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Kevin Ayers - Joy of a Toy CD (album) cover

JOY OF A TOY

Kevin Ayers

Canterbury Scene


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Carl floyd fan
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars I'm suprised no one has reviwed this one yet as it is a landmark in the canterbury scene. It isn't full fledges canterbury but you sense the genre taking form here in the midst of straight up psych and rock and roll. This def. feels like 1967 (girl on a swing, stop this train, ect.) all over again but with innovative twists included. Overall the album is very easy going with funny/light hearted lyrics throughout most of the cd. Def. check kevin ayers out if you are into psych/jazz-rock/cant.

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Send comments to Carl floyd fan (BETA) | Report this review (#48181)
Posted Saturday, September 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
3 stars Never able to follow-up the constant touring of Soft Machine , Kevin Ayers quit after a US tour an d the release of the debut album (on which he wrote most notably Why Are We Sleeping and Joy Of A Toy) , he retreated to Ibiza, which was a high point of the Hippie life at the time, and wrote some songs that were to become his first solo album, although more than 18 months interval between the album and the Soft Machine album. Ayers was never a strong workhorse and he will often resort to the easy way out in his career and will miss a chance of really exploiting his talent correctly: all of his albums contains two or three excellent tracks, but also many weaker ones, and I always felt this was the case because he never tried hard enough.

What the first run of albums develops music-wise is some sort of pop that in many case feel a bit shallow, but once in a while, there are tracks that can easily qualify as progressive, and can be called art rock. Shame such tracks are so few, but Kevin can only blame himself. His pop writing skills did earn him a lot of attention and somehow he can be considered the equivalent of the Floyd's Syd Barret in Soft Machine. But for us progheads , the most interest lies in those rarer and proggier tracks, but this album is also one of the earliest released by the ever-important Harvest label and was recorded at the Abbey Road studios. As with Barret's debut album, Ayers benefits from the support of his old group as well as a few stellar guest appearances Tait (From Pete Brown's Battered Ornaments) and David Bedford who arranged the album. An impressive array of instruments were used for the album including piccolos, celeste, oboes, kazoos and cellos, but the whole thing remains quite popish.

The album takes its name from the SM track on the debut album, but the opening track on this album does hold the same charm, as does most of the first side of the album - although Town Feeling and Song For Insane Times are interesting. One must wait until Stop This Train (Again Doing It) - Ratledge pulls in some excellent organ lines - and then a first version of one of his most enduring track Lady Rachel, for us progheads to raise an eyebrow and take notice. Honourable mention for Oleh, Oleh Bandu, also with its offbeat piano.

The album now under its remastered version hold a few bonus tracks (one with Barret helping out on vocals) but except for very interesting later versions of Lady Rachel, they hold few interest as they are repeated over and most have been released on his Odd Ditties 76 compilation album. A historically important album, this is maybe the only reason why I round up this debut album to the upper third star, but it is hardly essential for progheads - as is usual for most of Ayers's solo albums.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#62645)
Posted Sunday, January 01, 2006 | Review Permalink
The Wizard
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars If your into Canterbury you should look into this. After are hero Kevin Ayers left the Soft Machine as a bassist because he couldn't handle the touring schedule, he decided to become a singer/songwriter backed by a great band. This album isn't exactly prog but an intelligent pop albums with an avant garde twist. The songwriting perfectly characterizes the lazy bohemian character of Mr. Ayers, full of British whimsy.

The instrumentation features many different and exotic instruments not usually seen in a rock album. There are lots of oboes and cellos about which give it a symphonic feel in some parts. The guitar, while somewhat sparse, is usually rhythm. Keyboards do the soloing, usually in a Canterbury-esque matter (distortion and wah).

The first track Joy of a Toy is somewhat annoying to my taste, but it gets much better. Town felling is a very whimsical piece with it's piano line giving the impression of walking through a town. Song for insane, a Soft Machine remake, times has some witty lyrics. Girl on a swing is pretty good, and so in Clarietta Rag which has a great organ solo. Stop this train (again doing it) has an offbeat rhythm and singing and an incredible Mike Rateledge Organ solo.

Eleanor's Cake (which ate her) is a nice acoustic song. Lady Rachel is has some cool sound effects and such, making it one of the more progressive songs. Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong is very repetetitive and has very avant garde piano and guitar. It's somewhat difficult to listen to, it's the most experimental song on the album. The album ends on a bright note with All This Crazy Gift of Time, featuring some lovely harmonica.

Overall this is a good album but not a must have unless your into Canterbury or eccentric British songwriters. Ayers would go on to make much better work. A good starting point indeed, but don't expect his best work. 3 stars.

