I didn’t have a huge number of friends at the boys grammar school I attended between 1966 and 1972. I didn’t make it into the top stream and so I was left to languish with the outsiders, none of us destined to be Air Chief Marshalls or Police and Crime Commissioners. The friends I did had were formed through cricket and music. Derek was a particular good friend because we had similar tastes in music and he once gave me his copy of “If I Could Do It All Over again, I’d Do It All Over You” by Caravan because his copy was worn thin.
At some point, and I have no idea why, I bought “Shooting At The Moon” by Kevin Ayers And The Whole World. Obviously, I had to take it into school and lend it to Derek. I say “obviously” because he was a good friend and it meant we could talk about it endlessly but, more importantly, it meant I could stroll into the Lower Sixth form room carrying the record with me. It’s got a great cover – all blue and grey and very “progressive”. Even better, a week later, he could return it to me and I was able to walk home with it, making sure that the front cover was pointing away from me so everyone could admire me.
Looking on with envy was Raymond Boutelle, someone that I often talked to but wasn’t really a good friend of. He and I got the same bus home from Tonbridge to Tunbridge Wells. Although he wasn’t a good friend, I obviously knew him – he was “Boutelle” and came between Barnard and Brown every morning and afternoon in the register. At the bus stop it was clear that his interest had been piqued. He had heard of Kevin Ayers but had not heard this record. “You can come round and listen to it if you like”, I suggested. “My parents are away.” My Mum and Dad were in Australia for three weeks, visiting my grandparents. “Great”, he replied. “Do you mind if some of my mates come?”
It’s OK. Don’t worry. This is not one of those “my house got trashed and I had to phone Yellow Pages to get a French polisher” stories.
When I got home that evening, I explained to my sister what was going to happen. She wasn’t happy but she retreated to her bedroom for the evening. Around 7 o’clock, two cars turned up outside the house and six boys, all aged about 17 emerged, including Boutelle, er, I mean, Raymond. They were all very good natured but scary. I’d never met any of the others before and they soon made themselves at home in our front room. Smoking wasn’t a problem as my Mum and Dad always had plenty of ash trays around the place. They were all dressed fashionably in the dour 1970 hippy-ish sort of way. As opposed to me – I had taken my tie and blazer off and probably hidden my boater but that was it.
In the absence of any social skills, I proudly placed the record on my Dad’s record player – something I was normally forbidden to do. As the opening sounds of “May I?” reverberated around the room (and presumably deafened my sister in her bedroom), I thought I should play the perfect host. I can, to this day, very clearly see myself standing up in front of the assembled gathering and asking “Right. Would anyone like a cup of coffee?” in my politest voice. I clearly remember clapping my hands once as I said it. Mumbled positive noise were emitted from most of my guests and I went into the kitchen to make seven cups of coffee. Obviously, I boiled milk to make “proper” coffee as my Mum always did. By the time I had bought in the coffees along with the requisite amount of sugar, it was time to turn the record over. They had sat through all of side one including “Pisser Dans Un Violin” which is 8 minutes of avant-garde noodling. John Lennon famously asked whether “avant-garde” was French for “bullshit” and I think he had probably listened to this track when he said it. The Wikipedia genres for this record are too numerous to mention but I guess this track (and “Underwater” on side two) is the reason for the inclusion of “experimental rock”.
Side two is just over 16 minutes long and as soon as it was over, they all got up and left. They were very polite. Raymond was polite. It was all very polite. I had a little bit of clearing up to do – mainly seven coffee mugs but when I was tidying up I noticed that one of my guests had written something on my Mum’s newspaper while I was making the coffee. This question had obviously been passed around: “IS OUR HOST STRAIGHT?”.
It’s worth clarifying what he meant. These days, of course, “straight” means heterosexual. In 1970 “straight” meant being traditional, conformist, old-fashioned, unadventurous, stuffy and, worst of all, square. There it was in black on white, written on my Mum’s Daily Mail: I was square. I thought I was groovy, unconventional, rebellious, wild, crazy, a risk taker. No. I was straight. I was taking two Maths and Physics A levels; I was going to study Maths at University and then spend 40 years as a teacher. This was the day I realised that I couldn’t escape my upbringing and a conventional life awaited. I was straight. Oh well.
The record is a great “progressive” record. It’s a real mixture. It has Kevin Ayers brilliant languid summery voice as it’s centrepiece but it also has a groovy, unconventional, rebellious, wild, crazy, and risk taking band – “The Whole World”. David Bedford was not a 10000 metre runner but was an extraordinary musician. As well as collaborating with many rock acts (Edgar Broughton, Roy Harper, Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Madness amongst others) he became a well renowned avant-garde composer. Lol Coxhill was a saxophone player who, allegedly, inspired Joni Mitchell to write “For Free” when she saw him busking in London. Mike Oldfield was 17 when this album was made and, obviously, he went on to fame and glory with “Tubular Bells” three years later.
Some of the songs are great. Completely out of character with the rest of the record, “Lunatics Lament” is a good rock song with a stunning guitar solo from Mike Oldfield. “The Oyster And The Flying Fish” is a duet between Kevin Ayers and Bridget St. John. “Colores Para Dolores” which is a mixture of avant-garde bullshit, sorry, experimentation and a great little song at the end features Robert Wyatt on vocals. (Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers had been in The Wilde Flowers and The Soft Machine together. They were all part of the Canterbury music scene. Other members of The Wilde Flowers went on to form Caravan). “Clarence In Wonderland” is an eccentric catchy tune with a singalong chorus. The best song is “Red Green And You Blue” with a great saxophone solo from Lol Coxhill.
A review from AllMusic.com describes the album perfectly: “A snapshot of the era, the album is saturated with original ideas, experimentation, and lunacy, all powered by the bottled grape.”