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Do You Know The Way To St Tropez?

The Soft Machine circa 1967

The Soft Machine circa 1967. Anti-clockwise from left : Daevid Allen, Mike Ratledge, Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt (at 12 o’clock!) Photo from Ian Carpenter’s archive, photographer unknown

Steve Foster explores myth and reality during The Soft Machine’s 1967 sojourn in the south of France. With additional material and extracts from interviews by Aymeric Leroy of Calyx (AL). Edited by Susan Lomas (SL).

Details of The Soft Machine’s sojourn in St Tropez in the summer of 1967 have always seemed a bit sketchy to me. The various chronologies never seem to quite match up and all the versions I’ve read leave me wanting to know just a little bit more. Almost inadvertently I found myself in the vicinity of St Tropez in September.

I’d left my other half to make the arrangements for the first part of our holidays so that I could concentrate on the arrangements for the second part – a walking holiday in the Pyrenees. She arranged for us to go camping on the Cote d’Azur with her sister and brother-in-law. We’d done something similar about 20 years previously. It hadn’t been a great success. Very hot and very busy that August and pitching the tent full in the sun hadn’t helped this pink, prickly Brit relax and enjoy his holiday. From memory, I think I lasted three days. I wasn’t that keen on a repeat but it was too late to back pedal.

This time around it was September; much less crowded, the temperature several notches below blast furnace and we were in a caravan in a shady pine grove. Best of all, as we pitched up, I realised that the campsite was half way between Sainte Maxime and Port Grimaud, and that I could see St Tropez almost diametrically opposite across the bay, 20 minutes by Bateaux Verts shuttle or an 8 km jog along shady cycle paths. In spite of the heat I soon had my anorak on, Google whirring away, paper and pen at the ready.

St Maxime Beach

St. Maxime beach nowadays. Photo by Steve Foster

I could find itemized chronologies of what Soft Machine were doing throughout the years, and where they were doing it, online, on the Pink Floyd Archives, Calyx and Planet Gong, but the St Tropez episode hung somewhere rather nebulously between the realms of myth and fantasy. Planet Gong isn’t of much help and freely admits to being ‘almost a blank canvas’ for that whole year. For July and August 1967 it is limited to:

Thursday 24/08 – Daevid refused entry to the UK at Dover under 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act
Friday 25/08 – Daevid sent back to Boulogne, France on The Maid of Kent (1)

And the other two sources don’t always correlate. As per the Pink Floyd Archive, Soft Machine played a gig in an underground car park, late June, on the Avenue Foch in Paris. Presumably on the way down to the French Riviera.

(AL notes that: “A Soft Machine roadie who only worked with them in the Spring of 1969 remembers taking part in this, so every likelihood that the guy who remembers attending it – Michel Polizzi – has the date [or year] wrong… more or less confirmed by other circumstancial details he remembers.”)

This [the Avenue Foch gig], along with the dates of Daevid Allen’s refused re-entry into the UK at least helps to bookend the time frame of the episode: late June, actually July 1 – see below, to 24th August 1967. Marking the first of several dénouéments in the Soft Machine story but also the beginning of another story, that of Gong.

From Mike King’s ‘Wrong Movements’ : “On July 1, Soft Machine depart to the South of France with roadie Ted Bing, Mark Boyle, Gilli Smyth and Mark Ellidge, with panel truck, equipment and cameras.”

Keith Albarn, creator of the Discotheque Interplay, also father of Damon Albarn of Blur /Gorillaz fame (e-mail to AL 2005) : “I travelled with the structure. As I [try and!!] recall there was a small convoy of our van and the lorry. The band travelled separately so I cannot help on that one. The accommodation for most was appalling/very primitive, virtually horse boxes. To my embarrassment, we were in a modest “hotel”/pension!! The “sleeping on the beach” was after we left. And no , I cannot remember how long we hung on !! But I think it was about two weeks”.


Discotheque Interplay, photo by Keith Albarn

At home I had accounts in three published books. ‘Gong Dreaming 1’, the first part of the autobiography of Daevid Allen, one of our four protagonists. ‘Different Every Time’, the authorised biography by Marcus O’Dair of Robert Wyatt, another of the protagonists. ‘Out-Bloody-Rageous, a history of The Soft Machine’ by Graham Bennett. The latter two are particularly well researched and informative. The former, a highly entertaining, though very personalised account of the period 1966 to 1975. As Pip Pyle said of ‘Gong Dreaming 2’, which it is true covered a later period; “some details, I remember a bit differently”. If Graham Bennett and Marcus O’Dair are the Mark and the ‘Q’ of the Soft Machine gospel, then Daevid Allen must be the John, although of course, Daevid really was there.

Online there is also a Wikipedia entry for Soft Machine with a brief paragraph on the period and, as I was to discover, a very enlightening article/interview with Jean-Jacques Lebel. Lebel it was, who staged Picasso’s ‘Le Désir Attrapé Par La Queue’ at the Festival de la Libre Expression in St Tropez in the summer of 1967 and who had chanced upon the Soft Machine on the beach at Sainte Maxime a few days previously.


Jean-Jacques Lebel, 2008. Wikipedia. Photo by”Pantalaskas”

(AL : This is where the story gets complicated… The July 1st 1967 edition of Melody Maker had a news item quoting Mark Boyle. The Sensual Laboratory will be “taking part in a light-show with the Soft Machine in the South of France, and we’re also taking part in a Picasso play called Desire Caught by the Tail […]. We’re doing the lights and the group will be playing.” This is unambiguous evidence that Soft Machine were always supposed to participate in the play, even though this contradicts most or all accounts by the protagonists !!)

Can’t say I’ve read or seen Picasso’s play but it’s an interesting story in itself. Written by Picasso in Paris during the Occupation. It had a read through shortly after the war with Camus directing, Sartre and de Beauvoir, amongst others, reading parts. Jean-Jacques Lebel came across the text in 1966 and premiered the play as a fully staged production in 1967 in the St Tropez area. Here’s the Wikipedia entry:


Bernard Frechtman, who translated the work from the original French, had this to say in his Foreword. “It says nothing of human destiny or of the human condition. In an age which has discovered man with a capital M, it is gratifying to advise the reader that Picasso has nothing to say of man, nor of the universe. This in itself is a considerable achievement.”

(AL notes : L’Express magazine of 3-9 July had the play running from July 13 to September 4, but the article still mentioned Papagayo as the venue. It got a few other things wrong, including naming both Bernadette Laffont and Rita Renoir as part of the cast, although the latter was actually a last minute replacement for the former, who bowed out to play the lead role in a film by Nelly Kaplan).

The article quoted St-Tropez mayor Jean Lescudier : “Je pense que la pièce de Picasso n’est qu’un prétexte, et je crains que le happening qui suivra ne cause des remous dans la population… Le conseil municipal a voté à l’unanimité contre ce projet, mais il s’agit d’une entreprise privée, c’est donc à la préfecture de police de l’interdire”. (SL: “I think that the Picasso play is nothing more than a pretext and I believe that the “happening” which will follow may stir up trouble amongst the population…” The mayor of St Tropez banned the play from being performed on his “patch” and ‘Le Desir’ was eventually staged in a circus tent in the village/commune of Gassin).

But back to our chronology. Gorgio Gomelsky, the producer and impresario had “planned a number of gigs” for Soft Machine on the French Riviera. Alternatively he had just planned a residency in a “pop-up” discotheque on the beach at St Aygulf. It’s hard to tell. The Discothèque Interplay took place within some sort of a dome or igloo (Wikipedia calls it “a flat-pack Fun Palace”) erected by Keith Albarn.


