Monday, 29 September 2014

Palau Guell, Barcelona

I went to Palau Guell, the city townhouse of the Guell family, about eight or nine years ago when it was being restored and only the stables in the cellar and the roof were open to visitors. Restoration is complete and the whole mansion is open to view. I like the Guell family for their close association with Señor Antoni Gaudi and his great park in the north of Barcelona is named after them (Parc Guell).  I had no idea what to expect of the restored mansion but it was better than my dreams.

As with other tourist attractions, the Palau has discovered the beauty of the timed ticket for entry to control the flow of visitors and give us a better experience than being in an over-crowded place and not able to properly experience the mansion. Our tickets were for entry an hour after I bought them so that gave us plenty of time to walk up to the little cafe in the old hospital (now a medical school, I think) for a sit down and drink while we waited. A short stroll back down Las Ramblas and we were there just in time for the gates to open so we could go in, pick up the free audio-guide and set off on a great adventure.

The tour starts in the basement stables for the horses that were the only means of transport when the mansion was built. It uses the best of the natural light and ventilation that Gaudi could design and he created a lovely open space out of bricks and stones for the floors to create an atmospheric space for the horses and the grooms and drivers. Ventilation shafts up to the street to catch the breezes and a light well cut through the whole house to bring light not just to the rooms of the house but all the way down to the stable. Nothing is left to chance with Sr Gaudi.

We then go into the mansion proper up a majestic stairway with a red floral carpet that leads to the first floor and the public rooms of the mansions, used to entertain and impress the people of Barcelona. And they certainly impressed me. It's all about space and comfort, privacy when needed and public display of wealth and taste. The rooms are covered in beautifully carved and panelled wood, shining with polishing, with mirrors reflecting light and with interior windows to let the available light flood through the house. It's all mighty impressive and elegant in its simplicity.

Carved wooden ceilings and panelled walls just itching to be stroked and felt, and the rooms all empty except for one. The feeling of space and light was astonishing - how did Gaudi do that? To walk into that mansion after it was built and take ownership must have been an impressive feeling, for Sr Guell to think 'all this is mine' and make it his family home. I can only imagine.

We go up and up through the floors of the house, through the magnificent public rooms used to entertain and dazzle - and usually with a private area that the Guell's could use to watch their guests unseen - and higher we go. The woodwork is highly polished and decorative, a beautiful sheen on everything and we come to the main 'party' room with a musicians gallery where they could play music to dance to out of the way of the guests. This room also doubled as a shrine with holy paintings on the doors of the shrine. Such an impressive space.

Higher up we find the personal areas of the mansion, the bedrooms and bathrooms, less ornate but, I suspect, they would've been more lavish and the walls would have been covered in embroidered cloth and rooms full of comfy furniture. We, of course, see them bare of any adornments other than the stained glass windows.

Up another level takes us to the servants quarters which are laid out with a small exhibition about the mansion and the restoration. Beyond that is the roof and what wonders it holds!

Up on the sloping roof is a collection of chimneys, the best chimneys in the world. How could they be other when they were designed by Sr Gaudi? I can't begin to explain the sheer joy and glory of seeing these mundane artefacts made into art at the whim of the great artist Gaudi. What caught his imagination and made him design a mere chimney like this? Where did the original idea come from? Who knows, but it leaves us with a magnificent sight that is also full of fun and joy. I want a chimney like these on my house!

What a wonderful space that roof is and how marvellous its population of chimneys and all the details (such as the little lizard crawling down one of them). The restoration of this building is nothing short of magnificent and everyone who goes to Barcelona should go to see it. It really is a wonder to behold. The play of light and space is something to experience and the sheer joy of the chimneys at the end of the tour is great fun. If you get the chance then visit the mansion - you won't regret it.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Secret Pedrera, Barcelona

I love Señor Gaudi's La Pedrera in Barcelona. It's really the roof I like, with its chimneys in the shapes of jousting knights and water tanks as swirling masses of fractured ceramics and the floor undulates like a wave crashing on the shores of Barcelona. It's a magical space that I return to every time I go to Barcelona and I never get tired of it.

