It All Started with Lily…
Kate Bush’s Before the Dawn at Five
MAYBE I should ration my Kate Bush-related features…
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush performing on stage (in 2014) in Before the Dawn/PHOTO CREDIT: Ken McKay/Rex Features
to single figures next year but, when it comes to anniversaries and talking about important events, one just has to get involved. I will write one more feature – marking thirty years of The Sensual World in October – this year but I cannot believe it has been five years since Kate Bush brought the world Before the Dawn. I recall when tickets went on sale on 21st March, 2014. In fact, those were for fans who had signed up to her website: the general public had to wait until 28th March. I was not signed up to her website but, as I had to work the day tickets were available, I missed out. Tickets sold out in fifteen minutes! It is amazing to think that a concert run could sell out that quickly but, as it was thirty-five years since Bush hit the stage in such a fashion, one could understand the fever! The Hammersmith Apollo is a venue Bush has always had affection for. Not only does it have proscenium arches – it was formerly a cinema – but it is close to where she lives; she performed a few dates to end her The Tour of Life in 1979. The Hammersmith Apollo is a great space and one Bush clearly feels at home in. I will discuss her legendary tour soon but, in 2014, few were expecting Bush to return to the stage. Since 1979, she had played a few times but they were one-offs or rare appearances.
There had been nothing on the scale of The Tour of Life since 1979. That tour took Bush through the U.K. and around the world. In 2014, there was no way Bush was going to repeat that process. She loved the original experience but was fatigued by touring and the fact that, in many ways, it was like a touring circus: she would pack up the stage and props from one location and then they would be moved to the next – this was quite rigorous and, as she was not keen on travelling, this time around it has to be the one location. It meant there were no stresses regarding moving around and she could remain in a venue she knew and was familiar in. That said, as she discussed with Matt Everitt in 2016, she was terrified each night; the fear of remembering her lines and getting everything right did not elude her until the final performance! I will also talk about the live recording of Before the Dawn that was released in 2016 but for those who were lucky enough to be at one of the twenty-two shows in 2014 witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. You can find more information concerning The Tour of Life and the sheer effort that went into it. Bush has joked in interviews, as I said, that it was like a circus act. Such was the scale and grandeur of the tour that is left critics’ jaws dropped.
After releasing two albums in the space of a year in 1978 – her debut, The Kick Inside and Lionheart – there was a desire for Bush to control something; to have a big input into something this big. She felt her first two albums were okay but she did not have enough say and, maybe, they were not as good as they could have been. The preparations and rehearsals were rigorous. Unlike standard concerts of the time, The Tour of Life was replete with set changes, incredible choreography and a mix of mime, dance; the fantastical and poetic. Bush did not say much during the shows because it was a very planned and constructed set. If there was a lack of audience interaction, the performances could not be faulted. This was a spectacle that had not been seen perform; an extravaganza that took her work to new levels and broke new ground. The very nature of what a gig could be changed. Bush’s grand visions and groundbreaking nature – she was the first to use a wireless/head mic – inspired other artists and has gone down in musical history. There were a number of reasons why Bush did not take to the stage sooner. Her song, Albert, sort of changed her mind and gave her the courage to get back on the stage. Consider the effort and work required to realise The Tour of Life. The energy-draining sets were spectacular to watch but sapped Bush; she wanted to concentrate on making music and other stuff got in the way. There are other reasons why she did not tour again but something clicked prior to 2014.
