So this week I became the proud owner of something I never thought I would ever own: tickets (plural, no less!) to see Kate Bush play live.
Even if you aren’t a fan of Kate Bush, you can scarcely have avoided hearing the news. It’s been 35 years now since the infamously private singer mounted her last tour. Her 1979 “Tour Of Life” was a mould-breaking, extremely ambitious endeavour that proved to be more than Kate could handle, personally and professionally. So many of today’s pop stars owe the format of their live shows to Kate’s infamous tour, which mixed choreography (with Kate taking the lead, singing as she danced using a prototype headset microphone fashioned from a coat-hanger), a live band, poetry readings, a magician(!) and extravagant stage design to great effect. Essentially it was akin to a travelling West End musical.
The show was to take a heavy toll on Kate. Not just in terms of energy – although the lengthy rehearsals and preparation must have been tiring, let alone the energy expended in each evening’s two-hour-plus show by everyone involved – but also emotionally. The tour’s Lighting Designer, Bill Duffield, was killed in an accident at the very first show (at the tender age of 21 – roughly Kate’s age at the time), and his death cast a shadow over the rest of the tour. Add to this an acknowledged fear of flying, and her exhaustion after the tour, and it’s small wonder that she’s not really felt ready to undertake anything quite so ambitious since, however much she may have enjoyed performing live.
However, things have apparently changed. After a long time away from live performance, Kate Bush has decided to play live again: a 22-date residency at the Eventim Apollo (oh, alright, let’s be honest – it’s the Hammersmith Odeon, no matter what it says on the outside of the building these days) has been booked for this Autumn, and the internet has been alive with rumour and the wild squeeing of Kate Bush fans from all over the globe in the week since the dates were announced.
Yes, I was squeeing along with the best of them. I can’t emphasise enough just how important Kate Bush and her music has been to me. I was barely into primary school when I remember sitting home with my mum one evening, watching Top Of The Pops as we always did. A song came on that was like absolutely nothing I’d heard before, sung by what I could only think of as an angel dressed all in white. Utterly bewitched, but with no real appreciation for what I was hearing, I remember being absolutely transfixed, as was my mum. Afterwards I pestered her so often to “play the angel song” for me that she caved in, took me to Woolworths and let me buy the single of the aforementioned song with two weeks worth of my pocket money, which I had up til then spent exclusively on sweets and comics. The song, of course, was Wuthering Heights, and that was how I bought my first 7″ vinyl single.
Angel/Kate-spotting became a sport over the following months. Every so often Kate would pop up with a new single (I vividly remember the premiere of The Man With The Child In His Eyes) and I would be transfixed as before. I think Wuthering Heights was nearly a one-off for my mum, who gradually lost interest in Kate, only briefly re-kindling an interest when Wow was released some time later, but I was completely besotted. So when I became aware that these things called “albums” existed, I simply had to own Kate Bush’s album: “the one with the angel song on it”. So I went out and blew a whole month’s sweetie allowance on The Kick Inside.
It was the first album by a female artist that I truly loved, and it remains the yardstick against which I judge pretty much all solo albums. It’s a magical album even now, and with age has come a much clearer idea of the things Kate was singing about – I suppose I ought to be mildly relieved that my mum never really paid much attention to lyrics 😉 . Utterly precocious, Kate re-invented – possibly even invented – the possibilities for a female singer-songwriter, backed up by a formidable live band, many of whom were to work with her for the rest of their careers. The songs are astonishing: Wuthering Heights, of course, but also the likes of Moving, The Man With The Child In His Eyes and (especially) The Kick Inside, a tragic and very adult piece about incest that beguiles and shocks in equal measure even now. It has been a personal ambition to cajole someone into covering it effectively: it’s far too good a song to remain hidden away on record.
Kate was to hone and improve her music over the years (Hounds Of Love remains a desert island disc for me), but as a debut this remains a stunningly original and passionate piece of work. Small wonder musicians across the globe found – and still find – it such an inspiration.
The Kick Inside was a gateway drug for me in numerous ways, but other than a lifelong love of all things Kate Bush-related, it also impressed on me early on that female vocalists could be more than eye-candy (a mindset that sadly all too many people – males and females alike! – can’t get past), and that songs could address weightier concerns than, say, how wonderful one’s partner was, or how important it was to get down tonight. The finer points of the lyrical content of Kate’s songs was lost on me for a few years, but when Breathing was released in 1980, it absolutely floored me (and terrified me) with it’s anti-nuclear message. Kate’s music showed me that whilst there was always room for the intensely personal, the Big Picture could also be addressed. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that most of my favourite acts mix the very small and the very large pictures equally well, or that I’m still a particular fan of female vocalists with powerful voices who have something to say.
Now, as I sit here, slightly dazed, in the sure knowledge that I possess tickets that will enable me to see Kate playing music I’ve loved for the greater part of my entire life not once, but twice… Well, it’s a special moment for me. A Moment Of Pleasure, if you will 😉 . I know I’ll be spellbound no matter what the format of the shows are, no matter what she decides to play – although it appears to be the case that she will be playing her concept piece The Ninth Wave (one of my favourite suites of music ever, which details the experiences of a woman floating alone at sea following a shipwreck), which is frankly enough for me to die happy. No doubt all will become clear as the first of the shows hoves into view, although I’m more than happy to ignore any spoilers.
Seldom have I looked forward to the end of the summer so keenly. KATE. BUSH. Live!
I think – I know – I need a lie down.