Kate Bush, Eventim Apollo, 26th August 2014
If you liked pop music in the late 70s it was a given that you’d watch Top of the Pops each week and, if that was the case, you’d have found it impossible to avoid Kate Bush and her music. She had a string of hit singles from her first three albums, ensuring that she was a regular on the show between 1978 and 1980.
I wasn’t really a fan although I did like ‘Sat In Your Lap’, the lead single from her fourth album, which is when she drifted commercially off-piste. But then, in 1985, she released ‘The Hounds of Love’, with four corking singles: ‘Running Up That Hill’, ‘The Hounds Of Love’, ‘The Big Sky’, and ‘Cloudbusting’. And much as I enjoyed those songs, what ensured that I’d still be playing the album nearly thirty years later was the second side, a song cycle called ‘The Ninth Wave’, which I still listen to once every few weeks.
Since then her releases have been sporadic as she appears to have simply followed her muse, getting on with life and music, releasing albums only when she was good and ready. And, since 1979, she has never toured, making only rare live appearances to sing a song and, as far as I am aware, never a complete set. If you’d asked me a few months ago, I’d have been quite confident that she would never play live again.
And then, incredibly, she announced that she was going to play some dates! All in London but not at the O2 or Wembley arena but rather at the Apollo, which was where in 1982, when it was still the Hammersmith Odeon, I saw my first gig (and that was three years after Bush retired from touring!). Amazingly, a friend of mine, Rob - a lifelong and passionate Kate Bush fan - managed to get us tickets for the opening night.
At this point, of course, I started to wonder what she might do. My darkest fear was that she’d simply be on stage with a piano, performing all her hits in a stripped back style. Then, on Friday, my dad gave me a characteristically mean-spirited Daily Mail article which at least reassured me that she had a band playing with her. It also contained some surprising comments from David Hepworth, expressing doubts about her ability to satisfy an audience used to bands that tour regularly.
On a Facebook group, the four of us who we’re going along - me, Ash, Rob and John - chatted about the forthcoming gig and I joked that I hoped she’d play the whole of ‘The Ninth Wave’ but, truth be told, none of us knew what to expect. By the time we met up at the pub, yesterday afternoon, just a couple of hours before the gig, Ash was saying, quite rightly, that really it didn’t matter what she did, even if she came out, took one look at the audience and ran for cover; we were going to the first Kate Bush gig for 35 years!
Arriving at the venue, I was surprised and delighted by how cosy it was. Even from near the back, we had a great view of the stage, which was kitted out with music equipment all along the back, leaving plenty of room at the front. When the band walked on and started playing, the auditorium erupted in an frenzy of excitement. And then, Bush strode out, leading her troupe of backing vocalists and an audience I thought was at the peak of its excitement went completely crazy. Bush’s own delight was evident as she grinned broadly at the audience. “Where have you been?!”
When she started singing - sounding fantastic! - everyone politely sat down. The first song was ‘Lily’, a surprising but great choice from ‘The Red Shoes’ and I loved her band immediately. I recognised David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel’s long-standing guitarist) and John Giblin on bass. They played brilliantly, taking the complex arrangements and making them sound almost easy.
'Lily' was followed by 'The Hounds Of Love' and 'Joanni', both fab, and then 'Top Of The City'. Five tracks in and they'd all come from 'The Hounds Of Love' and 'The Red Shoes'. The she went into the first real highlight for me, 'King Of The Mountain' taken from 'Aerial'. It's a song I love anyway, but an extended finish to the song gave the band a chance to take it somewhere powerful and new.
And then a curtain came down. When it came up again, we were into ‘The Ninth Wave’! The programme, the bit I’d skim read, had implied it would be played in full but I couldn’t quite believe it. And it was just extraordinary. A mixture of film, theatre, dance and, of course, music, the piece was brought to life in a way that in all the time I’ve been listening to it, I had never imagined. Despite her absence from live work for thirty-five years, it was the best show I have ever seen, the sort of thing that, I think, Peter Gabriel has always aspired to. There was a even a mechanical device - pumping out dry ice and brilliant lights - that descended from the ceiling over the audience that Pink Floyd would have been envious of. It finished with a gorgeous drawn out version of ‘The Morning Fog’, for which the band, singers, and dancers all came out onto the front part of the stage and it was quite breathtakingly beautiful.
At the interval, it’s no exaggeration to say that I was completely stunned by what I’d just seen. I messaged the Minx, bewildered but also inspired. I think I spent the whole of the twenty minute break simply trying to digest the show so far.
The next part of the show consisted of the second part of ‘Aerial’: ‘A Sky of Honey’. Although the second track, ‘Prologue’, is pretty much my favourite song by Bush, I find the piece as a whole a bit MOR. This combined with the high of the first half meant that I didn’t enjoy this part of the show as much, although it was still amazing.
The concert finished with two songs. The first was ‘Among Angels’, the last track on ‘50 Words For Snow’, and it was a manifestation of my earlier fears; Bush, alone at the piano, singing something interminable! But then she chose to finish with ‘Cloudbusting’, which was, appropriately, storming.
So, David Hepworth couldn’t have been more wrong; after three and a half decades away, Kate Bush came back with a bloody amazing show. Who would have believed she’d only play tracks from four of her last five albums and completely ignore the first four? And never in my dreams did I honestly think she’d play the whole of ‘The Ninth Wave’. I feel very blessed to have been there for the first show and I’m very grateful to Rob for organising that. And I’m also delighted that I was able to go with Ash and John. I only wish I could take the Minx along.