In the early Sixties a very young Kevin Ayers was drawn to
the Canterbury, Kent social whirl from his birth town Herne Bay by the
happening scene in the Cathedral City. Mostly this involved copious amounts of
drinking and girls which the young Ayers found much to his liking. Out of this
disarray a band was formed, which has always been accredited with what became
known as the Canterbury sound ‘The Wilde Flowers’ (The ‘e’ to Wilde was
not out of misspelling like ‘The Beatles’ or ‘The Byrds’, but as a
tribute to Kevin Ayers hero Oscar Wilde.)
At the time Kevin Ayers had no musical knowledge at all. Not
letting this get in the way Ayers became the vocalist whilst he learnt
rudimentary guitar (which he was later to become more than proficient at).
After being replaced from the Wilde Flowers when Robert Wyatt was moved up
front of the stage to sing instead of sitting behind the drum kit, Kevin Ayers
took an extended vacation to his beloved Spain, which was to become a recurring
theme, where he practiced his guitar and started to write his own songs. Upon
his return, he ventured out to form a new band.
They were to be called ‘Soft Machine’ after the William
Burroughs’s novel (in the book the soft machines were the humanoids). Finding
the aforementioned Robert Wyatt had also taken his leave of ‘The Wilde
Flowers’ he was quickly roped in behind the drum kit, like minded guitarist
David Allen was brought in on guitar, and the line up was completed by the
rather sinister keyboards player Mike Ratledge.
According to legend the initial finances came from one Wes,
a spectacle manufacturer/millionaire from Oklahoma who came across Allen and
Ayers on the beach in Majorca. Without asking anything in return, he gave them
enough money to buy top of the range equipment and more importantly food to
eat! By the time the band had made some money and went to look for their
mysterious benefactor, he had joined some religious sect and no longer had need
of material things. Oh well, hope he liked the music.
By 1973, after band breakups and regrouping, Kevin Ayers had
become the Canterbury sound equivalent of what John Mayall was to the blues,
with lots of musicians going through his band to go on to relatively better
things, including, David Bedford (big time producer), Mike Oldfield (as if you
need to ask), Andy Summers (The Police), Lol Coxhill (saxophone everybody),
Archie Leggit (everybody else), Steve Hillage (Gong and an illustrious solo
career) , and Rabbit Bunrick (The Who).
But it was perhaps during the making of Kevin Ayers’ next
solo album, the wonderful ‘The Confessions of Dr Dream and other stories’,
that Kevin Ayers met his musical soul buddy, the great guitarist Ollie Halsall.
(It was perhaps after Ollie Halsall was taken away from us to the great gig in
the sky that Kevin Ayers gave up his music, apart from the odd dabble here and
But the first time that Halsall and Ayers got together on
‘Dr Dream and Other Stories’ they produced the best collection of music to
come out under the Ayers banner.
‘Day by Day’ is a lovely little song to get us underway,
telling the story of each day insisting upon going its own separate way, and
there really isn’t very much you can do about it all, so you may just as well
let fate take its course.
Second track in is where Ollie Halsall first makes his
presence felt with some attention grabbing guitar. Although Kevin Ayers had no
regular band at the time of this recording, Ollie Halsall being the only
musician to play on every track, all the rest being session musicians, you
would never know from listening, as it all sounds very tight and inventive.
‘See You Later’ is a song about saying seeing you later,
but not exactly meaning it, a sin far too many of us are guilty of. ‘Didn’t
feel lonely till I thought of you’ is self explanatory, with some wonderful
guitar picking from Ollie Halsall, whilst Kevin Ayers gives out his most
From here on out Kevin Ayers turns into a storyteller - the
Vincent Price of progressive rock, as he keeps you balanced on the edge of your
seat waiting for either each spoken word, or knocked over the back of the
settee with a sudden rousing chorus, lulled into a totally false sense of
security by a lilting piano lyric, or with Ayers’ whispering over the top of
some quiet Hammond organ chords,
‘’It begins with a blessing, once I awakened, but it
ends with a curse. My head is a nightclub, making life easy waiting for
something already there, tomorrow they will find it if they don’t drown in
their dreams, with glasses of wine, but the customers are always dancing, and
as you turn to your partners she screams ‘Get Out Of My Dreams’.”
In the middle of all this you get a quick burst of some old
blues style acoustic guitar with ‘Ballbearing Blues’, which just softens
you up for the main course: the multi structured guitar riff of the title song
which comes to you in four parts, but always with that incessant riff
bludgeoning into your self conscious. Kevin Ayers is at his most menacing as he
warns you of the perils of falling asleep, and what lies waiting for you there.
Without doubt this is the most haunting piece of music ever listened to by
these ears, fair makes the blood run cold. The vocals are all fed to you
through echo chambers as if from beyond the grave, dragging you further and
further into the mind of Mr Ayers. In the middle section Ollie Halsall leads
the musicians into the gloom like a burning torch to show you the way home, and
some lovely piano work gives you some respite, whilst Kevin Ayers sings words
of hope as if by way of apology. Of course for the finale the dirty riffs come
storming back as they drag Ayers, and you, screaming back into his nightmare.
If you are a Stephen King fan you will enjoy Kevin Ayers and his alias Dr
Surprisingly the album ends with an almost Beatlish song,
even Kopping (sic) some of the Fab four’s lyrics to finish off the album.
I was never sure why Kevin Ayers never became a huge star,
maybe people were just to scared.