Jazz Cafe, Camden | January 8th
Everybody loves Everybody Loves the Sunshine, with its warm, sexy, feel-good vibraphone vibes, falsetto synth and uplifting piano. And the man who released it 37 years years ago, Roy Ayers, is still basking in the heat from that 1976 mega hit.
For inquisitive listeners, though, Sunshine is simply the gateway track into Ayers’ funky world, and it’s a richly mystical and rewarding voyage. His vast back catalogue offers songs which are all sun-dappled and brimming with free love, almost without exception. He’s a happy, cool cat from Los Angeles and an evening with him live, a hand-held stroll through his sunshine paradise, is bliss.
Last week Ayers, at the grand age of 72, revisited his favourite London haunt, Camden’s Jazz Cafe, for a glowing three-night sell-out run. When we last saw him at the intimate venue – ideal for a man who loves to interact with his audience, as Ayers does – a couple of years ago, he said: “Admit it ladies, I don’t look any older than 50. You know what the secret is? Peanut butter, only the crunchy kind though. And a LOT of sex.”
Once again, he played the unscrupulous seducer, the LA Lothario, and there’s no signs of him wanting to slow down, on or off stage. It’s an utter delight to watch. Much like 007 fans leave the cinema after Skyfall feeling very Bond, all intense, darting eyes and pumping testosterone, Ayers casts his magic over the audience, though with a rather more amourous outcome.
On this occasion, wearing a black shirt, yellow pinstripe blazer, an African kufi cap and narrow sunglasses, the spiritual showman’s songs – more about love gained than lost – were punctuated by a playful, flirty narrative, with a reflective undertone. “Most of you out there are not my age, but let me tell you it’s good to be on the planet aged 72,” he beamed. “I first toured here in 1976, and now it feels like I live in the UK. I’m grateful for your acceptance. Britain is my number one market in the world.”
While you might think “I bet he says that to all the crowds” he followed it up with: “I want to thank Holiday Inn for their service over the years. Thanks for the lice! No, seriously, it’s been a wonderful trip. I’m enjoying the hell out of it!”
He then spoke about his two wives, before amusingly kicking into I Wanna Touch You Baby. And as his 90-minute set neared its end he showed off his incredibly high energy levels for a septuagenarian, performing a quick-paced medley of three of his biggest tunes: Can’t You See Me; Running Away; and Evolution.
There was the odd reminder that the world has spun a few times since the 1970s, when Ayers’ star was skyrocketed by his distinctive sound. At one point, for example, he accidentally turned off his MalletKAT Pro vibraphone midway though a song, but he had the calm charisma to breeze through, and all with a winning smile. For those lucky enough to see him live at Jazz Cafe this was a real, rare treat, made all the more precious as the shadows on this fantastic musician’s life grow longer.
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Words: Oliver Pickup (Twitter)