“My brother was into Yes but it didn’t speak to me. They knew too many chords!” He was a punk hero, while her dad was Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen was her babysitter. How Galen Ayers turned Paul Simonon onto prog

Paul Simonon and Galen Ayers
(Image credit: Tom Oldham)

A prog legend’s daughter and The Clash’s former bassist aren’t the most obvious collaborators. But Can We Do Tomorrow Another Day? is the thoroughly arresting debut from Galen Ayers and Paul Simonon, who create a set of pan-European songs (sung in both English and Spanish) with a laidback Mediterranean vibe that’s often reminiscent of Galen’s late father, Kevin.

Produced by Tony Visconti, and featuring guest spots from Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) and others, the album has its roots in a Mallorcan fishing village, where Simonon stayed during lockdown.

How did this album happen?

Galen Ayers: After the hard Covid lockdown, Paul was just coming back to London from Spain and I was coming back from Greece. And we’d both been writing songs. We just started chatting and realised we were in the same place. The fun thing, I think, is this third space that opens up in any good collaboration, because you’re being pushed in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily go if you were just alone.

Paul Simonon: It was quite intense, in a way, because you open up completely. We both agreed from the beginning that we should just be totally honest with each other. That seemed to be the best way to move forward, going by gut instinct.

So, is Mallorca a key place for both of you, creatively?

GA: Sure. I grew up there, with my dad. And I lived there with my stepfather and my mum and I went to school there. I was practically a Spanish girl and spoke the local dialect, Mallorquin.

PS: This record really started off there, after I’d gone to Mallorca to paint. I had a guitar with me as well, so it was just an alternative way of being creative. It’s the same thing – the element of thought and feeling and expression. And I’ve always been open to European music. Jacques Dutronc and people like that. My dad used to play things like Francoise Hardy and Jacques Brel.

But you wanted to be a painter rather than a musician, right?

PS: Yeah, I wanted to be an artist. Eventually I got to art college, met Mick Jones [Clash co-founder] and somehow ended up playing bass. Mick said, “You’re a bit like Stuart Sutcliffe.” I went, “Who’s he?” He said, “The one that was in The Beatles. He couldn’t play bass either, but he was a good artist.” So that was sort of my inspiration in the very beginning.

And was it always going to be a musician’s life for you, Galen?

GA: No, I rebelled against it. At first I was always singing and toured a bit with my dad. But then I saw the human cost of the life and I didn’t want that. I was quite a strong academic: I have two masters and was adamant to find a different path. But eventually it just came naturally that, as a writer, adding music is another form of expression. Now you have a whole other layer of emotion.

Was prog ever on your radar, Paul?

PS: My brother used to be into Yes and things like that, but it just didn’t speak to me. It didn’t represent anything that I felt. They knew too many chords, that’s the problem! Galen and I are really from two different worlds

GA: [To Paul] But we did find some middle ground. You enjoyed the early Syd Barrett albums I played you.

PS: Yeah, that’s interesting, it’s like your dad’s stuff.

GA: It’s more song-based. Growing up, when I started getting interested in songwriting, there were progressives in my house at all times.

Didn’t Daevid Allen used to be your babysitter, Galen?

GA: They all were! I went to see King Crimson a few years back and met Robert Fripp. I said, “I’m sure you were our babysitter at some point.” He goes, “Well, you didn’t look like that!” Sometimes I dread it when I go to these get-togethers of like-minded people, because it’s either, “Your dad owes me money!” or “Your dad slept with my wife!” or something. I’m like, “It’s not my fault! I didn’t do anything!” But it’s always said with a smile, y’know. He was well-loved. I think Kevin was just way too sensitive to actually be a business person. There was this burning fire, with no compromise.

What kind of things did he teach you?

GA: He wasn’t very fatherly, in terms of giving advice. But he wrote this beautiful letter to me, where he likened being a songwriter, or being an artist, to being a tightrope walker. You just have to live a life where you don’t have a safety net. If you get scared or stop, then you fall. So you just push forward.

PS: I love the story Galen told me about him. There was a guitar on the floor and he just shoved it over towards Galen and said: “There you go, you’re on your own now.” I think that says quite a lot. That’s a great attitude.

GA: Kevin was unconventional, in terms of presents. On my 21st birthday he was playing his J200 Gibson that Jimi Hendrix gave him. It’s the guitar I’d grown up with, a beautiful-sounding guitar. He just randomly put it in the case, closed it, kicked it softly across the floor and his exact words were: “Take over, kid!”

Aside from this collaboration, what else do you have planned?

GA: February was the 10th anniversary of Kevin’s passing and I manage his catalogue, so I’ve joined up with Cherry Red to re-release Joy Of A Toy [Ayers’ 1969 solo debut] on vinyl. That’s happening in August and we’re super-excited about it. We’re also re-releasing Falling Up [1988] and there’s a box set coming too.

Tell us more!

GA: We went through the archives and found all this amazing footage and live performances – BBC sessions and a few concerts and stuff. So that’s all going to be in the box set. I had a 10-year plan for him. When he passed it was quite challenging, because when you’re given the editing rights to kind of complete someone’s story, it’s a daunting task. But I’m doing the best I can.

Galen & Paul's Can We Do Tomorrow Another Day? is out now via Sony. See their website for more information.

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.