Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

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Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby Brother Spoon » 11 Jan 2015, 06:25

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Imaginary meeting between Kevin Ayers and Leonard Cohen on some Mediterranean isle, late '60s.

LC: So I discovered the beats and started reading poetry in Montréal coffeeshops...

KA: I was busking in the south of France with Daevid Allen, thinking about dadaism...

LC: ...wrote my first novel, 'Beautiful losers', which got some good reviews, you know...

KA: I was on this wild tour of the States with Jimi Hendrix...

LC: ...but now I want to set these poems about the human condition to music, score some more Judy Collins covers...

KA: I'm drinking all the wine, and we'll see what happens next!

LC (gets out Spanish guitar): So I wrote this song about Janis Joplin. It's kinda my showstopper. 'Giving me head on the unmade bed / while the limousines wait in the street'.

KA: Today the town seems like a tomb / Everybody's locked up in their room / Making love or taking love / Who cares?

LC: Right, but what about the tying to the kitchen chairs, the crack in everything? That's how the light gets in...

KA: Now you come and tell that you're sad / But you never talk about it when you're glad / You criticize and you shut your eyes / That's too bad.

LC: Like a bird on the wire / Like a drunk in a midnight choir / I have tried in my way to be free?

KA: Don't let it get you down, Lenny. So let's drink some wine and have a good time / But if you really want to come through / Let the good times (good times) have you.

LC: I'm not sure I follow.

By dawn, Kevin had set off with all the wine and Leonard's wife. Twelve years later, Leonard finally finished the song about their meeting, a ditty called 'Guts' ('The bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife' and so forth). John Cale covered it on the Shrek soundtrack and the rest is history.

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For Kevin Ayers I make an exception. I totally want him to have lived the life he sings about. Even though I know living this picaresk ideal must've included some infuriating moments for everyone else involved. Hell, even listening to his great run of albums – from '69's Joy Of A Toy to '75's Sweet Deceiver – is infuriating at times (special nod to 1970's inscrutable Shooting At The Moon). But the ideal of it: living the good life, taking off to the Mediterranean sun, dedicating yourself to the moment, benign absurdity (which seems very old fashioned these days – that's one of the things I like about him). If nothing else, I'll remember him for delivering one of the great variations on that eternal blues cliché 'I was walking down the street and...':

A lot of things can happen
As you're walking down the street
But it never fails to amaze me
The people that I meet
They all say see you later
And I just answer how
How will you see me later
If you can't see me now


Sure, at times there's some mild fingerpointing. He's not shy pointing out the divide between those that think they are free and those that are.

People say that they want to be free
They look at him and they look at me
But it's only themselves they're wanting to see
And everybody knows about it


But you see, it's only those clinging to fashionable freedom that need to feel threatened. Everyday square life is vat of absurd possibilities waiting to happen. I always feel he's on my side and I'm as square as they come. No train commuter should be immune to the thrill of Joy Of A Toy's 'Stop this train (again doing it)' – an endless surrealist fever dream of train misadventures.

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The records, briefly -

Joy Of A Toy – bursts with chaotic joy, backing by assorted Canterbury scene alumni, some of the arrangements are a little sweet but then these songs about eating cake and cakes eating you contain enough nourishment to carry through.

Shooting At The Moon – the band takes over the record. Too much noodling, not enough Ayers.

Whatevershebringswesing – the favorite of Brother Spoon. A feast of moods and settings, from the orchestral opulence of opener 'There is loving / Among us / There is loving' to the frightening clang (shlock horror) of 'Song from the bottom of a well' and from the sunkissed majesty of the harmony drenched title track to the Lou Reed riffing of 'Stranger in blue suede shoes'. There's some C&W and dixieland jazz too. But it's all in the service of the songs. Recommended as a starting point for those who like variety (like me).

Bananamour – there's a deliberate unity of sound, all those girl singers and horns everywhere. Someone must've told the artist to get it together. There's no escaping the lusciousness on this record. Took me a while to get into, but the experience paid back in spades. What songs. Lyrically he's focussed and razorsharp. 'Decadence' slices through all stylistic barriers with its alien soundscape.

The Confessions Of Dr Dream And Other Stories – Ayers' glam rock bid for the big time. More horror pastiches and big riffs. Oh, and the title track's epic side-length descent into nightmare and insanity, of course. Curiously undervalued by the faithful, there is some streamlining going on, but when it's done this good, I can't resist.

Sweet Deceiver – the beginning of the long decline, Ayers is noticeably less focussed and sharp, Elton John on piano (but beautifully). Still, as the decay sets in, you can luxuriate in its splendor. 'Toujours la voyage' – somewhat of a rewrite of 'Whatevershebringswesing' – is still quite gorgeous.