The last time I went we queued for over an hour (refreshed by an ice cream) to get into the building.  I paid little attention to the trip through the show flat that demonstrates what the flats in the building looked like when the building first opened, or the displays in the attic - I headed straight for the roof to exult in the majesty of the knights, clambering up and down the floor to visit my favourite knights and take the same photos again and again. Some things are important.

I've only ever visited La Pedrera in the daytime, almost always the afternoon to enjoy the blue on blue skies over the building and looking over to La Sagrada Familia, the massive cathedral designed by Sr Gaudi and still being built. But, what would it be like at night? And that's just what the new tour allows you to see - the Secret Pedrera. Tours are hourly in different languages, small groups of about 20 people and a guide. Naturally, I had to go.

Our tour started at 9:15pm and began in the large courtyard with the guide telling us about the building and projections of the building shown on the floor of the courtyard before we headed up the stairs to the show-flat on the fourth floor which is furnished like it would have been back in the day. The flats are all quite large with rooms flowing into each other, some designed to be opened up to create larger rooms for parties and such. They're all very organic with a lack of straight lines wherever possible. This was all very interesting, seeing the beds and couches, the kitchen, the maid's room and uniform, the children's toys and bedroom and all that. But I wanted the roof.

Then up another flight of stairs to the attic and the displays of the building. The most interesting thing about the attic is the brickwork in the shape of a giant skeleton - I think the guide referred to a whale but I prefer to think of a dragon's skeleton and ribcage as the model for the attic. Sr Gaudi liked dragons and depicts them in many of his amazing works. The attic undulates and twists with brick arches drawing you in and the space is used to show objects and models of the building to help to explain its design and construction. I've been round the attic displays on each visit - that's how you get to the roof, after all - but it wasn't the attic I wanted to see. I wanted the roof.

At last I was let off the leash as we were invited to climb the spiral stairs to the roof and I didn't need to be asked twice. I was first to reach the roof and marvel at the knights lit by spotlights and glowing  under the starlight.

It was a magical sight to behold. The knights all a-glow with their magic and the ceramic coatings of the water towers shining in the spotlights. It was night, of course, so we had to be careful on the steps up and down the undulating floor of the roof but that distraction was a small price to pay for the vision in front of us. I immediately started snapping photos, most of which were out of focus but who cares? The guide told us about the construction of the roof but I was focused on the sights ahead of me.

After a wander round the roof we sat on the steps to watch a short show projected onto the side of one of the Big Lads - the water-tower at the corner of the building looking out towards Sagrada. That's the busiest with everyone wanting their photo taken there in day-time. The projection showed images of other Gaudi works, of the natural and organic elements that influenced Gaudi, of the sea and streams and flowers and, at one point the smiling head of Sr Gaudi's friend (and everyone's friend), the water-dragon at Parc Guell. That was great fun and a bit of a thrill to see him slowly creeping onto the side of the tank.

And then it was all over and we got the lift to the ground floor (I'd had enough stairs for the evening) and a glass of cava and nibbles before leaving. I toasted the bust of Sr Gaudi in thanks for yet more magic in that marvellous building. The guide mentioned that three of the flats are occupied but, when they're emptied, the building will become a museum and gallery to Gaudi.

The Secret Pedrera has opened my eyes to another side of the building. I shall go back again. And again.

Thank you, Señor Gaudi!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Carrefoc Barcelona

I was lucky enough to be in Barcelona last week and the visit coincided with the La Merci festival that celebrates the city's patron saint. That meant that there were stages set up around town, buildings were used as screens to have art and cartoons projected on them, music all over the place and opportunities to participate. Such a shame that the gods were against the festival and chose last Sunday to send hoardes of demons and dragons to plague the city with fire and destruction.

I won't pretend to understand the history of Carrefoc but there's a childrens' version and an adults' with both involving vast quantities of sparklers, cartwheel fireworks and protective clothing for the participants but not for those that happen to wander out into the street at the wrong time. The festival takes place on Via Laietana in the middle of the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona and that just so happens to be on the doorstep of our hotel. So, when I heard explosions outside and glimpsed a dragon going past I had to run outside to be coated in sparkler sparks.

