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May I introduce you to singer-songwriter Kevin Ayers and the Whole World?

Updated on September 15, 2015

May I? by Kevin Ayers and The Whole World

Kevin Ayers in romantic mood

Kevin Ayers was a very British singer-songwriter and rock musician held in very high regard by his many fans and by many artists and producers in the music industry.

"May I stop and stare at you for a while? I'd like the company of your smile," sings Kevin Ayers in his song May I? It opens the album Shooting At The Moon, which was released on the Harvest label and is as good a place as any to introduce you to his songs and music.

Here Kevin is in romantic mood and tells how he spotted a beautiful girl at a café and how he approached her. It represents him at his most charming and lyrical best. But a song such as this one represents just one side of his eclectic genius and creative output.

Ayers, who was backed by a short-lived band called the Whole World on this album, also ventures into avant-garde experimental compositions such as Pisser Dans Un Violon. His habit of not being able to stay with a given genre of music must have been a great frustration to his record labels and promoters.

But Kevin Ayers was very much a man who embodies the sentiment of '60s catchphrase "do your own thing." He has certainly done so, and although he never managed commercial chart hits, he has been rightly credited as one of the most influential musicians that arrived in the heyday of flower power and has gained a vast army of loyal fans ever since those days.

The late great John Peel, who often played songs by Ayers on his BBC Radio 1 show, said in his autobiography that "Kevin Ayers' talent is so acute you could perform major eye surgery with it."

Best Kevin Ayers albums on Amazon

More about Kevin Ayers and his musical background

Kevin Ayers was born in Herne Bay in Kent but his family moved to Malaysia when he was six and came back to the UK when he was 12. His time overseas was later to surface in his songwriting, which features many references to other countries and incorporates a world music feel at times.

As a teenager in the '60s, Kevin became involved in what was to become known as the "Canterbury scene" and had befriended many musicians that were in the area including Daevid Allen who went on to front Gong, as well as Hugh Hopper, Robert Wyatt and Mike Ratledge. In 1963, Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper, Kevin Ayers and two others formed the band The Wilde Flowers. Ayers was the vocalist for the group.

In 1965, Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen went to Ibiza, and it was while away that they met up with Wes Brunson, and American who had inherited a lot of money and who decided to invest some of it in supporting the two musicians. Ayers and Allen went back to the UK and persuaded their friends Robert Wyatt and Mike Ratledge to form a new band that they decided to call Soft Machine.

Both Allen and Ayers were to end up leaving the band and go on to other things, but Soft Machine who now had Hugh Hopper as a member were becoming well known and released an album.

Kevin Ayers got signed to EMI's new progressive music label, Harvest. It was on here that in 1969 he was to release the album Joy Of A Toy, which many people feel is one of his best. It contains very memorable songs such as the haunting Lady Rachel, the philosophical whimsy of All This Crazy Gift Of Time and the beautiful and sympathetic Eleanor's Cake (Which Ate Her), which was written for and about Kevin's friend Eleanor Barooshian (now known as Chelsea Lee) of the girl group The Cake.

Photo of Kevin Ayers

Kevin Ayers. Photo by Tim Duncan
Kevin Ayers. Photo by Tim Duncan

Famous musicians Kevin Ayers has worked with

In the various stages of Kevin Ayers long and successful career there have been several different band line-ups and also collaborations with other musicians.

When Kevin was fronting The Whole World he had teenage guitarist Mike Oldfield in the band. Mike went on in the years ahead to become a very successful musician and composer in his own rights and is most famous for his album Tubular Bells.

Highly acclaimed producer and musician David Bedford worked with Kevin on many occasions and many song arrangements. Bedford's work enhances The Lady Rachel, for example on Joy Of A Toy.

Kevin enlisted singer-songwriter Bridget St John's help on The Oyster And The Flying Fish on Shooting At The Moon, one of his very fun-filled fantasy songs.

Probably the most famous and at the same time most-discussed friendship and collaboration was that of Kevin Ayers with Pink Floyd founder and fellow eccentric genius, the late Syd Barrett. Singing A Song In The Morning (A Religious Experience) features Syd.

Ayers wrote a tribute song to Syd Barrett, "Oh! Wot A Dream,"which appears on the album Bananamour in 1973.

Among other singers and musicians Kevin Ayers worked with are former Velvet Underground members John Cale and Nico, and Roxy Music's Brian Eno. Kevin also teamed up with guitarist Ollie Halsall, who played guitar for acts Timebox, Patto, and The Rutles.

Kevin Ayers ended up in the '90s living a semi-reclusive life in the south of France, but he kept on writing songs and was tempted out to make a return to music and to record his last album The Unfairground in 2007. Recorded in part in New York and London, The Unfairground has contributions form guest musicians including Euros Childs from Gorkys Zygotic Mynci, Phil Manzanera formerly of Roxy Music, Hugh Hopper and Robert Wyatt, and Bridget St John.

Bridget and Kevin dueted on the love song Baby Please Come Home, which is one of the highlights of an album that shows that Kevin Ayers could still write and perform as well as he ever did when he was younger.