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Send comments to The Wizard (BETA) | Report this review (#80353)
Posted Monday, June 05, 2006 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Understated

Kevin Ayers first solo album was a logical continuation of his work with SOFT MACHINE on their first release. The link is emphasised in the choice of album title which is taken from a track on that album, the first track here being entitled "Joy of a toy continued". Care should be taken through not to associate Ayers work with that which is generally considered to be Soft Machine's best, i.e. "Third" and their albums of around that time. Ayers solo albums are, with the odd notable exception, pop based and often whimsical.

"Joy of a toy" is a pretty straight forward album, with only occasional glimpses of the "Canterbury" sound with which he is closely associated. "Song for insane times" (which features the entire Soft Machine line up) has the keyboard sound Caravan used to such great effect on their early albums, as does "Stop this train".

There are the usual array of Ayers soft folky ballads and reflective lyrics, "Town feeling", "girl on a swing", "Eleanor's castle" and "Lady Rachel" all following a similar pattern. The only real nod towards a more progressive style is the predominantly instrumental "Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong" which sounds somewhat out of character here, and in all honesty is not that good.

The closing "All this crazy gift of time" is almost Lindisfarne like, complete with harmonica and harmony vocals.

Ayers is often cited as being lazy (in terms of his music), and under-achieving. While "Joy of a toy" is a decent first effort", it does tend to indicate that such criticism is fair.

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Send comments to Easy Livin (BETA) | Report this review (#86545)
Posted Friday, August 11, 2006 | Review Permalink
Tom Ozric
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars Kevin Ayers' wonderful debut album, Joy of a Toy, takes the psychedelic pop elements from Soft Machine's first release, and incorporates them into a more direct, song oriented approach, for which Kevin has become renowned, at least to a small, loyal group of followers. With the album name taken from an eclectic Ayers/Ratledge-penned tune on the Softs debut, JOAT sets the vibe straight away with the amusing, cheerful sing-a-long tune, entitled 'Joy of a Toy - continued', executed in perfect 60's style by Ayers and his friend David Bedford, with an almost child-like glee. The basic line-up for most tracks is Ayers and Bedford (with an entire studio's worth of equipment at their disposal) and drummer Robert Wyatt (for the most part), and also includes a small cast of guests, most noticeably Hugh Hopper (Bass) and Mike Ratledge (organ). 'Town Feeling' is a pretty tune, almost with a baroque feel, lovingly incorporating 'cello and oboe, and a lovely semi-tone riff which acts as the chorus. 'Clarietta Rag' is pure psychedelic pop, again a cheerful, sunny number with some nice Mellotron playing to boot, and funny-as- ever lyrics (usual trait in most of the songs Kevin writes) which compliment the music perfectly. 'Girl on a Swing' is a pastoral piece, with soft and sweet singing, and a pretty melody, again with some 'cranky' Mellotron playing (ala Moodies' 'Peak Hour') - pure 60's. 'Song for Insane Times' features the entire Soft Machine line-up, hence it's a more jazzy, faithful sounding Canterbury track with mellow verses, odd metres and a manic twist toward the end, where Ratledge has a freak-out on his Fuzz-toned Lowrey !! Side 2 starts with 'Stop This Train (Again Doing It)' - Kevin's experiment with repetition, a lengthy ramble of 2 chords, which features more of Ratledge's freak-out organ work - a really good song indeed. 'Eleanor's Cake (Which Ate Her)' is, despite the quirky title, an elegant, acoustic ballad, with flute and light orchestral touches - the most 'serious' sounding song on the album. 'Lady Rachel' is a song which actually sounds way ahead of its time (in the context of this album, anyway) it's dark and mysterious and incorporates some strange oboe playing. 'Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong' is the truly weird track here, almost pioneering a style that was to become the 'Rock In Opposition' movement a few years later, with its dischordant sounds, odd time sigs and bizarre, off-the-cuff arrangement. Hats off to Kevin for this one !! The last track, 'All this Crazy Gift of Time', is a lightly country flavoured tune with harmonica and acoustic guitar, and really rounds off this amazing, period piece perfectly. I love the album cover, too. 5 stars. I probably give out 5's way too often but I see these albums as masterpieces and nothing less.

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Send comments to Tom Ozric (BETA) | Report this review (#100169)
Posted Thursday, November 23, 2006 | Review Permalink
fuxi
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars JOY OF A TOY never did as much for me as WHATEVERSHEBRINGSWESING or THE CONFESSIONS OF DR DREAM (two of the most enjoyable Canterbury albums) but I love its A-side, which contains some of Kevin Ayers' most remarkable compositions.