The Soft Machine play inside the Discotheque Interplay, July 1967

Gomelsky (e-mail to AL 2003) : “A french promoter, Jean-Pierre Rawson (who had managed Aphrodite’s Child and organized tours for some of my artists, The Yardbirds, Julie Driscoll and others, had called me asking if I knew a band willing to appear in a Jean-Jacques Lebel Happening-like production of Picasso’s only play ‘Le Desir attrapee par sa queu…’ (or something similar) which he wanted to produce in St Tropez that summer. I thought SM would be perfect for that (also because Daevid spoke French) and so I recommended them. They did the play and then stayed on and appeared at that club. Perhaps Rawson got them the gig or the contact, perhaps Keith Albarn approached them. I didn’t know him, so I don’t know”.

No mention of booking an entire tour there, merely recommending a band to another promoter.

01-05 July – Discothèque Interplay in St Aygulf.

Can’t possibly have been as early as July 1 if they really did leave London on that date !

Depending on who you read, the band only played the first night, they played all five nights or something in between (three according to Daevid Allen), before they got the bullet (my guess is probably longer than that, maybe a full week). And they were either playing as part of a beer festival or in parallel to said beer festival (I think the Discothèque was one feature of the Beer Festival). Whichever was the case, clearly The Soft Machine didn’t go down well with beer drinkers. Lack of interest by paying customers as someone put it, a reaction to ‘noise pollution’ as Daevid Allen has it or even the objections of the other clubs in St Aygulf put paid to them. And the band didn’t get paid. What is even stranger is that the tour then came to an abrupt end.

What happened to the rest of the Riviera gigs that Gomelski had organised? Had he organized much else apart from this residency? Was it hoped that other gigs would organically follow? It appears the band now had no money for the return journey. Soft Machine seem to have been left to their own devices. As per Kevin Ayers: “We were sort of abandoned in the South of France with no money, we had all the gear and stuff with us though”.

Keith Albarn (e-mail to AL 2005) : “We underestimated the impact on the locals and trippers. The discotheque, which held some 400 souls, was welcomed by the younger punters but was viewed as somewhat extreme by nearly everyone else and met with stiffening opposition, leading to instances of blatant sabotage – cutting our mains cable, etc. The Soft Machine played heroically – and could be heard and seen for miles along the beach! But overall it was a painful experience. We had to bribe our way on and there wasn’t enough of the take left for us. In the end we were obliged to blow the whole thing up on site to avoid being charged export taxes. Our remaining kit was then impounded at Calais by customs !”

Mark Boyle (from the Boyle Family website I believe) : “That summer we went off with the Soft Machine to play in a translucent white plastic pavilion on the beach at St. Aygulf on the Riviera. We were to project from inside on to the whole skin of the pavilion, so that the light show would be seen from outside as well as inside. We were offered a great wage to work there for two months. It was part of a festival. The idea worked. At night it lay like a great space-ship on the beach, made out of rivers of colours and movement like erupting stained glass. With the shattering sound of the Soft Machine it was a fantastic success. But the rest of the festival was a total failure, and at the end of the first week there was no money to pay anyone and the festival closed down. We didn’t even have tickets to get home”.

Since it appears they (Soft Machine) were expected to perform at Le Désir, it would seem they were simply left to wait until the play would start… I don’t think returning to England was an option – they had more work planned.


Kevin Ayers (back left), Robert Wyatt (middle right) and friends, French Riviera, July 1967, by Mark Ellidge

Mark Boyle and Joan Hills (AL interview 2000) :
MB: After the [Beer] festival fell through, but before Jean-Jacques Lebel, we went to Nice.
JH: And we stayed in somebody’s apartment.
MB: With Mike Ratledge and his girlfriend.
JH: For two weeks or something like that. And everybody was about the coast to see if there was any work we could do… And it was the Jean-Jacques thing that came up …When the whole thing collapsed, the festival collapsed, and we were all at a loose end, I contacted a friend of mine, Jean-Jacques Lebel, who was putting on Picasso’s play ‘Désir Attrapé Par La Queue’, in a circus tent, up there. And I said, ‘How about giving us a job?’. And he said, ‘Great! Great!’. He’d been to London, he’d been to UFO, and I knew he’d adored it. So he was really excited, and we… I think there was a contract to do a half-hour prelude to the Picasso show.”

Based on the above recollection, it seems Mike R split from the others for a few days. Maybe only Daevid, Kevin and possibly Robert busked on the beach in the meantime… All this circa. 10 July… Then the meeting with Lebel leading to the Café des Arts performance.

Mike Zwerin (11/7/68 Down Beat): “When I first met Michael, Kevin and Robert last summer, they were pretty much stranded on the French Riviera. Along with two road managers, they had crossed from London and driven to the Riviera jammed in a panel truck full of electronic hardware. They were scheduled to work all summer as part of the ‘beer festival’ on the beach of St Aygulf. After a week, they were fired. It seems the wrong element (penniless) was hanging around the discotheque but not drinking beer. Then the trio floated around St Tropez for some time, sleeping on floors or the beach”.

Jean-Jacques Lebel, who was staying with friends in Sainte Maxime (translated):

“We could hear people singing on the beach and we thought that amazing. They were English hippies, sleeping on the beach in their sleeping bags. To eat, they busked and passed the hat around. They explained that they were interested in William Burroughs and that they were called Soft Machine. At the time they were unknown, and hadn’t yet recorded an album. I suggested to them that they come and perform during the play as musicians and actors. They accepted straight away, they didn’t know where to sleep. They therefore hitched and caught up with us in St Tropez and it is maybe what set them on their world trajectory. They were excellent”.

And later in the same article: “Soft Machine, it was my wife who spotted them on the beach at Sainte Maxime; and so we went to see them. They slept on the beach, they busked and passed the hat around… I invited them to come and play in exchange of which they slept under the big top, and we tried, with the few tickets we sold, to feed ourselves, of course the vast majority of people did not pay, they were coming from all over Europe, those that were being called hippies, stoned, nomads; so we all lived there together, under what has now sadly become a myth: the sexual revolution…”


Kevin Ayers in St Tropez, 1967. Photo from the Soft Machine ‘Triple Echo’ compilation.

Kevin Ayers  (Zigzag 10/74) : “The promoter of this play by Picasso thought it would be a good idea to have us as the first part of the show to make more of an evening of it, it worked very well. So we were hired, sort of for nothing, peanuts, but we had a great time, it was very good.”

Sainte Maxime is a short hop down the coast from St Aygulf heading towards St Tropez. St Tropez had already created its own legend by the 50s and may well have been a destination for the band anyway. July and August in St Tropez was probably as hip as it got, certainly in Europe. When did this meeting on the beach with Jean-Jacques Lebel occur? Before or after the 14th July? (see above – I would guess 10-12 July ?) Had Soft Machine already been to St Tropez? As the crow flies Sainte Maxime and Saint Tropez are probably no more than 5km from each other across the bay and some 15 kilometres around the bay. What strikes me as bizarre is the hitching. Soft Machine had instruments, amplifiers as well as a cast of at least 7 other people as per Graham Bennett (2) (himself quoting Mike King). Daevid Allen refers to the tour being undertaken in a “shiny new yellow bandwagon”. Following the St Aygulf cancellation had Keith Albarn, flat-pack Fun Palace and tour bus returned to the UK?

The next date in any of the chronologies is 14th July in St Tropez, where by common accord, except in Daevid Allen’s account where this is down as the 4th July (Daevid agreed he probably got confused between French “fête nationale” and US “4th of July” – see elsewhere), Soft Machine played in the town square. I take this to be Place des Lices. There are undated entries indicating that the band then played the Café des Arts sometime in July. Café des Arts also happens to be on the Place des Lices and unless the café has moved or been much reduced in size since 1967, I can’t see how an electric band could play inside the café – it is much too small. Since the Café des Arts is right on the Place des Lices, it is possible that the band were on the Place des Lices itself and playing to an audience sat on and around the terrace of the café. Could this gig have been one and the same as the 14th July gig? Perhaps sponsored/paid for/simply just outside the Café des Arts?

