first played with Elton in 1969, when he joined Soft Machine. After
we both left the band - him in '72 and me in '73 - we continued to work
together in various projects - Hugh Hopper Monster Band ('74), Hopper,
Dean, Tippett, Gallivan ('76-'77), Carla Bley Orchestra ('77), Soft
Head, Soft Heap ('78-'80), Equipe Out ('84-'87), In Cahoots ('85-'88),
Softworks (2002-4), Soft Machine Legacy ('04-'05), Soft Bounds ('04-'05),
as well as occasional recordings together and improvised gigs.
had a unique sax voice, whether on alto sax or on his trademark saxello
- a vintage instrument like a curved soprano sax. He could be aggressive,
playing free and wild, and he could be soft and lyrical when the music
demanded it. His first love was totally free improvised music, but he
was also a creative composer. I have played his tune Seven For Lee in
several bands, with him and in my own bands too. His big band, Ninesense,
featured some of his dynamic arrangements for other instruments.
spent many days on tour together in Europe, USA and Japan, often sharing
hotel rooms. As a person, he was humorous, and with a taste for the
grotesque. He loved that side of movies and books. Grotesque characters,
conspiracies... He was faithful to his musician friends but had little
respect for anyone else in the music "industry", particularly
if he thought they were getting money that he considered as belonging
to the musicians.
the last few years of his life, he suffered more and more from cirrhosis
of the liver (he once told me he had been drinking continuously since
he was 19) and the last two years he was getting weaker and weaker physically,
although his playing was as strong and creative as ever. To hear him
play you would not have guessed he was ill. I last played with him in
France in December 2005, three gigs with Soft Machine Legacy. Our last
gig together was in Nice. Elton's last ever gig. A few days before we
had played in Paris, at the New Morning and the performance was filmed
for a DVD, complete with interviews and backstage shots. It will be
a poignant and fitting memorial for him.
will be homage gigs to him at the Triton in Paris May 27, and somewhere
in London too.
Hugh Hopper 2006
| Feb. 22, 2006