Kevin Ayers in session for John Peel – Top Gear Program – July 11, 1970 – BBC Radio 1 –
Kevin Ayers in session tonight. Recorded for John Peel’s Top Gear Program for BBC Radio 1 on July 11, 1970.
I remember during a flight to London, sometime in 1976,I was listening, out of sheer boredom, to the in-house music piped over those strange plastic stethoscopes (before the days of Walkman’s or just months prior – either way, I couldn’t afford one at the time) and somewhere around cruising altitude Mr. Cool suddenly came on. It was the opening track on his then-latest lp, Yes, We Have No Mañanas and what struck me was; Kevin Ayers was finally deemed commercial – his music was even on an airline. It would be the equivalent to hearing an artist you swore up and down would never go anywhere near being heard in a supermarket or elevator, appearing matter-of-factly on a medium you thought was reserved for Lee Hazlewood or The Brass Ring.
Kevin Ayers was one of the pivotal figures in the Progressive Rock scene – his credentials stretched way back to the early Canterbury era – the one that gave us such legends as Caravan and Soft Machine (which Ayers was a founding member of) – his collaborations read like a who’s who of Prog – his reputation was as famous as it was infamous, but his music was nothing short of spell-binding and light-years ahead of its time. His talent cut a wide swathe and, for all intents and purposes, doing something as patently commercial as Mr. Cool didn’t really seem that out of character for him.
I suppose you could draw some comparisons to Scott Walker, another artist whose work fairly enveloped musical genres – there are similarities in eccentricities. Over the years Ayers’ musical endeavors tapered off to the occasional album and appearance and he ultimately settled in France, where he sadly passed away in 2013. His last album, Unfairground was recorded in 2007 and it reunited him with many former bandmates and collaborators, eventually filling the sessions to overflowing when word got out Ayers was recording after being something of a recluse throughout much of the 90s.
Tonight it’s just two songs from this Top Gear – the opening track is a French version of May I from his second album, Shooting At The Moon and I don’t think it’s been available commercially.
In any event – if you’re not familiar with the music of Kevin Ayers or have maybe only heard about him in passing, give this rather short session a listen and go exploring – there is so much to discover – a veritable universe, in fact. I am still amazed that British Airways had their act together as far as music was concerned. Things have no doubt changed, even in listening habits.
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