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Ayers and the Soporifics, with Special Guests - June 1, 1974
Review No: 300
Kevin Ayers: Vocals, Guitar, Bass
Kevin Ayers after recording the fantastic concept album ‘The Confessions Of Dr Dream’ with a bunch of session musicians in 1974, decided to form a new band called ‘The Soporifics’ (Soporific means having a tendency to sleep!). Instead of doing the natural thing of taking the band into a rehearsal studio, Kevin Ayers being the free spirit that he is took the whole band off to the Rhone Valley for a nice little summer holiday, using the advance on Dr Dream to finance the jaunt. This was a great idea until the money ran out, and Island record label got in touch to say that the album sales were going well, and that they had booked the band into the prestigious Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, London, in three weeks time - 1st June 1974 to be exact, and the gig had already sold out! This is the moment that panic set in.
The band gathered up all belongings, family members, girlfriends, hangers on, etc, and got themselves back to London immediately and decamped to the Walpole Picture Theatre in Ealing to set about rehearsals. After a week Kevin Ayers realized that this was just not enough time to get ready, especially with the band’s not exactly regimental time keeping for the rehearsals. Drastic measures were needed. Kevin Ayers decided to get on the phone to a few friends.
First up was Nico, the intoxicating Diva from Velvet Underground’s first album, and through her Kevin Ayers contacted one of his own heroes, John Cale, also of the Velvet Underground, who happened to be in town recording his own album. He was only too pleased to help out; as it turns out he had been a long time fan of Kevin Ayers himself. When John Cale arrived he brought with him his buddy Eno, perfect.
Having heard on the grapevine that Kevin Ayers was in
a bit of a jam, two of his old allies rang up to offer their services,
which were also gladly excepted. They were Robert Wyatt, who had been
an original member of both ‘The Wilde Flowers’ and ‘Soft
Machine’ with Kevin Ayers. Robert Wyatt had a terrible accident
in 1972, falling off a balcony, and was henceforth confined to a wheelchair,
but it says a lot for his character that he was still an excellent percussionist
and vocalist. The other friend was none other than Mike Oldfield now at
the height of his commercial success after the release of his ‘Tubular
Bells’ record, after starting of his recording career in one of
Kevin Ayers earlier bands ‘Kevin Ayers and the Whole Wide World’.
To round things off the delectable services of Lisa Strike, Doreen and
Iris Chanter were added as backing singers.
Driving Me Backwards
Now if this is not enough, you have to remember the quality of the Soporifics themselves, on lead guitar you had Ollie Halsall, one of the most respected guitarists on the circuit, who later went onto a very successful solo career, as well as stints with ‘Boxer’, ‘Tempest’ and ‘The John Otway Band’. Eddie Sparrow on Drums, one of the greatest session drummers ever; in fact after this concert he handed in his notice to the ‘Soporifics’, as he just could not turn down all the money he was being offered outside the band, and he could not do both. Archie Legget on bass who has been on so many Canterbury sounds albums before and after the Soporifics, that they are to many to mention. Then on keyboards was Rabbit Bundrick who went on to join ‘Free’ and since then has been ‘The Who’s keyboard player since 1979. With this amount of talent you had the ultimate avant-garde super group.
Fortunately, Island records to the eternal gratitude of all music lovers had the sense to record the event. Unfortunately, all that has ever been released is the highlights, but what highlights they are. We can only hope that somewhere in Island’s vaults are the complete tapes, which will someday see the light of day. But that is a minor quibble considering what we get.
First up are a couple of numbers from Eno (with Kevin Ayers merely playing bass) that prove that, had he wished to go down that path, he could have been one of Glam Rock’s greatest stars. The two songs are very Roxy Musicish but then what do you expect as Eno had been a founder member of the band and had only left less than twelve months before, after appearing on their first two albums.
Next John Cale slithers on stage to crawl his way through Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. John Cale growls his way through the song slowing the tempo down almost to a stop, as well as giving completely new meaning to the words, with his emphasis going as far away from Elvis’s as is possible. If you think that the treble speakers have gone out of your equipment fear not, it’s just that Cale only uses the bottom end. Such is John Cale’s mastery of his craft that by the time the song finishes you feel so dirty you need a wash.
Then Nico takes centre stage to drag out Jim Morrison’s ‘The End’, accompanied only by some spine-chilling keyboards. It is one of the best choices Nico could have made, as you can hear that she has the audience in the palm of her mind as she recites the words. Big Jim would have nodded his approval.
Finally Kevin Ayers breezes onto the stage to give us a collection of songs from his back catalogue. Opening with ‘May I?’ from ‘Shooting at the Moon’ (1970) followed by ‘Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes’ from ‘Whatevershebringswesing’ (1972), then ‘Shouting In A Bucket Blues (wrongly titled ‘Standing In A Bucket Blues’ on the slip sleeve of this album) from ‘Bannamour’ (1973), wrapping things up with a couple from ‘The Confessions Of Dr Dream’ (1974), the bluesy ‘Everybody’s Sometime And Some Peoples All The Times Blues’, encoring with the totally irreverent ‘Two Goes Into Four’. The Mike Oldfield guitar solo on the former song is mesmerising, as it was on the studio version. Kevin Ayers free spirit roams throughout his songs, and all leave you feeling cheerful and carefree. The band is still a little under rehearsed, but in a funny way it just adds to the charm of it all.
Today Kevin Ayers has not changed, still arriving back
in his native England, getting some cash together, which he never seems
to have a problem doing considering his enormous talents, and then flits
off again on his world travels. I just would like to think it is as idyllic
as it sounds, one would hope so, as the joy that Kevin Ayers has brought
to the world through his music, he deserves to live life with a permanent
smile on his face. A very classy British eccentric.