Cafe des Arts, St Tropez

Cafe des Arts St Tropez. Photo by Steve Foster

(from AL interview with Mark Boyle & Joan Hills, 2000) :
MB : I remember when we were in St.Tropez, and we were busking with Soft Machine. None of us had the money to get back, we’d been in a festival at St.Aygulf, and none of us had the money to get back. And so they called the management, and they said, ‘Well, I’m sure you’ll do fine, guys, let’s do the best you can’. And it ended up with Soft Machine performing on the back of a lorry, outside the café…
JH: …In St.Tropez!
MB: No, they were sitting in front of the café, *we* were on the lorry doing a light-show from… There were a couple of hundred people sitting at tables having dinner outside, and we reversed this lorry, and then we did the light-show from there. We had the projectors on top of the cab, didn’t we?
JH: That’s right.
MB: And we were standing at the back of the…
JH: We must have got an electric cable from the café…
MB: And the café was white, so the thing just was superb. And Soft Machine played brilliantly. And afterwards, one of the people having dinner there asked to talk to them, and they went over, and this guy said to them, ‘I’d like to represent you in France, my name is Eddie Barclay’. And the guys in Soft Machine said, ‘You already do represent us in France!’ (laughs)

Mike Zwerin (AL int 2003) : They had a contract or a gig with a club that went bankrupt, so they were stranded… I don’t know how they got this, but they played on the Place in front of the city hall, town hall, one afternoon, with wires and, you know… electric… which was weird then – cables everywhere… And I just walked by, and I couldn’t believe it !
(…) I’d never heard that before, they were playing in seven and nine, with a rock… Frankly, Robert is probably the best rock drummer I ever heard… I may be naïve, I’m not a rock expert, but boy ! I mean, he sure could… I know one thing, he was the first one to play without a shirt !! Everybody said, “He playing WITHOUT A SHIRT !!”. That was big deal, then !

Place des Lices St Tropez

Place des Lices St Tropez. Photo by Steve Foster

Daevid Allen (e-mail to AL, 2002) : “It was, I believe, all because of a spontaneous gig organized by friends and helpers, including (Bob) Bénamou, in the town square of Saint-Tropez for a national festival – probably 14th of July. This gig impressed important people and resulted in our playing at the Brigitte Bardot party where we played We Did It Again for an hour. This in turn resulted in our getting booked by the Picasso play. Also partly because of my old friendship with Jean-Jacques Lebel, famed for his happenings in the Sixties”.

Daevid’s recollection implies that the “Brigitte Bardot party” was a separate event to the later Eddie Barclay party and would have taken place sometime between mid- and late July, but was his memory of this reliable?

Jean-Jacques Lebel (AL int 2003) : “On voulait absolument faire notre pièce. Alors on a loué un chapiteau, à Marseille, un grand chapiteau bleu de 600 places. On a trouvé un terrain vague, qui est maintenant devenu un supermarché, au carrefour de La Foux, à l’entrée de Saint-Tropez, qui n’est plus Saint-Tropez, c’est Cogolin, municipalement parlant. Le maire était socialiste, je crois, il était content de faire la nique à celui de Saint-Tropez, donc il nous a donné la permission de nous installer là. Il n’y avait pas d’électricité, alors on a loué un énorme générateur, et on est partis, encore mieux qu’avant. Mais seulement, il manquait la musique.

Et c’est là qu’un ami, qui s’appelle Bob Bénamou, qui était antiquaire, et avait fait des happenings avec moi, deux ou trois ans avant, est allé voir je ne sais pas qui à Sainte-Maxime. Et il y avait la Fête de la Bière – l’horreur, des mecs en shorts qui boivent de la bière et qui dégueulent partout, vous voyez ce que c’est, les campeurs qui font la fête… Et alors, il m’a dit que sur la plage, il y avait une bande de hippies qui dormaient sur la plage, tellement ils étaient fauchés, et ils se lavaient sous les douches des baigneurs. Ils n’avaient pas un rond, ils étaient dans la merde. Ils jouaient avec un chapeau, pour qu’on leur mette quelques sous. C’était comme des clodos, nomades, anglais, ne parlant pas un mot de français, se baladant, il s’est dit : ‘Ces mecs-là, ils sont pas mal…’ Il est venu me chercher, en voiture, et on est allés les écouter, et j’ai dit… J’ai été leur parler, parce que je parle anglais comme le français, je leur ai dit, ‘Voilà, je cherche des gens capables d’improviser de la musique, premièrement; et qui, en plus, ne soient pas uniquement des musiciens, mais qui rentrent dans le jeu des acteurs, et qui traversent la scène, et qui se considèrent comme acteurs, et pas seulement musiciens’.


Daevid Allen busking in St Tropez, 1967.

Et à ce moment, un des types, un grand maigre, me dit : ‘Mais je te connais, toi !’ C’était Daevid Allen. Figurez-vous que Daevid Allen était venu chez moi, et qu’il habitait cet hôtel, rue Gît-le-Cœur, le Beat Hotel, et qu’il était venu chez moi plusieurs fois, et qu’il avait même joué chez moi, avec sa femme, qui s’appelait Jill-je-sais-pas-quoi. Et un soir mémorable et inoubliable, j’avais fait une fête pour l’anniversaire de Bill Burroughs… Daevid m’a rappelé cette histoire… On est devenus très amis, et le producteur avait loué une espèce de grande maison à l’entrée de Saint-Tropez, où nous sommes tous venus vivre. Là où ‘La Collectionneuse’ avait été filmé. C’était à l’entrée de Saint-Tropez, plutôt sur le territoire de Cogolin”.

In the quote above Lebel mentions La Fête de la Bière – it seems although the Discothèque Interplay had closed down, the Fête de la Bière continued, as confirmed by ads in the local press until at least late July. (SL: a quick translation of the French tells us that it was the antiques-dealer Bob Bénamou who took Lebel to meet Soft Machine on the beach at St. Maxime, then Lebel  realised that he had already met Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth before, presumably in Paris?)

Bob Bénamou’s own recollection (int with AL 2000) : “I was spending the summer of 1967 in Saint-Tropez”, Bénamou remembers, “and one day my friend Michel Asso came by and said, ‘I’ve just met this band, you should really come and see them ! They’re playing on a beach at Saint-Aygulf, at the beer festival!’ Absolutely appalling… Of course, there was nobody there -who on Earth would have come to hear Soft Machine ?!? It was completely insane. So I told them, ‘Come with me, we’ll help you out…”

These accounts all contradict the notion that SM were booked to appear in Le Désir from the start. However this was clearly the case, as evidenced in the news item from Melody Maker issue dated 1st July!!

(SL: The opening of the show was delayed by legal problems ( the ban imposed by the mayor of St Tropez) and technical problems, i.e. a faulty generator).

‘France Soir’ of 16-17 July : “Le Désir de Picasso interdit à Saint-Tropez bénéfice à Gassin du droit d’asile. La première annoncée pour le 14 juillet a été reportée au 17, puis au 19, puis au 24 juillet. Le spectacle devait avoir lieu dès le 10 juillet au club Papagayo. Les promoteurs du spectacle, Victor Herbert et Jean-Jacques Lebel, se sont repliés avec leur chapiteau sur un terrain à 5 kilomètres de Saint-Tropez, au carrefour de La Foux, qui dépend de la commune de Gassin”.

