I can’t quite believe it’s been six years now since we saw Kate Bush.
Given the ill health which has messed me about before and since, I swear I will never complain about her timing – even though we did have to wait thirty five years between concerts.
The first time we saw Kate perform was at the Liverpool Empire on 3rd April 1979. Those tickets were the first ever birthday present I bought for Ryan – and the Before The Dawn tickets were our thirty fifth wedding anniversary treat.
Back in 1979, before The Tour of Life, I wasn’t a fan. All I knew of her work was Wuthering Heights – and I didn’t like the song any more than I liked the novel. Charlotte is my Bronte, and Jane Eyre is one of my favourite, and formative novels.
That evening was magical. We had no idea at the time that it was her first live public performance, or that we’d have to wait so long to see her again. And apart from that one song, I was captivated – by her storytelling, by her voice, by the dance, the whole performance.
From that evening onwards I loved Kate’s music, and we bought all her albums, even when we were poverty stricken. When our vinyl went missing during a house move, they were the first albums we replaced. I never expected to see her perform again, and I always thought that seeing her on The Tour of Life would be the best musical experience of my life.
When the first rumours started to surface that she might be performing again, I laughed and said, no, it was impossible. We couldn’t quite believe it when we got tickets. We were ridiculously excited. We booked a hotel near the venue, and I alternated between excitement at the prospect of seeing Kate perform again, and terror that I wouldn’t be well enough to go.
Sometimes I think that’s the hardest part of living with a chronic illness. It’s not the constant lack of energy or the pain, most of the time. It’s missing out on the things you really want to do. That sense of being excluded from so much of normal life – the anticipation and pleasure of knowing that if you plan some kind of treat, the chances are that most of the time you’ll be able to enjoy it.
This is what I wrote in my journal the day after : “I am absolutely exhausted, but had a great time in London. I was just spellbound through the whole evening.”
I’d been a bit worried about managing in London. I’d just started relying on a stick, and I was worried especially about waiting to get into the venue. But everything turned out perfectly. At the hotel when we were checking in, the young woman on reception saw my stick and moved us to an easier access room without us asking – I’d forgotten to mention it when we booked. I’d emailed the venue because I was worried, and they told me to go to a separate entrance for those who are disabled. A big burly man listened to me and escorted us into the building – there were only about six others in there before us! And then another kind member of staff found me somewhere to sit whilst waiting for the doors to open.
What amazed me was just how friendly everyone was. I spent a good while chatting to a woman from Cornwall who’d been queuing for tickets for hours and hours and had managed to get one, although she was 13th… Ryan was chatted up by a guy from Finland (he says not, but then he can’t tell when he’s been chatted up by women either). Well, maybe I’m being unfair, he was just a really nice guy. He’d travelled to London a couple of days earlier and had worn himself and pulled a muscle in his leg by cramming in as many of the museums and art galleries as he could. He travels all over to see live music all on his own, and said that his mates at the office thought he was mad. Actually I think he’s the opposite of mad – he clearly is having a whale of a time, and has no trouble at all in talking to people.
A part of me didn’t really believe it was actually happening until Kate walked on to the stage and started singing Lily – the start of the ritual.
At the end of that piece, I saw her off the side of the stage, drinking from a bottle of water. Daft as it seems, that was when I knew it was real. Then I was completely swept away by the music.
I’d resisted all spoilers before hand. I knew Before The Dawm had been well receieved. All I knew was that I was going to see Kate perform The Ninth Wave.
This was always my favourite of Kate’s works and I was ridiculously excited. I’d been in love with The Ninth Wave since first listening to the Hounds of Love album in 1985, back when there was actually a second side.
So many of Kate’s songs tell stories. From James and The Cold Gun, on The Kick Inside, the rather better known Babushka, The Wedding List.
But The Ninth Wave is something else. Over the course of seven tracks, we are drawn into the experience of a woman who is lost at sea, drowning. It’s a story with a mythic, otherworldly feel, about a woman who falls off a boat into the ocean, and it starts with her slipping away, about to die… The whole piece is about her struggle between life and death – but it’s mostly dreams and visions, with interspersed fragments of reality, helicopters searching, and voices calling her.
