‘I’m not an actor or a showman – I’m crap at anything other than playing’
Words: Max Bell
Kevin Ayers – who died in his sleep aged 68 at his home in Montolieu, Southern France on Monday – was, as he loved to say, a troubadour. Born in Kent and brought up in Malaya, the blond-haired Ayers exemplified sixties counter culture like few others.
A key member of the Canterbury psychedelic art rock scene, he and his friend Robert Wyatt formed the Soft Machine in 1966 and released their New York produced debut album in 1968. The band toured America with Jimi Hendrix Experience that year, which Ayers said, “was almost too amazing. Girls were always coming up and saying, ‘I want to fuck you,’ which English girls didn’t tend to do.”
Incredibly well-read and multi-lingual, he had a fruitful solo career thereafter; but he was always happiest drinking wine in Majorca or Ibiza. A true hedonist – never far from a corkscrew or a roll-up Gitane – Ayers was blissfully good company, since he could regale one with generous tales of Robert Graves, Syd Barrett and the Floyd, the Velvet Underground, Marc Bolan and David Bowie, all of whom passed through his orbit.
I first met him in Amsterdam in 1975 for an NME feature and we spent a few days touring the red light district, the ‘brown cafes’ and flea markets, while a straw-hatted Kevin swigged and smoked whatever was available and talked enthusiastically about working with Nico, Brian Eno and John Cale. “Not the most musical project,” he laughed before winking, “But who can resists spending time with Nico?”
Despite his talent, he never took himself that seriously. “I didn’t want to be a rock star,” he told me the last time we met for Classic Rock. He seemed somewhat despondent, saying he didn’t expect to find his muse again, but that he was looking forward to returning to Montolieu, “the village of books.”
“My attitude doesn’t work. I’m not an actor or a showman. I’m crap at anything other than playing…but there’s room for people like me.”
There is and there was. His death leaves a void and he will be much missed.