Reviews

Even Better Than The Real Thing? Kate Bush tribute act Cloudbusting in London

SDE reviews a special performance which featured Del Palmer

Artists can be finicky. On tour, they’ll normally play the hits, but they also focus on the, perhaps mediocre, new album and they rarely play that ‘deep cut’ you’ve been waiting for. For all the plaudits garnered by Kate Bush‘s return to the stage in 2014 with Before The Dawn, it was a very narrow reading of her output. Of her nine original studio albums (i.e. excluding 2011’s Director’s Cut) she played nothing at all from five of them and only one track from her most recent 50 Words For Snow. To put it another way, she ignored almost two thirds of her entire body of work.

Step forward tribute Kate tribute act Cloudbusting, fronted by the remarkable vocal talents of Mandy Watson. They make all your Kate Bush setlist dreams a reality. Album track from 1982’s The Dreaming? No problem. B-side to ‘Running Up That Hill’? Done. Title track from The Sensual World? Why not? And on Sunday evening at The Half Moon in Putney, they had a very large ace up their sleeve; Del Palmer, Kate’s longtime engineer, bass player, and boyfriend was in the band!

This is quite the coup. Del is about as ‘inner sanctum’ as you get in the world of Kate Bush. He was part of Kate’s pre-fame ‘KT Bush Band’ that played the London pub circuit (including The Half Moon!) in 1977, before The Kick Inside had been recorded. He toured with Kate on 1979’s ‘Tour of Life’, he engineered Hounds of Love, The Sensual World, The Red Shoes and Aerial. He plays bass on virtually every album to some degree or another and despite splitting romantically with Kate around the time of The Red Shoes, he continues to contribute. He “recorded” her last studio album 50 Words For Snow and plays bass on Snowflake, for example. Outside the bosom of Kate’s family, he’s surely one of the most important people in ‘the Kate Bush story’.

Del is also the soul of discretion, fiercely loyal to Kate – almost always refusing interview requests (including from this writer) to contribute some thoughts to a Kate related project or event. Which makes his participation in the Cloudbusting tribute act all the more curious. Seeing him on Sunday evening sitting on a stool playing bass on songs where he often played on the original, next to a woman pretending to be his old girlfriend… it was surreal for the audience, so heaven knows how he must have felt. Given his hitherto unrelenting loyalty, one wonders if he sought ‘permission’ from his ex (“Kate, I was wondering…”) or whether he thought ‘sod it’. One can speculate that emotional baggage was probably the only thing that denied Del a role as bass player in the Before The Dawn concerts and after 35 years of not playing live with Kate, that was a role he probably deserved. In short, is it any wonder that Del has an appetite and desire to get out and play on some of these songs?

It probably helps that vocalist Mandy Watson and keyboardist Michael Mayall come across both as very nice people and really good fun, in a rather silly way. So there was plenty of on-stage banter during the two-hour performance which actually featured a ‘stripped back’ core of the band. Bassist Dave Roberts was given the night off (for obvious reasons) and guitarist Chris Voysey and drummer Adam Aggiss were also absent. But Mandy, Michael and Del were there, supported by two excellent female backing vocalists.

But onto the performance. Things actually kicked off without Del with Lionheart‘s ‘Symphony In Blue’ and Mandy’s vocals were amazing. I was sure she’d pitched it too high at the beginning but somehow she managed the double whammy of both sounding like Kate and hitting all the right notes. There was plenty from the first two albums including ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes,’ ‘Moving,’ and one of my favourites ‘L’Amour Looks Something Like You,’ but it was the ambition in covering the more complex later material that really impressed.

