KEVIN AYERS says that he wants to involve people in his music, and to make every gig more of a party than an ordinary job.
Who’s Kevin Ayers? An ex-Soft Machine singer/guitarist/composer whose first solo album, Joy Of A Toy, was recently described as a “gem” in the MM, and whose new band, The Whole World, is one of the most interesting outfits on the club circuit.
The band is not simply a vehicle for Ayers’ very individual songs, but serves as a framework within which two extremely unorthodox musicians — saxophonist Lol Coxhill and organist David Bedford — can make their own statements.
The result, when one adds Ayers’ cool English voice and the bass and drums of Mike Oldfield and Mick Fincher, is an orderly chaos out of which can spring, without warning, moments of real revelation.
Ayers was with the Softs for some years, and his personality is imprinted all over their first album, which was never released in this country. He was melodicist of the band, and when they started getting into more avant-garde realism it was obvious that the split would have to come.
So he left the group after their second American tour, for a variety of reasons.
“On that tour with Hendrix it got to be less fun and more of a job. I could see that Hendrix was having to do things that the people wanted to see, like bashing his guitar into the speakers, and it didn’t matter whether he played music or not.
“Added to that, the group’s music was getting further away from what I wanted to do. It was fine when we were playing the very free things, but it got into a lot of writing and jazz things like odd time signatures and I really wasn’t up to that.
“Hugh Hopper had been rehearsing with us for a long time, and he was much more into that kind of thing so I decided it was time to go.
“I copped hold of some advance money for the album and fled to Ibiza where I took an apartment for a few months. So they carried on with Hugh, which was a good idea because I’d have held them up.
“Really I guess I wanted to get back to a more pop thing, with rather more lyrical tunes. The LP was made when I wanted to withdraw, and although it was supposed to be a joyful thing it sounds rather sad to me now. It’s a very lonely record.
“Robert (Wyatt) says I should make records like I make demos, very simply. But in the studios I always want to use everything I can, and I always get to wanting to sound like everybody else. I like the power of electricity.
“Musicians communicate so well with young people all over the world now. They succeed with films, poetry, and painting. Music should be a manifestation of the good things of life.
“A lot of so-called progressive groups these days are very self-indulgent. They’re aggressive just for the sake of working out their own feelings — they don’t stop to look at it objectively and consider the audience.
“People don’t think enough in terms of getting people moving with the music. I like singing at parties best, where there’s plenty of wine and people playing bottles and spoons and things. I’d like to make my gigs like that.”
As our conversation was ending, I mentioned the famous gig the Soft Machine did when they were part of the troupe who performed Picasso’s play Desiré Attrapé Par La Queue in a marquee outside St Tropez, having been banned by the local authorities from performing it in the town. Kevin said: “Yes, that was really idyllic. We were playing for ten francs a day, just food money really, with lots of sun and wine and chicks. I’d work in those conditions at the drop of a hat. It’s only when you get back to grey old England that money becomes important.”
© Richard Williams, Melody Maker, 25 April 1970