Last night we found ourselves queuing outside the Hammersmith Apollo, still not quite believing our good luck that we’d managed to get tickets for the eagerly anticipated opening night of Kate Bush performing for the first time in 35 years…
Himself is a Fan and as such logged onto Kate’s fansite years ago – so received an email asking if we were interested in buying tickets and offering us an opportunity to do so on the Wednesday before the tickets went on release on the Friday. Which was why we found ourselves rubbing shoulders with all sorts of interesting people, whose main topic of conversation was when they first became Kate Bush fans and what she might be singing. I was sitting next to a lovely young couple who’d travelled from Germany, a Dutchman was seated directly behind me and a lady from Brisbane, Australia was behind Himself. She is an artist and often paints Kate as she regards her music as an inspiration. We didn’t exchange names – but we told each other all about how much Kate’s music mattered to us.
As for us – Kate’s music is the soundtrack to our relationship, from meeting up at college as friends, to gradually falling in love as I staggered away from a disastrous marriage, vowing never to get caught up like that again. You won’t be surprised to learn it wasn’t exactly a whirlwind affair – and that Himself has great perseverance and is amazingly kind… This is stuff I don’t generally share on my blog. But I’m talking about Kate’s music – personal, intimate and always emotionally revealing.
Having said that, I wasn’t prepared for the rush of emotion I felt as the band marched onto the stage – and there she was. I found myself on my feet, hollering with everyone else, overwhelmed to actually see her… And then she launched into ‘Lily’ from The Red Shoes. Several things were immediately apparent. She is still very beautiful and comfortable in her skin and that remarkable voice has matured and is better than ever. She has also collected around her a group of exceptional musicians – I think she intended to introduce them, but everyone else was as blown away as I was and we were all rather noisy about it. Especially as straight after ‘Lily’, she gave us a fantastic version of ‘Hounds of Love’
She then sang, ‘Joanni’, ‘Running Up That Hill’ and ‘Top of the City’ and ended that section of the show with ‘King of the Mountain’. There was nothing from the first four albums, which is fair enough when you consider her vocal range in those early days. There was something of a game she played with her audience, in that the intros to each song were extended and slightly altered so it wasn’t always immediately apparent exactly what we were going to hear next. And when the man leapt onto the stage with a bullroarer, I immediately thought she was going to launch into ‘The Dreaming’. But no… this was the amazing introduction to The Ninth Wave, the second side of The Hounds of Love album.
Using footage filmed in an immersion tank, Kate played a drowning woman and the straight concert morphed into theatre, complete with sophisticated effects like a helicopter search, and a submerged room where Bertie played her son in a script about burnt toad in the hole, written by author David Mitchell of Cloud Atlas fame. We were treated to an operetta of The Ninth Wave – and it was wonderful to see a visual interpretation of this song cycle by the writer and performer, who brought to bear her meticulous attention to detail and no-holds-barred approach we have come to expect from her albums. Consequently, the standard of acting, the special effects, the staging of the songs and Kate’s own performance were superb. Alongside her on the stage throughout the show was her teenage son Bertie, who she singled out and thanked as the person who encouraged her to see this project through. He had a major role during The Ninth Wave and later, during the Sky of Honey sequence he played The Painter, with his own solo.
And, for me, this was the icing on the cake. For particular and very personal reasons, Arial has huge emotional resonance – particularly The Sky of Honey section, which got me through a particularly challenging and grim winter… And when I realised that Kate was going to be performing this particular song cycle – it was like Christmas Day and my birthday had just been rolled into one spectacular present. Seeing ‘Somewhere in Between’ sung by Kate was amazing. There was a lot of footage with birds and a dark undertone that always exists within Kate’s work – with a wooden doll about four foot high wandering around the set, occasionally getting a comforting hug from Kate. The puppeteer managed to produce some really lifelike movements – think of the model horses from the musical Warhorse.
Bertie’s presence and this model representation of him as the child he was when Kate was working on Arial left me very moved. She has always been – justifiably – wary of letting the rest of the world into her personal life, clearly feeling that her work should speak for itself. And in this first concert appearance for 35 years, she has chosen to give us not only access to her personal vision of her creative world, but allowed us a chance to see her only son on the stage alongside her.
She ended the concert with a beautiful rendition of ‘Among Angels’ just playing the piano and her final number was an amazing version of ‘Cloudbusting’ with the audience on its feet joining in the chorus. And… I’m still in a spin. This was a remarkable performance unlike anything else I’ve ever seen – part pop concert, part theatre and all Kate, who is still pushing boundaries and successfully setting the bar for others to follow.