Sunday, 10 April 2016

"Joy Of A Toy" by KEVIN AYERS (2003 EMI/Harvest 'Expanded' CD - Peter Mew Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Making Love...Taking Love…" 

Ex Wilde Flowers and Soft Machine Bassist and Songwriter KEVIN AYERS would pump eight eclectic and often utterly brilliant albums between 1969 and 1978 – six on EMI’s Harvest and the other two on Island Records. Time now for digital variants and you have to say that EMI/Harvest have done a totally sterling job reissuing the lot on CD. The first batch of four came in June 2003 and the remainder in September 2009 – all bolstered with great bonus tracks and quality Peter Mew Remasters. December 1969's "Joy Of A Toy" is the start of that journey and here are the childhood memories...

UK and Europe released June 2003 – "Joy Of A Toy" by KEVIN AYERS on EMI/Harvest 07243-582776-2-3 (Barcode 724358277623) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster and plays out as follows (67:15 minutes):

1. Joy Of A Toy Continued
2. Town Feeling
3. The Clarietta Rag
4. Girl On A Swing
5. Song For Insane Times
6. Stop This Train (Again Doing It) – Side 2
7. Eleanor's Cake (Which Ate Her)
8. The Lady Rachel (Lullaby For Children)
9. Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong
10. All This Crazy Gift Of Time
Tracks 1 to 10 make up the album "Joy Of A Toy" issued November 1969 on Harvest SHVL 736 in the UK and Harvest SKAO 421 in the USA (all tracks are Ayers originals).

11. Religious Experience (Singing A Song In The Morning)
Take 9 recorded 28 Nov 1969 - featuring SYD BARRETT – Previously Unreleased
12. The Lady Rachel (Extended First Mix)
Recorded February 1972 – Previously Unreleased
13. Soon Soon Soon
Recorded September 1969 – first released as an album outtake on the "Odd Ditties" LP from February 1976 on Harvest SHSM 2005
14. Religious Experience (Singing A Song In The Morning)
Recorded and mixed 18 December 1969. Take 103 – Previously Unreleased
15. The Lady Rachel (Single Version)
Recorded 1972 - first released on the "Odd Ditties" LP from February 1976 on Harvest SHSM 2005
16. Singing A Song In The Morning (Single Version)
Debut UK 7" single released 13 February 1970 on Harvest HAR 5011, A

The Band:
KEVIN AYERS – Lead Vocals, Rhythm & Lead Guitars and Bass
DAVID BEFORD – Keyboards and Arrangements
THE SOFT MACHINE featuring Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge and Robert Wyatt on "Song For Insane Times"
HUGH HOPPER – Bass on "Joy Of A Toy Continued"
ROBERT WYATT – Drums on all tracks except "Stop This Train (Again Doing It)" and "Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong"
ROB TAIT – Drums on "Stop This Train (Again Doing It)" and "Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong"

Compiled, researched and produced by noted Canterbury Scene genre expert MARK POWELL (of Esoteric Recordings) – the 16-page booklet is festooned with rare photos and a detailed history of the album's genesis and fruition. The British and American album's inner gatefold is reproduced on the two-page centre spread with the lyrics to "The Lady Rachel (Lullaby For Children)" and "Song For Insane Times" moved to Page 15 to be readable on their own. A label repro of The Soft Machine's rare debut US 45 for "Joy Of A Toy" on Probe 452 graces Page 4 (an Ayers song that originally turned up on their US-only self-titled debut album in December 1968). This is complimented by cool colour photos of Kevin busking in what appears to be Carnaby Street with unnamed pal. A demo of the only UK 7" single surrounding the LP "Singing A Song In The Morning" is repro'd on Page 12 (Harvest HAR 5011 from 13 February 1970) and there's even an original Harvest Records trade advert for the platter penned by the album's Producer Peter Jenner. Both Peter Jenner and Andrew King were part of the management team 'Blackhill Enterprises' (took care of Pink Floyd) who along with Roy Featherstone of EMI signed the young Ayers to EMI's new progressive rock label – Harvest Records. The album's striking front-cover yellow artwork is reproduced on the inlay beneath the see-through tray and the CD label has the famous Harvest logo. All very tasteful indeed...but that's nothing to the superb Audio...

PETER MEW (who originally engineered the record back in the day) has remastered the first generation tapes at Abbey Road Studios (February 2003) and has done a typically stunning job – really beautiful Sound Quality. Mew has handled hundreds of CD reissues including Dr. Feelgood, Davie Bowie, Deep Purple, Donovan, Blodwyn Pig, Electric Light Orchestra, Free, Jethro Tull, Duncan Browne, Horslips, Man, Robin Trower (and many more) – I've reviewed all of the ones mentioned. His work here is amongst his best and Ayers specifically asked for Mew to carry out the transfers.

