Kevin AyersCanterbury's Avant-Pop Prankster By Stewart Mason
Amiably eccentric art-rock singer-songwriter.
Kevin Ayers has always been a cult figure, and the singer-songwriter's behavior throughout his career suggests that this is entirely by design: whether because he's easily bored or just plain bloody-minded, Ayers tends to end his creative partnerships almost before they even get started. The singer-guitarist left Canterbury prog legends Soft Machine after a classic debut album; broke up the promising Kevin Ayers and the Whole World (featuring modern composer David Bedford, avant-garde reedsman Lol Coxhill and a shy young multi-instrumentalist named Mike Oldfield) while recording their second album; and according to legend, torpedoed a nascent art-rock supergroup featuring himself, John Cale, Brian Eno and Nico when Cale walked in on Ayers shagging Cale's wife the night before their sole album (the live classic June 1, 1974) was recorded. That said, Ayers' best albums remain among the most enjoyable works associated with the Canterbury progressive rock scene: for all his experimental tendencies, Ayers maintained a love of melodic pop and an amiable playfulness that keeps his music from being too cerebral or inaccessible. Ayers' four albums for the Harvest label, 1969's Joy Of A Toy through 1973's Bananamour, are essential for Canterbury fans. Later albums have their charms, but are often hampered by too-sterile production that quashes Ayers' trademark eccentricities. When Ayers' longtime creative partner, guitarist Ollie Halsall, died in 1992, he largely retired from music. A 2007 comeback, The Unfairground, was brought together through the efforts of latter-day Ayers fans The Ladybug Transistor and Teenage Fanclub.