The kids version started around 6:30pm with kids dressed as demons in horns and capes running round with poles covered in sparklers and catherine wheels shooting out sparks into the crowds, troops of drummers making a right racket to keep the spirits high. Luckily, adults were in charge of the fireworks but it was slightly disconcerting to see four and five year olds running round with these mad poles full of fireworks, most of which ended in the crowds. Health and safety would be worried!

Dragons and the odd devil spouted sparks at everyone and moved slowly up the street to the sound of drumming and cheers and general fireworks noises. They moved up to the gates of hell and then the adults emerged from the gates travelling in the other direction, down to the sea. The adults brought on fire-griffins and sea-monsters and I got covered in sparks from a mad green dragon. A dragon breathed on me!

The adults version was a bit more direct and energetic, with people with fireworks on staffs aimed directly into the crowds, covering us in sparks. Ouch! So at that point we decided it was time for dinner and sloped off into the security of the Barri Gotic to find a restaurant for food. And then the terror began as the drums approached and got closer and closer… and then turned off down another street and we were safe!

By the time we got back to Via Laietana most of the parade was over, just a last opportunity to be covered in sparks as the last dragon went past. We went up to the roof of the hotel to watch the parade vanish towards the sea with the clean-up trucks following on behind.

And here's what was left in the road at the end of the evening...

Friday, 19 September 2014

A Remembrance Too Far?

100 years ago the world went to war, or at least Europe and it's empires did. And that was the start of the end to empires. Naturally, there are lots of things to mark and commemorate and there will be up until 1918 when the 'war to end all wars' ended.

The Royal British Legion and Commonwealth War Graves Commission have launched a campaign to remember everyone who died in service between 1914-18. It's called Every Man Remembered (and includes Every Woman Remembered) and the website is here. It's a nice idea and has been picked up elsewhere. In my workplace there's a plaque on the wall near the front door listing the names of former staff who died in the wars and the management has invited volunteers to research their lives so we don't forget about them. Not forgetting is sometimes important.

The thing I'm not sure about is that this emphasis on remembrance is for those who died in the First World War. What about those who survived, made it through the war and had to live with their physical and mental disabilities and the memories? It's well documented that soldiers in the war didn't speak of the horrors they saw and I know that from personal experience. My Granda made it through the war, lost his left arm and never spoke of it. He was 18 years old when he lost his arm and lived until he was 92. That's a long time to carry the burden of memory.

My Granda was born in the last years of the 19th Century, a late Victorian, and here we are in the 21st Century. How time flies. It's odd to think that I knew Victorians in the shape of my grandparents. I remember sleeping in their back bedroom in their cottage at Emma Ville a former pit village, with photographic portraits of my Granda's two brothers hanging on the wall. Proud young men in uniform with their future's ahead of them. Futures cut short. If they were anything like my Granda then they were probably very popular and liked a pint or two on a Friday night. Or maybe three.

I remember seeing my Granda's medals with bright ribbons in a commemorative box. That's the thanks he got from the country for losing an arm and living a lifetime without it.  My Granda once told me about his granda - in a pub, of course - and how he was a navvy that dug the course of the River Tyne at Blaydon as it is today. But he never told me about the trenches or the bombardments or running into the hail of bullets that ruined his arm. He always covered his arm in photos so it wasn't seen, something to be hidden. He was less self-conscious about it in his later years, probably recognising that life is too short to be shy despite his going on and on and on until he got bored and left us.

I might browse through Every Man Remembered to see if my great uncles are there but I shall remember those who lived through the war and beyond. I'll remember those who went on to become award-winning gardeners and grandparents. I'll remember my Granda.

PolyFest 2014

I'm happy to report that PolyFest 2014 will take place over two days at The Half Moon in Putney. PolyFest is named in memory of the wonderful Poly Styrene who left us in 2011 but whose memory still burns bright. I went to the first PolyFest in 2013 and had a good night out with the mixed bag of performers, some of who are returning for a second time this year. Tickets available here.