Ayers gathered his musician pals around him for his debut and it turned out to be a smart move. He opens proceedings with a follow on song "Joy Of A Toy Continued" – a continuation nod to the November 1968 US 45 for "Joy Of A Toy" by The Soft Machine. It's a jaunty sing-along shanty that probably seemed like fun at the time but hasn't travelled well across the decades. Things start to really become noticeably 'Ayers' with the brilliant "Town Feeling" – an oddly likeable ditty with Oboe by Paul Minns underpinning their weird sound and acoustic breaks. "The Clarietta Rag" feels like some Psych band's bid for a half-danceable single with lyrics like "...please send her a great big shining star to show her where you are..." This tale about a queen of mountain magic has one of the weirdest and weediest guitar solos I've ever heard. But all that pales against the truly gorgeous "Girl On A Swing" – a piano lullaby underpinned by a clavinet and treated guitar. At 2:50 minutes it's short but I'm always playing it – sticking the tune of CD-Rs to bolster up the contents and cool quotient. Side 1 ends with The Soft Machine backing up Ayers on the Jazz-Rock swing of "Song For Insane Times" – a wickedly groovy little tune where knowing lyrics like "...Alice is wearing her sexist gown...but she don't want you to look at her..." assault you as the keyboards give it bite.

Side 2 opens with the 'difficult' and menacing slow chug of "Stop This Train (Again Doing It)" until it suddenly punches into a fast train-like rhythm and stays that way for its brilliant 6:06 minutes. With its deliberately 'distant' vocals and cross-speaker keyboard fading and wild moog soloing - you're aware of a new kind of music emerging here – part Avant Garde – part Rock – part Kraut rhythms. And those brilliant lyrics only add to the heady stew – smart words that would serve him so well in the albums to come. Probably most people's fave tune on the album "The Lady Rachel (Lullaby For Children)" is another 5:18 minutes of strangely beautiful soundscapes you can't quite pigeonhole. But its evocative atmosphere means you can see the child with a candle climbing the big house stairs as Ayers sings " she's safe from the darkness...she's safe from its clutch..." Of the two finishers – the silly "Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong" and "All This Crazy Gift Of Time" – the harmonica jug band vibe to "All This..." comes off best.

After a thorough search of the archives – the legendary tapes to the non-album side "Singing A Song In The Morning" with Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd on Guitar turned up (the first bonus track). Take 9 of what was initially called "Religious Experience" has been partially worth the wait - Barrett's jangle on Guitar can be heard throughout (4:47 minutes as opposed to the eventual single mix at 2:53 minutes). What's noticeable is the bass intro and the acoustic guitars are largely missing – replaced by Syd chugging away on an electric guitar. In truth I'd have to say that the more polished and commercially viable 7" single mix (Track 16) was the better choice at the time (even though it didn't chart) – but how fascinating is it to hear this rarity after all these years. If you're looking for the truly gorgeous non-LP B-side to the "Singing A Song In The Morning" single - "Eleanor's Cake (Which Ate Her)" is one of the bonus tracks on the second LP "Shooting At The Moon" CD Remaster. The other Previously Unreleased variant of "Religious Experience" on here (Track 14) was done 18 December 1969 and is apparently as high as Take 103 running to a much shorter 2:47 minutes – closer to the single cut. A genuine prize for fans is the 6:43 minutes of the 'Extended First Version' of "The Lady Rachel" – heavy on the organ and flute and big instruments. It's fantastic stuff but you can so hear why Ayers went with the simpler version – this take lost in too much busyness. And the fuzzed-up Psych of "Soon Soon Soon" is wickedly good too.

For his next album "Shooting At The Moon" released October 1970 – Ayers would form his group THE WHOLE WORLD with David Bedford on Keyboards, Mike Oldfield on Guitars, Lol Coxhill on Saxophone and Mick Fincher on Drums. His second platter would be the only one in his catalogue credited to Kevin Ayers and The Whole World.

So there you have it – "Joy Of A Toy" is nutty, tuneful and actually beautiful in places. It's not all masterful for sure - but this is where Kevin Ayers began carving his name into the hearts of music fans everywhere and songs from the album like "Girl On A Swing" and "The Lady Rachel" are being covered by contemporary acts to this day (2016). A fantastic reissue of a rarity you never see on original vinyl LP. Start your love affair here...

PS: see also my reviews for his other EMI/Harvest 'expanded' CD remasters - "Whatevershebringswesing" (1972), "Bananamour" (1973), "The Confessions Of Dr. Dream And Other Stories" (1974), "Sweet Deceiver" (1975) and "Yes We Have No Mananas, Get Your Mananas Today" (1976)

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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