David McAlmont is a star regardless of whether he’s walking down Streatham Hill, or dropping off a mattress at the local tip, or on stage in front of thousands of adoring fans. And he’s also a star in front of a socially distanced audience in the basement of a Pizza Express in central London, muching Sloppy Guiseppes and glugging prosecco like there’s no tomorrow, which, you know, there may not be.
Tonight’s gig is advertised as an evening with acclaimed pianist and arranger Janette Mason, and she’s a magnificent musician: as watchable as any classical conductor, as she waves and signals her awesome band to the end of another taut, twisting number. But McAlmont is the one with the timeless top ten hit, the gravitas, and the voice. It’s his show.
For the past few years one has been able to see David perform jazz-influenced tribute shows to David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael at the Hideaway in south London, where Mason is musical director. And tonight, their first show since the pandemic hit, we’re treated to their halting, intimate Rebel Rebel, a slow, brooding Kiss, and a suitably ludicrous Live and Let Die. The playing is impeccable, and there’s a palpable sense of relief and celebration in being able to enjoy that mysterious alchemy of live music and performance again.
Though not quite in McAlmont’s league, Anna Ross is our other vocalist, who channels her inner Neneh Cherry for 7 Seconds and absolutely nails a claustrophobic Sign o’ The Times, a song that sounds ever-more relevant in our era of pandemic and climate emergency.
We’re sent off to a joyous I’m Your Man, band and vocalists in perfect unity, and we emerge, blinding, into the still unsettlingly quiet streets of High Holborn on a Friday night, that voice still echoing, pleasantly, in our collective souls.