Kevin Ayers 16 August 1944 – 18 February 2013
February 20, 2013 11:39 PM   Subscribe

The Guardian reports the death of Kevin Ayers, founding member of Soft Machine and important figure in the Canterbury scene which included bands like Soft Machine, Gong and Caravan.

Kevin Ayers was a member of Soft Machine from 1966 to 1969, which included the recording of their debut album, together with Robert Wyatt and Mike Ratledge. One of his compositions, "Joy of a Toy" would become the Softs' second single; it would also be the title of his first solo album.

He would release albums regularly during the seventies and eighties, both on his own and in collaboration with people like Nico, John Cale and Brian Eno. He also appeared with the rest of Soft Machine on Syd Barret's first solo record, with whom he also recorded a version of "Singing a Song in the Morning". Later on he would also help out Mike Oldfield with his live performances of Tubular Bells, Oldfield having played the bass on Ayers' second album, Shooting at the Moon.

From 1992 to 2007 he stopped recording or touring. His "comeback album" The Unfairground, not only featured contributions from old Soft Machine bandmates Robert Wyatt and Hugh Hopper, but also from members of Roxy Music, Neutral Milk Hotel and Teenage Fanclub, all bands influenced in greater or lesser measure by his music.
posted by MartinWisse (31 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Aww. Always liked this one. And Soft Machine had, like, two really good albums (or enough for five good albums throughout their career).
posted by klangklangston at 11:52 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Saying: "Why, why, why... Why are we . - ing?"
posted by pipian at 11:55 PM on February 20, 2013

I was really saddened to hear about this earlier today. I've always been a big fan of Soft Machine and the whole Canterbury scene in general, but have only really been paying attention to Ayers' solo albums over the last year or so. Such a colorful and creative bunch of people. Rest well, sir, and thank you for so much wonderful music.
posted by metagnathous at 12:00 AM on February 21, 2013

posted by jokeefe at 12:08 AM on February 21, 2013

@klangklangston: That is awesome, especially the super sweet guitar solo from 4 to 6 minutes in.
posted by BentFranklin at 12:09 AM on February 21, 2013

Oh no this is a bad thing.
posted by solarion at 12:13 AM on February 21, 2013

I got into Soft Machine thanks to this post by Phil Edwards, then of course went for all the other Canterbury bands, including Ayers solo work. Love that music, even if it's been unhip since 1973 at latest.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:23 AM on February 21, 2013

posted by lapolla at 1:08 AM on February 21, 2013

Oedd e'n canu i bawb
Oedd e'n ffeindio dim ffordd allan
A 'fallai os ni i gyd yn gweiddi
Bydd rhywun yn clywed
-- Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, "Kevin Ayers"
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:16 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Browsing at Tower Records, Piccadilly Circus, one day in 1989, I picked up Banana Productions - The Best Of Kevin Ayers (on cassette!) just because I’d never heard of him and I liked the cover. It proved to be one of my best ever impulse-buys: I grew to love many of the songs on it. Now cassettes are long-obsolete, Tower Records is closed, & Kevin Ayers is dead. Tempus fecking fugit. ‘I’d just like to say: thank you… very… much.’
posted by misteraitch at 1:26 AM on February 21, 2013

Thank you, Metafilter, you have just aged me another few years. Those artists are in my collection, and due to the progressive connections, I ended up with what I consider the most self-definitive song ever, from the Alan Moore of The Canterbury Scene, Robert Wyatt.

So I can now blame it all on Kevin Ayres - he won't mind.
posted by arzakh at 1:50 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by orme at 2:04 AM on February 21, 2013

posted by klausness at 3:09 AM on February 21, 2013


posted by ersatz at 4:37 AM on February 21, 2013


Joy of a Toy is a fantastic album. He'd be worth remembering if only for that, never mind the years of great music that followed.
posted by Dr-Baa at 5:25 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by El Brendano at 5:47 AM on February 21, 2013

This past August I was in staying in Waterbury, Connecticut for a film shoot nearby. A friend of mine, who used to live in Bridgeport, had heard there was this legendary record store right near where we were staying - Brass City Records. There's literally nothing to do in Waterbury, and we're fairly avid record collectors, so we made it a habit to go there on every weekend off. The shop is pretty amazing, the kind of place that's there's a photo of next to the phrase "dying breed" in the cliche-phrase dictionary: 2nd floor walkup, several rooms of 20 to 40 year old posters lining the walls (a Julee Cruise "Floating into the Night" promo!), stacks of old stereo equipment and endless bins of records, all surrounded by... old tools. Along with records they also sold old, antique tools.

The guy behind the counter (if I had to guess, I'd say he was in his fifties) was playing a live recording of Sunny Day Real Estate's DIARY - I'm not a huge fan but it was obscure and a good performance, so I struck up a conversation - turns out, it was recorded right there in the shop. He told me they'd had hundreds of bands come through over the years and play shows there, particularly in the heyday of the shop. He rattled off a bunch of names, one of which was Kevin Ayers.