The bizarre but irresistible title track sounds like a carnival party in full swing. In "Town Feeling" Kevin makes the best possible use of his glorious bass voice, languidly intoning: 'Today the town feels like a tomb, / everybody's locked up in his room' and: 'Now you come and tell me that you're sad / but you never talk about it when you're glad'. "Girl on a Swing" is a charming observation of a child in a park or garden. Just like 'Town Feeling', and like so much of Kevin's work, it's really an invitation to seize the day and enjoy every single moment.

The album's highlight, however, is the extraordinary "Song for Insane Times", which ought to feature on any Kevin Ayers 'Best of' although it is invariably omitted, since it doesn't sound simplistic enough! The melody is superb, the jazzy playing is great (with a starring role for Mike Ratledge on piano and 'fuzz box organ') and the lyrics are some of Kevin's most perceptive. Apart from Pete Townshend (on "Won't Get Fooled Again") very few rock musicians expressed their disillusionment with 1960s counter- culture as trenchantly as this. You must remember this was recorded at a time when dear little Jon Anderson could still be heard to sing: 'As long as we see, there's only us who can change it, only us to rearrange it' - well, Jon certainly rearranged Yes...

Ayers, on the other hand, goes: 'People say they want to be free, / they look at them and they look at me / but it's only themselves they are wanting to see / and everybody knows about it'. He then describes a number people going out of their mind at a party. Our Kevin may not exactly be the world's greatest lyricist, but he invariably expresses his thoughts succinctly and unforgettably. Canterbury fans shouldn't miss this album.

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Send comments to fuxi (BETA) | Report this review (#127796)
Posted Saturday, July 07, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars #1 Joy Of A Toy Continued::::::::::Complete Canterbury Style, no lyrics but vocals.

#2 Town Feeling::::::::::There's that deep vocie we all love... strong lyrics that sheds stroytelling accompanied by great music gets the album rocking and going.

#3 The Clarietta Rag:::::::::::I love this song, everything about this song is great...evrything especially it's bass and of course Kev's vocals. This song includes Piano by David Bedford and has a very trippy guitar solo and great horn arrangments. Also this song is very catchy

#4 Girl On A Swing::::::::::Girl On A Swing incorperets the 60's sound, very trippy, more psychedelic than Canterbury.

#5 Song For Insane Times:::::::::::::With Soft Machines Hugh Hopper on bass, this song incorperts the strong thick sense of Canterbury style, Ayers guides are attention with smooth sexy vocals that embody passonate lyrics and great keys once again by Bedford with drums from Tait.

#6 Stop This Train::::::::::::Great psychedelic song, lots of effects and what not, includes Tait on drums instead of Robert Wyatt who drums for all the other tracks.

#7 Eleanor's Cake::::::::::::Cool acoustic guitar by Kevin, also cool flute, infact this song is full of rich arrangments.

#8 Lady Rachel:::::::::::::::The best song on the album. Possibly the best Ayers song of all time.

#9 Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong::::::::::::::Another song that sounds like the 60's very psychedelic, not lyrics, but heaps of fun.

#10 All This Crazy Gift of Time:::::::::::::This last song has a folkish sound to it, seems like nothing but acoustic guitars and harmonica, great song that talks about having to go. Overall a great debute Solo effort.

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Send comments to Jake E. (BETA) | Report this review (#134381)
Posted Thursday, August 23, 2007 | Review Permalink
febus
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam
4 stars SOFT MACHINE CONTINUED....THE AYERS WAY!

JOY OF A TOY is the first solo album of KEVIN AYERS after he left the band SOFT MACHINE he founded following the release of their first album. KEVIN AYERS is an oddity in the music scene, be it prog or rock! He is a musician who just followed his own rules (or maybe sometimes the lack of them) while having an interesting artistic career albeit never really successful. Kevin was never a real prog artist, neither could he be mainstream. He tried at some period of his career to hit big time, but to no success. Words like lazy, underachieving, whimsical, eccentric, wine and cheese, have been used with just reason to describe KEVIN AYERS world.

NONE of his albums deserves a 5 star rating; there are NO K. AYERS masterpiece as wonderful gems are always mixed with silly songs that could have used more serious treatment or other ''tropical'' songs. However, all of his albums have a unique character, a charm that can be addictive. Even the biggest prog fan can always find something of his liking on a AYERS recording, as long it doesn't take life too seriously.

KEVIN AYERS left SOFT MACHINE, not because of conflicts within the band, but because at age 25, he couldn't take the constant touring and business obligations anymore. He retired for a while on the gorgeous island of IBIZA in Spain, an island frequented at the time by hippies and other free spirits. DAEVID ALLEN also enjoyed this place quite a lot then; it gives you an idea, i hope.

