Like The Sun Coming Out: my evening with Kate Bush, by Craig Hanlon-Smith.
Such was the volcanic response from the audience at the Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday night, at the end of the first week of Kate Bush’s residency there, that her (assumed) comments of gratitude in between songs during the opening 30 minutes were inaudible above the applause, cheers and whistles of a tiny fraction of a fan base that stretched from ages 18 to 80. Standing as one of around 3000 fortunate ticket holders, it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that what we were experiencing on that late August evening in West London was akin to a collective spiritual if not religious experience.
The first 40 minutes of ‘Before The Dawn’ is a straightforward gig, but one that is wrapped in the artistic wizardry and mystique of an illustrious career within reach of its 40th anniversary. It takes me at least that time to appreciate that yes, it is really her, and yes she really is leading, as she described, “one shit-hot band” through a storming set list of hits and equally tremendous album tracks from 1985’s Hounds of Love, through The Red Shoes to her triumphant return to the fold Ariel, itself now almost ten years old. What a collection to choose from; how proud she must feel both to own and to have created such a wealth of material. There was many a grown man over forty amongst our number who during Running Up That Hill and King Of The Mountain openly wept.
The band – which includes two sets of drummers and percussionists, two sets of keyboards, four guitarists and five singers – ensures that her own theatrical production styles and both vocal and instrumental layering are brought to life with prowess and perfection. Had that been our lot, we’d have all returned to our lives thrilled, touched and exhilarated to have witnessed La Bush’s triumphant return to live performance; but the venue then shuddered into darkness amidst thunder, lightning and exploding cannons which drenched the audience in thousands of seemingly handwritten notes quoting Tennyson, announcing the theatrical interpretation of the 1985 concept suite The Ninth Wave.
What followed was a performance that befitted the international reputation of the Royal National Theatre or RSC, with sets of shipwrecks, a frozen ‘Under Ice’ living room which mirrored its mundane equivalent, and a host of characters ranging from a near-drowned crew to fantastical fish people. At the centre of every moment, physical, musical, vocal, was the auteur of it all, Kate Bush. As she was carried off into the deep leaving her cast and crew clutching a buoy battered by the onstage silk ocean, carried by fish people through the audience, I have never experienced such breathless silence from 3000 people collectively stunned into silence by the artistic mastery of all we had witnessed. The Ninth Wave performed in its entirety concluded with Bush returning to the stage with her troupe for The Morning Fog, acoustic, warm and inclusive, to conclude Act One. “You know what?” she sang with arms outstretched “I love you better, now” and we believed her completely.
Act Two brought more spectacle, her work with RSC director Adrian both detailed and awe inspiring. A Sky of Honey from Ariel is brought to life through the tale of a young artist, played by Kate’s son Albert McIntosh and a wooden boy puppet. Again the entire company and more portray blackbirds, artists and spirits, all the while maintaining a quality of performance you would expect from The Royal Opera House. Every moment, gesture, turn and note was carefully considered, choreographed and directed, and yet with such spontaneity and heart. What we are experiencing here is where art meets magic. If this is before the dawn, I am not sure I shall be able to cope once the sun comes out.
Our evening concludes with its curator, creator, director and author simply at the piano, delicately sharing Among Angels from her most recent release 50 Words For Snow, and the company return to the stage to lead 3000 disciples in a rousing Cloudbusting. We couldn’t have asked for more. She looked thrilled, as were we.
Did I mention that every song received its own standing ovation? that strangers hung on to one another for emotional support throughout? and that concluding the evening as she sang “I can see angels, standing around you”, so could we, Kate. And so could we.