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fromheadtoheart flag England - Full Moon 217 - 05/14/14

From head to heart
Kevin Ayers' The Confessions Of Dr. Dream...

Following our retroscope series of latter years, here we go again! Here's Speakers' corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching our chest and shaking our heart. Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth the Lunar shuttle bounce back and touch down in 1974, to revisit a 40-year-old platter - the fifth from Ayers' (R.I.P.) rich and wide catalogue. Back in the day Kevin the player worked with names like Brian Eno, Syd Barrett, Robert Wyatt, John Cale, Elton John, Andy Summers, Mike Oldfield, and Nico, among others. For his last platter, The Unfairground (2007) he worked with the indie in-crowd, such as players like Norman Blake and Francis MacDonald (from Teenage Fanclub), Julian Koster (the leader of The Music Tapes, as well as a key member of Neutral Milk Hotel, and one of the core of the Elephant 6 Collective), Euros Childs (singer and frontman of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci), Francis Reader (singer and frontman of The Trash Can Sinatras), Gary Olson, Jeff Baron and San Fadyl (from Ladybug Transistor, another act associated with The Elephant 6 Collective), and others. He was the man who could make "...records that set the world on fire (when no one was listening)"(The Wire).

This is supposed to be the start of a three moonths 40 years old Canterbury scene special. Beginning with Kevin Ayers who was born in Herne Bay, a little to the north of Canterbury, Kent, England. He lived in Malaysia for several years as a boy before the family moved back to England. By the early 1960s he teamed up with other long-haired notabilities in or around Canterbury like Robert Wyatt, Richard Sinclair, Hugh and Brian Hopper. By 1964 they formed the beat-band The Wilde Flowers that was the origins of Soft Machine, Caravan and lots and lots of other bands of the scene. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Or, for further background information, memories...

coverpic

Kevin Ayers
The Confessions Of Dr. Dream And Other Stories
Island Records

The Confessions was Kevin's fifth album as a solo artist and the first under contract with Island. The company wanted to turn him into a pop star. Kevin delivered his most ambitious work to date with a couple of long tracks far removed from the pop format.

Well, it was not all adventurous and ambitious. Beginning with "Day By Day", a light-weight blues based rocker of the kind that Kevin probably could roll out of his sleeve anytime he wanted to at this time. It's jolly, but I really dislike them hectic female harmony vocals that drag the song down. Well, Kevin was always a ladies' man so I guess we have to live with it. After a short and merry country-&-western-teamed-up-with-English-music-hall interlude we're into "Didn't Feel Lonely Till I Thought Of You", a little harder rocker that doesn't fare too well either. The occasional female backing singers seem even more aggressive here, but the song is somehow saved by a nasty, yet joyous guitar solo handled by none other than Ollie Halsall.

Ollie deserves special mentioning. He was a great guitarist who played several other instruments as well, not least vibes. He was a member of pop-psychedelic Timebox in the late 1960s that evolved into progressive jazz-blues-rockers Patto in 1970. Patto folded in 1973, but Ollie and Mike Patto reunited in 1975 under the Boxer banner. Later he was involved in the recording of the album and soundtrack of the film All You Need Is Cash by The Rutles, as the bass player Dirk McQuickly. Ollie didn't play the bass, though, but several other instruments and sang, too. Eric Idle of Monty Python fame had the role as Dirk in the film and mimed to Ollie's singing. Ollie only had a small role as the fifth Rutle in the early days who remained in Hamburg when the others went back to fame and fortune in England... Ollie also played numerous sessions. This was his first with Kevin and they remained buddies and band mates for the rest of Ollie's life. He played on every album by Kevin since then until his untimely death in 1992, not long after the recording of Kevin's second last studio album Still Life With Guitar.

Well, back to Dr. Dream. The rest of the album is a treat. "Everybody's Sometime And Some People's All The Time Blues" is a pretty little piano ballad with exquisite guitar solo by Mike Oldfield. Mike was recruited as a very young bass player for Kevin's 1970 band The Whole World. One might say a lot Mike's epic and grandeur solo projects at the time, but no doubt he delivered some mighty fine guitar solos to his former band leader's albums! A very moving and melancholic and sparsely arranged song, indeed! But the real fun starts with "It Begins With A Blessing/Once I Awakened/But It ends With A Curse", a rearranged and augmented version of Kevin's best offering on the first Soft Machine album from 1968, "Why Are We Sleeping". That album was recorded in a hurry. There are numerous live recordings of the song with Kevin, but I've always felt these versions lack that something little extra. The Dr. Dream version is as good as it gets while it lasts and a newly written jolly jazzy break and the melancholic middle part "Once I Awakened" makes sure old fans receive something new as well. The original parts is a happy blend of quiet whispering and loud outbursts that grabs hold of the listener. Even the female choir fits here, hand in glove! Side 1 of the original LP comes to an end with the light-weight ironic "Ballbearing Blues". Very short, very English, very witty!

Flip the disc and we're in for the highlight of the album, dealing with the different aspects of Dr Dream's dreaming, divided into four parts. It starts rather ominous with "Irreversible Neural Damage" where Kevin's voice is treated with a kind of distorted backwards-sounding effect over repetitive guitars, evil keyboards and a fuzzed-out electric guitar. Enter the funeral voice of Nico with the same spooky effect as Kevin's and we're really into a bad nightmare. This is the stuff spine chills are made of! Part two "Invitation" loosens the grip around your heart with a short and almost merry guitar instrumental start until Kevin's distinctive baritone arrives, a bit weary and resigned, with some life wisdom: 'Make your loving while you can, Or she'll find another man... who will'. Some light female la-la-la's join in, while Kevin sounds quite disturbed:

'Doors began to close and love was left screaming
When life was diagnosed by the doctors of dreaming.'

Part three "The One Chance Dance" is instrumental, dominated by the characteristic fuzz-organ of Kevin's former band mate of Soft Machine, Mike Ratledge. Mike and the Softs were very much into jazz and fusion at the time. This is a welcomed return to some space psychedelic organ ramblings, closer to 1967 and 68 than anything else. Grrreat! It fizzles slowly into part four "Dr. Dream Theme", more like the first part, but not as scary, with normal vocals by Kevin and a distinctive electric guitar throughout. Repetitive and hypnotic, almost pompous towards the climax. Hats off also to producer and main keyboardist Rupert Hine especially for the Dr. Dream epos. An outstanding production as far as Kevin is concerned. Time to sit back for some afterthought with the closing track "Two Goes Into Four", a little laid-back ditty with almost Spanish sounding guitars. Nice!

Well then. As with all albums by Kevin, The Confessions of Dr Dream And Other Stories is not without its flaws. But the great parts easily outnumber the couple of mediocre or weak songs. In my opinion it marks the end of the succession of his best and most beloved albums. His later ones have their moments, but the highlights are less frequent than earlier. By the late 1970s and for most of the 1980s, Kevin seemed more occupied with sun, good food, ditto wine and the liberal drug practice in Spain than writing and recording great songs. He returned to form with Falling Up, released in 1988. The aforementioned Still Life With Guitar (1992) was also up to par. And Kevin finally returned 15 years later with the quite unexpectedly wonderful album The Unfairground in 2007. That way he certainly finished his studio career with dignity in due time before he passed away last year.

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

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