Live review

Helena Debono at Pizza Express Holborn

Helena Debono

(Pizza Express Holborn. 8 September 2021. Review by Lavender Sutton)

Helena Debono at Pizza Express. Photo courtesy of Helena Debono

Helena Debono released her new album Right Here to a sold-out crowd at Holborn Pizza Express as a part of Success Express Music’s monthly residency there. 

Her band featured some of the top young jazzers on the scene, including Joe Lee on the electric bass, Luke Tomlinson on the drums, Jamie Safir on keyboards and piano and guitarist/musical director Nick Fitch. 

Debono is no stranger to the stage – she’s been captivating audiences since her teens – but it was nice to see her here in her element and featuring some of her newest material. After an intro song that featured her band and welcomed her on stage, the sweet, slow-song Can’t Walk Away, kicked off the album collection. 

Debono’s voice was sultry and mourning to start but it didn’t take long for the back beat to come in with a bit more power on Short and Sweet. Luke Vice-Coles was invited up for this one to play a soulful solo on flugelhorn. These guys had not played this song all together (due to lockdown recording creativity) but they nailed it and got to show off a bit – all skilled improvisors, a rare treat on an R&B/Soul gig. Debono knows how to pick ‘em.

The next few song selections were highlights of the evening. Save Your Love For Me (Made famous by Nancy Wilson) where Fitch plays a terrific solo and his arrangement gathers a lot more intensity than the original which really works. 

With a nod to musical theatre, Calamity Jane’s Secret Love. Again, the arrangement felt like it had been painted with a ‘modern musical’ brush, like Next to Normal or Dear Evan Hansen, very hip and brightened up and Safir’s muted solo on the piano contributed a unique added touch. 

Dolly Parton’s Here You Come Again made an appearance. It was uplifting and fun and Debono sounded absolutely charming. She has so many colours to her voice as was shown in stark contrast to the next song House of the Rising Sun, which was darker and more mysterious in sound. 

She finished the night off with the two single releases from her album, the title track Right Here and an encore of Little Lives, which was probably the highlight of the evening. It felt like the night was just getting started for everyone in the room as they danced and clapped along. This certainly won’t be the last chance to catch this band live – She’s only just begun.

LINK: Right Here is on Bandcamp

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