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Now did I mention the man can write some melodies! Here are four of my favorites – you may have some of your own:



Whatevershebringswesing

8 weightless minutes of perfection. The chord progression (cyclical, you almost don't see the wheels turning) and arrangement (a floating layer of bass, organ and backing vocals over which Mike Oldfield plays the most lyrical guitar of his career and Ayers and Robert Wyatt harmonize into the horizon) are made for each other like watching the sun set over the sea. I see a scene somewhere on some Greek isle, a gathering of friends eating and drinking into the night, time suspended. But it's a memory – it's also a very sad song. That time is long past.

I'll sing to the island, that sings in your head
Cause I know you'd much rather be there, my friend
But you won't find the answer, even when the wind blows
cause the answer my friend, is in front
Right there in front of your nose
So let's drink some wine and have a good time
But if you really want to come through
Let the good time (good times) have you




Decadence

Another 8 minutes (I like long songs) but of something more nervous and uncomfortable. Over spiralling, echoing guitars and synths, Ayers sings an ode to a most uncomfortable woman, Marlene (but really Nico). It's got those seagul/guitar noises that sound like 'Tomorrow never knows'. At four minutes, bass, guitar and drums kick loose in a great groove. Makes you wonder why Bowie still had to go to Berlin a couple years later.



Stranger in blue suede shoes

Better add a pop song too. This is your standard Western storyline transplanted to the '60s. Ayers, the stranger in blue suede shoes, is refused entry to a bar on account of his hip attire. The stranger offers the bartender one of his cigarettes. At 1'13” the drugs kick in. 'Take whatever you like, stranger. I'm tired of filling the boss's bags with bread. I want to feel the sun and rain. I want to be out in the wind. And by the way, thanks for that cigarette. Thank you very much.' Dig that swinging piano illustrating the hip experience.



Religious experience (Singing a song in the morning)

To conclude, a personal favorite (I've never met anyone yet who agrees). 'Singing a song in the morning', a stand-alone single isn't one of my favorites, but this early take is. There's nothing more to it than a chant:

Singing a song in the morning
Singing it again at night
I don't even know what I'm singing about
But it makes me feel I feel alright

(x10, I counted!)

But the groove is just right, and the lead guitar by Syd Barrett is absolutely astounding. It may just be me but after a while the simplistic words start to sound like the secret of life itself. String theorists will understand, as will ancient Greek astronomers.

It's always like that with Kevin Ayers.

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby trans-chigley express » 11 Jan 2015, 07:40

Loved reading that. Thanks Brother Spoon and nice choice of songs too - Whatevershebringswesing and Decadence are two of my personal favourites by him. Bananamour probably ranks as my favourite album of his though some find it a bit "polished" which, by his standards, it probably is but those six albums are all worth having. The decline set in after that but Yes We Have No Mañanas has a few decent tracks too (I like Star and Blue).

With Ayers having a idyllic Mediterranean lifestyle and lots of wine (there are always references to win in his songs) seemed the most important thing to him and the music became secondary after a while. He did a song with Mike Oldfield in the 80s which reflects on his "mediterranean fantasy" and "losing your dream in a bottle of wine" and it seems fitting that lifelong friend Oldfield has followed Ayers' chosen lifestyle by moving to Ibiza and then the Bahamas to live his own idyllic life in the sun. I don't know if he's a big wine drinker though.

Ayers did manage one last good album before he died and The Unfairground is well worth a listen.

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby Copehead » 11 Jan 2015, 13:30

I love his voice, obviously a major influence on Julian Cope, and I like bits an pieces, but you can't escape the impression he was just dicking around, and more praise to him for that.

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby Phenomenal Cat » 11 Jan 2015, 16:56

As soon as I'm done taking the boy sledding, I am going to dig into this thread. Love it.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby Neige » 12 Jan 2015, 07:43

Great write-up, thanks Pieter.

Iconographically, starting with the inner gatefold cover of Bananamour is genius, very evocative!

This thread might make me dig out the ol' albums but as it is, I'd say

Favourite album: a tie between The Confessions of Dr. Dream and Bananamour
Favourite song: Puis-je, but there are many more gems scattered also in later albums, I really like Money Money Money off That's What You Get Babe, for instance...
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby toomanyhatz » 12 Jan 2015, 08:08

I like him too much to give this thread the justice it deserves right now, but suffice to say in my alternate version of the universe, he is a huge star.

I mean, every single album - and god knows there are ones where he puts very little effort into how he frames the songs - has at least some virtuoso songwriting on it.

And Rainbow Takeaway is one of my favorite albums ever - and plenty of Ayers fans don't even know about it.