The newspaper ‘Nice Matin’ of 20 July : “On l’avait d’abord annoncée pour le début du mois, puis pour le 14. Au dernier moment, la représentation fut ajournée, un groupe électrogène manquant, paraît-il, à l’appel. ‘Mais nous serons fin prêts le 17’, annoncèrent les organisateurs qui, deux jours après, distribuaient des prospectus indiquant que la date avait été de nouveau reportée. Hier soir, pleine d’espoir, toute la presse était à Gassin, en bordure de la route de La Foux, où Victor Herbert, producteur de la pièce, avait monté son chapiteau. Une fois de plus, ce fut en pure perte : un des générateurs était tombé en panne. ‘Mais gardez vos billets, ils sont valables pour demain’, a-t-on dit aux spectateurs. Ils étaient une cinquantaine à l’entrée du chapiteau, et tous d’ailleurs devaient se faire rembourser, visiblement lassés de cette affaire qui commence à être un peu trop longue…”
(Same issue has advert : “Le Picasso interdit commence le 19 juillet”).

‘France Soir’ of 21 July : “Hier soir, de (rares) spectateurs se sont présentés… Groupe électrogène en panne…”

‘France Soir’ of 23-24 July : “La pièce vient d’être jouée…”

By the 24th July ‘Le Désir Attrapé Par La Queue’ would appear to have begun its three week run with Soft Machine playing either before or after (possibly both) the play, under instructions from Jean-Jacques Lebel to produce “transmissions hallucinatoires”. The play was to have been staged in St Tropez at the Papagayo night club under canvas in the internal courtyard. The Gaullist mayor of St.Tropez, a member of the paramilitary Service d’Action Civique (SAC) to boot, caught cold feet when he heard of the contents of the play and had it banned. Needless to say, the socialist mayor of the neighbouring commune of Gassin was only too pleased to take up the relay. The tent was pitched in an area of rough ground, where the circus came to town, in Gassin. Jean-Jacques Lebel claims in his interview that the play ran for two and a half months, seven days a week, to full houses every night. That may well have been the case, but Soft Machine’s involvement would appear to have been for no more than 3 weeks. Allen (e-mail to AL 2002) : “Two weeks maximum – maybe less…”

Mark Boyle/Joan Hills interview 2000 :

JH: I seem to think of it as weeks.
MB: It was every night, and it went on for weeks.
JH: I think probably there was a month’s contract with Jean-Jacques for the performance of ‘Le Désir Attrapé Par La Queue’, I don’t know know how many weeks he was gonna do it. But it lasted about an hour, he actually tried to fill out the evening, cause people had to come out of St.Tropez, and drive along the coast a wee bit. We were staying in a place called Cogolin… which now is all joined up, but then it wasn’t all joined up, there were bits of country inbetween… So we must have been working for a month, I think.

Email to Allen 2002 : Q : “Did Soft Machine perform just a separate opening gig, or were you involved in the play itself?”
Daevid : “A 30-minute opening gig only”.

Lebel (AL int 2003) : Il n’y avait pas que la pièce de Picasso, il y avait… Après la pièce, tous les soirs, il y avait des concert Fluxus… Les Soft faisaient des concerts, il y avait plein de choses – c’était seulement la moitié de la soirée. Ça durait jusqu’à quatre heures du matin, vous pensez bien ! (SL: “It wasn’t just the Picasso play, every night after the play there were Fluxus concerts [avant-garde, improvised happenings] …The Softs played concerts, there were lots of different things- that was certainly half of the evening. It lasted until 4am …”)

Boyle (AL int 2000) : There were two things. Every night there was that performance, which lasted between half an hour and an hour. But all day long they rehearsed, they just never stopped. I think it was possibly the best thing that ever happened to them. They got the opportunity to really work very, very hard all the time. We were at the beach, we were having a good time, with our children.

Zwerin (AL int 2003) : “They were going to do it in the Papagayo, and then the mayor wouldn’t let them, or the owner wouldn’t let them. That’s a café, I think that’s the name of the café, Papagayo… And so, some people leased them some land outside of town, and they put up a circus tent…
Rita Renoir was the star. And the guy with the shaved head, a French guy ? The male star. He was also “known”, like her (Jacques Seiler had played a lead role in the TV series « Vidocq » – AL). And whose name I can’t think of now. But the Living Theatre was around there. I mean, they used to come on, sometimes, they were on stage sometimes… I forget the names now, but that was a big deal back then, you know, so… It was like… Saint-Tropez was like… for some reason, a centre of art and music !… That’s exaggerating, really… but there was a lot going on there. A lot of people passing through.”


Warhol’s Riviera superstars : Taylor Mead and Ultraviolet. Photo by John Chamberlain.

Lebel (AL int 2003) : “D’abord, on s’est retrouvés dans la cour du Papagayo, une énorme cour, à Saint-Tropez. Et à cause d’une conférence de presse où j’ai proclamé que nous étions – ce qui était la vérité – des anarchistes, et que notre ami Arrabal venait de se faire arrêter en Espagne, et nous voulions organiser une manifestation au Consulat Espagnol de Nice pour protester contre son arrestation… Ça a été relaté dans le Figaro, et le maire de Saint-Tropez nous a jetés dehors, en disant:

‘Je ne veux pas de cette racaille anarchiste; ici, c’est les milliardaires, les yachts, ne nous emmerdez pas avec vos histoires, dehors !’

Alors on s’est retrouvés, avec une troupe de théâtre, enfin, qui n’était pas vraiment une troupe : une bande d’amis, une bande de fous, parmi lesquels il y avait le grand acteur des films de Warhol, Taylor Mead, l’actrice des films de Warhol, Ultra Violet, une strip-teaseuse reconvertie, non pas en nonne, mais en actrice de théâtre grandiloquente style Académie Française, ce qui est quand même assez extraordinaire… Rita Renoir, qui passe de montrer ses bijoux de famille à prendre des poses… ridicules, mais c’était ça… Je jouais sur son ridicule. Qui se prenait pour Sarah Bernhardt…”

(SL: So the Gaullist mayor of St.Tropez thought that the on-stage anarchy would alienate his wealthy friends, the millionaires, the yacht-owners. It sounds as if the actors of  ‘Le Desir’ we selected for their craziness, their extrovert personalities and ability to improvise. Taylor Mead was a flamboyant friend of Andy Warhol and Ultra Violet, real name Isabelle Collin DuFresne, also worked with Warhol and had been the companion of the Surrealist artist, Salvador Dali. Rita Renoir was an “exotic dancer” at the Crazy Horse revue in Paris).


Actors from Jean-Jacques Lebel’s production of Picasso’s ‘Le Desir attrape par la queue’ St-Tropez 1967.

However long the run, the SAC couldn’t let the opportunity pass without getting involved and machine gunned the generator. I’ve read somewhere that Robert Wyatt’s drum kit took a bullet.

Lebel (AL int 2003) : “On a dit que c’étaient les S.A.C., à l’époque, vous savez, les Services d’Action Civique, on se sait pas qui c’était au juste, mais en tout cas, juste la veille de l’ouverture, des gens ont saboté notre générateur, en tirant des coups de fusil de chasse dedans. Heureusement, on était assurés. On a été obligés, à la toute dernière minute, de faire venir les flics, qui n’ont pas voulu faire de constat, en disant que c’était nous-mêmes qui l’avions fait… Enfin, il y avait une espèce de complot pour nous virer de là. Et on a été obligés de retourner à Marseille prendre un second générateur. Bref, les gens voulaient nous saboter, et ne voulaient pas qu’on soit là.”

