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Friday, September 23, 2016

Revisiting Before The Dawn: Part 5, The Moon Waxes...

At the start of Act Two of Kate Bush's Before the Dawn we were basking under A Sky of Honey, but now the sun has set on that lovely afternoon.

Aerial Tal

Nature is heading towards an uneasy rest. The menace that stalked the puppet-boy Tesoro as he entered this world is back and it's sharpening its claws. The birds are singing to mark the transformation into night. Kate knows their song, she duets with them. All of the birds are laughing, Tesoro laughs along. If singing with birds brings this much joy, what must it be like to fly with them...

Somewhere In Between
"This is where the shadows come to play,
Twixt the day and night..."
From the top of the highest hill Kate is observing the waxing and waning, as the dark chases the final chinks of light away.

The Painter is there capturing the fading glimmers, soaking up the last drops of pigment. Some days are hard to let go, to accept that they are ending, so we cling to them, cherishing the beauty, the love, before the ticking and tocking clock caries us away.
"Good night sun..."

Tawny Moon
"I'll give every cloud a silver lining, every star will be bright and shining..."
Night is not an absence of light, but the playground of other celestial powers. The Painter knows this is no time to sleep, there is a rare beauty he must capture. The moon tonight is wearing the sun's clothes, it has stolen traces of its orange, its yellow. This tawny moon is up to mischief and the Painter will capture its essence, ignoring the aches and blisters it costs him.

"She wrote the book of love then threw it away.
You better all behave when Luna takes the stage." 
The Painter whirls, the moon rises transcendent. He sings her his love song. She calls to him, he cannot resist. The melody ticks to mark the passing hours. The moon and time are intrinsic allies, they create the cycles that all of nature must obey.
"She comes, she goes... she goes, she comes,
Oh my love, my love, my Luna, Queen of Bedlam."
The Painter draws us into his obsession, we also feel the pull of the satellite, we tingle as he whoops and reels. This madness is contagious. As the Painter collapses, spent from his devotion, we admire the nightscape he has conjured into being. The moon is our mistress now.


It is not only the Painter who has succumbed to the moon's advances. Kate has driven to the ocean, shed her clothes on the beach and now stands in the milky, silky water, looking up at a diamond sky.

"The stars are caught in our hair,
The stars are on our fingers..."
The majesty of the nocturnal panorama sweeps away our cares, gives us shelter from the harsh light of day. We dive down into the depths, a memory forms... a blackbird flails, a stone is tied around our leg... is this the same woman that survived the Celtic Deep? Is this her promised future or the past dragging her back under...

"It came up... on the horizon..."

We surface from the waves, just as the sky is at its darkest, just before the dawn...
"Bright, white, coming alive..."
This is a battle the night cannot win, light seeps into every pixel, flooding the sea with honey. A glimmer, a flicker, a glint, a flare, light constantly in movement. A new day.
"All the time its a changing and all the dreamers are waking..."


The cock crows. The bells ring. Nature red in tooth and claw, blood red that paints the sky. Tesoro is pulled into the hunt, on his hands and knees, feasting with the birds.
"Bring it. Shake it down. Bring it on. Let it in."
This is a dark mirror of the joyous call of Prologue, this sun is harsh, it melts the flowers and its song must be sung.
"I feel I want to be up on the roof..."
The birds call to Kate once more, this time her voice won't be enough to satisfy them. She feels the urge to find higher ground, to touch the sky.
"All of the birds are laughing, come on let's all join in..."
Kate is giving herself to the transformation. Feathers start to sprout, see her beautiful wings.

The dawn has come and the light is revealing all, the hidden costs of survival, the price that nature demands for living. The guitars have become birds, they chirp and coo, chatter and cheep. Kate circles the bird guitarist, a rite of transformation. See her beautiful wings, she's dying to try them.

An air of madness takes hold, the bedlam of birds. The doors to the other world reappear, trees erupt from the ground, crashing through the piano, Tesoro runs in wonder and panic. The guitar birds are squawking and whooping, they rise with the dawn rays. The drums grow more urgent, as if they know this journey of light has reached its zenith. Kate surrenders to the call of the birds, the doors fly open and she soars into the air, taking flight on her beautiful wings.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Revisiting Before The Dawn: Part 4, The Light Changes...

