While unlikely to appeal to the hardened fan, these five-album boxsets act as an almost perfect introduction for those simply curious about certain artists. At the no-frills end of the market – simple cardboard box, card CD sleeves, no sleeve notes or extra tracks – they’re still an ideal way to discover new music, or at least fill holes cheaply in your collection.
English maverick Kevin Ayers’ back catalogue has been the subject of plenty of retrospection over the past few years. The box set Songs For Insane Times was repackaged in 2008, followed by The Harvest Years 1969-1974 in 2012, along with a raft of albums reissued in physical and download formats over the past few years. However, the recent acquisition of parts of the EMI catalogue by Warners means a new deluge of reissues, of which this collection of Ayers’ first five solo albums forms a part.
From the delightful English whimsy of 1969 debut Joy Of A Toy to the darker, heavier progressivism of ’74’s The Confessions Of Dr. Dream, this is the very best music from the career of an artist who would frequently, infuriatingly spurn fame whenever its spotlight threatened to catch him in its glare. Which it certainly did when he’d quit Soft Machine after their debut album. Most of his old band mates helped out with Joy Of A Toy, a whimsical set that highlighted Ayers’ own sense of the absurd.
For 1970’s Shooting At The Moon he had his own band called The Whole World, featuring a youthful Mike Oldfield on guitar as well as David Bedford and Lol Coxhill, most of whom also appeared on 1971’s Whatevershebringswesing – at that point the most realised set of material Ayers had produced, featuring There Is Loving… and long-time fan favourite, Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes.
1973’s Bananamour featured Ayers’ paean to fellow maverick Syd Barrett – the plaintive Oh! Wot A Dream – and although guitarist Steve Hillage appears in the album, Barrett didn’t. (Though he did appear on Religious Experience, a bonus track on the 2003 version of …Toy). Best of all is 1974’s hauntingly compelling The Confessions Of Dr. Dream And Other Stories. Produced by Quantum Jump’s Rupert Hine and featuring guest spots from Nico and Patto’s Ollie Halsall (who would become Ayers’ musical foil for the next 18 years), it remains his finest and most progressive work.
A similar set highlighting his later years would be most welcome, though the work got patchier until a creative resurgence in the 90s, which was halted only by his untimely death at the age of 68 last year.