The good Doctor and the Medics gave a stonking performance last year and are well worth seeing, as is the lovely Anita Harris (wonder if she'll wear her leather waistcoat again as a nod to punk?). Sham 69 is, I assume Jimmy Pursey who should be fun and I'd love to see and hear Judy Tzuke - she was around in the late 70s but so far away from punk that I can't imagine what she'll sing.

I'd love to see The Ruts (no idea why they're called Ruts DC now), John Otway, Splongenessabounds and Neville Staple. The years will, no doubt, have taken their toll but good on them for still being on stage and I hope they sing some of Poly's songs.

I'm seeing John Cooper Clarke at the Royal Festival Hall on 4 October (tickets bought ages ago) so I'll miss Anita, Judy and the Doctor but I'm free on Sunday night so I may just pop over to Putney for a beer or two and relive my youth.

I wonder if Celeste Bell, Poly's daughter, will be there again?

And here's a great reminder of Poly…

And yes, I *am* listening to 'Generation Indigo', Poly's last album, as I write this. I wish she'd had the opportunity to sing these songs live. She said she wanted to. And what great songs they are.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

'The World According to Noddy' by Noddy Holder

The new book from Sir Noddy Holder is out now - sort of.  'The World According to Noddy' is available as an ebook from Sainsbury's, yes, the supermarket chain. I didn't know they were in the ebook business but I do now since they seem to have a deal going that Noddy's book is only available through them until February next year when it gets a more traditional publishing (ie on paper). To read it now you have to download the Sainsbury's ebook app which gets a right mauling in the app comments so I think I'll be patient and wait for the good old fashioned paper version.

The blurb for the book calls him the 'thinking grandmother's crumpet'. Um… I don't think Noddy has ever really been crumpet and I don't think he'd mind me saying that at all. The pretty boys in SLADE were always Jim and Don but Nod had the voice, one of the great rock voices ever, and I'd love to hear it again on some new songs. I'll wait patiently.

That cover is awful and looks very cheap. The photo looks old and is badly cropped with a bit of chair sticking out behind him. I hope the printed version has a better cover. Please!

I wonder if there'll be readings and signings? No news yet but I'll watch out!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

'A Streetcar Named Desire' - NTLive at the Curzon Victoria

This evening was a showing of the new production of 'A Streetcar Named Desire' at the Young Vic as part of the National Theatre Live project, showing live shows simultaneously in cinemas around the country. In my case it was at the new Curzon Victoria cinema deep down in the bowels of the sub-sub basement under Victoria Street. Now, I quite like the NTLive thing - if you can't get a ticket (and 'Streetcar' is sold out for the entire run) then this is a good way of seeing the play and see what the fuss was about. We saw the Donmar's 'Coriolanus' at Brixton Ritzy and that worked ok, so why not? Except for the play.

I am not a fan of Tennessee Williams and not a fan of this play. I saw it five years ago at the Donmar with Rachel Weiss as Blanche and didn't enjoy it. Acting by shouting, I said back then, and it was the same tonight. Is it written into the original stage directions to shout as loudly and relentlessly as possible? Shouting, bullying, simmering violence, wife beating and rape don't make for nice people or a nice experience. Not everything needs to be nice of course but this is just so relentlessly vile. The only remotely nice people are Stella (the sister) and Mitch (the would-be lover) and they suffer most from Blanche and Stanley.

But I'm running ahead of myself here. I must comment on the staging. O yes, I must. The stage revolved for some obscure reason. I mean, why? If you're going to do it in the round then do it in the round, not in the round with a revolving stage thrown in as well. It seemed like every time Blanche went into meltdown mode then she'd be obscured by a shower curtain or a mirror or something. What's that all about? The Young Vic is an interesting space that is very versatile and it's nice that they experiment with it but a see-through set that fails to be see-through at critical moments is a bit pointless really.

Perhaps I should cut to the chase and say that Gillian Anderson was excellent. I saw her in 'A Doll's House' (coincidentally) five years ago at the Donmar and thought she was excellent in that. What is it about the Donmar five years ago? As she spiralled into alcoholic madness in the second half she drew the audience in and it sort of felt like she was with us, the audience, rather than the other characters on stage at the time. We were in her make-believe world with her, the Southern belle with her gentlemen admirers. She's a class act.

