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Whitstable People: Hugh Hopper

Updated on September 12, 2016
Whitstable Views profile image

CJ Stone is an author and columnist. He appears regularly in the British press. Currently he has a column in the Whitstable Gazette.

Soft Machine

Hugh Hopper, ex bass player with the Soft Machine, died of leukaemia on June 7th 2009 in Whitstable. He was 64 years old.

The irony here is that I was a Soft Machine fan, but I didn’t even know he lived in Whitstable until I heard that he had died.

This is very sad. It makes me think that we might have been friends, if only I’d have known.

I wonder how many times I might have passed him on the street or seen him in the shops and not recognised him?

I went to see Soft Machine at Mother’s Club in Birmingham when I was 17 years old and bought all of their records. I used to like that swirling fuzz-box organ sound of theirs and the way songs would seem to open out into waves of infinity.

They were the first rock band ever to play the Proms. I remember watching them on the TV with my Mum and Dad. I don’t think my Mum and Dad ever quite understood what it was all about.


The Soft Machine were one of the pioneers of what you might call “intellectual rock”: prog rock. Their very name was taken from a William Burroughs novel, and their music veered more towards Ornette Coleman style free jazz improvisation than the three minute pop song my Mum and Dad were used to. They were not a band you would ever expect to see on Top of the Pops.

At the same time, in their early years they were very playful. For example, on their second album there was a song called The Concise British Alphabet whose lyrics consisted of precisely that: all the letters of the alphabet, one by one, in order. The Concise British Alphabet Part II consisted of the same set of lyrics sung backwards.

You got the feeling they were making it up as they went along.

In later years they began to take themselves more seriously and I lost track of them.

The Soft Machine were part of a nest of bands, including Caravan, Gong and Hatfield and the North, which have since become internationally recognised under the collective name of The Canterbury Scene. No one, as far as I know, has yet written a proper history.

Hugh Hopper’s passing makes it all the more urgent that someone takes on this task.


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    • Whitstable Views profile image

      Whitstable Views 8 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      He was born in Whitstable Joe. But you can listen to some Soft Machine in the youtube insert above. Good stuff.

    • fen lander profile image

      fen lander 8 years ago from Whitstable

      EVEN MORE ironic- I was born here and have lived here 48 years and didn't know he had lived and died here until I read it in your piece. Worse still, I've never heard a single Soft Machine piece! Such anonymity is possible in a place like Whitstable- part of its magic- and lure.

    • Whitstable Views profile image

      Whitstable Views 8 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Hi Steve, yes I'm a fan of Robert Wyatt who was also with Soft Machine. I still think the album above stands the test of time.

      It's one of those sad ironies JG: to think I lived for 25 years in this town not knowing he was here. He was born in Whitstable too.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 8 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Yes, what a shame you didn't know Hugh Hopper was right there in Whitstable.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Very sorry to hear this, Chris! As you know I am a big fan of Kevin Ayers who was with Soft Machine and my friend Chelsea Lee - - sang with them.