Baby Come Home by Kevin Ayers and Bridget St John

Kevin Ayers RIP

Sadly the world of music was shocked by the news that Kevin Ayers had died in his sleep on 18 February, 2013. His body was found in his bed at his home in the medieval village of Montolieu in the south of France. He was 68 and is said to have died from natural causes.

Kevin Ayers is survived by a sister and three daughters.


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    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 2 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Yes, Bridget St John is one of my favourite singer-songwriters too!

    • Adrien Richards profile image

      Adrien 2 years ago

      From the beginning I been a Kevin fan, since it started with Roxy Music and he played with Eno and it went from there. I been able to hear everything including many records I own which were very hard to find glad I did. I got into Bridget St John which is my favorite female singer through him too.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Fantastic! Thanks for letting us know!

    • profile image

      Sally Coombes 5 years ago

      I have an original copy of 'Leo the Lilo' and it is signed by David Gray.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I am very glad to hear it!

    • profile image

      FolkadelicCoUk 7 years ago


      I have a copy of the "WILDE FLOWER" poetry booklet, not all the poems were by Kevin Ayers, it was co-written with David Gray and the booklet was titled "LEO THE LILO" and was sold at a cost of 3 shillings, published by The Diemerling Company in Tankerton... this is the only known copy I have been abvle to find.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I was playing Joy of a Toy, yesterday! Kevin is one of the most-played artists in my collection! Thanks for posting!

    • Peter Allison profile image

      Peter Allison 7 years ago from Alameda, CA

      Oh Man! I am a Kevin Ayers fanatic. I know I'm late to this hub (having just searched for Kevin Ayers on a whim) but yes, he is an amazing artist. I was turned on him by accident when I bought a boxload of LPs at a yardsale - it included Trout Mask Replica (Beefheart), We're Only in it for the Money (Mothers) and other stuff incluifn this weird yellow LP wih a little lad dancing with a drum - and when the needle hit the vinyl it was magic.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks for posting, Giovanni! Yes, I would love to see this book too!

    • profile image

      giovanni 7 years ago


      i'm an old (too old) K a fan,

      years ago I have read an interview where kevin spoke abaut a juvenile poetry book.

      I am astonished and much happy knowing that a fan possesses photostat of that book.

      I think the owner should upload it on this blog as soon as possible

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks for posting, Frank! Always glad to hear from a fan of Kevin's!

    • profile image

      frank matson 7 years ago

      Yes, back in the late 1960's / 70's Kevin was an inspiration to me. You only have to listen to Lol Coxhill's Ear of the Beholder CD to understand why!

      Even now when I visit the South of France or Southern Spain I look up at the Mountains and lo! in my mind's eye I spy Kevin, with his long blonde hair and Acoustic Guitar,sitting upon a rock, singing some little ditty and making us all creased up with laughter! And when I visit El Mercado de la Boqueria in Barcelona I always visit the Banana Section to look for any sign of Kev there!

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I am so glad that you have discovered him too, Samantha! I think the answer why Kevin isn't more famous is that he never had any hit singles but he is nevertheless, and rightly so, very well respected by other top musicians, as well as having a devoted fanbase.

    • profile image

      samantha 8 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading your piece on Kevin Ayers. I got into him via The Unfairground. I found it in a record shop in nyc and fell in love with the cover art without knowing anything about the man himself, But it was the cover art which prompted me to buy the album thinking that with such great packaging it had to be a good album. Well I discovered that it is a fantastic album. Since then I have found copies of Joy of a Toy, Shooting at the Moon and whatevershebringswesing. All of them brilliant. I love his videos too. Baby Come Home is an absolute genius video, so romantic, sad and longing. I feel beautiful emptiness. I love the way you get only the briefest little glimpse of Ayers. I study film at NYU and brought it in to a seminar. Yes everyone loved it and it definitely earned Kevin a few more fans. Why oh why is he not more well known??

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks for posting, GPAGE!

    • GPAGE profile image

      GPAGE 8 years ago from California

      Always love to learn about people I never knew much about! Cool! G

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I am glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for posting!

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 8 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Top quality hub! I will be following up some of this info.


      Hope things are looking up for you , Bard.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I didn't know you had a book of Kevin's poems, Chris! I didn't even know one existed! That's amazing! Unfairground is one of his best - all top quality songs and no experimental avante-garde stuff.

    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 8 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Hi Steve, yes I love Kevin Ayers too. Don't know if you know this Steve, but I live about 6 miles from Herne Bay, where Kevin was born, and about the same distance from Canterbury, which is where the Wilde Flowers and Soft Machine were created. Also I have photostat book of poems by Kevin Ayers from the mid sixties called Wilde Flowers, which is obviously where the name of the band came from. I'm also a great fan of Robert Wyatt, who, like Ayers, has continued to plough a unique course through British pop music. Great to be reminded of him. I haven't heard Unfairground yet, but I'll be looking out for it.