I also liked Vanessa Kirby as Stella, Blanche's younger sister who continually makes allowances for and defends her sister. She was very sympathetic and distraught at the end when Blanche is taken away. I was less keen on Ben Foster as Stanley the wife-beater whose role seemed to be to take his clothes off as often as possible. Why? Wander round in a vest all you like but when it all starts to come off time and again it gets bit dull. How many times do you need to change your trousers? He did very good menace though.

The production aside, it's the play that's the problem for me. I just don't like it. At half-time we ran through the Williams plays I've seen and I only liked 'The Rose Tattoo' and that was probably because of Zoe Wannamaker being in it at the National Theatre. I saw 'The Glass Menagerie' in Toronto (I nodded off) and at the Young Vic and 'The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore' in New York. Never again. I sort of liked 'Spring Storm' at the National Theatre a few years ago - or at least I liked bits of it and it was short. Me and Tennessee don't mix I'm afraid.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Marc Bolan - 'Hot Love'

Marc Bolan died in a tragic accident on 16 September 1977 just as his career was taking off again. He'd just completed the series of 'Marc' on telly and he jammed with David Bowie, his old friend and rival, on the last episode ('Keep a little Marc in your heart'). I've blogged about Marc before - about the anniversary gigs, about the musical and about his influence - and I will probably blog again. This time I'm talking about 'Hot Love', his first No 1 single.

I still have the vinyl 7" single of 'Hot Love' on Fly records (BUG 6) backed with 'Woodland Rock' and 'The King of the Mountain Cometh' produced by Tony Visconti (for Straight Ahead Productions). It was my seventh ever single - I know that because I wrote it on the record sleeve and noted that 'This record was once Top of the Pops'. It was 1971 and this was the start of glam rock. I was there to see it happen.

I don't think I was aware of his first hit single, 'Ride A White Swan'. That was still a bit hippy-trippy and probably too out there for my 11 year old self. But 'Hot Love' was something better. It was hypnotic and repetitive and had lots of 'la-la, la-la-las', perfect for an 11 year old to grasp. And perfect for my punk heroes a few years my senior.

What do these records really mean? How much of of an influence was a song like 'Hot Love' on my young self? The influence of his later singles like 'Children of the Revolution', 'Metal Guru', 'Jeepster' and 'Telegram Sam'? What did they do to me and how did they make me think? I don't know but I did think about a woman in New York city with a frog in her hand the first time I went to New York. You just can't help it really.

I went to the 35th anniversary gig at Shepherd's Bush a couple of years ago hosted by Sir Noddy Holder and Lynsey de Paul with T.Rexstacy and Boy George, Marc Almond, Glen Matlock and Sandi Shaw amongst a host of others. All there to pay righteous tribute to Marc. As is right and proper.

Keep on boogying Marc. We are. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Odd Thoughts On The Train: How Does It Sound Today?

In 'odd thoughts on the train tonight' I was mulling over how music sounds to people today. I'd been talking to a colleague at work about the film 'Pride' and its great soundtrack and then, on the walk to the station, started thinking about earlier music. 'Pride' is set in 1984 and 1985 and I went back to 1977 and hearing The Ramones and The Buzzcocks and how their music had been featured in adverts. Seeing Tommy Ramone as Uncle Monk a few years back in New York (I shook his hand, one of the Ramones brothers!). And then I remembered that 'Anarchy In The UK' by The Sex Pistols popped up on my iPod the other day and how it still sounded visceral and scary. And I wondered how people hear that music today?

Back in the late 70s punk music was the enemy and The Sex Pistols were banned almost everywhere they tried to play. It was rebellion and activism at the same time, a threat to society and something to set us free. It was challenging and that's why I liked it. I'd bought punk records before but it was 'Pretty Vacant' by the Pistols that made me a punk. It was an anthem, a war cry, a call to arms, all in a three minute pop song. It worked for me.

How does it sound today? How do first-time listeners react to it? I don't know because I've been listening to it for 37 years and still love that call-to-arms guitar intro from Steve Jones. If you were 17 and heard it for the first time today how would it affect you (if at all)? Is it just old music from a 70s band that had a few hits?