After the trauma and rescue of The Ninth Wave, we are all waiting to see what world Kate Bush would conjure for us in Act Two of Before the Dawn. At first it seems as if darkness still prevails. Snow is falling. An imposing set of doors dominates the stage, a small puppet child walks through them, passing into our world. He second guesses the decision, but it is too late: the doors slam in his face.


The puppet, let's call him Tesoro, searches around, looking for his parents. Something is there, calling to him.
"The day is full of birds."
Tesoro thinks he can understand these creatures, talk to them even. Perhaps this new world isn't so frightening after all.

But then the mood shifts. There is danger here. Nature is beautiful, yes, but it is cruel too. These birds may mean him harm. Just when fear begins to overwhelm him, Tesoro hears another voice beckon him...
"Over here. Over here."


Kate is waiting at the piano with the band. Tesoro walks over to investigate. Kate sings, soothes. It's going to be so good now; what a lovely afternoon it has become.

The summer light has now fully banished the cold and dark: the stage is bathed in golden rays. The lark ascends. This light is on a journey, bringing traces of distant landscapes it has touched, dancing rays from Italy. The birds speak the language of light; they sing to it, responding to its arc across this sky of honey.

"The mistle thrush and wood pigeon, the chaffinch and the robin, 
the blackbird and the siskin, 
like golden light dripping... and golden bells..."

The Prologue we knew has been transformed into an extended celebration of summer. Bells are ringing, echoing from a sensual world. Kate is joined by a Chorus, together they engage in full circle ringing, as birds take flight across the stage in slow-motion majesty.

"Ring it, shake it down, bring it on, let it in."

I feel exhilarated, bells and birdsong ring in my ears, my heart catching every beat of the exultant percussion and rapturous bass. The quality of the musicians Kate has assembled is now fully evident; this is her symphony and this orchestra is ideally constructed to fully realise her concept.

"What a lovely afternoon, what a lovely afternoon. Oh will you come with us, 
to find the song of the oil and the brush..."

An Architect's Dream

Kate takes Tesoro's hand and they walk out into the afternoon sun. They happen upon a Painter who is working on a huge canvass, filling half the stage. He looks a bit like Bertie.

The Painter is not keen on being watched. Tesoro and Kate keep their distance, carefully admiring the creation, the chiaroscuro. The light is constantly changing, the sky flickers as brush strikes canvass. But is the Painter simply observing, or does he have the power to transform this sky? Is this piece of work we see him forming cause or effect? Accident or design?

The Painter's Link
"It's raining. What has become of my painting?"
All of the Painter's hard work is in danger of being undone. His painstakingly placed dabs are beginning to run with the raindrops. But this is no disaster, just one more transformation.

"See what they have become..."
Kate and her Chorus rally to the Painter's aid. The light is changing, yes, the paint is merging, but this is simply a different creation. Now there are reds and oranges and yellows and pinks... a wonderful sunset...

"Who knows who wrote that song of summer that blackbirds sing at dusk?"
The diurnal journey is approaching its end, a vermilion descent alerting nature that it will soon be time to sleep, or to hunt. Kate serenades the sun, telling its story of crimson, red and rust, and of goodbyes.

This carmine light has danced in from Spain, it sets the song aflame, a flamenco farewell to the sun. The compás sweeps us all along, we add palmas fuertes, bailamos...
"The day writes the words right across the sky,
they go all the way up to the top of the night."

What a lovely afternoon. We have followed the sunlight, marveled at its many aspects, watched as it transfigured the fabric of time. But this day is not over yet. There is another power at work, waiting to take the stage. After all, it is always darkest...

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Revisiting Before The Dawn: Part 3, The Wave Crashes...

