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Ayers - The Confessions Of Dr Dream and Other Stories
Review No: 271
Ollie Halsall: Guitars
In the early Sixties a very young Kevin Ayers was drawn to the Canterbury, Kent social whirl from his birth town Herne Bay by the happening scene in the Cathedral City. Mostly this involved copious amounts of drinking and girls which the young Ayers found much to his liking. Out of this disarray a band was formed, which has always been accredited with what became known as the Canterbury sound ‘The Wilde Flowers’ (The ‘e’ to Wilde was not out of misspelling like ‘The Beatles’ or ‘The Byrds’, but as a tribute to Kevin Ayers hero Oscar Wilde.)
At the time Kevin Ayers had no musical knowledge at all. Not letting this get in the way Ayers became the vocalist whilst he learnt rudimentary guitar (which he was later to become more than proficient at). After being replaced from the Wilde Flowers when Robert Wyatt was moved up front of the stage to sing instead of sitting behind the drum kit, Kevin Ayers took an extended vacation to his beloved Spain, which was to become a recurring theme, where he practiced his guitar and started to write his own songs. Upon his return, he ventured out to form a new band.
They were to be called ‘Soft Machine’ after the William Burroughs’s novel (in the book the soft machines were the humanoids). Finding the aforementioned Robert Wyatt had also taken his leave of ‘The Wilde Flowers’ he was quickly roped in behind the drum kit, like minded guitarist David Allen was brought in on guitar, and the line up was completed by the rather sinister keyboards player Mike Ratledge.
According to legend the initial finances came from one Wes, a spectacle manufacturer/millionaire from Oklahoma who came across Allen and Ayers on the beach in Majorca. Without asking anything in return, he gave them enough money to buy top of the range equipment and more importantly food to eat! By the time the band had made some money and went to look for their mysterious benefactor, he had joined some religious sect and no longer had need of material things. Oh well, hope he liked the music.
The Soft Machine soon became part of the London underground
scene, even playing at the legendary 24 Hour Technicolor Dream Concert,
as well as at other concerts with such bands as Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix
Experience, Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Move, The Who, The Graham
Bond Organization (with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker), Blue Cheer, Jeff
Beck, Sam Global Dream and Paper Blitz Tissue. I did not make the last
two up. But what would you give for a time machine?
The Soft Machine also did a six month tour of America as part of a package with Jimi Hendrix, and managed to release the first Soft Machine album, Soft Machine (1968), which was taped and recorded in four days and was not released in Europe for some twenty years, which made it even weirder when the first Soft Machine album was released in Europe under the title ‘Soft Machine Volume Two’.
But by that time of course David Allen had left to go and form Gong, and Kevin Ayers, finding life on the road in a rock band just a little bit too much, had departed back to Ibiza. Soft Machine went off into their own little world of Jazz/Rock with a constantly revolving line up, but the first whimsical album still keeps its charm to this day.
A year later Kevin Ayers was to return, and was immediately snapped up by the fledgling Harvest label and released a well received solo album, Joy Of A Toy (1969), then, with his backing band The Whole World, ‘Shooting At The Moon’ (1970) ‘Whatever she brings’ (1972), and Bananamour (1973). Then the band sort of broke up in a drunken shambles; no one is quite sure why, as they were too drunk to remember.
By this time Kevin Ayers had become the Canterbury sound equivalent of what John Mayall was to the blues, with lots of musicians going through his band to go on to relatively better things, including, David Bedford (big time producer), Mike Oldfield (as if you need to ask), Andy Summers (The Police), Lol Coxhill (saxophone everybody), Archie Leggit (everybody else), Steve Hillage (Gong and an illustrious solo career) , and Rabbit Bunrick (The Who).
But it was perhaps during the making of Kevin Ayers’ next solo album, the wonderful ‘The Confessions of Dr Dream and other stories’, that Kevin Ayers met his musical soul buddy, the great guitarist Ollie Halsall. (It was perhaps after Ollie Halsall was taken away from us to the great gig in the sky that Kevin Ayers gave up his music, apart from the odd dabble here and there).
But the first time that Halsall and Ayers got together on ‘Dr Dream and Other Stories’ they produced the best collection of music to come out under the Ayers banner.
‘Day by Day’ is a lovely little song to get us underway, telling the story of each day insisting upon going its own separate way, and there really isn’t very much you can do about it all, so you may just as well let fate take its course.
Second track in is where Ollie Halsall first makes his presence felt with some attention grabbing guitar. Although Kevin Ayers had no regular band at the time of this recording, Ollie Halsall being the only musician to play on every track, all the rest being session musicians, you would never know from listening, as it all sounds very tight and inventive.
‘See You Later’ is a song about saying seeing you later, but not exactly meaning it, a sin far too many of us are guilty of. ‘Didn’t feel lonely till I thought of you’ is self explanatory, with some wonderful guitar picking from Ollie Halsall, whilst Kevin Ayers gives out his most melancholy vocals.
From here on out Kevin Ayers turns into a storyteller - the Vincent Price of progressive rock, as he keeps you balanced on the edge of your seat waiting for either each spoken word, or knocked over the back of the settee with a sudden rousing chorus, lulled into a totally false sense of security by a lilting piano lyric, or with Ayers’ whispering over the top of some quiet Hammond organ chords,
‘’It begins with a blessing, once I awakened, but it ends with a curse. My head is a nightclub, making life easy waiting for something already there, tomorrow they will find it if they don’t drown in their dreams, with glasses of wine, but the customers are always dancing, and as you turn to your partners she screams ‘Get Out Of My Dreams’.”
In the middle of all this you get a quick burst of some old blues style acoustic guitar with ‘Ballbearing Blues’, which just softens you up for the main course: the multi structured guitar riff of the title song which comes to you in four parts, but always with that incessant riff bludgeoning into your self conscious. Kevin Ayers is at his most menacing as he warns you of the perils of falling asleep, and what lies waiting for you there. Without doubt this is the most haunting piece of music ever listened to by these ears, fair makes the blood run cold. The vocals are all fed to you through echo chambers as if from beyond the grave, dragging you further and further into the mind of Mr Ayers. In the middle section Ollie Halsall leads the musicians into the gloom like a burning torch to show you the way home, and some lovely piano work gives you some respite, whilst Kevin Ayers sings words of hope as if by way of apology. Of course for the finale the dirty riffs come storming back as they drag Ayers, and you, screaming back into his nightmare. If you are a Stephen King fan you will enjoy Kevin Ayers and his alias Dr Dream.
Surprisingly the album ends with an almost Beatlish song, even Kopping (sic) some of the Fab four’s lyrics to finish off the album.
I was never sure why Kevin Ayers never became a huge star, maybe people were just to scared.