Having been immersed in recording prior to Before the Dawn – she released Director’s Cut and 50 Words for Snow in 2011 – she was keen to try something new and move on. Whereas The Tour of Life took material from her first two albums (and the odd new song), the bulk of the material for Before the Dawn was taken from 1985’s Hounds of Love and 2005’s Aerial: two albums with concepts/suites that she could link and explore on the stage. There were similarities between The Tour of Life and Before the Dawn. With multi-media effects and a mix of shadows, dancers and puppets, it was another chocked and evocative set that also brought in filmed sequences – Bush spent three days in a flotation tank for filmed scenes played during the performance (she got ill as a result and got a ticking-off from her doctor!). Also featuring dialogue written by author David Mitchell, it was a typically bold and spellbinding Bush show. There were some flaws – some of the scripted, filmed scenes fell flat; not all of the set/props choices worked – but one cannot argue with the reviews. The Guardian had two tastes and, in both reviews, could not fail to be impressed by Bush. Kitty Empire’s review was full of praise:
“Other than the woofers and what sound like a few more tweeters in Aerial's birdsong passages, there has been precious little messing with Bush's music at all. Her energies have gone into staging the visuals that tell the stories of two song-suites, The Ninth Wave (about a woman lost at sea, and the horror of being parted from loved ones), from the 1985 album The Hounds of Love, and A Sky of Honey, the second half of 2005's Aerial (about the play of light in midsummer). At one point there are 20-odd people on stage. Subtle rearrangements can suit a voice that's lost its elasticity. That stage management is not needed here. At the end of three hours of untrammelled theatricality punctuated by skits (written by novelist David Mitchell), what is truly thrilling about Kate Bush's comeback is how little her voice – or her essence – have changed.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush photoed in 2005/PHOTO CREDIT: Trevor Leighton/National Portrait Gallery, London
This is an emphatically rehearsed production which draws heavily on moving scenery, startling stagecraft – a “helicopter” strafes the crowd in a botched rescue attempt during The Ninth Wave – and surprisingly scary costumes. Fish People is the handle of Bush’s website and record label, and the fish skeletons that populate the drowning dream sequences of The Ninth Wave are the stuff of gothic nightmares. Media are mixed. Infamously, Bush was filmed earlier at Pinewood Studios singing in a tank of water, buoyed by a blinking life vest, for this act. On the video she looks less like Ophelia, and colder and wearier than you might expect”.
Alexis Petridis was similarly blown away:
“For someone who's spent the vast majority of her career shunning the stage, she's a hugely engaging live performer, confident enough to shun the hits that made her famous in the first place: she plays nothing from her first four albums.
The staging might look excessive on paper, but onstage it works to astonishing effect, bolstering rather than overwhelming the emotional impact of the songs. The Ninth Wave is disturbing, funny and so immersive that the crowd temporarily forget to applaud everything Bush does. As each scene bleeds into another, they seem genuinely rapt: at the show's interval, people look a little stunned. A Sky of Honey is less obviously dramatic – nothing much happens over the course of its nine tracks – but the live performance underlines how beautiful the actual music is.
Already widely acclaimed as the most influential and respected British female artist of the past 40 years, shrouded in the kind of endlessly intriguing mystique that is almost impossible to conjure in an internet age, Bush theoretically had a lot to lose by returning to the stage. Clearly, given how tightly she has controlled her own career since the early 80s, she would only have bothered because she felt she had something spectacular to offer. She was right: Before The Dawn is another remarkable achievement”.
I am a bit gutted not to have been in the audience for one of the Before the Dawn dates. Like me, go and buy the live album and you are treated to a pretty memorable experience. I love the excitement in Bush’s voice and the impassionate roar from the audience. The performances are tight, stunning and will stay with you for a very long time. Like the show itself, the Before the Dawn album received cracking reviews. Consequence of Sound had this to say:
“While it’s tempting to look at this as an endpoint — a final and well-deserved victory lap — Bush has described this album as “a rather big comma.” This isn’t the end, apparently, and nor should it be. If anything, Before the Dawn is living, breathing proof that Bush still has the creative prowess and unique sensibilities that made her a superstar in the first place.
Like most live albums, this is not essential listening for new or casual fans. However, for dedicated fans, both those who could and could not attend the run of shows, it is a reminder of the still very potent lust for life that Bush has always exhibited in her music, art, and personality. It’s a reminder that fear can be conquered in the most ambitious and uplifting way, that fear does not define who we are”.
Celebrating and remembering the incredible Before the Dawn makes happy because it was great to see Bush back on the stage. Many asked why she did not return sooner but there are reasons for it – including the fact she started a family and The Tour of Life was quite an exhausting experience. Whilst it is unlikely Bush will take to the stage again like she did in 2014, maybe there will be a gig in the future. Who knows? You can never rule anything out with Kate Bush but, whilst we wait to see where she heads next, let us remember the magical moment Kate Bush took to the stage…