This time last year Kate Bush was just wrapping up her residency at the Hammersmith Eventim (formerly Apollo). Bush had last performed live here in 1979, and as a life long fan I was resigned to the fact I’d never see her. So there was no question when the opportunity arose, last September I went to the gig of a life time- I saw Kate Bush ‘Before the Dawn’.
This show was a deeply personal experience, and I cried (buckets). My childhood self who sat in the dark listening to the Ninth Wave, was now sat in the dark in a room full of past selves all weeping for joy at finally seeing their elusive muse. A fairy tale being had come to spend the evening among mere mortals, reminding even the most hardened of hearts that magic could be real again and that its lives in our hearts and on the stage.
I was careful to avoid spoilers so that my experiences on the night would be uncoloured by anyone else’s and I was genuinely surprised at the length and breadth of what was offered. After half a dozen assorted songs in the opening, (taken from Hounds of Love, The Red Shoes and Aerial but none from The Sensual World) the concert developed into a full-blown stage production of the Ninth Wave, the entire B side of Hounds of Love played out in order like a narrative of musical theatre.
Replete with rolling silk seas and searchlight helicopters, some of the stage presentations were almost too literal in places. (I do prefer the ambiguity of the record where we’re left wondering if our sea stranded narrator survives or merely dreams of rescue). While the Ninth Wave is without doubt the core of this concert, it’s the third act Aerial’s Sky of Honey where we really get more than we bargained for. It’s like a whole other concert.
I’d have been satisfied with what I’d seen, but Sky of Honey was a welcome bonus. There is more ambiance to Aerial and less narrative that almost makes it the Ninth Wave in opposite- where one is a golden summer sunset to the other’s bitter winter sunrise, (where it’s darkest before the dawn). It was intriguing seeing how Kate chose to weave themes from these two together, creating a through line from peacefulness and danger, night and day, summer and winter, love and loss .
The through-line in the end is Kate herself, as the Blackbird. From the tortured soul in Waking the Witch crying out “help this Blackbird (wings in water) there’s a stone around my leg”, to Aerial’s chuckling birdsong soaring in a sky that’s full of birds. By the performance’s resolution the Blackbird literally sprouts her wings and is released, a watchful force of nature and a fierce and doting mommy. For the other important character throughout the presentation is Kate’s son Albert. Although he is actually present in the role of ‘The Artist’ (with his own awkward solo, ‘Tawny Moon’), his child-self who is ever-present though out Aerial is represented by ‘Tesoro’, the artist’s wooden puppet come to life wandering though the woods in wonderment to eventual safety. (It’s no secret that the tin man/Pinocchio archetype is close to my heart and puppets have the magic to move me emotionally).
For me Kate’s Before the Dawn couldn’t have been a more perfect, it was everything I might have hoped for and more. Truly a night to remember. A year later I still get emotional just thinking about it…