970 somewhere in London that once belonged to a Soft roadie and was put away in an attic for some 30 years. The sound is much clearer than the Soho tape, even some horn blowing by Elton Dean can be heard at the end of the jazzy organ sequence and the augmented last passage from the previous month is still there, with sax as well, only more structured it seems, maybe due to the improved sound. Robert is certainly singing, but it's so much echo on his voice that I cannot interpret what he is singing about; maybe it's the extract from Kevin Ayers' "Hat Song" or single "Singing A Song In The Morning" that was included on the Third version of the song recorded a little earlier?

Time for a little warning towards the end. There are even more versions of you-know-that-song around. Voiceprint released two CDs with live recordings by the quintet and quartet in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the Moon on the set list. They'll only make you feel miserable, due to the poor sound quality. The same company also released two CD-albums of early Soft Machine recordings called Turns On, Volume 1 and Volume 2. The latter includes two tracks called "Moon In June" before the title had been conceived. The first is a live recording from Amsterdam in December 1967 and might be discerned as "That's How Much I Need You Now", sounding a bit closer to our song than on the demo recording the previous April. If you ask me, it sounds as if it was recorded on a cheap cassette recorder outside the arena. The second from Davenport, Iowa, USA in August 1968 is maybe even worse. It's distortion all over the place, not due to the use of fuzz on some of the instruments but because of the poor recording. Well, it might work on the organ, but not on the drums... The first couple of minutes sound like "You Don't Remember". Otherwise it's a pain generating organ-led jam, somewhere in between psychedelia, space and jazz. It might have been interesting if the sound had been substantially improved. In the present state these recordings are better avoided and forgotten.

Where does this lead us then. Well, the 1969 BBC version is still my favourite, no doubt about it. But the 1968/69 demo, the Third studio version and a couple of live renditions from January and May 1970 are also very well worth checking out. But, to quote the lyrics of the BBC version, 'remember, I could be telling lies!'

Discography

  • Pre "Moon In June" songs "You Don't Remember" and "That's How Much I Need You Now", both included on:
    • Soft Machine: Rock Generation Volume 7/8 (BYG France LP 1971)
    • Soft Machine: At The Beginning (Charly LP 1977)
    • Soft Machine: Jet-Propelled Photographs (Charly CD 1989)
    • Soft Machine: Shooting At The Moon (Atom Music Ltd. CD 2006)
  • ""Moon In June" 1968 demo (excerpt):
    • Robert Wyatt: Flotsam And Jetsam - A special CD of rare recordings featuring Robert Wyatt (Rough Trade 1994)
  • "Moon In June" 1968 and 1969 demo (complete):
    • Soft Machine: Backwards (Cuneiform Records CD 2002)
    • Robert Wyatt: '68 (Cuneiform Records CD 2013/LP 2014)
  • "Moon In June" BBC 10 June 1969 version:
    • Soft Machine: Triple Echo (Harvest triple LP 1977)
    • Soft Machine: The Peel Sessions 1969-71 (Strange Fruit double LP and double CD 1990)
    • Robert Wyatt: Going Back A Bit - A Little Robert Wyatt History (Virgin double CD 1994)
    • Soft Machine: BBC Radio 1967-1971 (Hux Records double CD 2003)
  • "Moon In June" ordinary 1970 studio version:
    • Soft Machine: Third (CBS double LP 1970, also released on CD on at least two occasions)
  • "Moon In June" live version, 4 January 1970:
    • Soft Machine: Noisette (Cuneiform Records CD 2000)
  • "Moon In June" live version, 31 January 1970:
    • Soft Machine: Breda Reactor (Voiceprint CD 2005)
  • "Moon In June" live version, late April 1970:
    • Soft Machine: Somewhere In Soho (Voiceprint double CD 2004)
  • "Moon In June" live version, late May 1970:
    • Soft Machine: Backwards (Cuneiform Records CD 2002)

Dustbin Section

  • "Moon In June" aka. "That's How Much I Need You Now" live version 10 December 1967:
    • Soft Machine: Turns On Volume 2 (Voiceprint CD 2001)
  • "Moon In June" aka. "You Don't Remember" live version 11 August 1968:
    • Soft Machine: Turns On Volume 2 (Voiceprint CD 2001)
  • "Moon In June" live version 13 or 14 February 1970:
    • Soft Machine: Live 1970 (Voiceprint CD 1998)
  • "Moon In June" live version 26 April 1970:
    • Soft Machine: Facelift (Voiceprint CD 2002)

Most important source (where the Robert Wyatt quotation is taken from, too): - Mike King: Wrong Movements - A Robert Wyatt History (SAF Publishing 1994).
The quotation from Mike Ratledge is taken from the booklet of Somewhere In Soho (Voiceprint 2004).

Copyright © 1997 JP e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Soft Machine article/review: Live at Henie Onstad Art Centre 1971.

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