Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Kate Bush: Before the Dawn in Drawings and Words

On Wednesday I was lucky enough to go and see Kate Bush's magnificent comeback, Before the Dawn. She is one of my all time favourite singer-songwriters thanks to my parents playing her albums, especially 'The Red Shoes', as I was growing up. Dad was only able to get hold of two tickets and very kindly let me go in his place.

I love Kate Bush. She is well-read and not afraid to show it, and has an incredible imagination (who else can write songs about a foetus, Cathy Earnshaw and a rain making machine?). Whether or not you are a Kate Bush fan, I don't think anyone can deny that writing this song, amongst 100 others in your early teens is anything short of phenomenal talent.

On top of all of that she is stunningly beautiful, but relies on her talent rather than her body to sell her work. You'll never find her twerking, bumping and grinding à la Miley Cyrus, or so many other female singers today. If she wants to unleash the wild eyed stare, flail her arms and don roller blades then that's exactly what she's going to do.

It was a very special evening for Mum too, as she had been to the 1979 tour at the tender age of 17. When I asked her what she thought would happen during the show, Mum confidently said, "This will be the best thing you will EVER see." So I was expecting great things!

I had been incredibly excited, but had resolutely avoided all news and social media relating to the opening night (Tuesday) so that everything would be a complete surprise on the night. We didn't even look at the programme until after the show and were so glad we were spoiler-free. As a consequence, our faces looked like this for most of the evening.

The atmosphere was amazing when we arrived. Everyone at the Hammersmith was clearly very excited to be there and there was a real sense of occasion. We all knew we were about to see something truly brilliant. Mum uses a wheelchair so we were sat at the front of a balcony with a fantastic view of the stage. We were quite surprised because the band's instruments seemed to be taking up a lot of room on stage, so we assumed a screen might come down at some point for a video.

Bang on time Kate Bush arrived to 'Lily' barefoot, dressed in black and looking beautiful as ever. I lost count of the number of standing ovations the audience gave her during the evening and it was difficult to hear the beginning of the song because of the applause and cheering. Everyone had waited a long time for this and wanted to show their appreciation. As in her more recent albums, her voice has become lower and richer with age and was incredibly powerful as she belted out 'Hounds of Love', 'Joanni', 'Top of the City', 'Running up That Hill' and 'King of the Mountain'. It seemed to be more of a traditional set-up than we were expecting, but we were loving it.

At the end of 'King of the Mountain' to the lyric, 'The wind is whistling', the real show kicked off. The drummer, aptly described by one reviewer as looking like an extra from 'Pirates of the Caribbean', then leapt to the front of the stage and started flinging something over his head in circles and the Hammersmith was plunged into darkness with lightning illuminating him to stormy sound effects. Wind canons blasted slips of paper with a quotation from Tennyson's 'The Coming of Arthur' into the audience. 

The stage was covered by a large screen and we watched a short film in which an amateur astronomer had picked up a distress signal from a boat at sea with a woman overboard. The much anticipated Ninth Wave had begun. If you didn't already know, this is the second side of 'Hounds of Love' and is a series of songs about a woman alone at sea. The screen lifted to unveil the huge bones of a shipwreck and spooky fish skeleton men wafting huge stretches of fabric to create a sea effect. On a smaller oval screen at the back of the stage area, Kate Bush appeared in water wearing the life jacket from the promotional photo singing 'And Dream of Sheep'. She had spent days recording the film in the suspension tank and had caught hypothermia in the process. Her vocal was recorded whilst she was in the tank and really made you feel cold for her.

From my sketchbook: One of the fish skeleton men.

She then sang 'Under the Ice'. Her backing singers by this point had become life jacket-clad rescuers. Kate Bush then realised she was the face she could see beneath the ice and fell through the stage. Some large black wings poked through the stage after she had disappeared (a clue for the second part of the evening). 'Waking the Witch' was just as scary as it should have been and her own son Bertie played the part of the son in a swaying living room where Bush imagines her husband and son living life without her in 'Watching You Without Me'. It was especially sad when she tried to hug Bertie and realised she was only a ghost before disappearing to leave the room as it slowly became engulfed by water (very clever lighting). I can't remember exactly which point it happened (there was so much to take in!) but at one point the whole stage went black and a helicopter search light appeared from the ceiling and moved across the audience, with one of Bush's brothers voicing the pilot searching for her. She decided she was ready to live to a rousing 'Jig of Life' with the fish people creating waves around her. A huge buoy appeared on stage next, with backing singers/supporting cast searching for her and pulling her out of the waves before six fish people then carried her away into the audience. The magical first part of the evening then finished with the band returning to the forefront for 'The Morning Fog'.

From my sketchbook: Kate Bush being rescued at sea.

She then announced that they were off for "a little break". There was then a mass love-in for Kate Bush in the queue for the ladies loos. I felt a lot less embarrassed for getting a little teary when she first appeared on stage because one of the ladies I met was still crying and apparently had been throughout! More gushiness followed with the lovely couple we were sitting next to before it was time for the second part and we had no idea what to expect!

The second part was a completely different mood. Set to 'Aerial: A Sea of Honey', snow was softly falling amongst silver birch trees when a small artist's model puppet appeared through some huge wooden doors and interacted with Kate Bush and her band throughout. Bertie played the role of the artist and was painting a huge framed canvas while various birds appeared in slow motion flight across the large screen at the back of the stage. There were still darker elements though, with a half-bird, half-human creature jerkily dancing in the painting and the seemingly sweet puppet killing a seagull he found on the ground. Bertie had his own solo to 'Tawny Moon' and the songs built in drama until the stunning 'Aerial'. There were silver birch trees on stage, a band clad in bird skull masks, dancers dressed as birds and a truly unearthly Kate Bush dancing whilst wearing a black wing. At the end of the song she then disappeared behind the painting which moved away to reveal her wearing a pair of jet black wings and flying towards the audience. Magnificent.

From my sketchbook: There was a single black feather painted on red silk
as our clue for the second part of the show.

Needless to say the applause could not have been warmer, and she returned to the stage alone at her piano to play a beautiful 'Among Angels', finishing with a rousing 'Cloudbusting' before disappearing from the stage again.

When will we see her again? Who knows. I think her choosing to perform her newer material, rather than performing a greatest hits tour, is a good sign that we haven't seen the last of Kate Bush. We'll be waiting.

Mum was absolutely right; it really was the best thing I've ever seen.