I have tickets for two performances of Kate Bush’s Before the Dawn at Hammersmith Apollo – her first major appearance since the groundbreaking Tour of Life in 1979.
Thirty-five years ago.
A few months ago in March, I was in the office almost in tears trying to get hold of tickets, but they’d sold out in fifteen minutes whilst I was manically refreshing about seventy ticket-website tabs online. I put a desperate call out on Facebook and Twitter and friends magically produced two separate tickets to performances in September.
I’m a very lucky lady.
But what if I’d missed the only opportunity to see the goddess, the woman I’d worshipped since her debut as a 19-year-old in 1978, when I was eleven years old? I can’t even bear to think about it.
I have spent my whole life since 1978 Trying To Be Kate Bush. She has single-handedly encapsulated everything I long to be: creatively, physically, audibly, kinetically. I don’t know how she’s done it, but she seems to gather all my passions: Irish music, contemporary dance, literature and physical theatre and do something brilliantly original with them. For some reason, my musical tastes tend to favour male voices but she stands out in my collection as the only female artist I’ve gone crazy over. Every album, every picture, every book, every set of hair crimpers.
Wuthering Heights. I was 11 years old when I first saw La Bush whipping around in white on Top of the Pops. I didn’t know what she was singing about – I hadn’t read Emily Brontë‘s novel at that point – but later I would become obsessed with it. All I knew was, there was a young woman I wanted to be, on my TV. The long flowing hair, the floaty white dress, the shapes her body made as she danced. Oh Kate. I was in love.
I was living in North Wales at the time and we’d moved to a hilltop village called Brynford after my dad had died a couple of years earlier. I had started secondary school and had begun to wake up to the world – I often found myself roaming around the surrounding moorland, constantly looking for something to happen, with our Jack Russell terrier, Sherry, running in circles around me, chasing sheep.
I was in that yearning stage – the one that is now partly satisfied in the reading of Young Adult novels, but for me, yearning was done Kate Bush-style. I did actually have a couple of long white dresses, and long, crimped hair that my mum used to plait when it was wet to make it really Bush-like. I was Being Kate. When I finally read Emily Bronte’s astonishing novel, I was in full ‘looking for Heathcliff’ mode, certain he would pop out from the rough bits of the golf course near my house where Sherry and I roamed. He never did, the bastard.
Let’s just stop for a moment and consider how brilliantly original Brontë‘s work was, never mind Kate’s rendition of it. From a Victorian parsonage in deepest Yorkshire, this woman writes a supernatural doomed love story of such tremendous passion and power that she allows the heroine to die half way through. It’s written partly in Yorkshire vernacular, and begins with the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw tapping at a window, one victim of the “unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” Heathcliff, he of the Byronic tortured soul, is the dark and demonically brooding love interest that won’t let her sleep. Emily B – you rock. You were the Kate Bush original of your day and I will always love you, too.
Back to Kate. She wrote that song at the age of 18 and summed up every young adult’s yearning:
Ooh, it gets dark! It gets lonely
On the other side from you
I pine a lot. I find the lot
Falls through without you
I’m coming back, love
Cruel Heathcliff, my one dream
My only master
I pined a lot, too.
Kate’s voice then became the soundtrack to my teenage life. She sang about love and sex a lot (Feel It, The Kick Inside) but in terms I didn’t quite understand, so veiled were most of the references. I didn’t mind it all being a bit veiled back then – I was brought up Catholic and went to a Catholic school where we didn’t talk about stuff like that. Much. I quite liked the fact that it was all a mysterious force somewhere out there, waiting for me.
In the mid-1980s, Kate released the Hounds of Love album, cementing my love for her. It was conceptual, with the two sides (when albums had two sides) differing completely. The first was fairly mainstream (for Kate), filled with what would become ‘popular’ hits, and the second had a narrative that was based around the idea of someone stuck out at sea at night, waiting for death.
Once again, Bush blew me away with her creative originality and intelligence. Her videos – notably Running Up That Hill – featured contemporary dance sequences because she had studied with choreographer Lindsay Kemp (as had David Bowie). By that point I was obsessed with ballet and dance and she just fed my passion. I’d also started to listen to Irish instruments and musicians and forming a passion for all things Irish, and they featured heavily on the ‘Ninth Wave’ section of Hounds of Love.
Nailed it again, Kate.
I have always striven to be as original and creative as Kate, in work and life. Why do what everyone else is doing when you can carve out something for yourself and show it to the world? I find ‘me too’ activities uniquely demotivating and soulless.
I remember trying to choose an English Literature dissertation topic for my degree and briefly toyed with the idea of doing one on something feminist before realising that almost every other woman was choosing ‘Women in Victorian Literature’ as their subject. I went for Masculinity in Shakespearean tragedy – the exact opposite. I still think it’s a good PhD subject, should I ever go there. I find it fascinating.
Recently I pitched a panel idea to a publishing seminar group where almost everyone chooses the theme of ‘digital’ or ‘ebooks’ to hang their debates on. “I’ll do print books, then”, I thought. Might as well go for the polar opposite. Even this blog is the reverse of what everyone might’ve expected me to write about: publishing.
‘Me too’ publishing is a thing – where publishers choose to publish almost exactly the same thing as another, if the original book has sold well. I give you Fifty Shades of Grey and its billions of copies. I know it makes commercial sense, but it’s the death of originality to keep churning out the same thing. I’m always tempted to do the opposite – I think that’s why I prefer parody books if I’m going to do a bit of ‘me too’ – Fifty Sheds of Grey was a brilliantly original, humorous take on E L James’ über trilogy, based on a Twitter parody account. Loved it, and at one point it was outselling the original in the UK.
So once again, back to Kate: alongside Bowie, one of the most brilliantly original artists in the world. Who chooses to make a breathy sexy song out of James Joyce’ stream-of-consciousness modernist novel, Ulysses? Kate does. Who uses a Bulgarian female voice choir on a song about tying yourself to a rocket and shooting off into space? Kate does. Who shoots a video of themselves dressed up as a young boy whose father is being arrested for making rain? Kate does.
I could go on.
One of Kate’s most profound songs for me is Moments of Pleasure, from The Red Shoes album. You get little glimpses into her visual memory bank – her mother, her guitarist in the studio, her producer in his chair at Abbey Road – people who aren’t necessarily in her life any more. It’s glorious. And then, she just sums it up:
Just being alive
It can really hurt
And these moments given
Are a gift from time
Just let us try
To give these moments back
To those we love
To those who will survive
I’m going to enjoy my Kate Bush moments at the Apollo because they’re glimpses into my own visual memory bank and a gift from time.
I love you, Kate, and I’ll never stop trying to be like you.
Playlist in order of mention:
Wuthering Heights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1pMMIe4hb4
Running Up That Hill: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp43OdtAAkM
The Sensual World: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1DDndY0FLI
Rocket’s Tail: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yeimyOsdrA
Moments of Pleasure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pW5hjWVS3ho