Some tribute acts I’ve seen in the past seem as if they’d rather be playing original music, but are laboriously playing covers for the financial benefit. While these may sound and look remarkably like the act, they often lack any character of their own. Cloudbusting are different: it’s clear that they love what they do. Whereas sometimes tribute acts are simply cashing in on somebody else’s songs, this was instead a communal celebration of a true genius.
Every member of the band is extremely talented, faithfully recreating every intricacy of these exquisitely written songs. A band writing original material can play to their strengths, but these guys follow in the footsteps of the various session musicians Kate Bush has used throughout her long career. The low frequencies were provided by Dave Roberts, who switched between an upright bass, fretless and fretted electric bass to perform a wide variety of bass lines, many of which were complex. He even impressively performed Peter Gabriel’s vocal part in the duet ‘Don’t Give Up’. Chris Voysey played guitar, doing everything from acoustic chords to seemingly effortless solos. Percussion duties were handled by Kevin Cook, ranging from the thunderous drums of ‘The Big Sky’ to the danceable groove of ‘Sunset’. Meanwhile, Michael Mayell played every other instrument on keyboard including piano and strings in numerous songs: the classic synth of ‘Running Up That Hill’, and even bagpipes for ‘The Sensual World’.
“A band writing original material can play to their strengths, but these guys follow in the footsteps of the various session musicians Kate Bush has used throughout her long career”
Although the instrumentals alone are iconic, the most important factor is, of course, the vocals. Kate Bush’s songs are notoriously difficult to sing, and she was recently voted best female vocalist in a 6Music poll, beating hugely talented people such as Björk and Elizabeth Fraser. Somehow, frontwoman Mandy Watson can do it, matching Bush’s ridiculously large range and acrobatic melodies note-for-note. She recreates every nuance of Bush’s versatile and expressive singing, while also managing to connect with the audience and have buckets of stage presence. One man told me about the first time he went to see Cloudbusting: he was surprised to hear a Kate Bush recording playing before the set as he walked in, but then he realised he was late and was in fact listening to a live performance. The moments with minimal accompaniment were particularly special, such as the emotional ‘This Woman’s Work’ and the beautiful vocal melodies at the end of ‘Wow’ and ‘James And The Cold Gun’.
Kate Bush’s performances have been known to be ambitious multi-media experiences involving actors and magicians, but the potential for such things is obviously limited on this smaller scale. Visuals shown on a projector were as eclectic as the music, including a 3D animation of the violent scenes depicted in ‘The Wedding List’, and footage from a war memorial to accompany the poignant lyrics of ‘Army Dreamers’. However, I forgot about the projector for most of the set, either because I had my eyes closed or because I was captivated by the human beings on the stage.
Cloudbusting seemed to have the most fun during the more dramatic and theatrical songs, such as ‘Hammer Horror’. Between songs, Mandy even said, “We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we do take the music of Ms. Kate Bush very seriously”, which sums them up perfectly. They were able to go from jokes between songs to a particularly breath-taking rendition of ‘Breathing’, an extremely powerful track written during the Cold War. Although I liked the song a lot beforehand, I have an even greater appreciation for it after the impact it had on me during this performance.
The band played an impressive 25 tracks spanning Bush’s huge discography, including selections from every album except for 50 Words For Snow, her most recent and spacious record. There were still countless great songs left unplayed such as popular single ‘King Of The Mountain’, but this is praise for Kate Bush’s songwriting ability rather than criticism of Cloudbusting’s song choices. The end of the set was phenomenal: the back to back combination of ‘Hounds Of Love’, ‘Babooshka’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ was very well received, and rightly so. After rapturous applause they came back for an encore. ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ was written well over 40 years ago, but still brought tears to the eyes of plenty. The final song of the night was the joyful ‘Cloudbusting’, after which they’re named, for which everyone in the room sang the triumphant outro melody.
“At gigs there is often a sense of community, which is to be expected … but I’ve never felt it more than here”
At gigs there is often a sense of community, which is to be expected when experiencing something you’re passionate about with people who share that interest. I’ve never felt it more than here though: the band knew a surprising proportion of the audience by name. One group of people in attendance even had Cloudbusting perform at their wedding. (If any of my future wives are reading this, take note.) It seemed that most of the people there had already seen the band perform many times, some of whom were lucky enough to have seen the real Kate Bush perform and were amazed at the similarities.
Considering how infrequent Kate Bush’s live performances are, there’s a good chance that Cloudbusting are the closest you’ll get to the real thing for quite some time. I’ll certainly be seeing them again as soon as possible. If I had to describe Cloudbusting’s set in seven words, I would use the words of Kate Bush herself: “Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Unbelievable!”
Image: John Rinadli Photography via http://www.johnrinaldiphotography.com/
Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham’s IMPACT Magazine.