Pizza Express kick off their Soho Sessions
I hadn’t known of the existence of the Pizza Express Jazz Club, at 10 Dean Street, before being invited to the first of this season’s Soho Sessions, so went along without a clue of what to expect, other than live music at the venue. So I arrived at the restaurant wondering where this event was taking place, after all, it was packed with diners and I couldn’t imagine it happening there. I asked a helpful member of staff and she directed me to a spiral staircase and said it was downstairs, so I walked across the restaurant and downstairs to find this dimly lit, cavernous clubby space with a bar, a low stage and some seating strategically arranged around it. The Music Room, as it’s known, has apparently been going for 43 years now, it’s painted black almost in its entirety and has a slightly decadent feel about it, but with a great atmosphere.
This event was principally about the music, but of course there were drinks flowing. There were also very good canapé sized pizza and dough balls with a garlic butter dip, among other bite sized treats circulating the room, all very tasty.
The programme for the evening was headlined by Gregory Porter, an LA born soul singer, ably supported by the renowned beat boxer Simon ‘Shlomo’ Khan and English singer-songwriter Mara Carlyle. In introducing the first act, Simon Khan, Radio 3 presenter Nick Luscombe told us that there might be a surprise guest. Simon took the stage and gave us a stunning display of his art, just using his voice, a microphone and play-back equipment to create amazing music. I started off thinking, ‘oh dear, I’m not going to like this’ I’d never previously heard of him, but ended up being a fan, if only for the level of skill he has. How does someone find out they have such a skill and develop it? Clearly Simon did and to a remarkable level of expertise.
The next act was Mara Carlyle and again I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t previously heard of her either, despite her having released acclaimed albums in 2004 and 2011. I have to tell you, although Mara’s no big voiced diva, she has amazing clarity, pitch and control in singing her crystal clear lyrics. I definitely need to check out her albums. Next on stage came the mystery guest, none other than Jamie Cullum, and he gave renditions of three songs two of them new, one of those a ‘work in progress’ though I can’t imagine it being improved upon. Apparently, Jamie had been involved in ‘The Big Audition’ jointly with Pizza Express, a nationwide search to find breakthrough acts. The eventual winners of the £5,000 prize ‘to further develop their career’ being a group called Offbeat South. The final act, headliner Gregory Porter, sang smoothly and richly, I could have listened for hours, but sadly, time was getting on and I had to go after two songs. Again, must get the album.
The Soho Sessions are continuing over the coming weeks showcasing many interesting acts. They coincide with a new playlist for Pizza Express restaurants, compiled by Nick Luscombe and featuring a number of acts, yet unsigned, but who were discovered through The Big Audition, the playlist also includes many established artists of note. It’s definitely worth taking yourself along to your nearest Pizza Express so that you can enjoy their great food and this great music at the same time.
For more information about the Soho Sessions at 10 Dean Street, including details of who’s appearing and bookings, check out the Pizza Express Live site or call 0845 6602 7017