on 23 September 2003
Joy of a Toy is Kevin Ayers' masterpiece, a delightfully odd and whimsical album from a genuine English eccentric. It is also an album of rare beauty full of unexpected twists and turns. This is the sort of album we wish Syd Barrett could have made after leaving Pink Floyd. From the opener, a cheerful hum-a-long version of Ayers' Joy of a Toy (a radical reworking of the tune originally found on the first Soft Machine album), we know this is NOT going to be typical rock fare. It does not however prepare us for the strange twiddly fragile gorgeousness of Town Feeling or Song For Insane Times, which must be up there in the top 20 most beautiful recordings ever. Then there is sonic locomotive trip of Stop This Train and the simply undefinable Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong...WOW.
This CD has 16 tracks on it but titles 1-10 (the original Joy of a Toy album) should be listen to as a unit on its own and the bonus cuts regarded as a separate listening experience. Of the bonus cuts Soon Soon Soon, sounding like something from some magnificent but very odd stage musical, is the most fun.
This is the sort of album you want to have in reserve incase you need just the thing to brighten up a dull and ordinary day at home. Magical.
Kevin Ayers belongs to that list of late 1960s musicians such as Nick Drake and Syd Barrett who retain their English accent on record. Indeed, Ayers is also one of those who largely ploughs his own furrow while betraying occasional glimpses of outside influence. Routinely described as eccentric, his debut album is aptly named as joy is the feeling that predominates, despite several mood changes. 'Joy Of A Toy Continued' sets out his manifesto with its village green carnival attitude. Both 'Town Feeling' and 'The Clarietta Rag' partly resemble John Lennon's style, the latter having a similar melody to 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite'. Ayers is much farther out than The Beatles, however, this being an album you might expect Sergeant Pepper to make if he met Syd Barrett on his weekend off. It abounds with pop melodies, intriguing lyrics and a powerful cocktail of innocence and mischief.
'Girl On A Swing' features a light-headed piano pattern crossed with psychedelic guitar effects. This ability to experiment with unusual arrangements is even more effective on the mock-Romantic 'Lady Rachel' and 'Stop This Train'. 'Song For Insane Times' is more conventional but the thought-provoking lyric is the star, as is the case with 'Eleanor's Cake'. Undoubtedly, the weirdest, trippiest track is the mad 'Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong' which, if you're not careful, goes round your head for hours afterwards. The straightest track, 'All This Crazy Gift Of Time' is, significantly, the least memorable.
The bonus song, 'Singing A Song In The Morning' is, with or without Syd Barrett, the most exhilarating experience on the CD and should have been a hit. Trying to describe Ayers's music is akin to pulling the sword from the stone. Suffice to say that if you like imaginative, melodic music with a good dose of experimentation, this album is a must.
Despite his best efforts to avoid courting too much popularity, Kevin Ayers' emergence from the Canterbury scene first in the Wilde Flowers and then with Soft Machine is well known. Typically, he jumped ship from Soft Machine as they were taking off after a gruelling tour with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, selling his bass guitar to Mitch Mitchell and switching to guitar to write the songs that were to make up his first and finest solo album, a light, folksy, if occasionally sinister collection of songs that benefit from the arrangements and piano playing of classical composer David Bedford, who was later to join the Whole World and work on all Kevin Ayers' best albums.
Robert Wyatt drums throughout most of the album and the rest of the Softs turn up regularly, separately and together, notably on Song For Insane Times.
Kevin Ayers has been musically likened to Nick Drake and Syd Barrett but he lacks the melancholy and some of the poetic genius of Nick Drake and also the manic intensity of Syd Barrett. Happily, unlike either of them, he also could not be described as a casualty, but is distinguished by his English sensibility and winsome eccentricity, which is eloquently displayed on this atmospheric debut.
