Let us now praise famous underachievers

Charles 2 Comments

A charmingly unsparing obituary in yesterday’s Times(£) celebrated the life and times of rock musician Kevin Ayers.  Very old readers of this blog may remember him. 

A richly gifted singer and songwriter, Kevin Ayers made some wonderfully quixotic and engaging pop music, full of wit, warmth and whimsy. He was a founder member of Soft Machine, one of the seminal groups of the 1960s “underground”. Elton John appeared on his albums and both Mike Oldfield and the future Police guitarist Andy Summers played with him. He was also briefly a member of an “alternative supergroup” with Brian Eno, John Cale and Nico.

But while many of those he worked with went on to become platinum-sellers, Ayers — whose talent was described by John Peel as “so acute you could perform major eye surgery with it” — took a conscious decision to remain a cult figure, making records blessed with a freewheeling spirit and languid charm that operated blithely outside the fads and fashions of the music industry.

On several occasions in his career stardom appeared to beckon, but Ayers invariably found a way to thwart its arrival. Indeed, he was inordinately proud of the fact that he lacked the outsize ego and relentless ambition of the average rock’n’roll celebrity. Asked about his lack of drive when he released a comeback album in 2007, he replied: “I lost it years ago. But, in a way, I don’t think I’ve ever had it.”

He preferred a studied decadence and the indolent life of a bon viveur to the dedicated pursuit of fame and fortune, and the word louche might have been invented to describe him. It was once said that he wrote three kinds of songs: while drinking, while drunk and while hungover.


  1. Charles

    I heard Robert Wyatt describe him as the very opposite of an X Factor contestant. Hooray for that. Thank you for the medley Charles – good memories.

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