(SL: The Soft Machine/ Boyle family accounts of the event are very similar…)

Allen (e-mail to AL 2002) : “We were also shot at by a drunken local redneck who thought it was too loud. He missed…”

Gilli Smyth (e-mail to AL 1999) : “A guy stood up in the audience with a gun and shouted to the band (it wasn’t so loud then) “If you don’t stop playing I will kill you”. They didn’t stop, and he fired, but a roady just managed to knock his arm so the bullet went sideways, into the generator at the sideback of stage, which cut out, and the whole tent was plunged into complete darkness. Robert Wyatt continued playing drums, but everyone else had to stop, wondering if they were in fact, dead. Audience panic, etc. etc.”

Mark Boyle (AL int 2000) : “I will always remember that show for one incident – I mean, there were many great things in it, but there was a woman who was a star from this big strip-club in Paris, I forget what they call them now… It’s the famous one…
JH: Crazy Horse.
MB: Yeah… And she [Rita Renoir] was the star of the show. And her husband was a wickless (?), a huge… And there was a guy from the Living Theatre, who was an absolute prick. He was a weed! And his great thing was to wander into… if any spotlight was on the stage, he would always be there, and he’d ???? and pick his nose… And when he did this to this guy’s wife, this guy kind of walked over and just removed him (laughs). After that rehearsal there was a big row about this, and the guy said to him that he was going to destroy him if he ever did it again. And of course he was some crazy guy, and… he did it again, and again, and again… Anyway, at the dress rehearsal of the show, the American backers of the show were shouting at Jean-Jacques Lebel, there was a fighting happening on the stage, and they were saying (he shouts), ‘Jean-Jacques, this is the dress rehearsal man! We’re going to have a ?? here tomorrow, you’ve got to direct this show, man!’. And Jean-Jacques said, ‘What do you think I am? A fascist?’ (laughs).
JH: And actually the people around us, around the tent – and they weren’t that close, but they hated the noise so much that they came with hatchets to try and smash…
MB: …Fire a gun into the generator… And it went silent and… I don’t know if they’ve told you about this, but what Soft Machine did was that… There was no electricity, it was total darkness, and Robert did a drum solo which just went on forever, and which was brilliant. And we managed to get candles and we handed them out, and the light show was provided by the people just dancing, and these candles… That was really something! But then they got the generator working.”


Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt (without shirt) Kevin Ayers – not necessarily in St Tropez but… (Photographer unknown)

Lebel (AL int 2003): “The play had enormous worldly success, press and TV….. People came from all over Europe, hitching or in 2CVs. People who had no idea where they were going to sleep, they had seen this on TV in Denmark, in Italy… They slept every night under the big top. They had no dosh for food. So when we had tuppence-halfpenny, and the money from a few sold tickets – most entered free – we’d make pasta for everyone at the interval. They passed their joints around. It’s true everyone was wrecked, and I would never state that there were things, more or less collective, going on that bourgeois moral would approve of. It was banal at the time. So there was this little wordly success vis-a-vis St Tropez society who came along to mix with the riff-raff but what interested me more was this nation-less, European, youth culture, coming from everywhere and nowhere, which found itself there. And it was they who made Soft Machine’s success. This population of young people who wanted another life-style and for whom this new art made sense.”

Jean-Jacques Lebel (translated and paraphrased by Steve): “It was extraordinary. Firstly there were musicians who were actors and who acted….one could improvise and surprise one another. Taylor Mead was magnificent. He was homosexual. He brought his lovers on stage….. he was amazing when he arrived on stage dressed as a dog, on all fours with his long tail and pointed ears, everyone just burst out laughing….. He has a comic genius, that just doesn’t come through very well in Warhol’s films…One day he brought along a young guy he had picked up on the beach. This guy had a camel and he would make a few bob taking photos of the holiday-makers on the camel. He brought him from a long way, some ten, fifteen kilometres, he was late but he got on stage…. He arrived as a dog leading the camel, the Soft Machine got playing and danced around the camel. But the camel got scared and started to shit enormous turds. People were screaming with laughter. We’d planned none of this but the great thing is improvisation, to allow people freedom, not to impose anything. The problem was to get the camel off stage. It was impossible and it spent the night on the stage. We managed to get it down the following morning. Every night we improvised with something new, it was absolutely fabulous.” (5)

 The Pink Floyd Archive has the play being performed in Cogolin for two weeks in August. Cogolin is the next village/commune west of Gassin and has perhaps been confused with Jean-Jacques Lebel’s one-off Sun Love happening in Cogolin, where Soft Machine “performed naked around a swimming pool” (indeed!). As per Jean Jacques Lebel: “The Picasso part lasted an hour, that depended on the Soft Machine, and afterwards there were happenings, concerts… An American actor told us ‘come back to my place, I’ve got a swimming pool’, so we went and we created a happening which took the piss out of the faux-mystics, and we made a pseudo ritual to the rising sun, we took the piss out those people who were taking the piss out of the hippies, it was Sun Love… in my 16 mm films one won’t hear the Soft Machine but one will see them… it wasn’t recorded.”

Lebel (AL int 2003) : “…Une espèce de contre-campagne que nous avons faite, avec les copines et nous, pratiquement à poil, traversant Saint-Tropez avec des affiches collées – pas comme les hommes-sandwiches, sur du bois, mais collées à même notre peau… Nous avons attiré énormément, énormément de monde. Et alors le grand guitariste et leurs copines, et mes copines aussi, on a réussi, en traversant simplement les rues, en jouant des scènes dans la rue – Taylor Mead adorait faire ça – on a finalement attiré énormément de monde… Pas seulement des voyeurs pleins de bière des campings environnants, parce qu’il y avait plein de campings, mais un tas de jeunes gens… On s’est retrouvés avec des centaines de hitch-hikers – d’auto-stoppeurs et d’auto-stoppeuses, qui venaient pour voir la pièce, pour participer à cette folie… A tel point que, les gens étant complètement fauchés, on s’est retrouvés à faire des énormes quantités de riz basmati, avec un peu de choses… pour les nourrir, après… Et ils dormaient sous le chapiteau !”

Kevin Ayers in Graham Bennett’s ‘Out-Bloody-Rageous’ : “In fact what made Soft Machine was an article in Le Nouvel Observateur (11 September 1967 edition). We got written up, I think, because Mike (Ratledge) was fucking the journalist (It was actually Daevid, not Mike R, who “fucked the journalist”, i.e. Yvette Romi – see Gong Dreaming 1). So we got a good review and that was it. Suddenly France just opened up. We were the darlings of the literary scene there.” (3)

Daevid Allen in ‘Gong Dreaming 1’: “Suddenly we were the avant garde of intelligent rock. Within three months Soft Machine would be the third most popular band behind the Beatles and the Stones. We were soon invited to stay in luxurious beachfront houses, with the best food, wine, hash and cocaine.”

Ratledge (NME 9/6/73): “You see, we did the musical score for a Picasso play before the entire mass media of Europe, which led to us getting three major TV gigs before we’d even hit the road. When we eventually decided to tour we had a receptive ready-made audience waiting, and they’ve stuck with us ever since”.

Certainly Soft Machine appeared twice on French TV the following October, though by then they were a trio. As Marcus O’Dair writes they “had lost their Christopher Robin”, Daevid Allen. On En Parlera (3rd October) and Dim Dam Dom (8th October). All this was tied in with the band’s appearance at the Paris Biennale in early October – with Daevid Allen participating in one of them along with members of the Living Theatre. Sometime in mid-October they filmed for the Guy Beart Show (4), although this wasn’t broadcast until 25th August 1968 (Calyx).