"The screen is reality, the stage... the dream."
The storm that blew Kate Bush from the stage has left disaster in its wake. A ship, the Celtic Deep is sinking. Its May Day call has been picked up by an astronomer watching a meteor shower from Church Rock. We can see him projected onto a shimmering screen that hides the stage. He's radioed the coastguard and is trying to get them to investigate, but the message was very "staticky", so the details he has are sketchy. The astronomer begs the coastguard to send help, he knows there are souls in peril and he fears he may be their only hope.
"I think these people are depending on me... I'm the only one who heard them... please, do you understand... hello, hello, can you hear me... over..."
The screen rises, the stage is empty... wait... what are they? Fish? Or people? Another screen appears, we fly across sea, searching the rippling waves. There's someone in the water.
"Little light, shining..."
Trevor Leighton
And Dream of Sheep

Kate appears on the screen, she is floating on her back, the tiny red light on her lifejacket is blinking. You can hear the cold in her voice as she sings, she has clearly been there for some time. This voice is older, more vulnerable and careworn than the one that sang this same song all those decades ago. This voice has seen life, has loved and has lost. Now here she is, all alone in the dark. She is on the edge of giving up, exhausted from the fight to stay afloat, to stay alive. She needs to rest, she seeks escape from this reality and the stage is waiting, ready to welcome her into its dreamscape... Kate sinks under the water, a shiver runs down my spine.

Under Ice

These skeletal hosts, let's call them Fish People, circle the stage; this is their domain - half wave, half wreck.

Other seafarers wander in, could they be stranded too? The Fish People welcome Kate, they remove her lifejacket, she won't be needing that here. Kate spots a sofa, a lamp, a TV, they seem familiar to her.

A memory begins to form, of that time the river froze over. Kate starts to skate, captured by her past. The others there are drawn in, as if hypnotised. They mimic Kate's motions, until they all are skating in formation.

There's something moving under the ice. Kate screams out, recognising herself, trapped below. The Fish People drag her away. The other seafarers attempt a rescue, trying to smash the ice, but it's too thick. They find a chainsaw and try to cut through. Finally they manage to break the surface and it is Kate they pull from the water.

Waking the Witch

As Kate surfaces in the dreamscape on stage, so she manages to reemerge from the depths in the reality portrayed on the film screen. As she once more floats on the waves, voices call out to her, trying to get her to open her eyes, to wake up. Her past is dragging her down, back into the deep.

This time Kate wakes up to find herself on trial, accused of being a witch. Those who had helped her survive the ice are now turning on her, pulling her back into the court of the Fish People, who watch her every move carefully from the sofa.

Kate throws herself at the mercy of a priest, but he has already judged her guilty. She struggles with him, but the other seafarers intervene, taking Kate to face her sentence. There is a simple test for witchery: if the woman drowns she is innocent, but if she survives... Kate is once more forced back under the water, for a second we think she has fought her way back, but it's not her... it's a blackbird, its wings flailing, desperately trying to fly free, but it too quickly sinks below.

Just when things seem hopeless, a bright light beams down. A helicopter flies around the auditorium, searching for Kate. We hear from the pilot that all her fellow passengers and crew have been rescued from the wreck of the Celtic Deep, only she remains unaccounted for. But there is still a chance she could be found...

Watching You Without Me

Back in the dreamscape the Fish People have gathered bits of broken ship and created a portal into the real world. Through it they are watching a father and son banter about portfolios, toad-in-the-hole and footie. They're waiting for mum to come home, she's late. The Fish People regard these humans like we might watch fish in a bowl, mildly fascinated by the banal comings and goings of a different species. There's a sofa, a lamp, TV, all somehow familiar. The men settle down to watch the match, their dinner on trays on their laps. Dad pushes the door closed and suddenly there is Kate in the room with them, but they can't see her.

Having faced down her past, Kate must now connect with her present to find the will to survive. She tries to touch them, to communicate, but to no avail. She sees them get a phone call, she knows it's about her, she can't comfort them or get them to see she is there....

Kate is pulled back into reality, she wakes with a start.

"Let me live! Let me live!"

She screams for rescue, my blood runs cold. I want to dive in and save her, give her the warmth from my body and breath from my lungs. The little light is shining, sometimes white, sometimes red. The piano plays gentle chords, something is trying to break through this darkness, like a glimpse of sunlight from a lovely afternoon...

Jig of Life

Having found her reason to live, Kate must reach out to the old lady she will become. Half in reality, half in dream, Kate sings, calling for her future to reach back and rescue her. The old woman brings life with her and a dance, a jig to keep the tug of the water at bay. But the Fish People are not done yet, they are not ready to let their prize return to reality. They call forth wave after wave, each mightier than the last. Strong, white waves, that roll across the stage, waves of satin driven by a team of white horses.

