Kevin Ayers – 1973

As August saunders on, with way too much energy (good and bad) this year, I think its about time to aim the direction of my theme to a place that requires less propulsion. At the end of the day you want to pump people up who are hearing the driving playlist, but you also have to provide some measure of temperance to give what they just heard its due place. Simply, this all means, I’m going to post driving songs of a less rockin’ mood. That doesn’t mean they don’t drive, it’s that they drive you in a different way. Kevin Ayers, from Soft Machine fame, was a guy who understood this. The two songs of the day I’m presenting, one the more inquisitive driver “Decadence”, and the other, the more introspective “Margaret” examine the most important space of all, the space between us.

In my previous post, I brought up the importance of Motorik as a thought process. Its the idea of moving forward, even if you have to take certain detours. Sonically, it’s a sound that lends itself easily to entrancing a listener due to repetition. Musically, the possibilities of using it to present emotional exploration has largely been left untapped. Kevin Ayers shows the way to do so in “Decadence” off 1973’s Bananamour album. Kevin Ayer has always been one of rock music’s more mysterious characters. He started off as the bassist for iconic Prog rockers Soft Machine, and get this…left the band after he saw that it was getting too commercial and he himself to overworked from touring. This was a guy, who much like Syd Barrett, wanted to get lost in his own musical mind with little regard to finding a way to promote his visions.

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By the time he recorded Bananamour he had already established himself as this whimsical real life character. His recordings before would alternate between psych freak outs, gorgeous A.A. Milne-influenced acoustic or piano ballads, Velvet Underground drones, and progressive pop workouts. Its easy to see, that his albums were extremely hard to promote because the man himself had such a wandering muse. Its this wandering muse that lead him to embrace for a brief thought, the sound of krautrock, and more specifically Motorik (which was at its infancy), as a way to outline a specific concern of his…what exactly was Nico, of VU fame, going on about in her own life. For someone, who was such a changeling as himself, to encounter someone who didn’t change that much outwardly or expressively but was so much more intensely elusive and hard to suss out, this was an examination he had to put to music.

Brian Eno, Nico, John Cale, and Kevin Ayers

Of first importance, was to use the Teutonic sound of Neu! to provide a constant focal point the listener can latch onto. This makes sense because no woman, at that time, had exerted the German feeling more than Nico. With this focal point he could use its drone to work along the edges with Steve Hillage of Gong to start point a portrait of the woman they think they’ve seen. Its a sound that’s sonically very liquid, guitars sound like string synthesizers, string synthesizers sound like distorted guitars, and little bloops of electronic drone and percussion fade in and out…everything played to mimic the little things that they find out about her, which makes them wander ever more about other things she doesn’t explain. When they’ve decided they’ve figured her out, somewhere around the 4:30 minute mark, as the drums kick inconclusively in she slips yet again from their musical/lyrical grasp/understand, merges with the liquid night and slips in with the desert sand. Oof, what a brilliant track! At least Motorik takes you to a destination…Kevin Ayer’s sublime rewriting of it presents that going forward isn’t in the right direction, even if that direction farther than an arm’s reach.

Now this is where it gets interesting, “Margaret” from 1971’s Whatevershebringswesing, explores the locale we rarely do whatever is in our reach. Its a love song, that could be for anyone, for a lover, a daughter, a sister and a mother, played out with an intimacy gleaned from re-exploration. I mean, isn’t that true love when you have the allowance to look at the little things you might have missed the first time you spent with someone you cared about. As you go back and experience shared spaces, maybe time changes and certain things evolve, but certain marker points (it could be a smile, or a certain je ne sais quoi) will always be there to lead you back from where you started in case you lose yourself a bit.

I think that’s why Kevin completely underestimates his “dreadful” love song, which is quite gorgeous, and other artists can be forgiven when they follow that path…or as the great Paul McCartney put it: Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs and what’s wrong with that? This airy, serene and endearing electric piano-driven beauty from Kevin ain’t doin’ nothin’ wrong, and does everythin oh so right, in my humble opinion. Anyway, more driving songs tomorrow…

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Bonus track time, here’s a quick little interview with Kevin and full performance of “May I” (this time wearing his Velvet Underground hat with some help from his friend Michael Oldfield) from Whatevershebringswesing at the Old Grey Whistle Test:

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f’ it, and of “Oh Wot!” as well, I just love this song, it fits Kevin to a T, RIP wherever you be:

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