Mojo reports Kevin Ayers, a founding member of the essential prog-psych band the Soft Machine and an influential solo performer, died in his sleep two days ago in his home in France. He was 68 years old.
Ayers is best known as one of the founding members of the Soft Machine, a band in which he served as a primary songwriter, played bass and provided vocals. Though he left the group after the release of its first album, 1968’s self-titled, he was an essential part of its foundation. The band played numerous shows at London’s UFO Club, toured with Jimi Hendrix in 1968 and was an early defining band of the Canterbury Scene. Ayers eventually left the band, citing his distaste for touring. Listen to “Lullaby Letter” off of 1968’s The Soft Machine below.
He went on to have a rich and varied solo career, releasing eight albums in the ’70s that saw his music take on more pop forms while continuing to experiment in a variety of genres. Throughout this period he collaborated with many of the biggest names in music, including Elton John, Brian Eno, John Cale, Mike Oldfield and former members of the Soft Machine like Robert Wyatt. Listen to “Oh! Wot A Dream” off of his 1973 album, Bananamour, below.
The ’80s saw Ayers’s output decrease as he struggled with addiction and, as Mojo editor-in-chief Phil Alexander writes in his eloquent farewell, “a quest for greater commerciality [that] was doomed to failure and, ultimately, led a string of patchy albums in the ’80s.” Like any struggling but brilliant artist, there are still gems to be found in Ayers’s ’80s catalog. Listen to his shiny reworking of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” off of 1984’s Deià…Vu below.
As Ayers grew older, his involvement with music became more sporadic, but in 2007 he released The Unfairground, a record that saw him collaborating with many younger musicians who were inspired by his work like Julian Koster of the Memory Tapes, members of Ladybug Transistor and Teenage Fanclub. Listen to “Baby Come Home” off of the album below.
And watch an interview with Ayers below.