Canterbury Tales

First four solo albums by overlooked psychedelicist

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Is it fair to say Kevin Ayers, in this extraordinary body of work from three decades ago, achieved what Syd Barrett might have had he got himself together? Newly departed from Soft Machine, this enigmatic oddball immediately set about assembling the songs and sounds for his 1969 debut Joy Of A Toy. What’s striking about this remarkable record is the playfulness of its experimentation. From the avant-garde brass band of the title track via the askew lounge music of “Song For Insane Times” to the epic ballad “Lady Rachael”, the mood is liberated and open-minded. Badly Drawn Boy and Jim O’Rourke owe this record a bundle.

On 1970’s Shooting At The Moon Ayers assembled an unbelievably disparate group called The Whole World, including classical keyboardist David Bedford, improv saxophonist Lol Coxhill and a teenage Mike Oldfield on bass. The subdued improvisation works beautifully on sardonic ballads like “May I?”, and Oldfield’s bass playing is among the most inventive on any British rock LP. Ayers’ masterpiece, however, is 1971’s Whatevershebringswesing (again with Bedford and Oldfield), a fusion of seemingly opposed elements. It ranges from lighthearted rockers like “Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes” via the bucolically hypnotic title track to the startling “Song From The Bottom Of A Well”, which anticipates PiL’s METAL BOX LP by eight years.

Bananamour (1973) saw Ayers moving closer to the rock mainstream, but it remains daring. Highlights include the drone-rock of “Decadence” and “Oh! Wot A Dream”, a tribute to Barrett; who contributes guitar to “Religious Experience”, a bonus track on Joy Of A Toy.

We’ve rediscovered Drake, Martyn and Harper; it’s time now to give Ayers your attention.

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