We won the Kate Bush National Lottery fair and square. We were there at our laptop browsers at the appointed hour ready to hit refresh, on all the major ticket outlets, until, suddenly, seemingly very easily, by a fluke, we breached the ivy covered walls, and got given keys to the magic garden of Kate Bush’s 2014 comeback . But ‘fate’ got it right ! I own most of Kate’s work already, and know lots of it by heart I earnt this passage long ago from the gods of music. I have my receipt and my passport. (continued below)
I own a pair of Red Shoes, selected for me by my girlfriend. There couldn’t be a better reason to wear them surely? Even if nobody else in the Apollo saw them dance, I’d still feel them tapping and smile to myself at this knowing reference to Kate’s 1993 album “The Red Shoes”. The shoes that just can’t stop dancing, eh?
The event is headlined simply as “Before the Dawn”. No mention of Kate herself. Despite having studiously avoided any KB reviews, it was already clear this was a show not a gig, and that meant that it would hopefully scare the living daylights out of the housewives who occasionally transform their midday cleaning routine into a Catherine Tate style skit version of “Wuthering Heights”.
Nothing recorded before 1985 even appeared in the night’s programme. It seemed like everyone already knew what we were also politely informed: Please keep our mobiles off! I’m delighted to say the request was observed as well as any no smoking ban always is. From our seats on the back row, I didn’t see a single bright screen all night. After a while, I don’t think anyone even wanted to use them.
Walking onstage to a tidal wave of applause, Kate chose album track “Lily” off the aforementioned 1993 “Red Shoes” to start the show. Odd choice, but there is surely a reason for everything. It was a proud, confident stage entrance, backed up by a six strong session band and a troupe of gospel tinged backing singers, all in black attire, led by Kate, their proud, beaming Earth Mother. So far, so Jools Holland. But the audience were probably all thinking what I was thinking for at least the first three songs. “Bloody Hell, that really is Kate Bush that I am watching with my bare eyes…. It hasn’t been a dream all along…”
Rapturous reception, of course, for the first six songs which included “Hounds of Love”, “Running Up That Hill” and “King of the Mountain”. It did feel like Kate was more at home with the more recent 00’s material, as those songs suited the band’s session pro set-up more easily, compared to “Hounds” youthful panic and “Running…”’s dark ethereal, almost New-Romantic stylings. Kate wasn’t about to employ three hot young female guitarists, Prince-style, to find her inner rebel.
Kate Bush acts her age. Important in an era when Madonna does not. She looks happy, not possessed. But there were storms of a different type approaching. As intimated, “King of the Mountains” windswept pounding was a portent for a calamity that would unfold as a story over the next hour. Suddenly the relatively conventional gig morphs into a piece of stunning musical theatre, with cast of actors and video visuals. Expecting any 'hits’ here seems absurd.
“The Ninth Wave” is the concept half of “Hounds of Love”. The songs work as a whole, telling, with a video screen and actors, a story which up until now has only had words and music. A girl is drowning, and we hear her inner calamity through her own voice, an on-screen Kate adrift in a dark sea, held afloat by a life jacket, and the voices of those trying to rescue here. The piece oscillates wildly from the petrified calm of the opening “And Dream of Sheep” to the terrified scramble of “Under Ice” and “Waking the Witch”. As her life hangs in the balance, she even visits her family as a ghost, blissfully unaware of her impending death, as they eat their dinner, in “Watching You Without Me”. The drama is drawn out by added improved sections not heard on the original “Ninth Wave”, including a rousing “Jig of Life”. It’s a stunning piece of concept music without the visuals, one that miraculously avoids most-prog rock cliches, and one I have listened to late nights since my teens, but seeing the visuals clarifies what’s actually happening to this drowning woman. It’s a modern sea-rescue drama as seen through the eyes of Picasso or Turner.
By some miracle, and despite a troop of dead fish skeeltons trying to take her to a watery grave, a drowning Kate is finally saved, and “The Ninth Wave's” final song, “The Morning Fog”, is joltingly joyful coda to the nightmarish sequence of tracks, and Kate rejoins the stage, held aloft by her rescuers. they even work in the choral chorus of “Cloudbusting” into the live version. Best moment of the entire night really, and as the programme attests, each stage of this meticulously thought out and 'honed’….
Amid the practiced and choreographed concert, the rescue is a moment of genuine elation and abandon, and it seems right to have an interval after it. There’s no attempt to suspend disbelief completely. Kate is careful to publicly thank every member of the her “KT Fellowship” who have helped her bring these works to life.
Act Two brings Kate’s other concept piece, “A Sky of Honey” off 2005’s “Aerial” to life. Its a much gentler piece, centered around an idyllic country heaven, populated by birdsong and a painter, who brings a walking marionette onstage with him. It’s fair to say, much of this work is as opaque as James Joyce’s “Ullyses” in terms of 'meaning’. So I won’t even try to explain what’s really going on.
Gradually, as the airy, world music inflected songs morph, the sky turns from cloudy, to honey, to dusky, to black, and Kate’s son, Bertie, still a teenager, appears to sing a song about a “tawny moon”. It’s fair to say, for a bit, it does all go slightly too Andrew Lloyd-Weber for my taste. But her son is the very reason she’s even on stage tonight, and he should be appauded for dragging her away from the comforting country and family life she so clearly now inhabits. The song sequence ends with Kate being dramatically suspended above the stage in a parallel midnight universe.
“The Ninth Wave”, because of its nightmarish drama, and “A Sky of Honey”, perhaps because of its hippy-ish leanings, would both be ideal for a midnight Glastonbury residency in 2015. Personally, if I were on their team, I would advocate Kate be given her own stage to perform “Before the Dawn” from midnight til three am EVERY NIGHT from Thursday to Sunday. I can’t see her being that enthused doing a Pyramid Stage Greatest Hits for just one night, so give Kate her OWN tent there, a safe distance away from the moshpits, mobiles and MDMA-affected.
For the inevitable song encore Kate starts with a piano piece from “50 Words For Snow”. Its lovely but I can’t help feeling this would have been the best time to appease the more casual fans, with a “The Man With The Child…”, a “Wow” or a “This Woman’s Work”. All the same, a thousand pins drop and we hear every one. The closing, uplifting folk stomp of “Cloudbusting” does get everyone off their chairs again, but there’s no hits roll call after that. It would be way to obvious and lacking imagination. Or maybe she plays a different hit every night?
But I guess that’s Kate Bush all over. So talented, and importantly, accepted for what she is, that she can stage a two hour show full of amazing album music, and still leave so much of her 'celebrated’ output in the kitchen cupboard. Here’s hoping she dusts off some of those treasures for a sequel show….. see you sometime around 2049 then?
I was at a coffee shop with Nick when I noticed the unmistakable warble of Kate Bush. If you know me, you know that I love Kate Bush like a child loves her mother. I love Kate Bush like a sister. I love her with a love which does not alter when it alteration finds, regardless of how insular and idiosyncratic her musical vision has become. As you may imagine, I was surprised. This was an ordinary coffee shop. Kate Bush is not usually what they play in coffee shops or any public place I know of.