In its re-mastered form Joy Of A Toy has acquired half a dozen bonus tracks including two remixed versions of Lady Rachel, one of his strongest songs, and early versions of his first single, Singing A Song In The Morning, under the working title Religious Experience. One of these has Syd Barrett himself playing guitar, though his mental health proved counter to the task and on the final single mix we can hear that Kevin Ayers himself provided a more than passable pastiche, abetted on organ and bass by David and Richard Sinclair from Canterbury compatriots Caravan
on 7 June 2006
I decided to buy this album after reading a review in a magazine that recomended it as a genius piece of work. To my delight it was a great album, and unlike anything of softmachine...
ayers did colaborate with barett and elements of barret are in this record, great songs and a lovely 70s feel. highly recomended. its a better album than shoting at the moon in my oppinion and just has a great unique whimsical feel all round, good on you mr ayers...
on 4 September 2010
Being maybe an amiable sort of cove Kevin Ayers wasn't content with being a member of Soft Machine in its heady heyday, oh no. He had to go on and have a `career' on his own terms, which makes JOAT something of a statement of intent, being his first solo album after he left the band and all that.
He was well placed to undertake such an endeavour, being the possessor of what John Peel called `a talent so acute you could perform major eye surgery with it' or something like that.
Once again the great and much lamented man got it right because the chances are that only Ayers could have come up with `Town Feeling' complete with oboe and his seemingly random utterance of `banana' in the midst of it.
`Girl On A Swing' is so prosaically English that it hurts, but in a good way, especially as there's a spot of guitar so heavy on the reverb that it might have freaked `the heads' out.
Then there's `Song for Insane Times' which may or may not be sincere. It doesn't matter anyway, not when Ayers has his old band back to back him.
He was and remains a one-off anyway, which is more than can be said for the wannabe clones, and this album would in a better world have sold by the shed-load.
on 25 October 2013
Having seen Kevin Ayers in Hyde Park many decades ago I thought I would remind myself of his music.
I am not dissapointed the songs are beautiful and I cant stop humming them especially "Lady Rachel"
Would recomend to any child of the 60's/early 70's
on 1 July 2003
If you like something a little different, then the original Joy Of A toy is as close to the perfect magical musical experience as you can get. After the opening oompah of Joy Of A Toy Continued, there is a unique blend of the avant-garde, café chansons and English psychedelic whimsy – all the way through to the gloriously Dylanesque All This Crazy Gift Of Time. All the songs are wonderfully refreshing and inventive, the arrangements superb, the musicianship just about as good as you can get. There’s the catchy weirdness of Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong (with David Bedford’s groovy piano-playing), and the excitement of Stop This Train Again Doing It, a brilliantly whacky, fast-moving allegory of modern life, with its long instrumental fade out (and speed up), cut through by Mike Ratledge’s Lowry organ.
Now all that is still here, but this remastered version is a collectors item which detracts from the perfection of the original package by adding outtakes and material that was sensibly left out first time around. The bonus tracks and remixes are interesting from a historical point of view only. The alternative versions of The Lady Rachel lack the sense of unease of the original. Religious Experience is not one of Ayres’ better songs, and not even Syd Barrett was able to contribute anything memorable to it other than his name. Nevertheless, it remains a gem, but a flawed one at that. If you’re a Kevin Ayres fan, you’ll love it; if you’re not, buy the original and become one.
on 23 January 2015
This is the first time I've heard this album, I'm shocked to say - and I'm not disappointed. Kevin Ayers is a rambunctious bundle of fun with a sensitive side too. 'The Lady Rachel', for example, provides a pensive contrast to the exuberant title track. While he definitely sits comfortably within the English pastoral tradition of this period, he seems to have a light, playful touch which lacks the portentous melancholy of Nick Drake or the animus sometimes found with Roy Harper. A late-comer I may be, but I'm delighted to have discovered this treasure. My only regret is that I opted for the 5-album box set which omits the bonus tracks.
on 15 April 2013
Do you like Bananas?
It's a great shame that it took the death of Kevin Ayers to get me to buy his work.
This is a sheet joyful toyful delight from start to finish. Marvellous, whimsical psychedelic pop. A Baritone Syd Barrett.
Go on, unzip a Banana today and BUY!
on 12 April 2013
If you like nick drake, isb, 1967 stuff you'll like this. Some good musical support from soft machine. Non pc lyrics by today's standards.
I love it but I'm 58!