Remember, Kate has never performed anything from The Dreaming on stage, so hearing ‘All The Love’ live with Del reprising his bass performance was a magical moment. Even better was ‘Night Of The Swallow’ from the same album. The song has quite a complex structure and a very challenging vocal melody, but Mandy handled it with aplomb. Again, Del plays on the original and despite being integral to the studio recording, the drums and Uilleann Pipes weren’t missed as much as you might think. For Houdini from the same album, Del was this time replicating a bass part played by Eberhard Weber (a German bassist who has played on four Kate Bush albums). Palmer joked about making tea for him, back in the day, at the song’s conclusion, but it was another outstanding performance, with only the ‘shouty’ bits (“with your spit still on my lip – you hit the water”) being a slight weak point.

Other highlights included a trio from third album Never For Ever. ‘Blow Away’ was a near facsimile of the original, ‘Breathing’ was moving and understated and ‘Babooshka’ was the fun singalong, you’d expect.

Later, a sequence that started with ‘And Dream Of Sheep’ and moved into ‘Under Ice’ teased the audience with the possibility of a recreation of Hounds Of Love‘s ‘The Ninth Wave’ in full, but the third song was actually ‘Mother Stands For Comfort’ the only non-single from side one of HOL. I guess Kate has been there and done that and anyway, ‘Jig Of Life’ would be pretty difficult without a fiddle player! I did think Michael’s keyboard samples on ‘Under Ice’ were uncannily like the recording, so much so that I would mischievously suggest the band’s new best mate Del may have done a bit of digging in his sample archive!

A wonderful evening of music came to an end with Kate’s rather forgotten Christmas song ‘December Will Be Magic Again’ and the track that gave this tribute band their name, ‘Cloudbusting’.

I’d seen Cloudbusting earlier this year in Islington where they performed (for its 40th anniversary) The Kick Inside in its entirety, with a full band. During that performance Del played on a few tracks as a surprise guest. That was very exciting at the time, but Sunday evening at The Half Moon surpassed that for me. Even without Del Palmer, the band are highly recommended, but with Del on stage, there is that extra element of je ne sais quoi. Some kind of intangible magic ensues, with Del as the conduit, transferring it between artist and tribute artist.

Short of Kate announcing a small club tour next year where she plays tracks from all of her albums with a small, tight band (chance of that happening: approximately zero. chance of getting tickets if it does happen: approximately zero) this is as good as it’s going to get for Kate Bush fans. But for ‘good’ read ‘amazing’. Even Kate couldn’t sing these songs now in the key that Mandy Watson manages to. Highly recommended. It really does sound like the real thing. If she closed her eyes, even Rosabel would believe.

Paul Sinclair was at The Half Moon in Putney on 16 December 2018 for Cloudbusting featuring Del Palmer.

45 responses to Even Better Than The Real Thing? Kate Bush tribute act Cloudbusting in London

  1. Paul Gray says:

    Saw them last night in Bridport. Fantastic evening! If you get a chance, just go see them.

  2. Gorecki says:

    ‘Kate’s rather forgotten Christmas song ‘December Will Be Magic Again’ ‘… perhaps not that forgotten, it plays every time I’m in my local Sainsbury’s during the Christmas period – including the last time I was in, last Friday evening. I shall look forward to hearing it once more, I expect, tomorrow evening as well! :)

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Well she ‘forgot’ to put it on The Whole Story :)

      • Chris Squires says:

        Today was the day (every year) where I dig out Now Christmas and give the bongo mix version of “December….” it’s ritual airing. I was explaining to the missus why it is rare and why it is different and she gave me that look that I am sure everyone here has had at some point. It’s a look that encompasses one or all of these sentiments. “Oh really, I couldn’t care less. Oh you are still talking, ok. Will you please stop. I genuinely couldn’t care less. Why are you telling me this? Are we going on a quiz? I DON’T CARE!”