I read some comparisons made between SYD BARRETT and AYERS and in a way, they are right; they made one album with their respective bands, AYERS being influential albeit not as much as BARRETT in the creation of the sound of SOFT MACHINE. We were at the height of the psychedelic era with a lot of smoke in the air and a lot of pills , not necessarilly vitamines, being swallowed. But when the lights turned off, our 2 guys got something like a hang over, BARRETT would never even recover from. They both released solo albums like this one for AYERS and the MADCAP LAUGHS for BARRETT, but they were hardly prog.BARRETT and AYERS would never released anything experimental,they sometimes would border on prog, but they were mainly songwriters, creating simple tunes, yes some weird and strange ones as well, but basically nothing that can be called adventurous.

KEVIN AYERS will always be linked to the Canterbury scene as he was one of its founder, but don't try to find in his recordings anything close to SOFT MACHINE 'THIRD' period, HATFIELD AND THE NORTH or other GONG; but he will share the same deprecative sense of humor than his former band mate DAEVID ALLEN; not taking life seriously, having fun, enjoy a good bottle of wine and of course for these 2 souls...the cult of the banana!

Even if KEVIN AYERS left SOFT MACHINE....for personal reasons, one can guess somehow, problems would have occured later on had he stayed on. ROBERT WYATT and especially MIKE RATLEDGE wanted to abandon the pop/psychedelic sound to go for a VERY serious jazzy direction. I don't think it would have matched the musical sensibilities of KEVIN and he would have left the band somehow, knowing that roadie-wanting to be bassist- HUGH HOPPER was just behind his neck. Frankly, can you imagine KEVIN AYERS jamming with ELTON DEAN??? 2 different worlds!

I would describe KEVIN AYERS as a minstrel, kind of a medieval troubadour, coming to your home with his acoustic guitar singing precious delicate songs or.....silly carribean ditties, but always with fun and good humor; just have a glass of good wine and a tray of cheese handy waiting for him and you are sure to enjoy a warm evening. KEVIN AYERS is a unique artist with a strong personal artistic approach, also has a lot of shortcomings, but that's what makes him unique. Mention KEVIN AYERS name to anyone knowing his music in the prog world and you will always get a friendly grin in return.

JOY OF A TOY is a pefect example of a typical imbalanced album from KEVIN. It opens with a kind of silly march, circus athmosphere JOY OF A TOY CONTINUED (a link to the same song from the first album of SOFT MACHINE) ''sung'' by Kevin and 3 other people together. It has ABSOLUTELY not artistical value, but it is just plain fun (as long as it doesn't last too long) . But next, you are entering the beautiful world of KEVIN with such gems like TOWN FEELING or GIRL ON THE SWING, very sweet intimate songs that warm you with their great arrangements usually done by DAVID BEDFORD. They are the songs , i mentioned earlier, that border on prog. Those ones are very well thought, well arranged with sounds of oboe, cello, flute or trombone. This is AYERS at his best when he tries hard.

His voice is also one of its kind, very deep but clear, very warm more suited for the lounge athmosphere than the arena madness! Cozy would be the right word to describe and his music and his voice. Listening to KEVIN AYERS is like a personal encounter, almost like an old friend singing only for you!

Other great songs can be found here like SONG OF INSANE TIMES, another beautiful melody played with the help of the whole SOFT MACHINE members including HOPPER. That's a way to imagine how SOFT MACHINE coud have sounded if Kevin had stayed with them. Mike RATLEDGE plays great with his trademark organ sounding: a real early SF treat! The best of the best is of course the magnificent THE LADY RACHEL which showcases the greatness of AYERS when he wants to. This is one of his most enduring song he is still playing nowadays every night he is on a stage . Beautiful melody, beautiful singing, luxurious refined arrangements, a song for the ages.

On the other side, you have tracks that are not very mesmerizing like the one line bass played at nauseam STOP THIS TRAIN with a very ,very simple melody which last too long or the malaysian influenced OLEH OLEH BANDU BANDONG mixing tropical flavor with avant guarde Jazz piano a la ALLADIN SANE from BOWIE.Quite a mixture! (Kevin AYERS spent a lot of his childhood in Malaysia as his family was based there for a while)

JOY OF A TOY is an album that goes in very different musical directions but in a way sound homogeneous due to the particular voice of our artist and its intimate athmosphere. You don't feel good one day? just play some KEVIN AYERS and life will look better. You'll see!! Now about a rating! No, it's not essential! Now, is it good or an excellent addition? i think it's a worthy album to own ; at least that's something different and rather unique. There is only one KEVIN AYERS.

