Allen, a couple of years older than his bandmates, had headed from Melbourne to Paris in 1960 after exposure to Beat Generation writers while working in a Melbourne bookshop. He’d stayed at the Beat Hotel in the room vacated by Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, sold the International Herald Tribune around the Latin Quarter, and met Terry Riley and William Burroughs before moving to England in 1961, renting a room near Dover from Wyatt’s parents. Inspired by the musical philosophies of Sun Ra, he formed the Daevid Allen Trio, a free jazz outfit with Wyatt on drums and brought serious jazz and beatnik influences when he and Wyatt joined forces with Ayers and Ratledge in the psychedelic quartet that became, effectively, the house band at London’s legendary UFO club once Pink Floyd moved on to bigger things. 

Those UFO gigs resulted in the French tour that prompted Allen’s departure since he’d overstayed his visa and couldn’t get back into England. He stayed in France, took part in the Paris protests in 1968, handing teddy bears to the police and reciting poetry in pidgin French. This apparently didn’t go down well with the more political elements and he ended up in Majorca, with partner Gilli Smyth, met poet Robert Graves and formed the earliest incarnations of Gong.

Ayers, Wyatt and Ratledge continued as a three-piece, went on to record an album (The Soft Machine, 1968) in the USA, half way through a tour opening for Jimi Hendrix. They’d already cut a single (Love Makes Sweet Music/Feelin' Reelin' Squeelin', both written by Ayers) with Allen on board as far back as February 1967. The album was co-produced by Hendrix manager Chas Chandler and Tom Wilson, fresh from five Dylan albums and the first Velvet Underground album. 

Ayers, however, disliked the monotony associated with touring, describing it as dehumanising, and probably wasn’t entirely happy about the complexities that were creeping into the Soft Machine repertoire, sold his white Fender Jazz bass to Noel Redding and dropped out of the band, heading for Ibiza with an intention to take things easy and enjoy life in the company of his old colleague Daevid Allen. 

With the pair cloistered in the island village of Deia, Ayers wrote the songs that made up his first album, Joy of a Toy, and set the tone for the albums that followed, with Ayers' sonorous baritone delivering material that ranged from the pastoral whimsy through catchy pop to the deliberately weird. 


B© Ian Hughes 2012