Syd Barrett + Nick Drake + Soft Machine + Hendrix = Joy Of A Toy by Kevin Ayers
If Disneyland were to contemplate rescoring the soundtrack for their Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, it might very well sound like this album.
I'm not sure how or why I have this album. I don't remember buying it, but nevertheless it showed up in the mail last week. It is a limited edition release of 395 units on yellow vinyl put out by a reissue label called 4 Men With Beards, which seem to be based out of San Francisco, California. The quality of this pressing as well as the album packaging is very nice indeed, indicating that these guys care about the product they put out. I will be on the lookout for other releases on this label.
Now to the album!
Side one seems to be the crazier, more avant' guard of the two sides. The arrangements immediately brought to mind both of the Syd Barrett solo albums I have 'Madcap Laughs' and 'Opel' (incidentally both of which contain tracks with Soft Machine in whole or in part). This wasn't a complete shock, as Kevin Ayers was a founding member of Soft Machine but who left the band early in their career. By the second track I was digging around the liner notes and some internet research and my initial thoughts were confirmed. Although Soft Machine as a band is only credited with performing backing for one of the tracks: "Song for Insane Times", individual Soft Machine members, and a future member, are credited for the bulk of the album: Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge, and Hugh Hopper. Additionally, although not on this release, a 2003 reissue of the album contained some bonus tracks, a version of a song called "Religious Experience" and later retitled "Singing a Song in the Morning" on which the guitar part was recorded by... wait for it... non other than Syd Barrett! Confused yet?
The connection I made almost immediately was to Nick Drake, especially in terms of the timbre of Kevin Ayers' voice and melodic phrasing. I didn't hear this as strongly on side two, which overall seemed to depart more from the wild ride of side one. Side two was more conventional and restrained in comparison. Track 9, "Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong" jumps out as a very interesting track that starts out in such a way as one is not quite sure where it's going to go, but eventually introduces a very spare and simplistic piano part that proceeds to slowly grow in complexity and nuance, almost like Thelonious Monk part.
Wikipedia shares this little interesting nugget about this album: "After a Soft Machine tour of the USA with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Ayers had decided to retire from the music business. Hendrix however, presented Ayers with an acoustic Gibson J-200 guitar on the promise that he continue his songwriting. Ayers repaired to a small London flat where he composed and arranged a whole LP which was then presented to Malcolm Jones' fledgling Harvest label where it was recorded by Peter Jenner for the then exorbitant sum of £4000". That would be approximately $80,000 dollars in 2018, which apparently was quite a lot for this type of album at that time.