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Monday, 31 January 2011

Review: Kevin Ayers And The Whole World - Shooting At The Moon (Released 1970 on Harvest)

First put online on the Head Heritage website in 2005

Recorded at EMI Studios. Produced by Kevin Ayers and Peter Jenner.

Kevin Ayers: Vocals, Guitar, Bass Guitar.
David Bedford: Organ, Pianos, Accordion, Guitar, Marimbaphone.
Lol Coxhill: Acoustic & Electric Saxophones, Zoblophone.
Mike Oldfield: Bass Guitar, Guitar, Vocals.
Mick Fincher: Drums, Percussion.

Guests- Robert Wyatt & Bridget St. John: Vocals.

After releasing his great debut LP- "Joy Of A Toy"- Kevin Ayers would soon be ready to set the wheels in motion to make his next move.
He was also looking for a touring band, having now overcome his claustrophobia of the band set up that had previously led him to jump the Soft Machine ship. Besides, he was now at the helm and with a varied bunch of players, he would set out to make one damn fine exraordinary album.

'Strange' is the word. Strange in the way that as well as showing his songwriting style that many would come to know and love, it also verges into avant-garde territory and pays homage to the 'psychedelic' underground scene that Ayers helped along, but really revels in sheer musical anarchy.

There is also an odd timelessness to this album, especially with the experimental leanings that can cut a straight line through the various german 'underground' groups that were operating at the time (who in turn were originally influenced by The Soft Machine and Pink Floyd), to the more ambient moments of various post-punk explorers nearly a decade later, then on to the more bold and quieter excursions of the likes of Sonic Youth at the millenium crossing.

Of course, these are just flashes of sound here and there, but it's amazing how this album stands up, considering it's variety and within the era is was recorded.
I've always liked the way that the tracks are lumped together, so the less adventurous can't skip the 'weird bits'.

"May I / Rheinhardt And Geraldine / Colores Para Dolores"-
Opening with the breezy parisienne sun-drench of "May I", you are feet up and watching the world go by and soothed by lush instrumentation and those rich baritone vocals.
Bedford's fitting accordion, Oldfield's walking-talking bass, Coxhill's melting saxes and Fincher's maracas(!) waft you up to a summer bliss and the song is bookended by the sound of a passing motor car, ready to take you away.

'Rheinhardt and Geraldine' comes in cutting a more heady picture.

"There's nothing new around the sun,
Everything you think of - has been done,
All been done before your time,
At sometime or another by someone and his brother...yeah! yeah!"

It then goes into an insane cut-up fest of disjointed snatches of music that would make any of todays digital butchers proud AND it goes on for well over one minute, pushing the boat out for sure (although to anyone born after 1980, it just sounds like a CD on fast-forward), but then this was centred around a former member of Soft Machine (via The Wilde Flowers and Mr.Head), a man who, along with fellow soft-machinist and avant-cum-agent provocateur- Daevid Allen, once impressed a Texan millionaire who was introduced to them by artist and model Lady June. 
The money man was one Wes Brunson, a former spectacle manufacturer and philanthropist from Tulsa,  who was turning on to the underground scene of the sixties and was bowled over with their views on art, music and life circa 1966, whilst they were all lapping up the sun and substances in the balearics. 
Brunson then gave them enough money to kick start Soft Machine with brand new equipment and a rehearsal space and generally funded their early existence. Now that's what you call a nice gesture.

'Colores...' has Robert Wyatt guesting and starts with a mild-jazz jaunt before Ayers lets loose some of his mind-flicking lyrics.

"Lunatic Lament / Pisser Dans Un Violon"
Full steam ahead with this intoxication as we're on a fairground Barrett ferris wheel:

"Will you be handsome or will you be rich,'re gonna wind up in a ditch!..."

As a 17 year old Mike Oldfield let's out a great guitar solo here and the whole shebang sounds like the Velvet Underground... had they been through the Royal College of Music...

"I'm here lying on my bed just trying to hold on to my head but....
If you came in through the door you'd.....find me crawling on the floor...just....looking for the things you threw away"

Ayers and Oldfield end up screaming their heads off with the music spiralling upwards and coming to an exhausted halt.
Moving into 'Pisser...', there now follows David Bedford's spidery malfunctioning organs, which make way to Ayers hammering low spinal tones out of the bass guitar and Coxhill's goose-in-a-cement mixer sax squalls.
The bass gets detuned and the haunting reedy organ chords shimmer in the background and after you wonder around a dark enchanted garden, Oldfield comes in with some choice phrases before dissappearing behind the detuned and scraped bass strings and goose reed calls before he rejoins the fray with some short fuzzed up fireworks.

"The Oyster And The Flying Fish / Underwater / Clarence In Wonderland / Red Green And You Blue"
Bridget St. John joins Ayers on this odd little song and only for the sleeve notes telling you otherwise, you would swear that it's Nico singing.
Some nice jangle piano from Bedford too.
I'd first heard this album in 1974 via an older shoolmate, by which time Nico was working with Ayers.
Strange too that Oldfield by this time was the new rising star in alternative music, having once recorded a rough version of 'Tubular Bells' on Ayers' tape recorder a few years before.
Ayers however, always opted to duck out of the limelight.

The 'Underwater' segment is all sliding bass, fragmented guitars and the odd sax honk courtesy of just Ayers, Bedford and Coxhill.
There is no mere noodling here, it really does deliver the goods as 'alternative' music, but is simplistic and SO fresh at the same time.
This could have all been recorded yesterday in a studio near you, the sound of each and every track on this collection is pure heaven.

'Clarence...' is a crackin' madcap ditty with giddy instrumentation and a tape loop of a chirping bird thrown in for good measure which makes it all slightly verge into Bonzo Dog Doo territory, with Ayers telling the tale of an encounter with a mysterious fair maiden.....

"...then she said something that a violin.....
'Let's go to my chateau, we can have a good time drinking lot's of sky wine'...."

'Red Green...' has the group retreading the same flagstones as 'May I' but on a slightly less sunny side of the street.
It features a great solo from Coxhill, surely one of the most eclectic and passionate players there is and a real treasure to the British Isles.

"Shooting At The Moon" closes the album and is a track from the old Softs repertoire.
Here the collective are fantastic, although it does sound as though it was recorded four years earlier than the other sessions here (that was probably the intention) and there's also a spot of devilish panning to boot.
It's such a shame that this outfit didn't record one or two more albums,
although Bedford and Oldfield appear on the next 'solo' recording- "Whatevershebringswesing".
Still, I suppose we should be thankful that it happened at all, plus there is a BBC 'In Concert' session CD package around nowadays as well as the CD package of the album reviewed here complete with extra tracks...

This album really is a forgotten gem and one of the best recordings of the early 1970s that will appeal to music explorers of all ages.

Written by Tim Jones january 2005

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