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Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes: Progressive Pioneer Kevin Ayers

The scope of Ayers’ work paved the way for many other psych-rock musicians.

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Kevin Ayers - Photo: Courtesy of Ebet Roberts/Redferns
Kevin Ayers - Photo: Courtesy of Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Even if you knew nothing about Kevin Ayers, a glance at a career that included co-founding Soft Machine, and then recording for Harvest, Island, and Virgin, would tell you that this was a very important progressive rock musician.

The pre-eminence of the English singer, songwriter and guitarist can’t really be measured in chart books. Ayers never made the UK bestsellers during his days with Soft Machine or as a solo artist, but the scope of his work paved the way for many other psych-rock musicians, much as his contemporary Syd Barrett did to wider recognition, both in and, briefly, out of Pink Floyd.

Born on August 16, 1944 in Herne Bay, England, Ayers was key to the development of the Canterbury scene of the 1960s which spawned Soft Machine. Their first album, recorded for ABC/Probe in the US, made a minor chart impression there, and they opened for Jimi Hendrix on his second American tour. They’re also, of course, fondly remembered as the starting ground for another great British individual, Robert Wyatt.

The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then

Leaving Soft Machine, Ayers signed with Harvest and started his solo career with the album Joy Of A Toy late in 1969. He released music for them regularly for several years and then moving to Island. The early bassist in Kevin’s band the Whole World was none other than a young and ambitious Mike Oldfield.

Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes (Live At The Rainbow Theatre / 1974)

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In 1974, Ayers collaborated twice on disc with Brian Eno, as the latter artist looked beyond Roxy Music for his inspiration: on Island with June 1, 1974, which also featured Nico and John Cale, and on Caroline/Virgin with Lady June’s Linguistic Leprosy.

Championed by a select band of tastemakers including BBC broadcaster John Peel, Ayers continued to make albums throughout the 1980s for a variety of labels. He returned to Virgin in 1988 for Falling Up, but then became something of a recluse, living in the south of France.

He made one further appearance as a frontman with the 2007 album for the LO-MAX label, The Unfairground, which featured friends from days past such as Phil Manzanera, Bridget St. John, and Hugh Hopper, as well as modern-day admirers from such bands as Teenage Fanclub and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. Kevin features in the Really Sayin’ Somethin’ story and playlist of the best spoken word tracks, which you can find here, with his great “Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes.” Kevin died in France at the age of 68 on February 18, 2013.

Listen to uDiscover Music’s Prog Rocks playlist.




  1. Kris

    February 19, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    Thanks very much for sharing that post.I never knew that.I appreciate the “trivia”,with all due respect…

  2. Mick Fowler

    August 27, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Thankyou. Very. Much.

  3. Lindy Batchelor

    October 8, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I remember Kevin and Syd as they hung out at poet Lady June’s, my girlfriend in the early 70’s…her flat in Maida Vale London was a welcome home away from home for musicians, poets, artists and friends. My ex Cal Batchelor played with Kevin in the mid-70’s. Great memories of all these people and Soft Machine. RIP Kevin….and RIP June.

  4. frank matson

    November 17, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    Whenever I used to visit the Boqueria Market in Barcelona I always used to look in the Banana section to see if there was any sign of Kevin there!

  5. Gary Michael Pyles

    November 4, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    I remember the Fairmont Senior High School days when one played (with Kevin Ayers) football at the Ole First Baptist Church grass lot. Being a musician first class at Fairmont Senior High School is a good remembrance. Kevin Ayers had his early beginnings at the school. To the Kevin Ayers Family, and Friends From the Gary Michael Pyles Family 2016 – 2017 With Sympathy He shall feed me in a green pasture, and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.

  6. roger netzer

    February 18, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    One of the four great poets of rock ‘n roll. (With Dylan, Lennon and Ray Davies.) The least known, and perhaps the least of the four, but the sweetest . And the dearest.

  7. Timo Suutala

    March 4, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    Andy Summers played with him before The Police.

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The Beatles Red and Blue Boxsets
The Beatles Red and Blue Boxsets
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