I was surprised and stopped him - Kevin Ayers!? From Soft Machine? The guy seemed pretty excited I not only knew who he was, but that I was impressed he'd played in the store. I told him Kevin Ayers was one of my all time favorites and that I had almost all of his solo albums. He pointed to an old photograph pinned to the wall next to the counter, of an older man with a guitar, sitting in the room next to us. "That's from when he played here. There's a live DVD of it, somewhere." Turns out, sometime in the early 90's, when Ayers hadn't played out live in years (I got the impression it was going on a decade, but I don't know for sure), he wanted to start playing again - so to test the waters, he did an acoustic gig in this tiny, awesome record shop in Waterbury CT: Brass City Records. This was still the early 90's (maybe even late 80's?), so all the radio stations in the region had prog rock centric DJ's, and apparently, as soon as they caught wind of this, they all flocked to Waterbury to watch the show, lining up to interview Kevin. As the shop owner told me, they each took him out for a drink at the nearby bar, one after another, all day long, leading up to the gig. So, by the time he played he was… pretty toasted. But, it was still Kevin Ayers, playing some of his best songs, and it was great.

I asked if he would sell me a copy of the DVD - I BEGGED him. "Well sure, if I can find it!" So, after every grueling week of shooting (12 hour days on a 20 foot floating barge in the middle of a lake, in 100 degree August), we'd go back to the store. "Haven't found it yet," he'd tell me, and I'd buy a bunch of records that would line my hotel room wall, (unplayed until I came back to New York, to my record player), records that taunted me by not being the awesome Kevin Ayers live in a record store DVD that I thought about pretty much every day. Finally, on the day we left town, five weeks later, we stopped in one last time. The shop owner knew exactly what I was going to ask, and he before I could say anything he pulled it off the shelf: the DVD of Kevin Ayers, packaged in a homemade DVD case with a printed out inkjet label of the photo pinned to the wall of the shop.

It was shot on what was probably VHS, they couldn't figure out how to get his mic working for the first 20 minutes or so (most of which is him comically adjusting it), and yeah, he seems a little toasted… but he plays almost all of my favorite songs, and… it's one of the best things I own.

posted by SmileyChewtrain at 5:49 AM on February 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

Few songs are more deeply terrifying than the orchestral version of LADY RACHEL.

Basically a cross between the album version and the primordially spooky instrumentation of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 5:59 AM on February 21, 2013

Oh damn it. Just damn it. Another one gone. I hadn't seen or spoken with Kevin in oh like 30 years but I remember him well. Now I get to break this news to my aunt, an old and close friend of his. I knew him when I was a teenager living with her in the small artsy village of Deia in Mallorca in the early 80s. I hadn't ever heard of any of his music and there were lots of musicians living there; it was years before I realized even that Kevin (and Daevid Allan and Garland Jeffreys, who I didn't much like and a few others) actually were pretty well known. I only ever heard them play at houses and parties and so on and I was callow sixteen or seventeen, trying to grow up.

I remember sitting at a party at the beach with him, smoking a joint and I guess I will just always remember that, the evening, the music, the Mediterranean, the laughter, and just sitting there in the dark talking quietly with Kevin. I don't even remember what we talked about. RIP along with so many from that time who are gone now, Mati Klarwein and Lady June and too many others, I was luckier than I knew to have known you all.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:15 AM on February 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

posted by Smart Dalek at 6:57 AM on February 21, 2013

The bugger in the short sleeves is fucking among the stars tonight.

posted by munchingzombie at 6:59 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Nomyte at 7:18 AM on February 21, 2013

posted by ryanshepard at 7:41 AM on February 21, 2013

posted by grubby at 7:48 AM on February 21, 2013

Stuart Maconies Freakier Zone on BBC Radio6 Feb 16th was about the Canterbury Scene including Keith Ayers and Soft Machine.
posted by stuartmm at 9:02 AM on February 21, 2013

I’d just like to say
Thank you very much
It’s a beautiful day
I think I’ll be on my way
I’d just like to say
Thank you very much
Bye, bye
That’s the end of the message
Thank you very much
Bye bye . . .
[fade to]
posted by Herodios at 9:10 AM on February 21, 2013

posted by Lynsey at 9:17 AM on February 21, 2013

Here's an hour long Spanish TV documentary from 1980 - that's the Kevin I knew and remember.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:26 AM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh, man. Whatevershebringswesing, especially, is one of those albums for me that I put on with new people around and I can see exactly then the lines along which our friendship will progress by whether the inevitable "what is this?" is tinged with amusement or with veiled disgust. The man had a true musical pioneer spirit, and that's all that ever mattered.

posted by invitapriore at 9:37 AM on February 21, 2013

Goodbye Kevin. I shall have a special thought for you next time I look down on Deia from the mountain.
posted by adamvasco at 11:57 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rest in Peace.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:20 AM on February 22, 2013

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