Soft Machine: Switzerland 1974

An essential live recording – this is hardcore Softs.

Why you can trust Louder Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Despite having produced the beautifully elegiac and criminally overlooked Seven at the end of 1973, Soft Machine felt new blood was required to add energy and renewed purpose to the quartet of ex-Nucleus cohorts Karl Jenkins, Roy Babbington, John Marshall and the last remaining original founding member, Mike Ratledge.

Allan Holdsworth’s recruitment did just that, providing them with a seemingly unstoppable torrent of cartwheeling notes, burning like a catherine wheel with a frenetic vitality and arresting originality. By the time they hit the 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival they’d been together as a working unit for just six months and the recording of their sole studio album, Bundles, was still a couple of weeks away. As good as that release may be, on this incendiary live set, tunes like Hazard Profile and The Man Who Waved At Trains easily outpace their studio counterparts. Cuneiform have gone to heroic lengths to correct and restore the audio and visual source material which appears on CD and DVD for the first time. In truth, after their initial psychedelic 60s burst, Soft Machine were never the most exciting outfit to look at. Yet their no-fuss, slightly bored demeanour masks the lively spirit animating their set. Holdsworth’s soloing occupies most of the spotlight, but Marshall and Babbington command attention and admiration. Their constant interaction digs deep into layered, shifting compositions, selflessly clearing a nuanced space in which their colleagues go to work. Historically the understated British variety of jazz-rock was (to some degree still is) perceived as being overshadowed and outgunned by its more assertive American cousin. Switzerland 1974 demonstrably refutes this. You think the Jenkins-era Softs lack lapel-grabbing passion or soul? Watch and listen to this essential release, and you’ll find both commodities are in plentiful supply.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.