3.5 STARS.

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Send comments to febus (BETA) | Report this review (#138003)
Posted Thursday, September 13, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars I hate Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong and The Clarietta Rag, but the remainder of this albums is very good. Very psychedelic, very folk, totally in the Canterbury style. Kevin Ayers' voice is deep, moody. The music is very nice. The cover art too. My favorite tracks ? Song For The Insane Times, Lady Rachel, Town Feeling. But I don't think this is a landmark album, it's just a nice album, that's all. So, average rating.

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Send comments to Zardoz (BETA) | Report this review (#164147)
Posted Monday, March 17, 2008 | Review Permalink
UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Joy of a Toy is the debut solo album from former bassist/ vocalist in Canterbury legends The Soft Machine Kevin Ayers. Kevin Ayers lazy life style with long breaks from the pulsating life in Britain spend on Ibiza is known to most prog heads as is his love for red vine and the sweet life. His outlook on life apparently didnt fit into The Soft Machines busy work schedule and he left for a solo career where he could be the boss of his own life. Joy of a Toy is considered a Canterbury classic by many people and is highly rated at the moment here on Prog Archives.

The music is unmistakably Canterbury with the great english humour and the light pop/rock music. There are not many jazz influences here though and the music is generally very simple. So no long instrumental jamming parts. There are a few solos on Joy of a Toy like in the end of Stop This Train (Again Doing it) but the instrumental parts are not very long which means that what we have here are mostly simple pop/ rock songs that to most prog heads will seem a bit too simple. There are some really good songs on Joy of a Toy and I will mention Town Feeling and Song for Insane Times as some of my favorites. Most songs are good though maybe except for the foolish sounding Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong which is just a horror.

Kevin Ayers is helped by his old Soft Machine collegue Robert Wyatt on drums, and David Bedford on piona and keyboards. Old Soft Machine collegue Mike Ratledge provides an organ solo in Song for Insane Times and Kevin Ayers replacement in Soft Machine Hugh Hopper plays the bass in that song. There are also some cello and Oboe playing on the album which adds to the diversity.

The production is pretty good if you remember that this album is from 1969.

Joy of a Toy is a good Canterbury album but nothing more IMO. Ill rate this album 3 stars and Im not sure why other people would hold this in such high regard as there are many much better Canterbury albums out there that I would listen to before this one.

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Send comments to UMUR (BETA) | Report this review (#175293)
Posted Wednesday, June 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Kevin Ayer's debut is a poppy, tasteful, jazzy, melodic, eccentric, quirky and at times experimental affair from 1969. He gets some help from his old mates from SOFT MACHINE, but David Bedford is the one he leans on the most during this recording. I think Kevin's lyrics are his strength, I find myself at times getting caught up in what he's singing. Very pleasant and enjoyable music.

"Joy Of A Toy Continued" is the title of a SOFT MACHINE song minus the "Continued" part. This song really has that feeling of celebration throughout. Surprisingly there are no vocals. "Town Feeling" opens solemnly with vocals to follow. Some cello and aboe later.Good tune, great lyrics. "The Clarietta Rag" reminds me of THE BEATLES at first.This is uptempo with some piano and mellotron. "Girl On A Swing" is mellow with piano and reserved vocals (as usual). I love the way this one sounds. "Song For Insane Times" is a SOFT MACHINE tune reworked. Kevin gets some help from Hopper and Ratledge on this one. The drums are prominant. He sure can tell a story. Some fuzz from Ratledge late. "Stop This Train (Again Doing It)" has such a good rythm to it, one of my favs.

"Eleanor's Cake (Which Ate Her)" is a slower paced, sad song. "Lady Rachel" is a darker,more serious track. This tune does seem ahead of it's time and is one of my favourites. "Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong" has a Malaysian title which recalls Kevin's youth growing up in that country where his father was a diplomat. A good beat throught this one with high pitched vocals. Guitar after 1 1/2 minutes with some piano 3 minutes in.This is the most experimental song on here. "All This Crazy Gift Of Time" features strummed guitar and vocals. Some harmonica 1 1/2 minutes in as the album ends as it began, on a fun note. Kevin does his Bob Dylan impression late.

The next one by Kevin called "Shooting At The Moon" is my favourite from him. I keep Kevin Ayers cds right beside my Robert Wyatt recordings.Two special people with unique sounding albums.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#182042)
Posted Monday, September 08, 2008 | Review Permalink
loserboy
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The music of Kevin Ayers is I suppose is an acquired taste, but deep within his music emerges for me a real sense of genius and creativity! "Joy Of A Toy" is where it all started and musically portrays a complex yet child-like vision that only Ayers could pull off. Canterbury fans will be interested in the fact that Soft Machine's Robert Wyatt, Mike Rattledge and Hugh Hopper are key musician contributors. David Bedford and Floyd's Syd Barrett also contribute to this masterpiece. "Joy" is a delicate album really with a nice melancholy feeling and temporal aspects few albums in history have captured. Musically Kevin Ayers is a mix of Nick Drake, early Pink Floyd and throw in some psych and folk leanings and you pretty much have it.