  3. Fanch says:

    I knew already the Cloudbusting tribute band, and it was a real pleasure to see Mandy Watson, Michael Mayell and Del Palmer on stage playing songs Kate Bush never played live. I came to “The Half Moon” in Putney from France over the week-end, to enjoy Kate’s music, and I can somewhat understand Del’s humourous statement enjoying the Cloudbusting people, glad they put him out of retirement. I have no idea if Kate knows about the Cloudbusting tribute band. I enjoyed Kate Bush back in 1979 and 2014 on stage. I have no illusion to see her again in the future and I don’t mind much. Mandy’s voice is incredible, it is now the fourth time I came from abroad to hear them, and I wish them the best for the next year. A little tour on the European continent would be welcome, with or without Del.

  4. colinthebruce says:

    I’ve not seen Cloudbusting but went to see an amazing Kate Bush act in Glasgow a good few years ago. Im sure she was Dutch and actually shared the same birthday as Kate, It was a great show but I cannot recall her name. Anyway, if you get a chance go see her.

  5. Geert De Wilde says:

    Kate Bush isn’t Kate Bush anymore. She’s one of the Fish People now ;)

  6. Paul G says:

    My wife and I saw Cloudbusting earlier this year at The Stables Milton Keynes. Absolutely brilliant and we came away with the same opinion as you regarding the wide selection of tracks played. Afterwards I thought you know what, I’m not bothered that I missed the real Kate now. Definitely would see Cloudbusting again.

  7. Mark Nicolson says:

    Cloudbusting have wowed the Glasgow audience over the years. Brilliant band and Mandy is a beautiful singer. They are also very nice people which adds to the whole vibe. Go and see them. I had tears in my eyes which is no mean feat for a tribute band.

  8. Marco says:

    Paul…no unboxing video of the second box set from Kate?

  9. Derek Cullen says:

    check out Baby Bushka…all female band from California who produced one of THE gigs of year at Glasgow Monorail in October..not a ‘ tribute’ band…but a wondeful joyful reimagining of Kates work…I implore you..if they return to Uk do NOT miss them.

  10. Derek Langsford says:

    Amazing. Watched the few others they have up YouTube. With some more publicity they could fill big halls and tour the world in lieu of Kate doing it herself. I think most fans would flock to hear Kate’s song played live so authentically. And Ms. Watson hails from my native Cornwall. What is not to love?

  11. Paul Gray says:

    Thanks for the recommendation Paul! Tickets booked for Bridport in March!!!! I am now seeing 4 tribute acts in 2 months, Kate, The Who, Genesis and Led Zeppelin. Oh and the real Bob Dylan and Neil Young in July!

  12. Darren Linklater says:

    Wow this sounds great. I will be looking for tour dates. Thanks Paul

  13. Robert Laversuch says:

    Goosebumps! Didn’t think that could work but she pulled it of. Wow unbelievable to quote Kate!

  14. Mick Lynch says:

    Saw them in Kilkenny with Dela few months back. Like Del said at the time “I could never see myself doing this”, I dont normally go to see tribute bands, But Mandy and Michael were superb. I hope Del told the anecdote about A Coral Sky.

  15. Mark says:

    I serve alongside this ladies husband..she is from Cornwall, check out this track “this woman’s work
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUreVJk_G7Y

  16. Paul says:

    Seen Cloudbusting several times – they are fantastic – you must see them.

  17. Kauwgompie says:

    Beautiful!! Im not very familiar with Kate Bush’s material other than HOL but this is beautiful.

  18. jeremy says:

    What I want to know is why you weren’t at the O2 watching (half) the Beatles playing? Fake Bush or the Twotles? Desperate times. (Seriously though, glad you enjoyed it).

  19. Colin Harper says:

    Amazing!

    • Kieron says:

      Not really an apt title… better than the real thing! There was a show of that name on TV a year or so ago with various tribute acts- Mandy’s contribution ended up on the cutting room floor. They do seem like nice people though, as you say, but there’s only one Kate Bush and it’s sad – for me anyway- to see Del involved in a tribute band- Very nice guy, mind.

      • Paul Sinclair says:

        The world is still turning whether Del participates in a Kate Bush tribute act or not. It really doesn’t matter but if anything makes me warm to the man even more.

