Everybody we spoke to about Kevin Ayers following his lonely death in the South of France at the age of 68 had so much to say that trying to fit everything they told us into the tribute feature I’ve written for this month’s issue was like trying to pour the Atlantic into a bucket.
Robert Wyatt’s memories of Kevin would alone have filled a book whose wordy bulk might need a couple of strong men to lift, and then not without much comic ado, a fair amount of pop-eyed wheezing and the straining of tormented muscles.
So apologies to Richard Sinclair, who played with Kevin and Robert in The Wilde Flowers, the first of the Canterbury Scene bands, before forming Caravan, whose own similarly voluminous recollections of Kevin were unfortunately edged out. He had some splendid stories, though, including one about meeting Kevin for the first time and the dash Ayers cut generally in the Canterbury of the early ’60s. “He’d been invited to join The Wilde Flowers and turned up for his first rehearsal with us, listing at an angle of 45 degrees, holding a bottle of Mateus Rosé in one hand and in the other hand, Jane Hastings, the sister of Pye Hastings (founder member of Caravan). At the time, Jane was married to John Aspinall, who owned a gambling club in Mayfair and also a huge farm near Canterbury that he’d turned into a private zoo. Kevin worked at the zoo as a gorilla keeper and had to clean the poo out of their cages. That’s where he met Jane. John Aspinall was one of the richest men in Kent and she was therefore one of the richest girls in Canterbury, but she gave her husband up for love of Kevin and they’d gone off to Morocco.
“They’d just come back when he turned up to the rehearsal, dressed all in white, as he often was, with his blond hair and suntan, with Jane on his arm. Kevin was always suntanned from going to Morocco and places like that and he liked good food and drink and having a wonderful time. He was an independent, good-looking geezer, wafting about in his white clothes and always with a nice young girlfriend. He lived a good life in those days, then I think later he got a bit lonely, a bit fed up with it all, and his life went downhill, I think, and he tried some things that he shouldn’t have tried, the curtains got closed and he got into a dark, paranoid state. He managed to climb out of that and make more music, but I think he found it very hard.
“In his later years, he’d sometimes come to Canterbury to visit his sister Kate and one evening in the pub I invited him to stay with me. The first thing he asked when he turned up was, ‘Well, is there anything to drink?’ He wasn’t too happy with me, because I’m always very happy in the morning and he wouldn’t be happy until midday when he’d escape to a Mexican restaurant and drink half a bottle of tequila. He wasn’t at that time always a happy person in a way a lot of clever people on the music scene end up unhappy, killing themselves through overdoses, or too much booze or just topping themselves. They just get so personally out of order.
“In Caravan we used to say, ‘Mine’s a Kevin Ayers on the rocks.’ Because Kevin was always on the rocks, you know? A lot of people wanted him to play with them, but because he was a bit out of order, he didn’t want to go out and risk letting everybody down. He was dead for two days before they found him. What a shame for someone who created so much pleasure for so many people on the planet. He was a good bloke, wrote wonderful pop tunes, made me laugh. I’ll be happy to remember him like that.”
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