2-10-09 Mike Ratledge
I was reading about Marsha Hunt when I was recently reminded about Mike Ratledge, the keyboard player of The Soft Machine. Despite the fact that he is very important to the sound of The Soft Machine, he’s probably the least known member of the band! Hugh Hopper, Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt are all more well-known than Ratledge – yet some would say Ratledge is just as important.
He stayed with The Soft Machine until he basically handed it over to Karl Jenkins, I’m going to guess towards the end of the 70’s? He never released any solo albums, either. I, for one, haven’t heard anything from him in about 30 years. So, I looked him up on Wikipedia. I guess he had something released in the last ten years that was some sort of association with some former Soft Machine band mates…but I have never seen or heard it.
One cannot over-estimate just how important Ratledge’s organ / keyboard sound was to British progressive rock of the late 60’s / early 70’s. I will also go out on a limb and suggest that Ratledge was a huge influence on Dutch keyboard master Robert-Jan Stips (of Supersister, Stars & Stips, Transister and The Nits). There are times when it sounds to me like Mr. Stips is totally copying Mr. Ratledge’s sound. Please do not get me wrong: I am a huge fan of Robert-Jan Stips, and I uniformly love his work. But there are definitely some Supersister tracks that sound a whole lot like The Soft Machine.
Mr. Ratledge is approx. 65 years of age now. I sincerely hope he knows how much so many people love The Soft Machine’s music. I would hope he’s “approved” of many of The Soft Machine CD’s that have been released in the last decade or so.
Don’t know who I am talking about? Go out and get: “Jet Propelled Photographs” (LP / CD is on Decal via Charly); “The Soft Machine” ( aka Vol. 1 ) (LP is on Probe Records US, CD is beautifully re-produced by Universal in Japan); “The Soft Machine Vol. 2” (LP is on Probe Records US, CD is on a European CD together with “Vol. 1”); “Third” (LP is on CBS or Columbia, and CD has now been faithfully re-mastered). These are the albums that I always return to, when choosing a Soft Machine album to listen to. The vocalist(s) = very good, the drummer = excellent, the bassist(s) = very good, keyboards = superlative.
So, Mr. Ratledge – thank you for the music. I think there are a lot of us who wish you had issued a whole lot more music! I confess to being baffled at the sheer number of CD’s of Soft Machine periphery that have been issued (quite a few on Voiceprint, Cunieform etc.) – there’s a Dutch webpage that told me when some of the material was recorded and what CD it was on – helpful, but…I don’t usually see Soft Machine CD’s for sale anyway, while looking at CD stores in California.