Long-time readers of this blog will already know of the special place in my heart that is reserved for the music of Kevin Ayers, whose work I have been consistently enjoying over the past 32 years – even though he hasn’t actually released any original new material for the past 15 of those years.
Until now, that is. The expression “stunning return to form” is possibly the most over-used and debased in all of popular music journalism (particularly with reference to every successive release by Prince since, ooh, Diamonds and Pearls or thereabouts), but Ayers’ sparkling new comeback album The Unfairground, if not exactly a “stunning” return (for “stunning” is not really his stock in trade), is certainly delightful, welcome, and wholly unexpected. Having lived with the album for nearly a month now, it is also, in my sober assessment, easily his best work since Yes, We Have No Mananas in 1976 – and that’s me being cautious.
What makes The Unfairground succeed where other latter-day releases have fallen short is this: for once, Ayers doesn’t sound as if he has let the hired hands walk all over him. As with the best of his 1970s solo work, he is once again surrounded by a gifted bunch of collaborators, who sound in tune with his ethos and both willing and able to do his songs the justice which they deserve. This sense of collaboration, commitment and sheer enjoyment permeates the whole album.
And what collaborators! Here we will find old friends such as Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine), Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music) and the long-lost Bridget St. John working alongside younger admirers such as Euros Childs (whom I saw last night – see below), Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), Candie Payne, and members of Architecture In Helsinki, Ladybug Transistor, Of Montreal, Noonday Underground, Trashcan Sinatras and others.
Here’s a track from the new album (featuring Euros Childs, Norman Blake and Bridget St. John on backing vocals, along with the string section from the Tucson Philharmonia), which was sent to me by Kevin’s manager (Tim Shepard, who also drew the cover art pictured above) for the express purpose of making it available on this blog. Hope you like it.