[Review] Soft Machine: Faces and Places Vol. 7 (1972)

Demo recordings with the original quartet featuring Daevid Allen from the spring of 1967.

Kronomyth 4.5: The band gong disorganization.

In the spring of 1967, Soft Machine recorded some demos with producer Giorgio Gomelsky that eventually surfaced on BYG Records as Faces and Places, Vol. 7. The recordings have since been re-released as At The Beginning and, later, Jet-Propelled Photographs in identical form. History is a bit murky on this one. I’ve read where Gomelsky has said the songs were intended for an album, while Wyatt has said they weren’t. Given the offhand nature of the performances, I tend to side with Wyatt here.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Gomelsky has peddled demos as the genuine article. Remember VangelisThe Dragon and Hypothesis? I don’t know what kind of contract Soft Machine had with Gomelsky, but they don’t seem to have taken any great offense at the release of these recordings. And the material isn’t bad, just sloppy and a little silly —  the sort of thing you’d expect from an outfit that was keen on the burgeoning psychedelic rock movement but had a taste for dadaism and jazz. Think The Mothers or Graham Bond Organisation but on better drugs.

As the only recording of the band with Daevid Allen, Faces and Places Vol. 7 is of historical importance to both Soft Machine and Gong fans. In fact, a few of these songs point more toward The Flying Teapot (e.g., Jet-Propelled Photograph) than The Soft Machine. Since the songwriting credits are an absolute mess (Memories, for example, is mistakenly credited as an early 20th century song), it’s unclear how much of a hand Allen had in the writing. Later reissues flung forward into the future and attributed the songs to a subsequent Soft Machine with Hugh Hopper. It’s safe to assume that all members had a hand in the arrangements, but none of them had enough skin in the songs to make a point about it except, apparently, Save Yourself.

Despite the dubious nature of these recordings, Faces and Places (in whatever incarnation you find it) is an interesting step back in time for Soft Machinists. Hearing the band stretch out on I Should’ve Known or turn romantic conventions on their head with songs like When I Don’t Want You or I’d Rather Be With You isn’t the worst possible use of thirty minutes. It’s clear from these sessions that the band was already following the beat of a different drummer, even if his raspy voice takes some getting used to.

Original elpee version

A1. That’s How Much I Need You Know (traditional) (2:26)
A2. Save Yourself (Robert Wyatt) (2:44)
A3. I Should’ve Known (traditional) (7:30)
A4. Jet-Propelled Photograph (traditional) (2:32)
B1. When I Don’t Want You (traditional) (2:49)
B2. Memories (Egbert Van Alstyne/Gustave Kahn) (3:00)
B3. You Don’t Remember (traditional) (3:45)
B4. She’s Gone (traditional) (2:12)
B5. I’d Rather Be With You (Tony Wayne) (3:42)

The Players

Daevid Allen (lead guitar), Kevin Ayers (bass & vocals), Mike Ratledge (piano & organ), Robert Wyatt (vocals & drums). Produced by Giorgio Gomelsky.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in 1972 in France (BYG, 529.907) and Japan (BYG, YX-6027).

  1. Re-packaged as Soft Machine on elpee in 1973 in Germany (2001 BYG Records, 200.137).
  2. Re-packaged as At The Beginning on elpee and cassette in January 1977 in the UK (Charly, CR 300014/ZCCHM 00014) and Italy (Oxford, OX/3157).
  3. Re-packaged as Jet-Propelled Photographs on elpee in 1988 in Europe (Decal, LIK 36).
  4. Re-issued as Jet-Propelled Photographs on compact disc in 1989 in Europe (Charly, CD CHARLY 197).
  5. Re-issued as Jet-Propelled Photographs on compact disc in 1997 in Europe (Charly, CDGR 188).
  6. Re-issued as Jet-Propelled Photographs on compact disc in 2002 in the US (Fuel 2000) with different cover.
Soft Machine album cover
German 1973 2001 BYG Records album cover

1 thought on “[Review] Soft Machine: Faces and Places Vol. 7 (1972)

  1. Perhaps you know that Gomelsky ran out of money during the recording of an album by a budding Godley & Creme. The aborted album finally saw the light of day, this year: Frabjous Days: The Secret World of Godley & Creme 1967-1969. Not necessarily essential (and that’s coming from a big G&C fan), but interesting and nicely packaged.

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