We believe this to be Mike Ratledge and “friend” at the Sun Love happening, south of France, 1967. Photographer unknown

“Jean-Jacques Lebel had us playing one of his happenings, around a swimming pool at night. And the only rule was that everybody had to be undressed, including the band. Completely. If you weren’t, you had to stay indoors. It was a very nice feeling, on a warm, breezy, Saint-Tropez evening, to be playing without clothes. That’s when I realised you could do it. And being behind a drumkit protected what they call your modesty”. Wyatt’s bare torso would become intrinsic to his image as a drummer, occasionally embellished with shirt and tie drawn onto his flesh in crayon (Marcus O’Dair).

Allen (e-mail to AL 2002) : “We played on a stage which was raised up high above the pool. It was not even slightly enjoyable for me. I don’t think we were nude. Maybe Robert was. I don’t remember Lebel’s involvement”.

Lebel (AL int 2003) : “On a fait un happening historique, en dehors du chapiteau, dans une piscine, à côté, à Cogolin, ou à Saint-Tropez, je ne me souviens plus, qui s’appelait “Sunlove”. Auquel les Soft Machine ont participé…. C’était un de mes happenings… C’était la phrase de Nietzsche : “L’artiste ne doit pas se contenter de faire de l’art, il doit devenir lui-même une œuvre d’art”. J’ai pris ça à la lettre, et nous avons donc fait de la peinture les uns sur les autres, les uns avec les autres, sur les corps nus. Et c’était extraordinaire. [Soft Machine] jouaient sur le bord de la piscine. Et tout le monde était à poil. Il y avait une cinquantaine ou une centaine de personnes…. Et ensuite, comme ils étaient les seuls habillés, ils se sont pas faits prier pour se déshabiller. Parce que c’étaient leurs copines qui étaient là, on était tous ensemble. Il n’y avait plus de hiérarchie. Et à un moment donné, comme c’était de la peinture à l’eau, au bout d’une heure ou deux, je ne me souviens plus très bien, ce qui devait arriver est arrivé, tout le monde, y compris les musiciens, s’est retrouvé dans l’eau, soi-disant pour effacer la peinture, en fait pour se caresser, et ça a fini comme ça devait se terminer – comme la plupart des happenings, d’ailleurs, que je faisais, à l’époque”.

The Pink Floyd Archive also has the band playing private parties for Barclay Records and Caroll Baker in July and the Café des Arts early in August. I suspect that the Barclay Records do was Eddie Barclay’s La Nuit Psychédélique at L’Epi Plage on the 13th August as per Graham Bennett and others.

The party was reviewed by Philippe Bouvard (later a very famous radio and TV host) in Le Figaro (15 August edition) who shared his – rather fleeting – vision of Soft Machine’s performance. “Standing on a stage, a group of musicians dressed in animal skins, wearing motorcycle helmets, and relentlessly chanting, for what seemed like hours, ‘Chéri, je t’aime’ – or something to that effect in another language.” (Evidently he misheard ‘did it again’ as ‘chéri je t’aime’)

There is also mention of Soft Machine opening the Voom Voom Club in St Tropez. Strangely, for such a verifiable event (I found mention of other bands performing there during August, but not SM), there is no date, other than what we have to assume is pre-13 August. Soft Machine may well have played the Voom Voom Club, but the club seems to have been open for business from 1966 as far as I can make out.

Allen (e-mail to AL, 2002) : “We played in a hideous club in Saint-Tropez. We all shared accommodation in a house in the hills, and rehearsed. I also stayed briefly in a place in Saint-Tropez and busked performance poetry with other poets. Hung out in cafés. We drove to Marseille to find dope. We played in a village square, and helped Mark Boyle dig up paving stones. All of the above, but not necessarily in that order…The last gig – and my last gig with Soft Machine – was at a party where, for some reason, I snorted coke, which I hate, and played incredibly badly, attracting heavy criticism from Robert which he now denies”.

(Maybe the ‘hideous club’ was the Voom Voom, although it seems unlikely – supposedly it was a very trendy place at the time… Voom Voom can’t have been the last gig in any case, based on Daevid’s description of it as a “private party”).

At some point, at one of the parties in St Tropez, Brigitte Bardot was in attendance, though I can find no evidence that Bardot herself threw the party. La Nuit Psychédélique, perhaps? Daevid Allen is reported in Marcus O’Dair as saying that this was “the best concert Soft Machine ever played”. Kevin Ayers later recalled the event in his track Clarence In Wonderland: Let’s go to my chateau/We could have a good time/Drinking lots of sky wine’. See below for a photo of La Madrague (aka ‘My Chateau’) with its wall to keep paparazzi and rubber neckers at a distance.


La Madrague, St Tropez. Photo by Steve Foster

It was in St Tropez and at the party that Brigitte Bardot attended (AL: not sure about that – L’Epi Plage is more likely – although no articles concerning this event mention Bardot attending, while they mention various other celebrities being present) that Soft Machine performed their now near legendary rendition of We Did It Again, repeating their version of the The Kinks You Really Got Me riff non-stop for between 40 minutes and an hour.

“By taking the ostinato technique to its extreme, Kevin was actually making a serious artistic statement”. As per Mike Ratledge, again in Graham Bennett (Bennett – who never interviewed Ratledge – is actually quoting from another source – probably Oz interview 1969) “It was his idea that if you find something boring – a basic Zen concept – then in the end you will find it interesting. And there is something in that: if you listen to something repeated in the same way, your mind changes the structure of it each time….. Kevin saw it halfway between the spiritual liberation thing and showing off how hip we were.”And to borrow from Graham Bennett (again, I believe, quoting a 1970s source – Zig Zag maybe): Kevin says that he ‘pinched the idea from the Sufi thing of Dervish dances, the repetition of a straight rhythmic figure which promotes release from all the things that one finds difficult in releasing normally’. Kevin is adamant that it “was the nearest I got to doing what I wanted with that song. Since then it’s become sort of orchestrated. We’ve split it up into bits and got away from the point”.

Daevid remembers with undisguised glee the profound effect the performance had on their audience: “This bout of Terry Riley-inspired minimalism was enough to make us the toast of the new Parisian fashion season”. In Gong Dreaming 1, he has this to say; “To amuse ourselves we decided to perform a live loop of the louee-loui riff with a repetitive chorus of: WE DID IT AGAIN. We played it for forty minutes to an ecstatic ‘in’ crowd who instantly decided that we were to be the fashionable flavour of the month on their return to Paris.”

Louie Louie or You Really Got Me? Daevid also has this down as being at a party given by Bridget (sic) Bardot following the performance on the town square of the 4th July. Essence over detail, et alors?

Somewhere out there is a quote of Kevin Ayers’ answer to an interviewer pressing him on what Brigitte Bardot thought of the We Did It Again piece. “She probably said: Get the w*****s off.”

Whatever she thought of the music she had an eye on the bass player. Ayers and Bardot. I certainly hadn’t jogged over to St Tropez to try and substantiate the rumour. For me it has been fact for some time. Ever since I had it on good authority, by someone who had asked Kevin Ayers. Ayers answered something along the lines of: “Yes, it’s true but not the rumours about Bianca Jagger”.

Here’s an early version of Clarence In Wonderland recorded for French TV on 3rd October 1967 and incorporating a brief reprise of We Did It Again. Note the extended and rather disturbing lyric.

The programme, I suspect is On En Parlera rather than Camera III, as per Calyx. I would imagine that Camera III was a cue to the director? (I’d need to check, but more likely On En Parlera – synonym for “up and coming new talent”, I guess – was a section of Camera III, which really does seem to be the programme’s title, at least it was when I investigated the INA archives in 2003).

And this is what Brigitte Bardot looked like at the time. Well a couple of months later when performing Harley-Davidson written for her by her latest paramour, Serge Gainsbourg. (SL: This is slightly off-topic but it obviously makes Steve happy so we’ll include it in the “Wives and Girlfriends” section!!)