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Send comments to loserboy (BETA) | Report this review (#223818)
Posted Monday, June 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars We can thank Hendrix for this one: after completing Soft Machine's tour of the US with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Kevin was ready to pack in his music career altogether, but Jimi gave him an acoustic guitar for a gift on the condition that Kevin promise to keep writing songs. Kevin was true to his word, and in late 1969 there emerged this curious little beast. It goes to show what a well-loved member of the underground scene Ayers was when you consider the various guests popping in to provide musical backing - Soft Machine buddies Ratledge, Hopper and Wyatt play on most tracks, as does David Bedford, and on one of the bonus tracks on some CD versions Syd Barrett and most of Caravan can be heard playing along.

Kevin's first solo album takes his whimsical, wine-sodden style of psychedelia as first seen on the Softs' debut album and brings it onto centre stage, in songs ranging from carefree and childlike (Girl on a Swing, Joy of a Toy Continued) to menacing-yet-silly (Oleh Oleh Bandu Bedong) to romantic (Lady Rachel). Perhaps not as musically complex as the direction Soft Machine were heading in, but it's got a broader and deeper emotional range, so perhaps parting ways was the right call for both parties. Not essential must-listen stuff, but enchanting enough in its own way and a good start to Kevin's solo career.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#455921)
Posted Thursday, June 02, 2011 | Review Permalink
Einsetumadur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 12/15P. Kevin Ayers' grand masterpiece. He'd never record an album as colorful, frantic and consistent as this one again. No dull avant-garde noodling, a lot of delicate arrangements and only one strange country song to sit through. Essential!

Kevin Ayers has recorded quite a lot of solo albums over the years. Many of them include brilliant songs, but nearly all of them are marred by some really strange Vaudeville tunes or insipid free-form improvisations. Joy of A Toy, however, along with the really good Bananamour album of 1972, can be listened through without any earache or anger about Kevin's laziness in terms of songwriting.

In fact it features a couple of brilliant art pop songs which could be called essential to the Canterbury Scene. The lyrics range from friendly to slightly melancholic, David Bedford's orchestra arrangements profit a lot both from his British restrainedness and his refreshing avant-garde training - and both Bedford and Ayers are responsible for the glorious madness created by a plethora of effects, details, little melodies and fragments which are inserted everywhere. Lots of subtleties to explore here, and all this material is kept together tightly by Ayers' deep bass voice.

An obvious highlight is Song for Insane Times, unique in its Soft Machine line-up of Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers. It's the one and only example of the Soft Machine playing a soft jazz-inspired pop song, and curiously it sounds a lot like early Caravan with Ratledge providing both soft organ washes, jazz soloing and some fine flute playing as well. Wyatt sets a tight, but fluffy beat for the band to rely on. Another obvious highlight is Town Feeling, a critically acclaimed song which is most successful in fusioning Bedford's baroque orchestra arrangements, Ayers' slightly Cohenish songwriting and the rootsy R&B influences of Wyatt on drums and Ayers on guitar/bass. So why does it work a lot better than many of the late 1960s pop songs which featured orchestral elements? It's because Ayers himself is part of the arrangement with a gorgeous double-tracked guitar melody which is perfectly geared to the loping oboe tracks which dominate this piece. Otherwise you may enjoy tuneful lyrics about walking through a British town with a slightly ironical and simplifying choice of words. The less obvious highlight is Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong, Kevin Ayers' only adaptation of traditional folk music, in fact Malayian folk music since Ayers spent many years of his childhood in Malaysia. It is clearly the rhythmically most challenging experiment Kevin Ayers has ever made, an ominous chant in 7/4 with a melody and phrasing which occidental listeners can look through after fifteen listens at the earliest. Confusingly Ayers has the singers of the Benny Hill Show, the Ladybirds, sing the chorus (in fact, this track only consists of this one chorus) again and again over this very stiff rhythm. I'm pretty sure you can imagine how totally weird this sounds, but the combination comes out positively uneven. An essential listen for everyone interested in the intersection of the Canterbury Sound and the London Underground. At some time psychedelic tape effects and slightly detuned Hammond organ notes take the lead until the last half of this composition features David Bedford on grand piano. He really gets caught up in a frenetic jazz piano solo which fans of Dave Stewart's work with Egg will appreciate as well; to me this solo is the highlight on the original album because it effortlessly wanders on the ridge between playfulness and mayhem. On Ayers' next album Shooting At The Moon this tightrope walk would be less successful. The piano solo finally trickles away in a free cacophony of piano, some treated violins and feedback noises. Then gradually All This Crazy Gift Of Time is faded in, a sluggish ode to wine, partying and life borrowing heavily from American country music and featuring two shrieking blues harps which are played even more gruffly than on Bob Dylan records. The similarities to the decadent and anarchistic rock'n'roll of the glam/art rock scene of the mid-1970s is hard to deny. Ayers' vocals are double-tracked, and nothing is synchronal or in tune, it seems as if Ayers doesn't care at all about all that. It's a tough song to stand through, but this lazy attitude is an integral part of Kevin Ayers' songwriting, and as a winking last dance on a very good record I really don't object to it a lot.

