Five months ago this gig went on sale, and for five months the anticipation slowly built for what promised to be one of the most exciting soul gigs in Newcastle this year. Selling out within a week, the Hoochie Coochie faithful here in the Toon packed the intimate club last Friday night to witness Roy Ayers, truly a legend in his own time, perform a run-down of his greatest hits. Once again, the Hoochie Coochie delivered in somehow managing to book this incredible man for a one-off show, and what a show Mr Ayers delivered.
Now at 74, Roy Ayers is a looking a little frail. But then again, he is 74. Yet, two months shy of his 75th birthday, Mr Ayers still loves the excitement of performing live music, regardless of the venue, whether it be mud-clad festival-goers at Glastonbury, to a small yet arguably more dedicated audience here in Newcastle. Admittedly, we had our doubts about Mr Ayers’ backing band. Accompanied only by a four-piece band, consisting of vocalist/road manager John Pressley, drummer Troy Miller, keyboardist Jamal Peoples, and bassist Donald Nicks, it seemed that some of the finer subtleties of Roy Ayers’ musical productions might get a bit lost. Certainly at times the groove needed at least a guitar if nothing else, but actually the band and Mr Ayers intense vibraphone playing did a good job recreating his back catalogue.
Opening with the classic jazz-funk groove ‘Love Will Bring Us Back Together’, it was clear that this was going to be a musical night to remember. The band hit the groove early on, with Donald Nicks in particular impressing with his tasty bass licks. Mr Ayers’ voice, we’re pleased to say, still remains pretty decent for a man of his age; sure, it’s a little huskier and deeper than before, but he can still sing. The addition of Mr Pressley’s voice is inspired, filling in the highs that Mr Ayers can no longer reach, providing the vocals with greater depth. Also impressive was Mr Peoples synth solos; it seemed that each song the band performed, at least two-three minutes per song was dedicated to a synth solo. On paper (or on the screen of an electronic device) this might seem a little too much synth, but when you’re in the audience witnessing it, it’s actually pretty enjoyable. Mr Nicks and Mr Miller were also provided with several opportunities to solo throughout the set; Mr Nicks’ slap bass being appreciated the most from the Hoochie Coochie crowd.
With the solos and extended vibe solos from Mr Ayers – which, we’d like to point out, are incredible – each song lasted no less than seven-to-eight minutes. When you consider how brilliant the songs are in Mr Ayers’ back catalogue, these extended versions allowed the band to really delve deep and improvise with them. None more so on ‘We Live in Brooklyn, Baby’, which inevitably became ‘We Live in Newcastle, Baby’. With the Friday night Newcastle crowd in, the band seemed somewhat overwhelmed that such a small club could host a crowd that could produce so much noise.
The band delivered ‘Red, Black & Green’ superbly, and before long it was time for the song that we had been waiting for. You’ve guessed it: ‘Running Away’. With its infectious bass-line, catchy chorus and the classic ‘Dooby-Doo/Run, Run Run’ lyric, this is one of our favourites here at TFSR. We’re delighted to report that Mr Ayers and the band did not disappoint: a full eight-minute version of ‘Running Away’ was produced expertly, complete with vibe solo and chanting of ‘Dooby-Doo’ from the crowd. It was simply a magical musical moment.
Then came the big one. If there’s one song that’s guaranteed to be on any collection of summer soul songs, or any smooth jazz compilation it is ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’. It’s partially because of its over-exposure that we’ve tended to shy away from it, but hearing it live reminds you of the beauty of the song and why it is so over-played in the first place. It’s one of those songs that almost everybody knows, whether they know the artist or not. Of course, thankfully, everyone in the Hoochie Coochie did know it and sang it back to Mr Ayers and the band loudly, raising the temperature in the club to that of a particularly sunny day.
The band played for nearly 110 minutes, including an incredibly funky encore of the classic hit ‘Searching‘. Afterwards Mr Ayers was gracious enough to come out and sign copies of his latest album King of the Vibes, as well as pose with photos like the one below (if Mr Ayers has mastered one thing beyond music, its how to pull a pose). This set was one of the finest we’ve seen, and surely one of the finest the Hoochie Coochie has seen in its impressive lifetime. It’s a testament to Mr Ayers’ comfort with his music and his fans that he played the Hoochie Coochie with such grace and humility. At his age it’s a blessing that he appears to be in good health, and still enjoying performing across the world. Its safe to say based on that performance Mr Ayers will remain in demand for many more years to come.
When Haff met Roy…