Friday, 22 February 2013

“You can’t shine if you don’t burn"

The inexorable passage of time means that the old guard of popular (and not so popular) music are and will be leaving us with increasing regularity. My normal reaction to hearing of the loss of yet another musical friend is a long sigh, followed by a search for an appropriate tune by the recently departed.

Having said that, hearing the news of Kevin Ayers' passing a couple of days ago was a genuine shock, and left me feeling almost as bereft as I did when John Peel went to that great gig in the sky. Thanks to Peely, I was introduced to Kevin's wine soaked off-kilter pop songs at an early age, and he has always held a special place in my musical universe. His passing left me genuinely sad.

Kevin has a long musical history, going right back to that almost mythological band The Wilde Flowers, out of which came The Soft Machine and Caravan, and from which of course the whole Canterbury scene blossomed.

Encouraged into songwriting by his friend Jimi Hendrix, Kevin's music was always infused with a laid back summery groove, due in no small part to his childhood being mostly spent in Malaysia, his step-father being a British diplomat out there.

Leaving Soft Machine (now minus the indefinite article) and retreating to Spain after a gruelling tour of the USA in support of Jimi Hendrix in 1968, Kevin took up his role as left-field maverick pop singer-songwriter, never looking back. He was lucky enough to work with a stellar supporting cast over the years, Mike Oldfield, David Bedford, Steve Hillage, Andy Summers being just a few. Probably his longest serving musical partner was the also now sadly departed Ollie Halsall, a truly marvellous guitar player.

Unfortunately I never got to see Kevin play live, but over the years I have bought most of his records. If you've not got any of his solo work, you owe it to yourself get a "Best Of" at the very least, or if you're feeling a bit more adventurous try any one of his first seven studio albums, all of which are gems.

It is quite fitting that his last studio album, the short but very sweet The Unfairground showed a marked return to form for the exiled oenophile. So, let's all raise a glass of full-bodied red to Kevin Ayers, who showed us all that human warmth and a decent tune are at least as important as cerebral musical flexing, something all us pseudo-intellectual scribblers should remember once in a while.

Kevin Ayers died at home in his sleep on 18 February 2013 in Montolieu, France, aged 68. A note bearing the legend used as the title of this piece was found there. It is not thought to be related to his death, but seems kind of appropriate.


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