  20. Steve says:

    I knew I’d grabbed a good seat, the attached video is mine.
    Phenomenal show, real goose bump stuff.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Hi Steve… I must have been behind you (sitting on the bench at the back). I filmed All The Love too, actually, but after faffing around trying to get it off my phone and onto YouTube via Final Cut Pro I ran out of patience and thought to myself ‘someone else must have filmed it’ and thankfully you did. Many thanks.

      • David M says:

        Wow, these annoying people with their phones out at concerts ;) Went to see Jack White recently, no phones allowed, if you had one with you it was placed in a special pouch at entry that could only be opened outside the concert hall. Was actually really liberating and wonderful to watch a show without all these little lights glowing all over the place.

        • Paul Sinclair says:

          I went to see Jack White too and had the same thing. I basically agree with you. At Cloudbusting, I was literally right at the back sitting against a wall, so no one at all was behind me.

        • Klaus says:

          @David M.

          Same thing at recent concerts of King Crimson and Ian Anderson i attended.

          But they die not collect the phones ahead of the performance. They just asked politely to not film or photograph during the performance and it worked in both occasions. I did not see a single mobile out while they were playing (though it might have helped that almost the complete audience was 50+).
          Fun fact on King Crimsons performance: At the end of the show their bass player Tony Levin took pictures of the audience and then the band allowed to be photographed too.

  21. Gary C says:

    then you really would be Wuthering

  22. daveid76 says:

    Wow this is in my manor and I had no idea. Thank god this pub was saved from closure some years back.

  23. Eamonn says:

    Yes, I flew back home to Ireland from London in October specifically to catch their show in my hometown and it was almost exactly as Paul reviewed the Half Moon concert. After seeing The Kick Inside 40th show at Islington in London I knew they wouldn’t disappoint and if anything, seeing them stripped-down as a trio with Palmer in-tow made it even more impressive. They are all exceptional musicians and as fans of Kate are clearly having fun in choosing which songs to play.
    Highly recommended as they tend to travel the full breadth of the UK and Ireland, there’s a good chance they will play not too far away.

  24. Graham Turner says:

    A friend and I booked tickets to see ‘Cloudbusting’ as a consolation for failing to get tickets to see actual Kate at Hammersmith. We were blown away by the show that night and have caught them a number of times since. For anyone who has an interest in Kate’s music I would ignore the ‘tribute act’ label and check them out: this is not a cheesy, caricature band. It’s a group of musicians who clearly have a love and respect for the music, but not in a deeply serious ‘muso’ way – as Paul mentions there is a lot of humour and heart to their performance.

    As a side note, Del was in attendance at another Half Moon gig back in 2016, before he started gigging with the band. You could tell that he was checking them out then (on behalf of Kate?) so it’s great that they were able to permeate that ‘protective’ layer and have him play with the band.

  25. David says:

    Cloudbusting and Mandy capture the spirit of Kate Bush perfectly.
    I’ve seen them twice here in Scotland and will definitely go see them again … magical!
    Great review Paul – have a lovely Christmas and a Super Deluxe New Year :-)

  26. Steve Robertson says:

    Booked tickets for Glasgow next May. Thanks for the heads up :)

  27. Julian says:

    Question : about to book tickets for Guildford thanks to your review. Did you see any teenager or younger ones in the audience?

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Not really, to be honest!

      • Julian says:

        Gonna take the gamble and bring our 12 and 15 year olds. Even if they ‘zone out’, it’s never a bad thing I guess introducing good music to the young! OK – maybe done a wrong thing. We’ll see….. The small venue should be good. We had a disastrous first gig with the kids – which was the Teenage Cancer Trust with the Pet Shop Boys at the Royal Albert Hall. The speakers upstairs were off and people – including us – could only hear an echo of the concert going on downstairs. A lot of upset people, including us. A dreadful first gig… (we took them since then to see PSB at the Opera House – which had great sound!)

      • Nemo says:

        the least we can say

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