June 1, 1974

50 years ago, Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Brian Eno and Nico survived a spot of bed-hopping to record a legendary live album

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The bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife / Did it quick, then split…John Cale’s notorious opening to his 1975 song “Guts” described Kevin Ayers’ seduction of his wife Cindy, the former Miss Cinderella of the GTOs, the night before he and Ayers were due to share a stage in London. It became the incident for which the June 1, 1974 concert at the Rainbow Theatre would be best remembered by rock historians.


The idea for the concert was cooked up over a lunch for five at an Italian restaurant called Gatamelata on Kensington High Street. At the table were Ayers, Cale, Nico, Brian Eno, and me. The date was May 13, which tells you how much spontaneity was involved in putting the event together.


A few months earlier, I’d joined Island as head of A&R. Cale and Nico had just been let go by Warner Bros, and both were among my early signings. It seemed obvious to invite Brian Eno (and Phil Manzanera, his erstwhile Roxy Music colleague) to work with them in the studio. The recording of Cale’s Fear was well underway and the sessions for Nico’s The End were about to begin, both albums being made at Sound Techniques in Chelsea, with the great studio engineer John Wood.

Ayers had already been signed by my predecessor, Muff Winwood, and his first album for the label, The Confessions Of Dr Dream And Other Stories, was about to be released. There were high hopes, after his two albums with Soft Machine and four as a solo artist, of relaunching him to a wider audience, capitalising on his louche good looks, seductive baritone voice and charmingly off-centre songs. Maybe there was a hedonistic, post-hippie Scott Walker in there somewhere.

photo by: Gems/Redferns

As we sat down to lunch, Kevin was three weeks away from launching his album with a concert at the Rainbow. Rather than just adding the usual nondescript support act, I thought it might be more interesting to turn the evening into something resembling the package shows of the early ’60s. It would create advance publicity for the first Island efforts of Cale and Nico while also helping Eno, who was in the early stages of constructing a new post-Roxy career for himself, having released Here Come The Warm Jets at the beginning of the year.


The announcement provoked a stir in the UK’s five weekly music papers, now largely staffed by writers who knew about the Velvets and the Soft Machine. Guests in the backing band would include Mike Oldfield and Robert Wyatt. The concert sold out quickly. It would be one of the events of the summer for London’s scenemakers, followed by similar, slightly more modest concerts in Birmingham and Manchester a few days later. It might also be a good idea, I thought, to record the Rainbow gig and put an album out quickly, as a kind of official bootleg.

Despite the pre-concert confrontation between Ayers and Cale, the evening went well. John Wood and I, sitting in the Island mobile recording truck parked in the alley behind the theatre, saw the proceedings only on a small, fuzzy black-and-white TV monitor, from a single fixed camera. We spent the next three nights mixing and editing the performances into an album that hit the shops on June 28, exactly four weeks later. There was no post-production: no overdubbing, no fixing of mistakes, no polishing. Any deficiencies in <June 1, 1974> were down to me, as the producer. And half a century later, I’ve almost forgiven whoever at the NME came up with a brilliantly ego-deflating acronym for the four stars: ACNE.

Richard Williams is on the panel for a 50th anniversary celebration of June 1, 1974 at London’s The Social on June 1, alongside Phil Manzanera, John Altman, Galen Ayers and Uncut’s Allan Jones, with live performances by Emma Tricca and Darren Hayman


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