...on the terrifying ''Song From The Bottom Of A Well'' from...
Rob Webb 2003
Kevin Ayers is the kind of seemingly unhinged eccentric that rock rarely has space for these days. Like Vivian Stanshall and Syd Barrett, with whom he is most closely associated, he trod a crooked path. A founder member of Canterbury's jazz bohos Soft Machine, he cut loose in pursuit of a solo career in 1969. His first album, Joy of a Toy was released as the decade turned. He followed this with Shooting at the Moon in 1970, Whatevershebringswesing in 1972 and Bananamour the year after that. All were originally released on EMI's progressive Harvest label and are now reissued with bonus tracks.
Listening to these reissues is something of a Harvest feast. The quartet is packed with wistfully childlike melodies, earnest art-rock and cheery improvisation, often countered by melancholic or surreal lyrics. The Kev classic ''Clarence in Wonderland'' from Shooting At The Moon, and ''Joy of a Toy'' and ''Clarietta Rag'' from the first album are classic feelgood English hippy-rock, of the early Pink Floyd variety. Conversely, on the terrifying ''Song From The Bottom OfA Well'' from Whatevershebringswesing, Ayers-does-Lee Marvin-doing-Tom Waits will chill you to the bottom of your...er...well. Elsewhere there is true experimentation: ''Reinhardt & Geraldine'' features frantic radio-dial twiddling, sandwiched between a soft sax riff, courtesy of Lol Coxhill.
In March 1970 Ayers formed the Whole World, a loose conglomeration of musicians gathered around the nucleus of Coxhill, classical composer David Bedford and a young guitarist called Mike Oldfield. Oldfield's screeching guitar on tracks like ''Lunatic's Lament'' seems to be a trial run for his playing on Tubular Bells. The sensitive arrangements by the then-unknown Bedford provide an opulence to certain tracks, such as the opener to Whatevershebringswesing, the multi-layered ''There Is Loving''.
In 1971/2 the Whole World disbanded and, after a brief spell on the road with Gong, Ayers indulged in a theatrical project called Banana Follies, broadcast as a BBC 'In Concert' programme. From this emerged Bananamour, the final Harvest album before moving to Island records. It is, perhaps, Ayers most accessible and commercial album, especially Interview, Hymn and the Velvet Underground-inspired ''Decadence''. Included on the reissue is a non-album single, ''Caribbean Moon''. Syd Barrett fans get a treat in the form of a rare collaboration, ''Religious Experience'', now an addition to Joy of a Toy and a good companion to Ayers tribute to his like-minded fellow musician, ''O! Wot a Dream'', on Bananamour.
Other bonuses of note include the rare single ''Butterfly Dance'', and its B-side, ''Puis Je?'', a French version of the tender ''May I?'', from Shooting at the Moon. If you don't know Ayers at all, try these albums. Here is a crooked path worth exploring.