The singer and songwriter started the group in 1966 with Robert Wyatt, Daevid Allen, Mike Ratledge and Larry Nowlin (though Nowlin would leave soon after), naming the after William S. Burroughs’ novel after getting permission from the author. The pioneering psychedelic rock band released their influential debut album, The Soft Machine, in 1968. They then scored an opening slot and toured North America with the Jimi Hendrix Experience that year.
Soft Machine had already seen lineup changes by the end of the tour, and Ayers left the band right after to focus on his solo material. He released 17 albums, including his 1969 debut Joy of a Toy, and collaborated with the likes of Brian Eno and Mike Oldfield. His last record, The Unfairground, was released in 2007 and featured members of Teenage Fanclub and Neutral Milk Hotel. He remained in touch with his old bandmates – Robert Wyatt famously fell and was paralyzed from the waist down at one of Ayers’ parties in 1973.
Though he was born in Kent, Ayers spent time as a youth growing up in east Asia as his stepfather was a district officer in British Malaysia. He later lived on the Spanish island Ibiza, but struggled with a heroin addiction. Ayers relocated in recent years to southern France, and died at his home in the village of Montolieu.