I'll leave it at that for now.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby gash’s trollish obsession » 12 Jan 2015, 13:55

A wonderful reminder that I should listen to more Kevin Ayers x
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby harvey k-tel » 12 Jan 2015, 14:23

clive gash wrote:A wonderful reminder that I should listen to more Kevin Ayers x


Yep. I've only got Joy of a Toy, Whatevershebrings..., and the live one with Cale, Eno, Nico et al.

The first two I love; the live one is patchy, and it looks like I'll be hunting down the rest of those LPs.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby Lemon Yoghourt » 12 Jan 2015, 14:30

I hadn't knowningly heard anything by Kevin Ayres until opening this thread. The songs are all good, and the write up excellent with the album by album summary giving a good starting point for me - thanks.
Whatevershebringswesing deserves special praise, I completely lost myself in it...you just float along with it, its hypnotic at times. I'll definitely be checking out more.

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby gash’s trollish obsession » 12 Jan 2015, 14:30

Yeah I've got the two (cheapo) boxes - Songs for Insane Times and The Harvest Years but I've never got beyond the first couple of discs. Time to give 'em a good go x
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby Snarfyguy » 12 Jan 2015, 15:24

Absolute gems:



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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby billy » 12 Jan 2015, 15:46

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Exceptionally highly recommended form of time travel - you can smell the carpet from here ...
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby Lemon Yoghourt » 12 Jan 2015, 16:59

Snarfyguy wrote:Absolute gems:





I enjoyed both of those too, especially Stars...

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby Brother Spoon » 12 Jan 2015, 18:04

billy wrote:Image

Exceptionally highly recommended form of time travel - you can smell the carpet from here ...


I've never even seen it, let alone heard it.
Will check it out!

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby toomanyhatz » 12 Jan 2015, 18:32

Brother Spoon wrote:
billy wrote:Image

Exceptionally highly recommended form of time travel - you can smell the carpet from here ...


I've never even seen it, let alone heard it.
Will check it out!


Yeah, like I said:

toomanyhatz wrote:And Rainbow Takeaway is one of my favorite albums ever - and plenty of Ayers fans don't even know about it.


Glad Billy said it - people listen to him. :P

In any case, for me it breaks down to something pretty simple. It's the rare person that the songs just seem to flow through - writing 'em at least seems as natural as breathing. Dylan's the obvious example, and then there's weirdos like Beefheart and Roky Erickson that just have their worldview that shows up in everything, even if they try to play it 'normal.' Ayers is the only one I can think of that has a long career of it that everything seems immediate about - other than his lack of success. Maybe he's just like Nilsson, in that he was just never willing to do the work that it would take to get the masses to know who you are. Maybe he's just too eccentric, too connected to his own muse. But it still mystifies me that he never even had a fluke hit. Much less talented people, who weren't necessarily trying for it any more, did.

Best song - "Whatevershebringswesing." The singing on that - and yes, my other 'alternate star' hero Wyatt has a lot to do with that - is so gorgeous it still brings me close to tears every single time. And I'm sure I've heard it at least a hundred times.

Best album - Whatevershebringswesing. Seems like a consensus choice around here, so no reason to gild the lily as it were. But I love every single song.

Most underrated album - See above.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby The Modernist » 12 Jan 2015, 18:44

Did he ever write a decent song?

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby Earl E. Eel » 12 Jan 2015, 18:54

The G Experience! wrote:Did he ever write a decent song?


:D

'Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes' is the one you want, G.

I always find it interesting with this fella - you'll get converts who'll hear things that aren't there (to non-converts). They hear these wonderful melodies where mere mortals are struggling to see any appeal at all.

I like lots of KA but can understand both sides. He's no great talent, tho'.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby Copehead » 12 Jan 2015, 19:06

The G Experience! wrote:Did he ever write a decent song?


Blues from the bottom of a well?

You know me I like a tune

I think whatervershebringswesing is a good album

he is a bit one paced and can meander, but I love the richness of his voice so I forgive him a bit of hippy noodling and lack of application
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby toomanyhatz » 12 Jan 2015, 19:11

Copehead wrote:he is a bit one paced


So not true.

and can meander


OK, this is kind of true.
sloopjohnc wrote:Aslan has some good credenitals - got his BA from Santa Clara, a Jesuit school and his Masters from Harvard and PhD from Santa Barbara, a surfing school.


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Re: Beyond the 130 - Kevin Ayers

Postby toomanyhatz » 12 Jan 2015, 19:25

Some great songs, all different musically, and spread across his career:







sloopjohnc wrote:Aslan has some good credenitals - got his BA from Santa Clara, a Jesuit school and his Masters from Harvard and PhD from Santa Barbara, a surfing school.


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