I remember getting angry (and I mean really angry) when I heard the Buzzcocks 'Ever Fallen In Love' (the version by Nouvelle Vague I think) used in a car advert. How dare they? How dare they corrupt something as pure as that song into a song to sell cars?  That's sacrilege and a crime. Of course, Pete might have needed the money so I mellowed but it does raise some questions about whose song it really is.

How do people hear these songs today? Are they historical old pop songs or are they still radical? I have no idea.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Buffy at the Black Hills Unity Concert

Buffy Sainte-Marie is playing at the Black Hills Unity Concert next weekend as part of the campaign to return the Black Hills of Dakota to the Great Sioux Nation.

The website explains that the concert marks the ceremonial beginning of a campaign to support the Great Sioux Nation "to reclaim their guardianship of the Black Hills as their rightful homeland, building a bridge between the sacred sites of the Black Hills and all people worldwide in support of the Earth." Buffy has sung about the Black Hills in several songs so, naturally, she's involved.

In 1980 the US Supreme Court awarded the Great Sioux Nation $105 million for the loss of the Black Hills. The Sioux refused the money on the grounds that the Black Hills are not for sale. Today, the money is worth $1.4 billion and the Black Hills are still not for sale. Watch the video...

Sunday, 7 September 2014

'Pride' at Brixton Ritzy… and Mark Ashton

I went to see 'Pride' again tonight, this time at Brixton Ritzy. Yes, it still is a great film that everyone must see, but my thoughts were largely about what Fay Marsay (who plays the gobby northern lesbian) said in the Q&A after the NFT screening. Where are our activists today?

I thought of Mark Ashton who, in the film, sets up Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. He was a year younger than me and died in 1987 of HIV when he was 26. He was an activist who changed lives - including mine - but why don't we know about him? He ought to be a hero of the miners' strike, of the young communists, of gay liberation and where is he? Who knows his name?

Do his parents know about this film? What about his brothers and/or sisters? Are they proud of him? Is he mentioned in the annals of the National Union of Miners and the Labour Party? I don't know, but he clearly should be. Obviously, he didn't do it all himself but someone needs to light the touch paper, someone needs to make the first move and, in the telling of the tale, this was Mark.

Has anyone written the story of his short life? I'd like to know more.

This film means that I know his name and will remember him. Everything starts somewhere and this part of the miners strike started with him *fist in the air*.

Kate Bush - Before The Dawn

Some things you just don't expect to happen. Like Kate Bush playing live again or managing to nab tickets in the fourth row from the stage. Things like that just don't happen. Except sometimes they do and you need to embrace them.

I remember hearing that odd song, 'Wuthering Heights', on the radio in 1978 and then seeing its singer on 'Top Of The Pops', that strange creature that danced around while singing. I didn't buy singles back then - except for punk singles and eps - so I didn't buy the single but I did buy the album, 'The Kick Inside' when it was released. The magic had worked on me. And I bought successive album releases on vinyl, then on cassette and then on CD. In a sense I've grown up listening to Kate Bush, just a couple of years younger than Kate, but she was always so much older than me and took me to places I didn't know existed.

So, when the announcement was made that she would be playing at Hammersmith Apollo I could hardly believe it. And image my surprise when I was sent a fan pre-sale code to buy tickets before they went on general release. So I did, with seats in row H for Friday 5 September. The eighth row? I was ecstatic. My ecstasy rose when I heard that the stage had been extended over the first few rows which meant I was now in the fourth row.

But September is so far away…

And then I read a review of the first show in August and knew what would happen and then avoided any other reviews.

Friday finally arrived and I wore the Most beautiful Shirt in the World (only worn to see Buffy Sainte-Marie and Amanda Palmer - and now Kate Bush).  The afternoon dragged and I whinged at work wanting the clock to hit 5 o'clock and then it did and I was off. Missed a District Line train and had to wait six minutes for the next  - will I be late? No, of course I won't, it's only six minutes! I got on the train and sat down and then two stops later Chris got on wearing his irritable commuter face - what are the chances of that? He'd got a bus to Sloane Square from Battersea and just happened to get on, not only the same train as me, but the same carriage and the same part of the carriage. Weird.

