Larry Nowlin (3) and the birth of Soft Machine

coombesprings
Coombe Springs

Of the band’s early days in Kent, Larry has few precise memories. He could only vaguely remember the pre-Soft Machine name Mister Head, nothing about The Bishops Of Canterbury (supposedly the name they used for the first gig with Mike Ratledge in Coombe Springs, August 1966), and was equally uncertain about the gigs mentioned in Wrong Movements – at the Herne Bay Jazz Club and The Beehive, where The Wilde Flowers had often performed.

 

beehive
Owner Franco Bevan (with actress Lynn Ashcroft) at the opening of the Beehive, May 1965

I remember the name Mister Head, but I don’t remember if that’s what they used to be or they were debating what to call ourselves… The Beehive I remember, Herne Bay I don’t. We might have done a gig in Kent, I can barely remember doing a couple of strange gigs there, one of them near an army base… Then I think it was Daevid who came up with the name The Soft Machine, from Burroughs, or whatever it was. The Bishops Of Canterbury ? That one I certainly don’t remember being part of.

The one specific memory Larry has of Kent was one totally unrelated to music…

kayers67
Kevin Ayers

It was a fun time ! We were down in Kent, near Canterbury, in a house that Kevin Ayers had a connection to with the wife of some big gambling place [Jane Aspinall, Pye Hastings’ sister, then married to the owner of Howletts Zoo, John Aspinall]. It was a little bit out in the country, a nice, big house with enough bedrooms. And I remember Kevin used to like to go fishing. He’d get up early and he’d jump over some fences and find these little streams, and he’d come back with some trout, which he’d cook up for breakfast ! That was a curious little personality trait of his – amongst his other talents, he liked to go fishing and he knew how to do it, so he’d come back with fish, he was successful at it ! And we enjoyed the fish he’d bring back !

joybang
Joy Bang

According to Wrong Movements, when the band moved from Kent to London during the Summer of 1966, Larry Nowlin stayed behind and would commute to London from Canterbury to rehearse. Larry, however, has a different recollection :

 

I did not stay behind. Canterbury was far from London ! We all moved up, spent some time at Robert’s in Dulwich. I stayed there for a while, then Jane and I rented a flat in Notting Hill Gate where Joy Bang, an American Starlet, had been living.

 

wyattfamily
A teenage Robert Wyatt (left) with his parents George Ellidge and Honor Wyatt and (right) his half-sister Prue.

Wrong Movements also suggests that the band rehearsed in a room provided by Anim near their Soho offices, and occasionally in Dulwich. Larry remembers the latter but not the former.

 

In London it was hard to find a place to play, because of the noise – we were definitely an electric band ! And practice space for an electric band was a very big hassle, as was lugging equipment around. We stayed down at Robert’s mom’s house sometimes. There was a lot of music around in that house. Eventually we got a couple of flats and found a place to play. Not in Gerrard Street though, was where the office of Anim was, there was no rehearsal space there !

hhenriod
Henri Henriod

Larry was also vague about how the connection with Anim came about…

I remember us doing an audition or a little recording, though I think that was after we’d already been with Anim [probably the audition for Mickie Most]. It may have been Chris Lord and Jane who had this vague connection to Anim. Chas Chandler, the bass player with the Animals, was our connection initially, but our contact was mostly Henri Hemmoroid, as we liked to call him !

 

hendrixjeffery
Jimi Hendrix with manager Mike Jeffery

In fact it was, of course, Jane Alexander who was to thank for the Anim deal…

 

I was the link to Mike [Jeffery]. Mike was my boss. I told him about the Soft Machine and made that connection. I thought that they had potential. They were a cocktail – Daevid = Oz, Kevin = English and Larry = US.

 

Of course with both bands being managed by Anim, Larry crossed paths with Jimi Hendrix

 

He was a phenom ! Groovy ! A very good guitar player who squandered it in the drug morass of the time.

 

floydufo
An early Pink Floyd performance at UFO

What about Pink Floyd, who were akin to brothers for Soft Machine on the early London underground scene ? Larry has no memory of sharing the bill with them…

 

The Soft Machine may have – but I don’t think I was with them at that time. I don’t remember exactly. I do remember going and seeing them. They were doing kind of cutting-edge stuff – that was attractive to our sort of fusion side. Maybe we met a couple of them after a gig. There was some place not too far from Queensway where they used to play. I seem to remember it was a little hall, or a church. They were having those light-shows, with mirror balls and stuff like that… I liked them then – and still do now !

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