Del Palmer, Kate Bush’s bassist, engineer and former partner, dies aged 71

Del Palmer (left) with Kate Bush in 1985
Del Palmer (left) with Kate Bush in 1985 (Image credit: United Archives / Getty Images)

Kate Bush’s longterm studio collaborator, bass player and former partner Del Palmer has passed away aged 71, according to reports from UK media.

There is no comment yet from Bush’s own channels or representatives, but the news was shared online on Saturday (January 6) by Palmer’s niece, Debbii Louise Palmer, on behalf of the late musician’s family.

Derek Palmer was born in London in 1952 and began playing bass in 1967, cutting his teeth in the bands Cobwebs and Strange, Tame and Company, sharing lineups with his future Kate Bush bandmates Brian Bath (guitar) and Vic King (drums).

The three musicians were recruited for Bush’s live group, the KT Bush band in 1977 and performed covers – among them Brown Sugar, Come Together and I Heard it Through the Grapevine, alongside Bush’s original songs – around the London pub circuit.

For Bush’s debut album, 1978’s A Kick Inside, the songwriter agreed – at the behest of her label, EMI – to use session players, but Palmer’s working (and by this point, personal relationship) with Bush continued.

From 1979, Palmer worked alongside John Giblin (who passed away last year), as a studio bassist and touring musician for Bush’s band. He also appeared in various promotional videos and, notably, appeared on the cover for 1982’s The Dreaming

His strong creative connection with Bush saw Palmer increasingly take on an engineering role and he became the songwriter’s go-to recording partner. 

Indeed, it was Palmer who helped Bush to refurbish and upgrade her home studio (in a barn at her parents’ home) in 1983, laying the foundation for 1985’s commercial hit Hounds of Love, for which Palmer also arranged drum machines and other parts.

“There have been lots of times when I've had quite heated arguments with her,” Palmer told Sound on Sound [via Gaffaweb] in 1993.

“I'd say something wouldn’t work, to which her response has been, ‘Indulge me… Just do it.’ [And of course I have] had to eat humble pie. I've eaten so much humble pie over the years that I'm putting on weight!”

Palmer’s connection with Bush brought him into the orbit of some stellar guitarists, too. David Gilmour was a fierce champion of Bush from the early days and later, Palmer faced the daunting task of engineering sessions with Bush and the likes of Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton on Bush’s 1993 album The Red Shoes

“What happens with people like Eric is that his guitar roadie turns up with a lorry full of gear and just piles it into your studio,” exclaims Palmer. 

“Then, when he turns up, you say, ‘Well, actually what we want, Eric, is that classic sound of yours,’ and so he says, ‘Oh yeah,’ and he gets out a small combo and puts that up!”

Palmer and Bush’s romantic relationship ended in the early ’90s around the time of the aforementioned Red Shoes sessions, but they remained on good terms, particularly as collaborators. 

He later engineered Bush’s 2005 comeback single, King of the Mountain – at that point her first new music in 11 years – and recorded and played bass parts on the associated Aerial album and 2011’s 50 Words For Snow.

Around the time of the final album, MOJO magazine [via Rock’s Back Pages, paywalled] asked Bush if Palmer was “sick of you by now”, the songwriter joked, "Oh, I think so!” 

A notorious introvert, Bush has always relied on the likes of small group of dependable, regular collaborators – and arguably none more so than Palmer.

“It's wonderful, because I'm working with someone I know so well and I'm very relaxed when I'm in those very early stages of the creative process,” Bush told MOJO.

“I suppose I'm a little bit self-conscious, or maybe I am a bit shy. But I feel very relaxed with Del. In some ways, in the nicest possible way, it's almost like he's not there.”

While it may not seem it, coming from Bush, that is the highest of compliments. 

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.