Here’s a clip of ex-Soft Machine honcho Kevin Ayers, along with under-exposed guitar genius Ollie Halsall, and then-current Police guitarist Andy Summers (who’s birthday it is today, BTW). It’s a 1981 performance of Ayers’ tune ‘Didn’t Feel Lonely’, a jazzy, funky R&B workout that proves to be the perfect staging ground for a guitar-duel between Halsall and Summers. You decide who wins.
Kevin Ayers and Andy Summers had been long-time friends and touring partners by 1981. Indeed, Summers had toured with the Soft Machine at the end of the 1960s as a temporary member, until it was decided that his presence off the road was no longer required. The split didn’t affect Summers’ relationship with Ayers, however. Ayers’ solo career often included Summers as a supporting player, along with many other luminaries like Mike Oldfield, Brian Eno, and John Cale, among many others.
Among these others was the almost impossibly gifted Ollie Halsall, who became a stalwart bandmate to Ayers, and something of an unofficial musical partner during Ayers solo work through the 70s and into the 80s. Like Ayers himself, Halsall flourished in the late-60s as progressive rock gained traction with rock audiences. His chops as a guitarist suited the times perfectly, working with a myriad of bands and songwriters in that vein. But, along with his work with Ayers, Halsall’s work was popularized by his contributions to Eric Idle and Neil Innes’ The Rutles, a razor-sharp Beatles parody which along with the comedy, featured excellent songs and superlative playing.
Like many extremely talented musicians, Halsall struggled with a drug problem that claimed his life in 1992. But, this clip shows him at the height of his powers, locking horns with Andy Summers and arguably besting him as the two dextrous players trade licks as Ayers oversees. Halsall would play with Ayers for sixteen years, while Summers would continue to build his reputation with the Police, and beyond with a solo career of his own.
Kevin Ayers is an active musician today, with his latest album Unfairground gaining significant critical praise.
For more information about Kevin Ayers, check out the official Kevin Ayers website.