While many claim Kevin Ayers’ influence was great, the list of artists who actually sound like him is shorter than his attention span was. A stop-start career, in which he was often more interested in reclining intoxicated on a sunny beach than grafting at the musical craft, nonetheless delivered multiple fascinating moments, and his solo debut, now reissued in its original format, remains a gorgeous and beguiling maverick masterpiece.
After leaving Soft Machine, he mulled over packing it all in. Jimi Hendrix gave him a guitar and, reanimated, he delivered the songs that became Joy Of A Toy to the fledgling Harvest label, who spent generously on its production.
Musicians included Soft Machine friends Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge and Hugh Hopper, with David Bedford arranging and an on-the-way-up Paul Buckmaster playing cello. Syd Barrett visited the sessions, though the track on which he (badly) played guitar didn’t feature until a 2003 reissue. (This release sticks religiously to the 1969 template with its baroque gatefold and all.)
From the impish bizarreness of the opening track to the twisted, semi-parodic, alt-folk of All This Crazy Gift Of Time, Joy Of A Toy is a unique, sometimes unsettling experience. Is it half-arsed and throw-away, or is the subversive genius torching the rulebook? The question, unanswerable, only bolsters the aura.
Even without Ayers’ voice, the music would be a box of tantalising tricks. With it, it conjures alchemy. His baritone, both languid and dominant, gives the songs a shade of unorthodoxy which goes beyond typical English hippie eccentricity.
Girl On A Swing has developed the best-known afterlife, and marries charm and oddness like early Floyd playing early Bee Gees. The instruments subtly shiver and tremble. Stop This Train, forever slowing down and speeding up, deconstructs blues rock nonchalantly, while The Lady Rachel is the missing link between The Velvet Underground and Brian Protheroe. This is an album of divergent grace.
Joy Of A Toy (Remastered Gatefold Vinyl Edition) is on sale now via Cherry Red.