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Soft Machine: Tanglewood Tails

Two-CD compilation of 1960s rarities and out-takes.

Although The Soft Machine formed in 1966, some of them had played together informally as early as 1963, emerging from the jazz world before reconciling their virtuosity with the blossoming world of 60s pop as Kevin Ayers joined them.

The sound quality of some of the tracks collected here leaves a bit to be desired, but for Softs fans, or those of Ayers or Robert Wyatt, there’s plenty to archaeologically dig here. Take the title track, a startling free jazz brass workout featuring a very young Wyatt howling away on cornet. Or She’s Gone, a maudlin Ayers song from 1967 which nonetheless fizzes with more effervescent energy than the band know what to do with.

Disc two includes a tantalisingly brief extract of their mantra-like pop masterpiece We Did It Again, while a ’68 live Esther’s Nose Job is Sun Ra-like in Mike Ratledge’s mazy organ intensity.

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.