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.