Lady Rachel, in its original studio version, is exhaustingly fast and gets extremely surreal with the monotonous electric guitar strumming, threatening clarinet flutters and tinkling organ effects. Maybe that's what Syd Barrett might have sounded like on his solo albums if he had been able to communicate his ideas better to his studio musicians. The lyrics send shivers down my spine as well, I'd never have thought that Kevin could pull off such psychological verses. Although this version is interesting and extremely haunting, I do admit that I listen to the 1972 recording by far more frequently. This 7 minute version is added as a bonus track, is played by a whole band and is enhanced by outstanding brass arrangements by David Bedford, very much in the vein of his work on There Is Loving/Among Us, but as melodic and majestic as Ron Geesin's Atom Heart Mother score for Pink Floyd. Instead of simply adding some brass chords in the background Bedford develops really catchy melodies from Ayers' rough basic track and works with these phrases in an extremely playful and polyphonic way. If you know the Cockney Rebel song Sebastian with its shimmering Hammond organ, the ghostly female backing vocals and the emotional orchestra backing - this is the Baroque hipster pendant to it! Forget the 1972 single version - it's shortened to hardly 5 minutes, it's got a strange flanger effect on the guitar track and is inferior to the longer track.

Girl on A Swing and Eleanor's Cake are similar to each other in their folk-inspired and a wee bit medieval atmosphere whilst the former, stuffed with fragile electric harpsichord sounds and an occasional Mellotron fanfare, glitters and shines a bit more than the darker Eleanor's Cake, highlighting Ayers' dark harmonies and a lilting flute accompanying his own lead voice. The incredible sophistication of production is audible on Girl on A Swing in which treated tape snippets of solmisation (= the sung do-re-mi-fa... scale) follow irregularly vibrating electric guitars and a Schubert-ian Romantic piano backing. I don't want to deconstruct the whole song, but you can guess how much is happening during the course of this album.

Joy Of A Toy Continued and Clarietta Rag are the two fun numbers, and both of them aren't merely silly, but also an enjoyable listen. Joy Of A Toy Continued, featuring elaborate trombone and piccolo flute arrangements, sounds like the title melody to a circus show or a TV series for children. There's no similarity to the creepy and dark Soft Machine track of the same title, but rather to Manfred Mann's late 1960s output (Sweet Pea, Ha Ha Said the Clown), with the difference that Ayers sings something inintellegible about tigers, elephants and kangaroos in the very background. I couldn't think of a better way to begin this album, and the subsequent oboe intro of song two (Town Feeling) ... well, you have to listen to it yourself! Clarietta Rag comes dangerously close to the insipid ragtime sound of Ayers' own Oh My, but Robert Wyatt's relentless drum playing and a hilarious trombone/fuzz guitar-duo give it a pretty peculiar momentum. You don't notice any stanza or chorus here because this song swings in a hectic pace, backed by Bedford's jazzy Mellotron MkII strings which wouldn't sound out of place on The Moody Blues' Another Morning.

Lyrically most haunting, Stop This Train is the most psychedelic - in the truest sense of the word - recording on Joy Of A Toy, a song about a frightening journey on a train with equally frightening sound effects. Rob Tait is on drums on this track, and the same R&B-like drum rhythm stays the same for the complete 6 minutes, giving this track a relentless groove similar to the German band Can. This would be quite boring had it not been for Mike Ratledge who is aboard again and duels with pianist David Bedford on his Lowrey Organ in the second half of the song, both using the harshly humming and the softly bubbling tones of this all-transistor home organ. Emulating the sound of a train gaining momentum the speed of the tape player is gradually increased in the beginning and the ending of Stop This Train. Although Mike Ratledge has a stunning performance in this track and the ambience is pretty unique, too, the track is a bit too long. It's not a major flaw, but one aspect which gets in the way of a full rating for this album.

