Feb 212013

I am by no means the Hall’s expert on Kevin Ayers, but since he died recently and he is of interest to a few of my favorite Townspeople, relatively new and old, and since these very same folks have been chipping in their memories of enjoying the man’s music, let me open up a formal discussion for the benefit of those of you who know almost nothing about the guy and, even more so, for my own education.

I first came across Ayers in college through 2 sources. First, there was that June 1, 1974 album, which I hungrily borrowed from a friend for the chance to hear Eno, John Cale, and Nico in a band with Mike Oldfield (whose music I only knew through sneaking into my first R-rated movie, The Exorcist) and this Ayers guy, about whom I knew nothing. The album was OK, as I spun it over the next few days, trying like mad to get high enough to feel like it was great, but I returned it to my friend and never felt tempted to buy it for myself.

Next, over the last few weeks of my freshman year, I became friends with this tall, geeky, super-underground weirdo-prog guy, John. We initially bonded over artists like Captain Beefheart, the Velvet Underground, psychedelic Beatles, and King Crimson, the last of whom I’d recently been introduced to by another friend. He took this as a sign that I may be ready for exploring the deeper hippie-prog territory he specialized in, stuff like Henry Cow, Van Der Graaf Generator, and Gong. I wasn’t thrilled about all of those underground prog bands, but it was cool to hear new stuff and try to get a handle on this proto-Thurston Moore look-alike I’d suddenly befriended.


  7 Responses to “How Did Kevin Ayers Fit Into Soft Machine?”

  1. Well…I mean, obviously the issue is that he didn’t fit into the Soft Machine, which is why he left after the first album. Although if you want to hear a version of the band in which Ayers is more properly integrated, their 1967 demos produced by Giorgio Gomelsky are readily available under a variety of titles. He was trying to make them write pop songs, so those tracks are a lot more concise and properly structured.

    The thing is that Ayers, unlike the jazzheads contingent of the band, didn’t mind pop songs. In fact, for all the occasional weirdness of his Harvest albums, I always got the vibe that he thought he was making straightforward pop records. (And later, sometimes he *was* making straightforward pop records! His ’86 album As Close As You Think, co-written and produced (like much of his ’80s work) by Ollie Halsall of Rutles fame, basically sounds not unlike, say, Steve Winwood’s Back In The High Life. Naturally, prog purists despise it, although I’ve long owned and enjoyed the single “Stepping Out.”

  2. Yes, I remember you directing me toward those early demos years ago! That was good stuff.

  3. jeangray

    How come nobody uses that double, or sometimes even triple mic set-up, for singers anymore???

  4. Tremendous question! And why did they do that in the first place?

  5. Searching through old emails I found the following (a response to Dr. John) from RTH v1 from (gulp) 8 years ago:

    “My first love is the “June 1, 1974” live disc with Cale, Eno, and Nico. I bought that LP for $1.99 at the old E.J. Korvette’s in Springfield, having recently made the acquaintence of those three but never having heard of Ayers. That had two songs which have remained in my favorites by him – “May I?” and “Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes”.

    That led me to Odd Ditties, a vinyl collection that has never been
    released legitimately on CD, and this remains my favorite Ayers album. “Bananamour”, “Shooting At The Moon”, “whatevershebringswesing”, and “Joy Of A Toy’ are all strong. After that the quality really varies.
    I’ve always loved “Yes We Have No Mananas, So Get Your Mananas Today” for the title if not the actual album. “Diamond Jack & The Queen Of Pain” is the only one I recall as really enjoying but as far as I know that’s never been released on CD and I haven’t listened to it in probably 20 years.

    Sometime I’ll relate the time I saw him live in ’93, possibly as bad a concert as I’ve ever seen.”

    That concert in ’93 was in a record store in Waterbury CT. Ayers was clearly high and cantankerous. He was alone, fiddled with the tuning of his guitar constantly and ranted about the PA. Now, he was in a small room with about 20 people so he didn’t even need a PA but that didn’t stop the diva tendencies. He really only performed a handful of songs and that was it. So, been there, done that, sorta saw a concert.

    There’s a collection of his first 5 records (Joy of a Toy, Shooting at the moon, Whatevershebringswesing, Bananamour and The Confessions of Dr Dream) with bonus tracks that came out last year titled The Harvest Years that’s available for a very reasonable $25 from amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Harvest-Years-1969-Kevin-Ayers/dp/B007FQW7LM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361541625&sr=8-1&keywords=kevin+ayers+harvest+years

  6. I always assumed that one was for the house PA and the other was for the film recording (maybe so they could sync it up with the real mix later). But i’m just guessing.

  7. Kevin Ayers and the Soft Machine are names that I’ve heard for as long as I can remember but this is the first time I’ve actually heard them. Not my cup of tea. I likes the syncopated rhythm guitars in Didn’t Feel Lonely, and the dueling leads were cool, although I suspect they would get old after a few listens. Other than that, meh.

    I don’t really “get” the Cambridge or Canterbury scene bands (or whatever they’re called. You know, the ones that started off as experimental psychedelic music before evolving into prog), probably because I’m such a square.

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