A blog post

Kevin Ayers (re)discovered

Posted on the 11 May, 2013 at 10:02 pm Written by in Music


On (re)discovering Kevin Ayers


Some of his music is very intense, and has great complexity and depth

(Kevin Ayers, 1972 concert)

Why pick up Kevin Ayers? Well, he died 68 years old in February and I was sad by this news. His songs are not closed, not polished, but open, or opening up in hazardly and unexpected ways. There are good reasons to rediscover his music. Ayers grew up partly in Malaysia, was a friend of Syd Barret (Pink Floyd), and liked the “whimsical” attitude of the best English pop music.

I thought I had heard most of it when it came out, from the late 1960s onwards, and I probably did at friends’ places and at parties, but it turns out I only had tapes of two of his albums, Shooting at the moon (1970) and Yes we have no more mananas (1976), both of which I enjoyed and played quite often, but sort of forgot later. When I went from tapes to vinyl in the 1990s I eventually picked up the Yes we have.. album (Harvest / EMI SHSP 4057) for NOK 150 and The Confessions of Dr. Dream and Other Stories (1974, Island ILPS 9263) for 100. Good used vinyl was cheaper than today. I bought many used LPs, and again, Ayers was sort of forgotten.

This has changed for the last weeks. The Dr Dream sequence, with Nico on vocals, is still very dense, chilling, and top quality – this is a good and underrated LP (did they listen not just to side A but side B also, at Allmusic.com, which gives it only two stars?) It has a very strong message to counter culture, be vary of dream makers, Dr. Dream and his ilk. Although the album arrived a bit late, and was not much heeded. This was prog after prog had fallen out of fashion.

The cover of The Confessions of Dr. Dream and Other Stories, scanned from my LP, below.


The cover has a man and a woman holding up masks to each other. The main sequence is complex music, not easy listening. The idea is that we are not really real to each other, in today’s society.

As I said, Ayers has been heavily played over the last weeks, and emerges as a much more interesting figure than I first thought. Listening to Unfairground (2007) in a digital version, I like the “prog” attitude which is still there in his songs. I hope it does not die out. On this album he emerges as older, more mature, still witty and observant, still with melancholy, but also more depressed than the 1970 man.

The way I see it, this depression is not psychological, mainly, but sociological. It happened to Ayers and a lot of other progressive artists from the 1965-75 period. It happened to the conscious part of the “1968 generation” generally. “What happened to our dream?” is a symbolic question.

Neil Young sings: “We were gonna save the world, then the weather changed, and it fell apart, and it breaks my heart” (“Walk like a giant”, on Psychedelic Pill 2012). “But think how close we came”.

Basically, the revolution that the “counter-culture” wanted did not happen. It was beaten down in the streets of Chicago during the Democratic convention in 1968, and in Paris and Prague the same  year. “There’s blood in the streets of Chicago”, Jim Morrisson sang (“Peace frog”, Morrisson Hotel 1970); George R.R. Martin described it in his novel The Armageddon Rag.

Repression was the order of the day, here in the UK: