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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 186 - 11/10/11

Speakers' corner: Kevin Ayers

Following up our retro scope series of 2006 and 2007, 2009 and 2010 - here's the ever-continuing, never-stopping New Speakers' corner! Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves/vaults of rock. As last moonth this moonth's candidate brings us 40 years back through the retroscope. This celebrated artist is maybe not the most shining star or glittering celebrity, but he's a beloved artist, yes, almost a living legend. He's a man who's been playing/performing with all the credible players around. For 40 years. John Peel once wrote: "...his talent is so acute you could perform major eye surgery with it." Ayers rocks!


Kevin Ayers
Harvest Records

1971 was a great year for LP albums for those of us at the age +/-50 by now who were and still are interested in Anglo-American popular music. Here at the Speaker's Corner we missed out on the maybe greatest release of 1971 last March, Jethro Tull's Aqualung. But the highlight month of 1971's album releases certainly has to be November. Just take a look at this abstract:

Led Zeppelin IV, 8. November, Nursery Cryme by Genesis, 12. November, Muswell Hillbillies by The Kinks and Fragile by Yes 26. November.

Remember also that Pink Floyd's Meddle of last moonth's Corner was released on the same day as Nursery Cryme in the UK. But instead of any of those albums, I'd like to take a closer listen and look at a lesser known favourite of mine, Kevin Ayers. He might have been a big star of the 1970s, but seemed to flee away from it all at the brink of big commercial breakthroughs. He tended to leave the music business and retire to a good life, mainly in Deya, Mallorca at those moments. Kevin started his musical career in the Canterbury band The Wilde Flowers (Kevin was the one who suggested to include the e in Wilde, as in Oscar Wilde), jumped off the bandwagon and later started up Mr. Head that soon changed the name to Soft Machine along with Daevid Allen in 1966 (Robert Wyatt and Mike Ratledge joined a little later). He jumped off again in 1968 after the debut album and two really tiresome tours of the USA supporting Jimi Hendrix Experience and sold his bass guitar to Noel Redding of the Experience. A year later he was back in business and launched his solo career with the very nice pop album Joy Of A Toy. By 1970 he had gathered a band, The Whole World, that included classically trained keyboardist David Bedford (who sadly passed away last moonth - RIP!), free-jazzer/busker Lol Coxhill on saxes, the under-aged Mike Oldfield (originally recruited as the bass player, but it turned out his guitar skills superseded that of the boss, and Kevin changed back to bass while Mike handled the six strings) and different drummers. Former Soft Machine colleague Robert Wyatt was one of them. The Whole World recorded one quite experimental album Shooting At The Moon before it was dissolved, but most of the crew is present on Kevin's third offering, Whatevershebringswesing. Despite being a member of Soft Machine in the band's psychedelic era and mingling with musicians best known from progressive rock's heydays, Kevin's music is mainly pop-oriented, although not without some oddities and twists here & there.

Whatevershebringswesing is a mix of highly different styles. David Bedford puts his stamp on several tracks as an arranger. Both the opening trio "There Is Loving"/"Among Us"/"There Is Loving" and the finishing sweet instrumental "Lullaby" includes lots of horns, reeds and strings of the classical kind. The first part of "There Is Loving" is a short symphony in itself, quite unusual for a pop album at the time before the rock instruments kick in. It even includes a little non-conform violin sequence. There are several other soft and relaxed songs of the album with reverberations of the 1960s and quite a lot of hippie ethos:

Everything you do, is true As long as you believe it;
And everything you say, is play,
And that's how you should treat it.

"Margaret" is another great little ballad, in the same tradition as the best dittoes of Kevin's debut album. With dreamy piano and guitar and distant memories of childhood summers long gone by. The greatest goodie of them all is no doubt the title track. Another slow and relaxed ballad with a fantastic guitar played by a still young Mike Oldfield. I'm not that fond of guitar solos in general, but Mike's efforts here sounds completely playful, easy, inventive, intuitive; in short as good as can be. The beautiful chorus sung by Kevin and buddy Robert Wyatt is another element worth mentioning. Although maybe somewhat banal, it seems to sum up Kevin's wisdom of life:

So let's drink some wine,
And have a good time
But if you really want to come through
Let the good time, good time have you
It's all you've got to do!

Even the female choir of this song works very well, indeed, an element I really dislike on many of Kevin's (and Leonard Cohen's) later albums. On the other hand, there is "Song From The Bottom Of A Well" where Kevin bangs away on the guitar in a very experimental way. Eerie and spine chilling stuff:

There's something strange going on down here
A sickening implosion of mistrust and fear.
A vast corruption that's about to boil
A mixture of greed and the smell of oil.

The remaining three songs of the album show the more humorous sides of Kevin. "Champagne Cowboy Blues" deals with decadence, including clanging of bottles as percussion, c &w fiddle and all. Kevin must not have been completely pleased with this, as he recorded the song anew on a couple of occasions in the 1980s as "Champagne And Valium". Maybe he found the disturbance midway through the song where the merry band from the start of the title track of Joy Of A Toy breaks in, a bit annoying? To me it doesn't sound too bad, although not a great favourite of mine from the Kevin canon. "Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes" is another signature song of Kevin's of a similar ilk. The stranger has trouble to get served in a bar because of, yes, his rock'n'roll shoes. After a while and offering a cigarette he gets along very well with the barman who eventually decides to leave the toil for the bosses of the bar and get out on the road. The song was released as a single twice, first in August 1971 before the album, and then again in 1976 when Kevin had rejoined Harvest Records. The only really unnecessary moment of the album comes with "Oh My", a hilariously happy song with a hilariously happy fiddle at first before an entire New Orleans street band joins.

Well then, as with every album by Kevin Ayers, Whatevershebringswesing isn't without its flaws. But the great songs here outweigh the less memorable moments. And not only the songs, the production has to be emphasized as well. The guitar sound and playing of the title track has already been mentioned. But the guitar and bass sound superb throughout. The same goes for the orchestra arrangements, David Bedford's keyboard playing, Didier Malherbe's (of Gong fame) saxophone and flute etc. etc. To my reckoning Whatevershebringswesing is Kevin's most well produced album, and maybe his most cohesive album, too, after all, at least until his last three profiled studio albums so far (one each decade, in the late 1980s, early 90s and late 00s). Also, it seems so effortless and elegant, like the title being true: whatever she brought, Kevin turned into a song. And of course there is Kevin's great and characteristic deep baritone voice. The back of the album cover with all the human babies fresh out of eggs includes two words: no eggsplanation. We need not add anything further...

Copyright © 2011 JP e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Kevin Ayers articles/reviews: 16 August 1944 - 18 February 2013, Confessions Of Dr. Dream..., Unfairground.

© 2011 Luna Kafé