Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kevin Ayers of Soft Machine Passes On

Kevin Ayers, one of the founders of the rock group Soft Machine, died 18 February 2013 at the age of 68.

Kevin Ayers was born on 16 August 1944 in Herne Bay, Kent. His father was BBC producer Rowan Ayers. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother married a British civil servant. As a result Mr. Ayers spent much of his childhood in Malaysia. He was twelve years old when he returned to England. He studied at Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury. As a young man he took up music and eventually joined the band The Wilde Flowers. It was in 1966 that Kevin Ayers and drummer Robert Wyatt,  both of The Wilde Flowers, formed Soft Machine with guitarist Daevid Allen and organist Mike Ratledge.

Soft Machine proved popular in the British Underground subculture, and performed regularly at the UFO Club and other London clubs such as Middle Earth and the Speak Easy. Their first single, "Love Makes Sweet Music" / "Feelin' Reelin' Squeelin'," was released on Polydor in 1967. Their first album, The Soft Machine, followed in 1968. Soft Machine toured the United States in 1968. It was at the end of the tour that an exhausted Kevin Ayers amicably left the band.

After leaving Soft Machine Kevin Ayers launched a solo career. His first album, Joy of a Toy, was released in 1969. Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge. and Hugh Hopper of Soft Machine all appeared on the album. Between 1969 and 1988 Kevin Ayers released fourteen more albums. Following his 1988 album Falling Up, Kevin Ayers did not release another album until Still Life with Guitar in 1992. His final album was The Unfairground in 2007. Over the years he worked with artists ranging from Ollie Halsall to Brian Eno to Mike Oldfield to Syd Barrett to Nico.

Kevin Ayers was an extremely versatile musician and songwriter. As part of Soft Machine he played both bass and guitar at various times, as he did on his solo albums as well. In his song writing he was known for his experimentation, and wrote songs in a wide variety of styles. His songs ranged from the pastoral ballad "Girl on a Swing" to the orchestral "There Is Loving/Among Us" to the pop oriented "Sweet Deceiver." He would have a far reaching impact on rock music, influencing subgenres from progressive to power pop to psych folk. His influence can be seen in artists ranging from Robyn Hitchcock to David Bowie to Teenage Fanclub. While neither Soft Machine nor Kevin Ayers may have ever reached the top of the pop charts, Mr. Ayers still had a impact on rock music much further reaching than many more popular artists.

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