Kevin Ayers: ‘I need the energy that love, sex and affection gives one’
In 1969 Ayers composed the Joy Of A Toy album on a Danish Beochord, a primitive tape mixer, and took it up the stairs of EMI’s Manchester Square HQ. He landed on his feet at EMI imprint Harvest Records where a vibrant team of youngsters were hell-bent on shouting “This is the future” to the old chaps at EMI.
“It wasn’t, quite. One didn’t get much family support, which I’d enjoyed with my band. We learnt fast playing with Pink Floyd. Except, damn them, they always sounded better than we did. Either they had a brilliant sound engineer or an innate sense of theatrical sound.”
Yet his Harvest stablemates were in disarray by 1967. “Syd. A kindred spirit. I wrote songs about him because he had such a profound effect. He was losing it really fast, too. And not just because of drugs. It was a sanity thing. He would have gone mad whatever. But he had a brilliant, original talent, one that launched Pink Floyd and English psychedelia. He was their soul. He was also a part of that whimsically inspired English pop culture, which is why he’s still idolised.”
On the solo circuit, Ayers ran into David Bowie, fresh from the Lindsay Kemp mime school. “He was a dancer then but he had brilliant songs. People say I influenced his David Bowie and Hunky Dory albums, which is probably true. If so it was a mutual affair. I still hear people nicking my riffs. So what? This is a borrowing profession.”
Rock star trappings never appealed to Ayers: “It’s true my attitude doesn’t suit the industry. I’m not into fame or ego. I’m crap at anything other than my music. There should be room for people like me. Sometimes I bowed to greater pressures,” he remarks, referring to the infamous album and concert called June 1 1974, when Ayers was part of a bizarre supergroup featuring Velvet Underground legends John Cale and Nico and Roxy Music’s Brian Eno. Ayers’s then-new label, Island Records, wanted him to wear leather pants and crocodile shoes. “I felt out of place. That group didn’t have much musical merit. I thought it was crap – it was all rushed out. John Cale was a different number, a businessman, like Lou Reed. Ditto Brian. Nico was sweet but barmy. They had some strange habits.”
Given his peripatetic existence, Ayers feels he’s never fitted the slot. In the mid-60s he lived in Majorca with the poet Robert Graves and enjoyed numerous society flings, including one with Bianca Pérez-Mora Macías before she met Mick and became Bianca Jagger. “I had a mattress and a stove and a guitar so I was happy then. I’ve always loved women; I need a female muse, which is why I can’t write now. My last album, The Unfairground (2007) may be my last hurrah.”
That would be sad. “It is because – and I love this word – I am a troubadour. I need the energy that love gives one, the sex and the affection. I crave… what’s the word… espiritu.”
There is much to admire about Kevin Ayers. He’s a one-off. If you’ve never heard any of his music, then you should check out Insane Times for the sunshine and smiles within.