## THE BONUS TRACKS ##

One of the bonus tracks I have not yet reviewed is Soon Soon Soon, a reworked version of the Soft Machine number We Know What You Mean. In the space of three minutes Kevin Ayers moves around an acid mixture of modal jazz (in the complex intro part), soul (in the stanzas) and pop (in the chorus), passing by the short meditative soon soon soon part in the middle which is a possible predecessor of the multi-tracked vocal part in There Is Loving/Among Us. The Ladybirds are part of the arrangement again, singing on top of a fierce fuzz guitar and jolly Mozart-like string arrangements. Again, not only the music with its unexpected variety and the accomplished polyphonic combination of motives used stands out, but also the lyrics which are conflictive in their confrontation of sarcastic stanzas ('you sell yourself so you can buy more') and the soothing Ladybirds-sung chorus (we know what you mean, we understand).

## THE SYD BARRETT MYTH ## http://forum.neptunepinkfloyd.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=16833

Singing A Song In The Morning, the single accompanying the album, is featured in three versions and is a song which comes around extremely powerful and tight in spite of not having any compositional substance - it deserves great talent to pull off such a song! (Another example would be Neanderthal Man, a Godley/Creme song published as The Hotlegs, which is really similar in its carefree attitude.) Singing A Song In The Morning, in a way, is a happy mantra on four ever-repeated verses which gets all of its diversion from strangely ominous 'ostrich'-style guitar lines and the Caravan rhythm section of Richard Coughlan and Richard Sinclair, the former providing his typical semiquaver-fills.

There are two widespread myths about Singing A Song In The Morning. The first one is that the early version of it (named Religious Experience, rec.11/1969) features Syd Barrett on lead guitar and/or backing vocals. When you listen to Barrett's The Madcap Laughs, recorded in April 1969 (=two months earlier), you won't find a solo guitar track which stays in time for more than a few seconds; in fact, the participating musicians of Soft Machine and Pink Floyd had to record everything around Barrett's eccentric demos. Because all the guitar tracks in Religious Experience are pretty much in time, and because credible sources (q.v. the link above) state that Barrett wasn't participating in the 11/1969 sessions, I'm pretty sure that all the guitars are played by Ayers.

But, interestingly, the third version Take 103 (rec.12/1969) includes a really demented and ferocious guitar solo at 1:22 - and this solo unmistakably has Syd's handwriting. And this is the session in which Syd actually participated - he is simply mislabelled on the album reissue. If you trace this solo track back and forth through the song, you'll see that in fact it's one constant guitar sound stretching from the beginning to the end. To me it's impossible to imagine that Ayers recorded this electric 6-string track; he, for sure, was responsible for the Barrett-ish electric 12-string raga licks in the left channel, but the savage shredding in the right channel is definitely Syd Barrett.

And the vocals? There are indeed certain places where you hear a voice sounding seemingly different to Ayers'. But due to a tape blackout at 4:25 you hear one of these backing voices singing solo, and it sounds a lot like Richard Sinclair of Caravan - who definitely played on this session. The second myth is that Dave Sinclair of Caravan plays organ on the finished single version. To put it short - there's no organ to be heard anywhere.

## OVERALL ##

Taken together this album is highly recommendable to every listener of sophisticated pop music with lots of experimental twists. There are only minor flaws which still make me just give a really good 4 star rating. It really comes close to a masterpiece, it includes utterly good bonus tracks and stands out as a pretty unique album of its own - a melancholic, thoroughly British and sometimes downright absurd blueprint for the kind of album which lots of today's bands try but fail to recreate.

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Send comments to Einsetumadur (BETA) | Report this review (#796148)
Posted Saturday, July 28, 2012 | Review Permalink
Matti
COLLABORATOR
Neo-Prog Team
4 stars After recording the Soft Machine debut (1968) with Robert Wyatt and Mike Ratledge in New York amidst the long US tour, Kevin Ayers left the band and went to have a nice time in Ibiza. There he wrote songs and after returning to England made demos that led to his solo debut Joy of a Toy (named after a song in the SM album). It was recorded in Abbey Road studios with the help of his former bandmates plus several other musicians, most notably David Bedford who had his other foot in the art music field. Bedford played keyboards and wrote some chamber music arrangements that to me are essential in the album's personal charm. The songs themselves - for example 'Town Feeling' or 'Eleanor's Cake (Which Ate Her)' - are more or less simple, carefree in nature, but in a beautiful way. Here and there you sense the slightly jazzy Canterbury atmosphere, perhaps most clearly in 'Song for Insane Times'.

Not really a prog classic, but a nice addition to the solo works of Canterbury. Only two Canterbury artists have more notable solo careers: Steve Hillage and Robert Wyatt. Ayers (who sadly died earlier this year) will be fondly remembered by the prog community. This is to me his best album. 3 stars.

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Send comments to Matti (BETA) | Report this review (#965427)
Posted Monday, May 27, 2013 | Review Permalink

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