Last Thursday I found myself terribly upset upon hearing the news that Kevin Ayers had passed. I have such vivid recall of the first time I encountered his music. It was at the end of summer in 1983. I was 17. I was in a pub in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. It was lunchtime. A new jukebox was just being delivered and the installer offered to the half a dozen or so of us present that there were 5 free credits for us to enjoy. The first up to the record machine was a local enigma, known to both friend and foe as “Jock” – he was actually from Newcastle, but when he’d arrived in the area some years previously, the townsfolk of Nuneaton had mistaken his accent as being a strain of Scots and his initial appellation remained. The first tune he picked was Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain” and Jock sang every line in unison with fellow Geordie Bryan Ferry. Then came the next song. I’d never heard it before. However, within four hits of the cowbell, I was hooked. It was “Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes”. Whilst I’m very aware that our memories are mostly unreliable and often wildly inaccurate, I am, quite confident that during the 3 minutes and 20 or so seconds it took for me to hear “Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes” for the first time the world around me stopped, and it was, and remains, one of the most profound listening experiences I will ever have. Sometime shortly after that lunchtime epiphany I purchased the newly released Kevin Ayers Collection (Charly/See For Miles), a platter that was the signpost to many of Kevin’s albums proper. The last time I saw Kevin perform was at the Astoria in London in 1997. Learning that he’d left us was as intense a moment to me as was hearing “Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes” for the first time all those years ago.
At the time of my initial brush with “Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes” I was really only in possession of the most rudimentary grasp of the guitar. Subsequently I have become relatively adept at the six stringed beast and am quite agile in a number of styles of guitar playing and in addition to my own compositions, I can throw-down some pretty accurate readings of iconic guitar parts from the past 60 or 70 years. However, I have never been able to figure out exactly what the guitars on “Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes” are doing. Over the years this has come up in conversation with many other guitarists – most recently with Nick Pynn, who is no slouch when it comes to the guitar or any instrument with strings – and nobody has ever been able to tell me or show me what is really happening.
Having known the music of Kevin Ayers for approaching 30 years, I can’t imagine not having it as part of the backdrop to my life. I return to it relentlessly. And although I wasn’t a personal friend of Kevin’s and was never going to be, his passing has really affected me.
Now I’m going to sit down and listen to Whatevershebringswesing in its entirety. Rest in Peace, Kevin Ayers.