Image: KevinayersRIP

"These were all middle-class kids from literary backgrounds, joining this sort of train going by, this pop train, jumping on" Kevin Ayers

Kevin Ayers was an original talent, with a style uniquely his own. A middle class kid from Herne Bay, whose father was a BBC producer, who grew up in Malaysia after his parents divorced and his mother remarried a civil servant. Age 12 he returned to the UK, went to a posh grammar school and in 1964 he joined a band called the Wilde Flowers, with several founding members of what came to be known as the Canterbury Scene, including Robert Wyatt. The Wilde Flowers became The Soft Machine, played at UFO in London a lot, made a single, toured the US with Jimi Hendrix, cut an album, then Kevin left the band to embark on what would today be seen as a wayward eccentric career in pop.  Except he didn't see it that way. Those are the biographical facts Jack. Now indulge me while I reminisce.

I bought his first album "Joy Of A Toy" as a 14 year old schoolboy in 1969 because it was on the then hip Harvest label, and saw him Live twice with his band The Whole World, at a Free Concert in Hyde Park with Robert Wyatt on drums (the Pink Floyd Atom Heart Mother gig I think), and at a BBC In Concert presented by John Peel at the Paris Theatre off Regent Street, both in 1970. You used to have to write in for tickets and it was pot luck who you got to see. I think I went to a few of these, the only other ones I recall are VDGG, Black Sabbath and The Faces, so I guess my luck was IN.  The Whole World was a truly eccentric band - Lol Coxhill on saxes, famous for busking on Hungerford Bridge, Avant Garde Composer David Bedford on piano and organ, the teenage Mike Oldfield switching between guitar and bass and sometimes Robert Wyatt on drums and other times Mick Fincher. Sometimes they played music - sometimes they performed one act 'radio plays' on stage. They made one LP, "Shooting at the Moon" then they split up. The album that followed "Whatevershebringswesing" is probably Kevin's greatest, certainly in pop music journalistic parlance, his most consistent. Between 1969 and 1974 they are all great. A few years later I was at the fabled June 1, 1974 Rainbow show with Cale, Eno & Nico. Apparently a day or so before the show Kevin slept with Cale's wife, which couldn't have helped much (as related in the Cale song 'Guts' - "bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife, did it quick then split). My memory it is that it was all thoroughly exciting and that Eno & Cale stole the show. 

"He was terrific but he had no sense of career... he was the opposite of an X Factor contender," Robert Wyatt BBC News 21 February 2013

Kevin Ayers was a true star who didn't play the game. He pretty much buggered off to France with the occasional foray and occasional record release for the rest of his life after 1980. This does not make him an underachiever, or a dilletante. To be honest it makes him far more interesting. If I had to pick an all time favourite song it would "Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes" probably, or "Whatevershebringswesing" but there are so many. He once said that "Being rich and famous just means you can smoke a better class of cigarettes and drink a better class of booze." 

Kevin Ayers, thank you for jumping on the pop train, thank you very much. I remain your fan. God bless you and Rave on.

David E Barker

22 February 2013