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Kevin Ayers, "What More Can I Say..."

This is a tantalizing set of early '70s reel-to-reel tapes by Soft Machine co-founder Ayers: lovely, intimate, and enlightening stuff by an idiosyncratic talent who made it look easy while giving off an allure of privilege, trippiness and innocence somewhere midway between Howard Marks and Christopher Robin.


Reel Recordings

Kevin Ayers may yet get his due. His influence on British psychedelia and the avant-garde school of glam rock are pretty obvious. Equally, Brian Eno's first solo records (the pre-ambient period beginning with Here Come The Warm Jets) owe as much of a debt to Kevin Ayers as they do to the Velvets. Older music lovers won't need to take my word for it, though, as they will fondly recall the 1974 concert and album Ayers did with Cale, Nico, & Eno (ACNE).

A late harvest is in bloom for Ayers with this release, as well as the 4 CD set Songs For Insane Times 1969-1980 (including an unreleased 1973 London concert) and his rapturously received new album Unfairground (made with fans from Neutral Milk Hotel and Teenage Fan Club, Bill Wells, Bridget St. John, Phil Manzanera and others). Ayers best work is a dance between his joyful talent and his lack of killer instinct. His concerns tend to be women, wine, and philosophy (not necessarily in that order).

Fellow former commune dweller G.F. Fitz-Gerald has hung on to these discarded tapes for more than 30 years. The sections where Ayers is laying out both simple and complex demos and specifying what will go where, who will be doing it and what it will sound like are fascinating. Hearing Ayers singing again reminds me of the contrast between his voice and that of his fellow Soft Machinist, Robert Wyatt. Wyatt's cracked, yearning voice can sound beautiful but always seemed like a strain. Ayers sounds like a man permanently on holiday and his resonant tone slides around as rich and easy as rum spilled on a glass table. His guitar playing is underrated, too, as shown on the playful and fuzzy instrumental track "Crystal Clear." 

While What More Can I Say is probably destined to be known as a footnote to Ayers' work it is quite fascinating and very much more than scraping the barrel. It harks back to a time when he was almost something of an It-Kid, what with his joy of punning, his easy talent, his posh other-ness, his languid baritone croon, and his dreamy blond looks. It could all have turned out differently, and yet may. What has turned out is that he never had a star's ego or an inheritance. Marvelously, even now his photos exude the style of a bloke who used to hang out with Bardot and Deneuve but with whom it would probably be a rare pleasure to spend time sharing intoxicants; the least of which would not be his music.