Sunday, 7 September 2014

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!


Libby Molyneaux said...

Great report! I was also in Row H on Friday the 5th -- seat 20. Pretty sure Kate and I had eye contact for a second.

Owen said...

And me! Me me me!

Steve said...

Off to see her on the 27th - can't wait!

Anonymous said...

I watched Kate with great admiration on the 29th of August 2014...#awesome