Live: Paul Dempsey @ Bush Hall
It’s been some six years since Australian singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Paul Dempsey last graced UK shores, with a stop at the 200 capacity Water Rats venue in North London’s Kings Cross in support of the Something For Kate frontman’s first solo outing. In support of this year’s sophomore effort Strange Loop, he opted for the slightly larger Bush Hall in West London’s Shepherd’s Bush for his sole European appearance.
Appearing on a bare stage adorned with just a microphone and a huge red velvet backdrop, the towering 6’5” Melburnian, dressed simply in a blue shirt and jeans, stepped up with just an acoustic guitar to cheers before quickly disappearing back stage again to collect a battery for his guitar pedal. “I’m a total professional” he jested before going on to explain why he felt he didn’t require a crew, “turns out you need people like that to put batteries in shit!” he continued, to laughter from the crowd before launching into Everything Is True single Fast Friends, his voice filling in for missing additional instrumentation finely.
“That’s the kind of unbridled enthusiasm we like on a Wednesday evening” Dempsey said drily, addressing the smattering of applause that followed his first song, “traditionally not the most interesting day in the week” he continued wearing a frown and setting the comedic tone for the evening. Debut solo record single Bats was up next, the slow-build, delicate song resulting in a gentle sway across the crowd.
Appearing a little dazed and confused, the Something For Kate frontman explained “a part of the reason I’m like this is because I was in India at the weekend on the way here”. “Lots of things happened, but one thing that didn’t happen though is that I didn’t leave India and suddenly become a spiritual guru” he said, explaining the meaning behind new album title track Strange Loop. “And as Alanis Morissette once said: ‘Thank you India’” he joked at the song’s close.
Introducing Strange Loop cut Volunteers, the 40-year-old explained “this is a song about that sort of precise, pinpoint, forensic, quantum moment where you realise that you fucked up everything” to more laughs from the crowd ahead of the sombre and sparsely accompanied track.
Faster-paced tune The Great Optimist upped the tempo next, the older song getting the crowd singing along once again. “It’s Wednesday, I can play a song about the end of the world” Dempsey said drily. “I didn’t realise when I wrote this song seven years ago, that it was about Donald Trump” he continued, to sniggers across the crowd before slowing the tempo once more with Have You Fallen Out of Love? from Everything Is True, his deep voice transposing multiple octaves wonderfully, the high notes exposed by a lush falsetto.
Teasing the audience, staring up at the chandelier-strewn ceiling, Dempsey introduced the next song “well this is a Something For Kate song” to huge cheers from the audience. “You don’t know which one it is yet, might be the one you’re always pressing skip on!” he exclaimed, one audience member screaming back “we don’t care!” as the statuesque solo frontman strummed the open bars to lead single from 2003 record The Official Fiction – Déjà Vu – the crowd becoming their most vocal of the night so far with me finding myself belting out each word to the song I hadn’t made an active effort to listen to in years.
That treat was followed by another, a cover of David Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes, a song Something For Kate had covered previously, following the band opening for the British legend on the Australian leg of his final tour and a song Dempsey will, no doubt, sing live at next month’s Sydney celebration of what would have been Bowie’s 70th birthday at the city’s famous Opera House venue, backed by the Starman’s own band.
Another treat was in store for Something For Kate fans next with an airing of the group’s last album Leave Your Soul to Science’s opening number Star-Crossed Citizens.
The main set was closed out with Strange Loop cuts Hey History (Don’t Go Changin’) and Idiot Oracle before the 40-year-old departed the stage for the briefest of moments, returning quickly and suggesting a fictional music union would fine him for such a rebellious act, justifying it: “It’s Wednesday, I’m sure you’ve all got things to do tomorrow” before seguing to the next number: “there are not going to be many times in your life where you will get to impersonate a synthesizer” he said curiously. “I’m not going to say any more about it, you’re just going to know” he continued before breaking into a cover of Queen hit I Want to Break Free, as appeared on his 2013 solo covers record Shotgun Karaoke, the crowd immediately singing along and knowing exactly where to interject with Brian May’s synth-sounding guitar solo.
Everything Is True tracks Theme from Nice Guy and Bird in a Basement closed out what was a tremendously fun night at the former Edwardian dance hall in the rare company of Paul Dempsey.
There’s something to be said for a solo artist who appears on stage without any gimmicks, backing musicians, changing lighting or even more than a single guitar – which he re-tuned himself between songs – and can captivate a room with both their presence and music. But Dempsey had his West London audience eating out of the palm of his hand from the outset with longing looks from the crowd only intensifying as the night went on.
While Paul Dempsey fans might not have long to wait until he returns to London, news of a Something For Kate tour this side of the globe would make many fans’ decade for sure, this writer and photographer included! Paul Dempsey returns to Australia for a celebration of David Bowie at the Sydney Opera House in January but promised to be back in London in 2017.
Live review of Paul Dempsey @ Bush Hall by Kalpesh Patel on 7th December 2016.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate