Saturday, 6 September 2014

Before the Dawn (things were different)

When Kate Bush announced she would be performing live again after over 30 years of absence from audience shows, I had to pinch myself it was real.

It was surely yet another myth. It was surely yet another silly rumour, created to tease and taunt. I had heard and suffered this disappointment so many times over the years.

It was part of being a Kate fan. It was part of the deal. She was elusive. She rarely, if ever, appeared in public anymore, neither did she do interviews. As I was growing up in the late 90s and as the internet fuelled mass media driven celebrity obsessed culture expanded faster than you could say 'world wide web' - this elusive behaviour seemed even more intriguing, and yet even more frustrating. By the 00s, I was resigned to watching old Aspel clips on youtubes or getting very excited when Top of the Pops 2 showed old Kate videos.

But it was part of the pact. Part of accepting her work into your domain. Accept her work into your life, but this is the price you pay. And why not; it was her choice, her life. I admired, among other things, her determination to not conform.

Kate's music was so much part of my life. I first became intrigued during the 1980s. Her Christmas song 'December Will Be Magic Again' was integral to our annual December family rituals - already a very musical household, December brought an avalanche of carols and christmas songs and my bad cello playing. But it is often this song I think back to - and I remember listening to it over and over; loving the opening beats, loving Kate's (to me) unusual tones, loving that it was so different to other christmas songs - no jingle bells or cliches - just references to huskies and parachutes. With bongos. Melodramatic, spirited vocals; before I was even aware of the concepts, there was something far layered and textured in this music. Far better than Bing Crosby droning on about some bit of snow.

I remember my sister talking about Kate, telling me (as usual complete exaggerations in the way only elder sisters can) about how Kate was a witch and mystical;  this naturally both terrified and intrigued me; and we used to shamefully dance about the living room in leotards acting out our own Wuthering Heights type scenes whilst my sister clonked away on the piano.

It seemed to me from a very early age that a Kate Bush song wasn't just music. It was opening a big book; a pop-up story book of theatre and poems and wonder. A one woman entertainment centre.

I (eventually) grew out of the play acting (maybe) but Kate remained. Cassettes may have gotten worn out; CDs scratched or lost. But Kate was always there.

I remember the first time hearing Running Up that Hill - on a 1986 BBC gritty children's drama 'Running Scared' - and feeling like someone had opened a door to a secret wonderful world; an entire universe of thrill and wonder. 'Running Scared' was a bit too old for me at the time, and it all seemed so daring and *so* grown up.

When I was debilitatingly ill with glandular fever, Aerial was part of my remedy - it kept me company during dark lonely nights; it accompanied me and held my hand whilst I tried to stumble through; it laid foundations as I climbed steps back up the ladder.

Songs on the Sensual World made me cry with resonance of fragile hearts, unrequited annoyances, and yet conversely soothed; Deeper Understanding made me feel less weird for loving computers even though (yes, I was a girl honest); The Red Shoes' Rubberband Girl invigorated me to remember life was pretty shitty for all of us, but we all have to bounce back.

Wherever I was, whatever place, whatever age; there was a Kate song. Giving me buoyancy when I was beginning to sink, or emphasising the good and the happy.

So yes. Kate playing live again was kind of a big deal. Maybe not a deal with God, but it felt pretty epic.

I was lucky enough to see Kate's Hammersmith show this September. Aside from the multitudinous stress over actually acquiring the tickets (the fear of missing out may actually have strangled my heart) suddenly came the unthinkable unreal notion that - this was actually happening.

Early reviews had been utterly golden. But this made me more nervous and wary. I of course, wanted it to be something beautifully sensational - I wanted it to live up to this huge hype, not just in the media but that had built up in my own mind over the years. In true contradictory tones, I, who often deplores the media and society hype created on celebrities, had built Kate up onto this pedestal of untouchable genius that pretty much put her on par with something higher than God.

Surely nothing could really live up to this?

Before the Dawn lived up to the hype. And if anything, more.

It is not just 'a live gig'. I have been lucky enough to go to many performances over the years, by some of the world's greatest musical talents. I have seen and listened to some fabulous shows. But nothing quite matched this.

It is theatre, it is performance; you don't just hear music and watch the artist sing - you hear, but also you watch stories and emotions play out; you are watching almost metaphysical concepts. It is difficult to even put into words what the performance is - even more so without making it sound pretentiously daft (I promise, it is not). You feel part of another sphere - you've been fastened into a space ship and blasted off to another planet. You are part of Kate's world - for three whole hours. She whisks you into her sphere, her universe of how things are. She lets you grow new ears, but also opens new eyes - you feel new things. You can almost taste the salty sea; feel the warm glow of sunlight; touch the feathered birds.
There were moments during the show that moved me to tears; that made me laugh; that made me scared; that gave me a mediative peace. I was exhausted and yet also invigorated. I discovered new aspects to what I thought were already well-listened songs, like suddenly finding narnia in an old wardrobe you had had in your house for 20 years.

Technically the show was superb. The theatrical element was fine tuned in true auteur fashion - for Kate really is a true auteur, the Stanley Kubrick of the musical world, if old Stanley had donned leotards and tinkled the old ivories. The use of lighting and props; a beautiful set and some lovely choreography was melodramatic in the Kate way, but never felt over exuberant or self indulgently farcical. It took live musical experiences to a new level.

And despite seeing her in the flesh, hearing her talk to us, she still revealed little (bar of course, her songs) - she seemed so gracious and almost surprised at the adoration, and almost rather modest and shy on stage between songs. Despite letting us in, she still remained quite elusive.

By allowing us into her head for an evening, I felt utterly drained but also as if my axis has been shifted. Pre Before the Dawn, I, and my world was different. Kate's music did this to me from the beginning of my journey, but this felt on a new scale or on a different path. Facetiously as it sounds, it feels as if my entire life up to that night will now be defined as B.K.L (Before Kate Live).

Maybe it struck me more than ever before that if you are that way inclined, having a creative output is as important as feeding your lungs with air. Accepting who you are is the crux of all.

Maybe it just made me truly appreciate that trying too hard to make sense of this sometimes utterly unfathomable world can break us when sometimes, we just need to accept the wonder in the simple. And for all Kate's elaborate design, her world beneath the surface really is simple - the clouds floating by, the washing machine washing, a painter painting a picture, the birds singing and the sun...then moon, filling the sky.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


It takes a special kind of film to bewitch you. It takes a particularly rare specie of film to intwine itself into your core, so that you become so affected and absorbed, it lingers in your mind like a stubborn infection, digging its heels into the very walls of your brain.

Dramatic of course, but Boyhood, director Richard Linklater's latest movie release, had and continues to have precisely that affect on me. The culture equivalent of having my soul taken out, shaken, strewn through the washing machine and hung out to dry like wary bed clothes.

On the face of it, Boyhood tackles themes and issues that have been dealt with copious amounts of times, not only in films but most culture forms - 'boy grows up', 'coming-of-age', 'families' 'struggling relationships'. It is understatedly filmed and shot. It has a couple of known actors in Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, but no one overly 'blockbuster'. Its not set in glossy bustling New York with grand sweeping titles and self knowing soundtracks inter-spliced with fancy camera angles.

Yet what does give Boyhood a pinch of spice, is that it was filmed over 12 years. Using the same actors over the 12 years, we see people noticeably age as the film develops - no make up, special affects or different actors here. It delivers a striking reality to the story. It also hits you quite profoundly how fast time alludes our grasps.

At the heart of the film is Mason. We first meet Mason as a 6 year old boy who lives with his sister and single mum in suburbia. There's nothing special, nothing particularly different about Mason or his family that does not also occur in millions of other single parent families, not only in America but across the world. He fights with his sister. He plays with his friends. His loving mum struggles with a bad relationship and making ends meet.
We follow Mason as he grows - the film suddenly switching to time having moved forward; we are struck by the subtle and yet also oddly noticeable changes in his face as he is growing. The same for his family. The moving in time may seem sudden, however it is like dropping in on a friend you haven't seen for a period of time. And it is this kind of recognisable familiarity to our own lives and relationships, that makes this film so affecting. There are also subtle nods to the period of the year - the music or the ipods; the emergence of technology and social media.

Nothing much seems to happen in this film as the time passes and the characters grow. But everything happens. There are no dramatic plots and twists other than relationships stretching to breaking point. Or the seemingly endless bad choices that Mason's mother makes, and of course, Mason and his sister having to experience new stages of life, change and the beginning of adulthood. We meet his estranged father, who dips into the family's lives almost as we do - we never discover the background to Mason's parents, but we do discover that although he may at first seem a drifting waster, for all his faults he really does loves his kids. Like Mason's mum, he tries to do his best.

These are all things that have happened to us, or we have experienced in some shape or form - and this is what makes Boyhood so absorbing. There is the mundane reality of every day life, of the chores, of the strange boredom of growing up when you want to do everything but can't, to the suddenly realisation that when you can start to do 'what you want', it's a terrifyingly black hole of unknown.

These are our feelings and our experiences.

There is one beautiful part of the film where a young Mason says to his father that 'there is no magic in the world is there' - and this for me, was the crux. In a world where we are fed stories of incredible individuals- super heroes, magically talented or powered; this small scene seemed an acknowledgement that as lovely and good as Mason is, he is just a normal kid - with his own talents and weaknesses, but nothing that remarkable. He's not a Harry Potter-esque chosen one, something we all grow up secretly hoping will happen to us, great mystical adventures of fantasy. Because that doesn't happen.

The film claws itself into your consciousness because of this recognition. We're all muddling through doing what we think we want or/and what is best, but essentially we're not really very more clued up on what we are doing than when we were 6 years old and lying in the garden watching the clouds.

And that is what we are. We are all a Mason. We will have our own little triumphs, our own little disasters; we will get a job, we will try to do something, we will meet people, we will lose people, we will have relationships, we will live a life. But nothing is new. No one escapes mundane. We are mundane. We all end up doing the same as millions before us, as millions will continue to do after we have gone. And I think this is what struck me about Boyhood - it is somehow an endless loop of events that will happen to all of us and repeat and repeat and repeat. Fast. When before we know it, our credits will roll and a new reel is put on and it all plays out again with a new cast - the technology and clothes and weight may change but its all still the same. And by now we are nothing more than the shadow of the clouds floating through the sky being gazed at by a 6 year old boy.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Lark Ascending

Why can I not be the lark ascending?
Wings that glide on strings a-singing.
Swoop and soar devoid of care;
Nimble dart, slice through air.

Lose me as a feather in space;
Gone forever - to that other place.
Becomes a shadow painted in kind,
Remnants only in passing mind.

Why can I not be the lark ascending?
Wings glide free leaving strings a-singing.