As it happened, within a day or two of our arrival in the St Tropez area, a small gang of Harley-Davidson bikers descended on our campsite. They were from Breda in The Netherlands. Inevitably, we immediately referred to them as The Breda Reaktors (6), not least because they were a quintet. One of them, it must have been Hannes (at least three of them were called Hannes) told me he had Soft Machine I and Soft Machine II on his I-Pod. Just like me, he couldn’t see much further than those first two albums. We had a memorable, what bikers may call a hoedown, that evening. Photo of Breda Reaktors below.

St Tropez Bikers

The Breda Reacktors, south of France.

But back to Bardot. Only recently have I been made aware that the follow up to Bardot’s Harley-Davidson was to have been Serge Gainsbourg’s Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus. Gunter Sachs had turned a blind eye to his wife’s libertinage but putting them down, literally, on record was too much even for him. Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus was to appear a year later as a Gainsbourg duet with Jane Birkin. Personally I’ve never understood the fuss around the Jane Birkin version. Here’s the Bardot version, which only came to light some 20 years later. (SL: a charming deviation, Steve, don’t forget about Kevin…)

We presume that Clarence In Wonderland was inspired by Brigitte Bardot. But what might Kevin Ayers have written for Bardot à la Gainsbourg? Could the Jolie Madame duet, recorded with Bridget St John in 1971 have had its genesis in St Tropez?

(AL notes : As far as I know, Clarence was written for Cyrille, Kevin’s eventual first [French] wife, and mother of his daughter Rachel, whom he met that summer.  SL : Rachel Ayers once posted that Jolie Madame was the perfume that Cyrille used to wear… bought for her by Kevin).

We don’t quite know when the band left St Tropez (16th August as per The Pink Floyd Archives) but we do know that they caught a ferry to Dover on 24th August (7).

Jean-Jacques Lebel (AL int 2003) : “Je crois qu’on a arrêté fin août… Je ne sais pas. On a peut-être fait une semaine sans eux [Soft Machine]”.

Maybe the play stopped as originally planned, September 4 ?

Gilli Smyth (e-mail to AL 1999) : “The band returned because they were booked at the Edinburgh Festival, but I think it [Le Désir] was more or less over. The customs stopping Daevid entering U.K. was a great shock when they had that festival gig to achieve… It was so unfair.. The customs wrote that Daevid had no money, when in fact he had a hundred pounds in his pocket… It was pure prejudice”.

I can find few photographs of this whole [St Tropez] episode, in spite of there being a dedicated photographer amongst the party – Mark Ellidge. I have seen great colour pictures of SM performing at Discothèque Interplay in, iirc, Mojo. There’s one photo in Gong Dreaming 1 of Daevid Allen busking with a recorder labelled ‘le busking en st tropez’ and photos of Le Désir Attrapé Par La Queue can be found on the Internet, though none feature any of the members of Soft Machine. Gong Dreaming 1 also features an all too small reproduction of the poster for the Discothèque Interplay at St Aygulf. “Dansez! Freak Out! avec la meilleur formation psychédélique de Londres, à partir de 23 heures 45, les fantastiques SOFT MACHINE leur dernier disque LOVE MAKES SWEET MUSIC sur Barclay” it proclaims. Rather than their latest record Love Makes Sweet Music was their one and only record to date. That it appeared on Barclay Records may have something to do with the band playing at Eddie Barclay’s La Nuit Psychédélique the following month. Out-Bloody-Rageous has a photo of the band (Daevid Allen and Kevin Ayers) performing at the Discothèque Interplay in St Aygulf.

Nor do we know, apart from We Did It Again, what pieces Soft Machine played. I can only assume that their repertoire was likely made up of the pieces recorded three months previously for the Gomelsky Tapes/Jet Propelled Photograph, Love Makes Sweet Music and perhaps Daevid Allen’s Fred The Fish (8). Certainly Hope For Happiness and I Should’ve Known were part of the live repertoire since 1966, seems more likely the set was based around those rather than the shorter Gomelsky demos songs.

There’s a lot more to be said about this trip to the South of France, I am certain. I’d be interested to know more. It is sad, though a fact of life, that at least five of those who made up the Soft Machine party in the summer 1967 are no longer in the room. I’ve written to Les Archives Municipales in St Tropez for any articles (there’s mention of an article in Le Figaro, and the local paper must have reviewed these events) or any photos that they may have. I intend to make a return visit to St Tropez in the summer of 2017 to ‘Do It Again’, perhaps I’ll get my other half to make arrangements to Take Me To Tahiti (Plage).

(SL : Steve Foster supplied recent photos of the St Tropez area for this article. Aymeric Leroy sent scans of photos lent to him by Robert Wyatt’s biographer, the late Mike King plus pictures of Daevid and Kevin in St-Tropez from the Soft Machine ‘Triple Echo’ compilation. Aymeric also supplied a photo of participants in  ‘Désir attrapé par la queue’ from a book on the psychedelic era. I’ve added some extra pictures from Ian Carpenter’s Kevin Ayers archive and from Wikipedia. If anybody out there has more photos or can help with photographer credits we will be very happy to add them).


(1) Daevid Allen was an Australian citizen with an Australian passport.
(2) Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers, Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt (Soft Machine musicians), Ted Bing (roadie and old school friend), Mark Boyle (light show), Ian Knight (‘on behalf of management’), Gilli Smith (Daevid’s girlfriend), Mark Ellidge (Robert’s half-brother and tour photographer), Michael Chapman (see below for Michael’s account) and Keith Albarn.
(3) Yvette Romi’s short but effusive article which appeared in Le Nouvel Observateur in September 1967 is reproduced in Graham Bennett’s Out-Bloody-Rageous.
(4) Guy Beart died just recently (16th September) aged 85.
(5) This paragraph is a synopsis rather than a strict translation.
(6) Breda Reactor is the title of a Soft Machine bootleg recorded in Breda in 1970. I think I’m right in saying that it didn’t get an official release until 2005. An interesting footnote: I’m told that Breda Reactor features one of the few (two?) examples of a post-Ayers era version of We Did It Again.
(7) I’m rarely on the side of officialdom. But hats off to that over diligent immigration official. Without him there might not have been a Gong. Unable to return to the UK, Daevid Allen went to found Gong in Paris.
(8) That’s How Much I Need You, Save Yourself, I Should Have Known, Jet-Propelled Photograph/Shooting At The Moon, When I Don’t Want You, Memories, You Don’t Remember, She’s Gone, I’d Rather Be With You. Fred The Fish was never released and presumed lost (The shelved ‘single version’ of Fred The Fish from January 1967 – not the Gomelsky version which is indeed lost – is a bonus track on the Daevid Allen Trio archive CD, released by Voiceprint in 1993). What I imagine is a very different version appeared on Daevid Allen’s Bananamoon album in 1971.

Steve Foster’s acknowledgements:

I’ve lifted whole chunks from Graham Bennett’s Soft Machine Out-Bloody-Rageous (pages 107-112), Marcus O’Dair’s Different Every Time (pages 77-80) and Daevid Allen’s Gong Dreaming 1 (pages 60-62) and referred extensively to Calyx, the Pink Floyd Archive and Jean Jacques Lebel’s article/interview. Translations of the latter are mine, I’ve tried to convey the spirit rather than to be word for word accurate. Facts, dates and quotes are all their’s. All errors and interpretations are entirely a figment of my over-ripe banana imagination. It is really the Nicaean omissions that interest me now, any Mediterranean Sea Scrolls that have yet to be revealed and of course the gospel according to Kevin Ayers.

