The sublime singer/songwriter Kevin Ayers—an original member of psych-prog legends Soft Machine (and their predecessors, the Wilde Flowers)—passed away in his sleep Feb. 18 at age 68. The cause of death has not been reported.
Ayers played on Soft Machine’s classic self-titled debut album and then set off on a long and rewarding solo career, all the while occasionally collaborating with innovative musicians such as Brian Eno, Nico, John Cale, Robert Wyatt, and Mike Oldfield. Ayers wrote some of the most memorable and compelling compositions on The Soft Machine (AKA Volume One), including the catchy as hell and exceptionally eccentric “We Did It Again,” “Lullabye Letter,” and “Joy of a Toy.”
Ayers’ first solo LP, Joy of a Toy, established him as one of the most distinctive vocalists in the British rock scene, his deep, lugubrious pipes especially working magic with the drop-dead-gorgeous ballad “Lady Rachel” and the perennially relevant “Song for Insane Times.” (The contemporaneous single “Religious Experience [Singing a Song in the Morning]” with Syd Barrett is also an immortal beauty.) Ayers went on to cut several other great records, including Shooting at the Moon, Bananamour, The Confessions of Dr. Dream and Other Stories, and June 1, 1974 (with Eno, Cale, and Nico). Ayers’ final album, The Unfairground, came out in 2007 and featured contributions from Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and members of Teenage Fanclub, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, among others.
“Decadence”—from 1973's Bananamour—is my favorite Ayers joint, because it anticipates Spiritualized by 17 years and because it’s so incredibly beautiful and hypnotic. RIP, Kevin Ayers.