Review: The Kate Bush Songbook – The Empire, Belfast
Kate Bush first burst onto the music scene in 1978, 40 years ago with the amazing “Wuthering Heights” and that dancing, and became the first female artist to achieve a number 1 with a self-penned song. No mean feat for a shy 19-year-old. Over the years she has consistently released imaginative and inventive albums, full of experimental songs and now pop classics. Sadly, Ms Bush is reluctant to tour, having shunned the limelight for a quiet family life, she last took to the stage in 2014 for a sell-out run. Her material has often been covered by artists such as Placebo, Maxwell, and sampled by Utah Saints. To hear it played live is a rarity, so when The Kate Bush Songbook performed by Cloudbusting rolled into town I just had to go along. The Empire is buzzing by the time we get settled, and by the time Cloudbusting (or rather, two fifths of them) take to the stage, the crowd is excited and welcome them with high energy cheering.
Starting off the set with “Moving” the album opener from Kate Bush’s first release The Kick Inside is apt, with a large screen in the background showing visuals of Lindsay Kemp, who taught her dance and movement. The two fifths of Cloudbusting on this tour are Mandy Jackson and Michael Mayall, two musicians whose love for Kate Bush is sincere, whole hearted and evident in their approach to her songs. Performing “The Man with The Child in His Eyes” it’s clear the Mandy has the same vocal range as Bush and captures every nuance of her voice, but it is from a sincere need to do it justice than impersonate. They are dedicated fans, and this shows with their choice of songs for the set as they play “Disbelieving Angel”, an unreleased Kate Bush early demo, followed up by “Kashka from Baghdad” from 1978’s Lionheart album.
The big draw to this show was to see Del Palmer, Kate Bush’s long-time bassist, engineer, and former love play with the group, and when he is welcomed onstage the crowd goes wild. Palmer was engineer on many of Kates albums including Hounds of Love, The Red Shoes and Aerial. He played bass on many more so if he is endorsing Cloudbusting then it is as good as Bush giving the stamp of approval herself. His bass sound is low and soft and inimitable on ‘All the Love’ with its bass outro. The set is instantly elevated by having him play and it is a Kate Bush super fans dream with versions of “Night of the Swallow” from the 1982 album The Dreaming followed by “L’amour Looks Something Like You” and “Houdini”.
The set is peppered by anecdotes from Del Palmer who speaks about Kate Bush’s recording sessions and her creative process, including how she fell in love with the Fairlight and used it to make various sounds throughout her albums. There is something amazing about hearing these stories from someone who was so closely involved with the artist, and it lends a warmth and intimacy to what could have been just another tribute act show. “Hounds of Love” gets the crowd involved with everyone joining in in the chorus and throughout the song, if only there was room to dance people would be up and moving. Things are slowed down with the beautiful “And Dream of Sheep” and on this Mayall’s piano playing is beautiful and evocative before things take a different turn with the menacing “Under Ice”. Jacksons vocals are perfect on this song as she recreates every subtlety and shade of Bush’s vocals.
Shortly after, Palmers bass set up is plagued by technical difficulties and he loses all sound, but Jackson and Mayall cope well with this by playing “Symphony in Blue” to distract us while the problems are rectified. Once sorted things are back on track with “Mother Stands for Comfort” and “The Sensual World” creating sonic swirls and swells all around us. The only thing that is lacking from the set is a drummer, as Kate writes amazingly for drums and it would take the show to the next level.
Throughout the show Mandy Jackson has an endearing rapport with the crowd and speaks earnestly of her love for Ms Bush, and she is overwhelmed by the audience reaction to her role in the Kate Bush Songbook, as well as with sharing a stage with Del Palmer. The most touching moment of the night comes after “A Coral Room” Bush’s touching tribute to her mother, when Jackson becomes tearful and Palmer moves to comfort her, offering a gentle reassuring hug and hand of solidarity on her shoulder. The emotion of the song and the moment brings me to tears.
“Babooshka” brings a change of pace and welcome relief after the previous intensity. Jackson jokes about the legion of fans Bush gained after the video for this track and the bikini costume she wore. Palmers 5 string bass playing on this song is what really makes it, low, rumbling and understated. “Wuthering Heights” is an understated affair and sounds beautiful stripped back in this setting. The show ends on “Cloudbusting” and we are encouraged to join in, and gladly take the chance to do so. Palmer ends the show telling us that he never wanted to play with a tribute act but that Jackson and Mayall are more than simply that. I tend to agree. They are sincere musicians with a genuine love for Kate Bush, who have lovingly developed a show as fans. This gives people a chance to experience the genius of her work in a live setting with other fans, and that is something to be proud of.