Bassist for the influential 60s band Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers spent much of the last three decades languishing in royal obscurity in a variety of sunny climes, and the music world is mourning the recent passing of this minor aristocrat of U.K. rock. His old band helped invent the lysergic pastoral “Canterbury Sound,” an important strand of post-Sgt. Pepper’s rock. Ayers quit Soft Machine in ’69, spending much of the next decade helming a series of whimsical solo albums for a fanbase he held onto as long as progressive rock lasted.
Underground fame for deliciously ludicrous noisemakers like Joy of a Toy (1969) and Bananamour (1973) spread in recent years, as reissues of Ayers’ back catalog began to reach musicians and fans weaned on pop-punk and Radiohead. Instead of leading to a brief and rousing third act, a 2007 comeback album The Unfairground now stands as a last, elegantly calligraphed note from the artist’s long exile in the south of France; a typically eccentric coda to a fabulously weird career.
Ayers’ languid croak, sidewise humor and jokey poetics are all on flashy display in 1969’s “Song for Insane Times”: