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Kevin Ayers | Joy of a Toy/Shooting at the Moon/Whatevershebringswesing/Bananamour (EMI)
Hooray.  A mere thirty years on and we are finally treated to the proper remastering, expanded track listing and deluxe repackaging job on the first four Kevin Ayers albums. Were this only a source of joy for middle aged, middle class ex-hippies we would have small mind to review it.
Kevin Ayers is up there with untouchables like John Martin, Beefheart and Tim Buckley (to name but three) all of whose unfashionable hippie past is of no consequence and whose talent is pretty obvious.  Take just a little time to investigate Mr. Ayers, the most talented could-have- been, should- have- been in rock and you will understand why luminaries like Bill Evans, Mike Oldfield, Ollie Halsall, David Bedford, Robert Wyatt and, later, even Elton John featured in his studio bands and why he has a cult following as great as Lisa Simpson, Wynona or Oscar Wilde. 'Joy of a Toy' is a good place to start. The first thing to hit you is the voice. The warm texture and depth (it is deeeep) has excited the heart of many a damsel. It has a slight upper class plumminess seldom heard in rock and roll these days but its elegant, assured charm is friendly and relaxed with no hint of pomposity or superiority. I know his range is about half an octave but he always finds a way to deliver his many beautiful tunes with great style. 'Joy of a Toy is', for all its fame, a record so removed from most music one could hear on the radio today  (except perhaps for a little Radio 3) that a little settling in might be in order. The album title really sums it up. The opener Joy of a Toy Continued feels like a host of nice and not so nice toys going on a jolly march. Town Feeling and Clarietta Rag could be the antics and observations of Hans Anderson characters out on similar adventures.  It is all a little surreal and, with its very inventive, very English, classical orchestration, recalls early Floyd (before they got boring) and the great Mickie Most led Donovan work of the Sixties. The runaway train yarn Stop this Train is a tidied up Syd Barret (Syd himself appears on a bonus cut). Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong is the I am the Walrus Beatles at their take no prisoners best, where there are no limits. A concert favourite probably still performed today and still the standout track is The Lady Rachel, an eerie tale of a little girl escaping from the darkness of a creepy house into even creepier dreams.  For me the magic of Kevin Ayers is his ability to meld great pop/rock songwriting with the prog rock experimentalism of those times. We don't get interminable Yes or Genesis twenty‚??five-minute forays into dull wastelands of the mind but rather five-minute fun rides to places unknown. (Okay a couple of later albums ‚?? 'Confessions of Dr. Dream' and the great 'Rainbow Takeaway' ‚?? have very long pieces but you couldn't lose interest 'cause they're too exciting).  
'Shooting at the Moon' is rather more uninspired on the songwriting front and the experimental dabbling recalls a lost Battered Ornaments or a Gong who have just lost their plonk, their acid and their camembert and are really just wasting studio time. Fortunately another wonderful and focused Kevin Ayers album, 'Whatevershebringswesing', was around the corner.  I dunno if Kevin was always the vanguard but if not then he's always very close behind and does everything with taste, fully immersed and with heart.  The opening cut on 'Whatever' with its rather modern orchestration, reverse tape sequences and ethereal choirs sounds completely like a very classy, long and lost section from 'Atom Heart Mother'. Bizarre. And great.  Great too is the Kevin Ayers show-stopper rocker Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes, a not-so-everyday story of hippie folk enlightening the likes of malcontent restaurant waiters with a little hash. This album might be seen as the shape or rather shapes of Ayers albums to come simply in its staggering range of styles covered- vaudeville (OhMy), reggae/calypso (Fake Mexican Tourist Blues) and experimental (Floyd meet Velvets in Song From The Bottom of a Well).  Recommended.  
My personal favourite is 'Bananamour' (great title) probably because there are no tracks that I ever felt like skipping and here, on the re-issue, the bonus cuts are not just lost period rarities but real killers.  The sunny calypso 45 smash that never was, Caribbean Moon, still works but its b-side, the rocking Take Me To Tahiti, is full of moments of clever, edgy timing as is the far more grand Internotional Anthem (yeah,  intern-o-tional).  There are tons of great songs on 'Banana-mour' but the best exploratory dip for the uninitiated may be Decadence.  Again, on this salute to Nico, we must blend the Floyd and the Velvets.  But there are even more worldly and unworldly influences drifting to the surface or at least competing for our attention.  Distressed spirits of long departed Berlin nightclub artists perhaps or the emanations of Moroccan snake charmers.  
  Better Kevin Ayers albums were to appear in the mid- to late-Seventies -  several of which were lost and overlooked in the dark hour of distress that was punk. Lets hope they're on the way. Well done EMI anyway. At budget price, at any price, these are rich interesting collections for your good self as well as your hippie aunts Tamsyn and Tuesday.

Stephen Ridley
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003