Additionally :

A couple of extra accounts I found on the ‘Net :

Juno Gemes :

« The story goes like this – Mark Boyle, who did the light shows at UFO, gave me a plane fare to Italy to see if I could get the Soft Machine and his light-show and myself a gig at the Festival Dei Due Mondi in Spoleto. I had worked there before – I adored the director the Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti. After a very funny lunch he said he just couldn’t sponsor the event. Jean-Jacques Lebel invited us to take part in his Festival Libre. They put up a circus tent outside St Tropez in which we could create happenings n performances. Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet came from Andy’s Factory in NY. We were put up in a villa outside Saint-Tropez, Brigitte Bardot threw a party for us. It was a pretty wild time. Soft Machine & co, after this event, went on to open a new nightspot at Juan-les-Pins aftwards – it was run by mobsters but that’s another story…. Ultra Violet and Taylor Mead and others also put on the only play by Picasso called Desire Caught by the Tail in the circus tent. We were all there for about 10 days before moving on to Juan-les-Pins… »

John Bonehill :

« Met up with Soft Machine in the South of France later in June, I think. They played at the happening after Jean-Jacques Lebel’s version of Picasso’s only play, Desire Caught by the Tail. It was held in a blue circus tent in Cogolin, as they’d been thrown out of Saint-Tropez. Mark Boyle was experimenting with ‘microscopic’ projections such as pond water, & blood, saved in buckets from the chickens sacrificed on stage…. During the ‘happening’ their throats were slit and their bodies swung around on the stage, splattering the ‘glitter-arty’ in their Christian Dior and tails. Next came paint, and tomato sauce, under the projected images of bubbles and blood corpuscles, and Rita Renoir urinating on a very willing volunteer – she of the Crazy Horse saloon in Paris…. The play was narrated, and the face of the narrator TV-projected onto a 4ft. Styrofoam head on the stage, and much more… A couple of people I hung out with there, Ultra Violet, who played the curtains, and Taylor Mead, took me to La Cave du Roi, where we met Salvador Dali pouring honey high from over his head into his glass, then cutting off the stream with a pair of scissors ! I remember an old African-American woman who had a big cauldron going all the time stew, various twigs and mushrooms, she was wonderful… Parties in that 20ft. deep swimming pool at the villa… I remember when the farmer blasted the generator, with a shotgun ! »

(The following is from a long time ago, I guess 1997/98 ?)

From: Michael Chapman – michael@vetorialnet.com.br
Subject: The Soft Machine

Hallo Aymeric.

I just looked up the page of the Soft Machine. My name is Michael Chapman and I was invited by the group to take part in the tour of the band in St. Tropez. In the 60’s I was part of a mixed media group called The Exploding Galaxy. I used to write poetry and read them on stage in Underground clubs like The Middle Earth, The Round house, etc. Sometimes I used to read together with bands and sometimes together with Daevid Allen.

Then one day he invited me to join the band on a tour to the South of France. This was too good to miss, so I immediately agreed. The actual trip was part of a summer package which included an enormous German Biergarten and a discoteque which were set up on the Beach of Frejus, which wasn’t that too far from St. Tropez. At the start it was quite fun. In the daytime there was the ridiculous sight of a brass band of fat Germans wearing lederhosen and singing and playing beer music, also the very pungent smell of sausage and sauerkraut. The public seemed to have come along from Germany and spent most of their time eating, drinking, and -if I may be so crude- farting. Well, next to this biergarten was the discohteque where we performed each night until the small hours of the morning.

There was quite an interesting crowd of people who kept coming and going, such as Taylor Mead and Ultraviolet who worked with Andy Warhol, another interesting person was Jean-Jacques Lebel the French happenings artist. If my memory is correct Mark Boyle also came along to do the lights. At the begining all went well, and we had a fine old time. But then the package went bankrupt and there was no more money to pay the costs, our pay, or even the trip back home. This was in a way quite amusing, as after some days the money got so short that it was even difficult to eat. The great part about it was that there were lots of cases of Champagne “Tattingers” left in the bar of the disco, and so we got quite drunk. It was then that Jean-Jacques Lebel stepped in and arranged some gigs in St. Tropez, including one which was very nice, in a public square of the town. Lebel had just finished building a very nice den in the pine-wooded hills and he threw quite a memorable pool party there.

At that time Lebel was organizing a kind of Theatre Happening that was inspired by a piece written by Pablo Picasso called “Le Desir Attrapé Par Le Queue”. He invited us to participate. The venue was a large circus tent, and the premiere was quite crazy. A mixture of disembodied events with music, theatre, happenings and quite a bit of nakedness, Taylor Mead and Ultraviolet also took part. Taylor Mead was quite remarkable, as he was well known to be permanently stoned on Valium. And he just always looked as though he would melt. Well this Happening was immediately banned by the Mayor of St. Tropez. and so became a historic event.

Eventually, we received money for the passage back to England. I managed to get a ride back with some tourists. I don’t know why the British authorities barred Daevid from returning to England, but it was probably because of all the repression at that time. And the fury of the newspapers in their fight against Underground events. The customs people had lists of undesirable aliens, and I know of other foreigners who were active, who were also denied entrance at one time or the other.

Well that’s about it. In 1971 I moved to Holland, 1975 to Berlin, and in 1985 to Brazil. And lost all contact with my past. If you see Daevid and Gilli again please pass on my e-mail. Regards, Michael.


St Tropez signpost

You are now leaving St Tropez…

A huge “Thank You Very Much” from KevinAyers.org to Steve Foster and Aymeric Leroy for allowing us to share their research. Thanks also to Ian Carpenter and all the other contributors to this story.


8 comments… add one
  • Richard November 23, 2015, 3:12 pm

    The first picture in the article; anti clockwise surely!

    • Rick November 23, 2015, 3:15 pm

      The missus says, “congratulations you have spotted her deliberate mistake” – I’ll fix it now 🙂

  • Richard November 25, 2015, 12:55 am

    Hey! We’re still not right are we?
    Anti-clockwise from left : Daevid Allen, Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers
    Should be:Anti-clockwise from left : Daevid Allen, Mike Ratledge, Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt
    OR! Clockwise from left: Daevid Allen, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Mike Ratledge!!!
    Look forward to reading the rest of the article once I get past this great photo!!

    • Susan November 26, 2015, 8:56 am

      Hi Richard. That’s what happens when I leave the husband to do the cleaning up! It should be correct now. Just hope those boys stop moving around! 😉 Enjoy the article, we are curious to see if any further info comes to light from people who were actually there at the time…

  • Philippe Rault February 23, 2018, 2:16 am

    Very interesting article and great research job.
    I worked for the Barclay International Division starting in 1968 and had the pleasure to work with Soft Machine (Version 2) for a couple of years.
    They were a very well recognized and acclaimed band in France from then on.
    Question: for a Brigitte Bardot album reissue project we are looking to find photos of Soft Machine with B.B. in St Tropez (maybe photos of Kevin Ayers & B.B., maybe with the whole group) any clues about how to find such a source?
    Thank you for letting me know and once again Bravo for this detailed “témoignage” from a not so distant and most creative period of our lives.
    Cheers. Philippe Rault.

    • Susan Lomas February 23, 2018, 7:11 pm

      Thanks for your appreciative comments, Philippe. I sent your message to Aymeric Leroy as he is certainly an expert on the Canterbury scene. I wonder how much BB herself remembers about the summer of ’67? Maybe she could shed some light on the events in question!

  • Karel Beer March 17, 2022, 4:59 pm

    no mention of Graciela Martinez – most odd she was a dancer choreographer who was involved in the event in t Tropez/Gassin… most odd, my band bachdenkel got to work with her because of her association with the SM and Mark Boyle, we had a light show and were an english band stranded in Paris…

  • Peter beecroft August 7, 2022, 6:45 pm

    Kevin Ayers was my cousin

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