There is no shortage of collections of archive material by the Soft Machine and some of them are pretty good (especially the ones released on Cuneiform). But this Hux double-CD compilation is the mother lode. You just can't beat BBC recordings for good sound quality and meaningful "alternate versions." This first volume covers the group's early years up to the departure of drummer Robert Wyatt, starting with a session from December 1967, when the Softs consisted of Kevin Ayers
, Mike Ratledge, and Wyatt. Early demo and live versions of dubious quality of "Clarence in Wonderland," "Certain Kind," or "Hope for Happiness" are in circulation (see Turns On, Vol. 1
, for instance), but these recordings are far more superior. A session from 1969 features Wyatt, Ratledge, Hugh Hopper
, and Brian Hopper
in a torrid medley of "Facelift" and the "Mousetrap" suite, but the jewel of the first disc is indisputably a full-band rendition (Ratledge, Wyatt, and Hugh Hopper) of "Moon in June," one of very few times it was performed as such (the studio version was mostly put together by Wyatt overdubbing all parts). Disc two presents sessions from 1971 with Elton Dean added to the regular lineup. The last track is another "Mousetrap" sequence seguing into "Esther's Nose Job," performed by the short-lived septet lineup (with a brass section formed by Dean, Lyn Dobson
, Marc Charig
, and Nick Evans
). This is the closest thing to a studio recording existing by this particular group and it is well-worth the price of admission. If you are a relative newcomer to the music of Soft Machine and are looking to expand beyond their studio releases, start here before moving on to more obscure live sets.