Categories: Arts Music Pop

English prog rockers Soft Machine play on

Although none of Soft Machine’s original 1966 lineup (of Mike Ratledge, Hugh Hopper, Robert Wyatt and Elton Dean) will be on its 50th anniversary tour when it hits Berkeley this week, it’s still a solid representation featuring circa-’70s members John Etheridge and John Marshall. The noted prog-rock outfit from Canterbury infused its 2018 album “Hidden Details” with new blood, via muti-instrumentalist Theo Travis, who replaced saxophonist Dean, who died in 2006. Travis’ longtime pals Marshall and Etheridge invited him to join the group, then called Soft Machine Legacy, and gave him carte blanche. “There was an attitude of ‘Bring what you want to the table,’ so I brought new things like my flute, which Elton never played,” he says. “So we’re a band moving forward while tapping into the vast catalogs of the past.”

You’ve worked with Gong, Robert Fripp, Bill Nelson, Steven Wilson. When did you learn the importance of collaboration?

Oh, probably when I was about 14, 15 and I played in my first band, Fundamental Furniture, with friends from high school. And I found that I did actually enjoy it. Which sowed the seed for me enjoying playing with others later. I just always wanted to be involved in good music.

With your side project Cipher, you’re often back Be Bop Deluxe’s visionary Bill Nelson?

We just did a concert together about two weeks ago. It was a Bill Nelson concert, but basically it was me and Dave Sturt, the bassist from Gong, doing trio concerts with Bill, sometimes under the name Orchestra Futura. But Bill is just a wonderful composer, and a really nice guy.

How did you join the Legacy in the first place?

It originally happened when Elton Dean got sick in 2006. The band had some concerts booked, and they wanted to fulfill their obligations. But they just couldn’t because he was too ill. So with two days to go, they asked me, “What are you doing the day after tomorrow?” And I said “Why? What did you have in mind?” And they said, “You playing this concert with Soft Machine Legacy.” And I said, “Great. I’m free tomorrow!” It was that easy. And after Elton passed, they had more gigs booked, so they asked me if I wanted to do those, which I did. Then they just wanted me to carry on with them, So we decided to drop the name Legacy, and late last year we recorded “Hidden Details,” and started touring behind it. So there has definitely been a momentum to all of this.

Soft Machine
Where: Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 24
Tickets: $34 to $38
Contact: (510) 644-2020,

Tom Lanham
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Tom Lanham

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