Having arrived hideously early we got chips at the chip shop round the corner from the Apollo and did the long circuit walk down to the river and back while we ate them and then joined the snaking queue. At 6:15pm the doors opened and we slowly entered the building to my amazed mutterings of 'it's gone green' and, indeed, the decor is now peppermint and pistachio following it's refurbishment. Straight up to the balcony merch stand to get show books and tee shirts with a mere 25 minutes queuing to get served and then to the bar. The old curtain has been removed form the back of the bar and you can see the lovely art deco windows and Hammersmith flyover (which was a very odd experience). Then downstairs and into the stalls to find our seats… in the fourth row.

And then more weirdness - Clive and Angus on the other side of the aisle. Last time I'd seen them was at the ICA a couple of years ago when we were all dripping from an unexpected downpour to see a documentary about Elaine Stritch. Stress-relieving gossip ensued. Then we took our seats and waited.

At 7:45pm the band walked on and took their places on the raised platforms and then on came Kate Bush followed by five backing singers/actors, doing a slow shuffle onto the stage wreathed in smiles. Sorry, did I just say that? Kate Bush came on stage? Really?  Yes, really.

And there she was, this strange creature of legend, right in front of me. Long hair, long tassels on the sleeves of her black coat and barefoot (I winced slightly at the feet - what if there was a stray pin on the stage?). And then I heard Lily's voice talking of salt and magic and Kate launched into (the 'Director's Cut' version of) 'Lily', only one of my favourite songs! That was Kate Bush up there y'know, singing to me, smiling at me and having the time of her life being worshipped by all these people from all over the globe coming to see her show in west London. And me, of course.

As all the reviews tell you, the first half hour is traditional gig territory with 'Hounds of Love', 'Running Up That Hill', 'Top Of The City', 'Joanni' and 'King of the Mountain'. 'King' ended with a massive cannon explosion shoving lots of pieces of paper into the air with the words from Tennyson that inspired the Ninth Wave on the second side of Kate's 'Hounds of Love' album. Now the theatre would commence!

And it did, with a video of a man ringing the coast guard about a sinking ship and then we had the video of Kate in a floatation tank singing 'And Dream of Sheep' and the Ninth Wave began. Fish People all over, shipwreck, a whale's ribcage, a life-buoy and a helicopter strafing the audience with search lights - it's all in there as we hear and see the tale of a woman drowning. It was very spectacular and brought the song cycle to life by seeing what Kate meant it to be. Rising from the ice dead to be replaced by a raven image, struggling to reach the life-buoy and then being carried off stage and into the audience by the Fish People. Big wow. And then a curtain dropping from the ceiling with a feather motif as we're allowed an interval and the stage is re-set.


The second half opens with a big door opening and it's snowing inside as a mannequin walks out (with his handler dressed in black). This is the Aerial suite, 'A Sky of Honey', in which Kate's son plays the Painter character.  This is all about birdsong on a sunny afternoon leading into evening and the full moon. I liked the inquisitive mannequin who visited the musicians and Kate playing the piano (again barefoot) but didn't like it when Kate's son told him to 'piss off'. That's not nice.

Birdsong saturated the sound for the second half, lots of bird images sweeping and diving, lots of laughter and lots of soundscapes. And then trees came crashing out of the heavens onto the stage (and one went right through the grand piano) and the crescendo approached in 'Aerial', building and building, with Kate turning partially into a bird and, in the final scene, taking off to fly! Wow, that was spectacular! Just a flash of her taking off and then lights out! Astonishing!

The lights came back up for bows and then all left the stage. And Kate came back on stage to sing 'Among Angels' at the piano, alone, before the band joined her for 'Cloudbusting'. She encouraged us to sing along to the chorus so I am now *officially* a Kate Bush backing singer! That was amazing and she left the stage covered in smiles. And I clapped and clapped. And then that was it, it was all over. I'd seen this legendary being and sang with her and smiled at her and clapped at her.

I've seen Kate Bush!