Kevin Ayers – Reissues: 1969-1973

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Album Reviews by EDF

Kevin Ayers is one of the few remaining solo artists from the 1960’s who is still performing. Born in Herne Bay, Kent, Ayers spent some of his childhood in Malaysia. Influenced by the more laid back, Eastern traditions surrounding him, he would seek out these values upon returning to England. He moved to Canterbury and fell in with a group of people that included Robert Wyatt. Meetings would cover interests such as avant-garde jazz and poetry that attracted the likes of Daevid Allen. Although he liked their company, Ayres thought their interests were a load of rubbish.

They formed The Wilde Flowers in 1963 and made some demos in 1965. He left the group shortly after, preferring to travel to Ibiza with Daevid Allen. They met millionaire Wes Brunson out there who financed them to start up a band. The Soft Machine were formed in 1966 and fitted in nicely with the psychedelic scene happening in London the following year. The group recorded an album and went off touring to St Tropez but Australian Daevid Allen was refused entry back to the UK, so he went off to Paris and formed Gong. Ayers quit The Soft Machine during their 1968 US tour when he became disillusioned by the whole touring routine. Ayers went back to Ibiza to recuperate and eventually ended up back to London where he wrote and recorded demos of tracks that would end up on his first solo album.

Ayers signed to the Harvest label that released his first solo album JOY OF A TOY in December 1969. This is very much an album of its time but thanks to Ayers warm vocals, there is a charm here that makes this album likeable. TOWN FEELING reminds us of an innocent time, “Today’s the very first day of the Spring, A little girl’s playing on her swing”. Songs about looking for his love are surprisingly not depressing and the bizarre OLEH OLEH BANDU BANDONG shows that Ayers is more than your usual folk artist. On this reissue are six bonus tracks, one of which is RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE featuring Syd Barrett before his contribution was edited out and the track was renamed and released as the single, SINGING A SONG IN THE MORNING.

Finding that he needed a hand for live performances, he roped in a trio of musicians including a young guitarist called Mike Oldfield for SHOOTING AT THE MOON. Yet again folkie lyrics are mixed with the bizarre, try keeping up with “Rheinhardt & Geraldine/Corores Para Delores”, the mental breakdown that is LUNATIC LAMENT or the over-experimentation of PISSER DANS UN VIOLON and UNDERWATER. Nico also turns up and is found dueting on THE OYSTER AND THE FLYING FISH. The bonus tracks include the single only release of BUTTERFLY DANCE with the flip side PUIS JE?, the French version of MAY I? and the too strange to release first time round track HAT (TAKE 4).

Feeling that the pressure was too much in trying to balance himself as a solo artist and leading three other musicians, they went their separate ways but not before they recorded one last single, STRANGER IN BLUE SUEDE SHOES coupled with STARS which are both featured on his third solo album, WHATEVERSHEBRINGSWESING. The musicians performing here include members of Gong. The opening track THERE IS LOVING/AMONG US/THERE IS LOVING is cinematic sounding aided by the presence of an orchestra. CHAMPAGNE COWBOY BLUES is a charming but silly old Wild West revival. This album sounds a bit disjointed due to the various musicians featured throughout but is nevertheless a more enjoyable album than the previous two.

Kevin decided to record and go out on tour with a twelve-piece orchestra but this proved to be too expensive. He then released a single, a cover of Syd Barrett’s OH WOT A DREAM backed with CONNIE ON A RUBBER BAND, a reggae version of CLARENCE IN WONDERLAND. The next album, BANANA AMOUR, was to be released in January 1973 but got put back until May by which time Kevin released another single CARIBBEAN MOON and is included here as a bonus track. This is Kevin’s most commercial album and due to its lack of promotion, Kevin jumped ship to another label.

It would be difficult not to call Kevin Ayers eccentric but he has a style and wit all of his own. While there are not many survivors from the 1960’s music scene who are still active, its good to know that Kevin Ayers is still performing live and apparently is going to release a new album soon. These EMI reissues are a timely reminder of how it all began.

JOY OF A TOY  4 stars