Band: Soft Heap 1983 (sleeve notes for ‘A veritable centaur’ Impetus 1995)
- Hugh Hopper…bass
- Elton Dean…Sax
- Alan Gowen…keyboards
- Pip Pyle…drums
- John Greaves…bass
- Mark Hewins…guitar
- Fred Frith…guitar
- Phil Minton…vocals
- Lol Coxhill…Sax
- Bridget Leman…herself
Body, mind and soul all become ridiculously stretched in the rarefied world of touring with a band. Every person who has ever been ‘on the road’ has fantastic stories to tell of outrageous happenings and weird occurrences that couldn’t possibly be thought of by even the most skilled of storytellers. There are many stories associated with Soft HEAP, a living branch of Soft Machine. Although I cannot (due to the obscenity and libel laws) relate many of the things we got up to, I can tell you it was fun.
One time we were travelling in the ubiquitous orange VW microbus when we did a stop en-route. We had a couple of days to get somewhere before the next concert and it was a long way. So it was necessary to stock up on food. The French motorway food shops are much like they are in the UK, all tiny bits of cheese and packets of ham with more plastic than meat in them. But understand you HAVE to buy things, so stupid little toys and porn books turn up in the shopping basket as well. We all bought various snacks and entertainment and made our way back to the bus. Elton had tried to buy some wine but all they had – bear in mind this was the motorway – were tiny little miniatures. I suppose they were meant to prevent drunk driving. He had two arms full of tiny clinking bottles, presumably to last the entire trip, but it didn’t look good.
As we approached the VW we saw that Bridget was surrounded by the very heavy French version of motorway riot police. There were about six of them brandishing machine guns. We ambled into this little confrontation and as soon as they saw Elton and his drink they ordered us to stand in line by the bus. Bridget seemed quite scared and hissed at us to produce our passports for the leader. The other grunts stood around casually pointing their guns at us and looking at the mess in the back of the van, as the manially officious guy in charge minutely examined each passport in turn. Mine was the last he opened and as he did he found my money (which in the heat of the moment I had forgotten to take out) and it fluttered to the ground! Well, it was one of those moments which seem to last for hours. He looked at me, I looked at him, we all looked at the money and the grunts holding the guns murmured approvingly. I quickly stooped down and picked the money up. They seemed a bit annoyed that I wasn’t trying to bribe them! I swear to this day I heard their guns click as they tensed up. It was all very difficult but they ultimately couldn’t arrest us for any thing, so, motioning with their loaded weapons, they saw us on our way.
Soft HEAP was a name made up from the first names of the original members. Hugh, Elton, Alan, Pip. Tragically Alan died of leukaemia – we all still think of him. He used to live just down the road from me in Tooting and although I saw him at least once a week I never did get the opportunity to work with him. He was booked to play in Cardiff but died suddenly so I stepped directly into his very large shoes. My first gig with Soft Heap.
I was told of a tour they had done when someone had managed to get hold of two huge straw bound bottles of Absinthe, highly illegal, which they had tried to drink over a two week period in the back of the bus. It had, by all accounts, made them pretty ill and there was still a whole bottle left. Alan very sensibly poured it out of the van window. When they stopped and saw the side of the bus all the paint had been stripped off by this very dangerous type of alcohol.
Hugh has just rung me (I’m recording with him tomorrow) and reminded me of a ‘lost’ lineup of Soft Heap that performed in London once. An unusual occurrence in itself, the English, as a rule, ignore anything musical. In the band: Pip, Hugh, Lol Coxhill and me.
The only other line up I can remember performed at Nancy University in France. We were being supported on that occasion by Fred Frith and Phil Minton and they joined us towards the end of our two and a half hour set – absolutely blinding! Although I was really nervous to play with Fred, I felt better when the crowd went completely crazy. I saw one young lady dancing madly and in tears, completely hysterical, whilst the rest of the audience screamed things at us. We all went back to the hotel later and stank the place out with fresh prawns and Calvados supplied by Fred and continued being so loud and noisy we were complained at. All human emotion is there – on the road.
MORAL: We are all one of many.
(Included on the Soft Heap CD “A veritable centaur”) [ IMPETUS CD 18219 ]
WORD COUNT 884 COPYRIGHT – MARK HEWINS 1994
PS! This is a repost of a story that was originally published on the old website on Musart.co.uk. These old web pages are gone, but are still accessible through archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Read the story on musart.co.uk by clicking here.