A Sky of Honey
Some artists tour almost every year. Some tour every couple of years or so. How many could get away with waiting 35 years before doing only their second set of live shows? Kate Bush is probably the only one for whom there has been such a demand over the years that there could be no question that the audience was still there and so it proved when out of the blue a series of live shows were announced in March 2014.
I won’t call it a tour as she chose to take over one venue, in London at the Apollo in Hammersmith, for what ended up as 22 dates from August 26th to 1 October 2014. My first thought was that it was a surprisingly small venue to choose but clearly, despite the ambitions of the show she was to put on, she also wanted an element of intimacy so she could connect with the audience and not just be a dot miles away in a large arena.
This of course meant that tickets would not be easy to get as the venue holds approximately 3600 seated and this was further reduced as they had to take some rows out to accommodate the show.
By pure chance I was off work on the day they were due to go on sale and spent a frantic time with different websites open, clicking on buttons and getting no response. After a few minutes I thought I’d surely missed out but then remarkably, one came up with a ticket and on the Saturday that was my first choice. I didn’t care where it was, I just said yes and paid a not inconsiderable amount of money. More than I’ve ever paid for a single gig but it’s Kate, it’s been 35 years, it’ll be worth it I had no doubt.
I then looked at where I’d actually be sitting. In the stalls, Row L. And as it turned out on the night, this was even better than I expected as due to the seats they’d taken out I was actually only seven rows from the stage.
Finally, after months of expectation, the day arrived. I was seeing show number 20 so I’d done well to avoid too many spoilers, even avoiding blogs written by friends or asking them too many questions. Possibly this was helped by all the other things going on in my life over this period which I’ve touched on in previous posts but this was something I’d been looking forward to so much I could use it as a target to aim for and it helped.
Not wanting to be rushed and to have the time to take in every second I headed into London early, arriving shortly after the doors had opened and walked straight in. To help prevent tickets being picked up and sold by touts, it was necessary to show photo ID to match the name printed on the ticket. Obviously this didn’t completely stop the extortionate reselling of tickets but at least whoever booked them had to attend.
After a quick drink and buying a programme, I took my seat and took in the atmosphere. I wouldn’t normally buy one these days but this is a work of art in itself and contains some fascinating insights into how the show came about and was put together so well it was worth picking up.
Add what a seat I had. Off to one side but only 7 rows back from the stage. I had an excellent view of everything although possibly a little low down to appreciate some of the lighting and effects being used on the stage floor but close enough to see every expression and nuance of the performance.
Although photography was not allowed at Kate’s request (something which I was pleased to see was well respected) I took this, not so great, picture before the show started which gives and idea how close I was.
What followed was almost three hours of the most mesmerising, thought provoking, evocative and emotional visual presentation to the music that I have ever seen.
The show started pretty much like a standard gig, a selection of songs performed in a normal stage setting with backing band and lights and I was just staring, daring myself not to blink so that I could absorb what was happening. I think it was about four songs in when I was hit by the emotion of it all after such a long wait to hear that still perfect voice and a few tears were shed.
Then came a section of pure artistry and theater based around the piece The Ninth Wave from the Hounds of Love album. The stage was set up like the hull of a sunken ship, the band out the way behind and the space in front being used to recreate the sea upon which the actors played out the story. There was even a drone flying around the ceiling with a searchlight during the bits illustrating a helicopter search.
What we were seeing on stage was the “dream” element of the story while a video of Kate floating in water was played out on the screen behind as the “reality” part of the piece. This was a clever way of keeping the elements apart and one that was utilised in the second half too.
On record The Ninth Wave is already an emotional piece about someone stranded at sea waiting for and wondering if they’ll be rescued. To see this acted out and stunningly interpreted in this way was amazing. There was no sound from the audience, everyone completely mesmerized by it all.
Kate may be older and not able to do the dance moves she once did, and I am aware there have been some write ups of the shows criticising this but expecting such things was always going to be ridiculous, as was expecting just a “greatest hits” set. Kate is a visual and audio artist and there is no doubting her gift of interpreting music through visuals and movement and she did this as well as she ever has. Part concert, part theater, an experience like no other.
After a much needed interval to let my brain file away everything it had just experienced, the second half was based around the music that forms the title of this write up, and which gives a good description of how wonderful the whole thing was.
This is from the album Aerial and I have to admit I was not as familiar with this as I should have been and therefore I didn’t get as much from this part of the show as I would have liked. Reading the notes in the programme afterwards explained a lot but again we had the use of lighting, video and live action to interpret the ideas of the piece, including a beautiful wooden puppet which was walked around the stage interacting with everyone. This all went to highlight the difference between a dream world created by a painter and the real world in an incredibly inventive way.
The encore consisted of just two songs. The first saw Kate on her own at the piano, the classic combination that has delighted so many for so many years. Her voice, yes it’s changed, still has the clarity and unique character to it that is undeniably her and this was a few minutes where I closed my eyes and just listened with no distractions as chills ran up and down my spine.
And the final song, Cloudbusting. Possibly my favourite and yes, I’m afraid I did know it was coming. This got everyone on their feet joining in with the chanting at the end. Incredible. I’ve no idea what previous audiences have been like but Kate seemed to be genuinely taken aback by the outpouring of warmth and enthusiasm.
She’s an artist who, like my previous write up about Pink Floyd, divides opinion but is someone who is always unique, has forged her own path and has amazing vision and for a few hours we were brought into her world like no other show I’ve been to.