As she slips between hallucinations and reality, she is subjected to a trial and the Witchfinder pronounces her “Guilty, guilty, guilty.” At last, she is rescued, and she chooses life.
The words and the music combine to evoke a deep experience of the dark night of the soul… and the eventual emergence from those depths to a sense of the joy of life is transformative.
Performed live, it was truly magical.
In the interval, I was shellshocked, recovering after this deep emotional experience. I was jolted back to reality when this big Australian guy came to talk to me.
He said, ‘I can see you were really moved by that.’ Tears were rolling down my cheeks. I was aware that I’d been totally transported, and that this guy had seen me from above, looking gormless as I’d followed the search and rescue ‘helicopter’ overhead, and watched the dancers, the fish people, as they moved through the audience.
Briefly I felt embarrassed by being seen, vulnerable, emotional. Then he said he had been moved too, and how glad he was to be there. He told me he’d come all the way from Sydney to see Kate, and to meet up with his mate from Canada who was off getting them drinks from the bar. He asked for a hug and I stood up, still weeping, in the arms of this huge, strange Australian, and it felt oddly comforting, to have shared a deep experience with a stranger. He was content to just shake Ryan’s hand, which was probably for the best.
The whole performance was very theatrical – too am-dram for some critics, but really, what were they on? Don’t they remember her?
The second longer piece, A Sky of Honey, was intense and captivating too. I didn’t know it as well, and but still I was transported. Hypnotic, rhythmic, ALIVE. There was one point in the track Somewhere In Between when I reached out to touch Ryan’s hand to anchor myself to reality, and he was completely out of it. The theme really is very simple – it’s about a perfect day. I recall arguing with someone about it afterwards who described it a trite – and I really think he was just wrong. It’s the opposite of trite – it might be simple, but it’s the kind of simple that life is really all about.
I was impressed by her voice – I thought it was much richer than when she was young. Another thing that really struck me was just how much everyone on stage were just really enjoying themselves. They were making a joyful noise. Birdsong and drumming, and a whole visual feast to go with it.
The whole audience was all spellbound. At the end a young lass in front of us called out “Thank you Kate” and everyone else echoed it immediately, and roared, and the look on Kate’s face was priceless, and she replied, “No, thank you. Thank you all.”
Of course, the whole show was a ritual – ecstatic – starting with the wonderful pagan invocation of Lily, and ending with Cloudbusting.
Kate bewitched us all.
“I just know that something good is going to happen.
I continue to be enchanted by Kate’s magical storytelling. To my delight she confirmed my theory in an interview she gave when Aerial was released. She said that she thinks of herself as a writer, a teller of stories – and a creator of transformative ritual magic.
“Art is about human expression…. it should be something that’s evolving and developing as you move through a song, and changing, not just the repetition of the same moments because I think what’s so exciting about music is that it’s something that unfolds through the process of time, that’s what music is, it’s something that If people get it right, then you’ll be whipped up into a trance frenzy or a state of prayer. Music is something that’s very special and very emotive. “
I never did get to like Wuthering Heights, but I’ve always felt that was a gift. A lesson. I’d been so ready to turn away from everything Kate because of that one song – and what richness of experience I would have missed.
I wrote much of this way back in 2015 on my old blog, long disappeared into the ether. I decided it was time to revive it, after talking about Kate last night, and listening to her music.
The Before The Dawn live album got me through some difficult times in hospital – although it saw off three android tablets, which I dropped on the floor and destroyed while my mind was thankfully elsewhere, at a distance from my poor body.
This year, Kate’s music has been of some comfort during lockdown. There’s something so hopeful and optimistic about A Sky of Honey, and I always turn to it when I’m struggling.
There’s also a sneaky reference to Lily in my latest novel, The Witch House. Well, really, it’s more a reference to a shared, much older source, but it was listening to Kate which helped me find the perfect ending.
That’s how so much of creativity works – and not always entirely consciously. We are all the sum of our experiences, and all of that is shared with the people who know us.
My experiences and odd glimpses of connection and understanding are transformed through my own stories and perhaps, if express them well enough, they will bring insight and recognition and enjoyment to the people who read what I write.
This is why I write. To be part of the long line of people who have given me so much meaning and joy and a sense of belonging through what they have created, and in my own small way to pass on a little of that, in my turn.
That’s it. That’s my dream.