Kate is still trapped between reality and this dreamscape. She clings to the glimpse of her life that is to come.

"I put this moment here."

The voice of a loved one breaks through the dream, a brother, calling to his sister to give a kiss on the wind, then they'll make the land. Kate can taste her destiny, but will the Fish People let her leave their domain?

Hello Earth

Kate has raced the white horses and found a buoy, something solid to cling to in the deep blackness of the sea. She calls out to the earth, pleading to be seen. There is something bright in the sky, traveling fast.

"Just look at it go... just look at it go..."

The part of Kate still trapped in the dream has also found a buoy, the mirror of the one in the real world. Some of the other seafarers trapped there are already clinging to it, waving flares, faltering red light that barely penetrates the dark. Kate climbs on to the buoy. She sings...

"Hello earth, hello earth."

All the emotions I have fought to hold inside now come flooding out. Tears stream down my face. I weep for this woman, long for her rescue, but fear it is too late. The Fish People have come for Kate, they rise up out of the inky waves that lap around the buoy and catch her as she falls back into their arms. They slowly bear Kate away, carrying her down into the auditorium, a mournful chant underlining the impending sense of doom.

All other photos: Ken McKay/REX
Just when I dread that the worst has happened, my eyes flash to the screen once more. A hand reaches down from the sky, another reaches up from the waves and clasps it.

The Morning Fog

Dawn has broken, light is bleeding, breathing, speaking. The musicians, dancers, singers and Fish People sway around the stage. Kate returns from the wings to lead this celebration of survival, of second chances. The love that this fellowship feel for one another is evident in the smiles they share. They dance, play, sing, leading us out of that deep darkness. The audience sways along with them, our emotions wracked, but our souls light with joy. For a moment we are even cloudbusting (yay-yay-yay-yoh). Kate sings her thanks to her loved ones, her sisters, her brothers, her son. Then the final notes are plucked and the song is over.

Kate thanks us for being such an incredible audience, we can't believe she doesn't understand how lucky we are to be there. What an incredible show, what amazing artistry, what bravery and ambition. But wait, there's more? Apparently this was all only Act One. After a short break, Kate and the Fellowship will be back. What could be coming next? A red silk screen drops to cover the stage, on it, a single white feather...

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Friday, September 2, 2016

Revisiting Before The Dawn: Part 2, The Storm Rises...

Kate Bush had already performed four shows in her 22-date residency at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith by the time it was my turn to witness Before the Dawn. I was determined to stay spoiler-free, which meant no internet, no social media and no news for a week. The task was harder than I thought, as nearly all the UK newspapers had Kate splashed over their front pages the day after opening night.

[Ken McKay/Rexfeatures]

This image was everywhere and I glimpsed enough of the headlines to know that the show had been well-received. Miraculously, this remained my only spoiler up until I took my seat, two years ago tonight, alongside my husband and two of the best Bush-obsessed chums anyone could ask for, Amanda and Michelle. All four of us were suffering from varying degrees of hysteria, but, being British, were trying to maintain an air of normalcy.

The atmosphere in the Apollo was like a volcano on the point of eruption. Many faces betrayed the disbelief that this was really happening to us, a deeper understanding passing between us fans about just how immense this moment was. The stage was bathed in blue light and the band's instruments were ready and waiting. It looked a fairly traditional set up, but I somehow knew this was only the starting point for our journey into Kate's imagination. We were sat in the stalls, centre and about a dozen rows from the stage, which I hoped would give us a perfect view of the wonders about to unfold.

Our selfie outside the Apollo
At 7.30pm on the dot the lights dimmed. An eerie sound echoed around the auditorium... then we hear an incantation...


Lily's protection ritual spreads its magic throughout the audience. As she completes the spell and the band kicks in, the cap of the volcano is breached. Kate walks on stage, leading her band of backing singers, including her son, Bertie. A great wave of joy, relief, excitement, ecstasy and love rises from the audience and crashes onto the stage. In the many hundreds of concerts I have attended in my lifetime, nothing has matched the intensity of this reunion.

Kate leads her troupe in a circle, leaving them stage right, before taking position front and centre. She is wearing all black, with a jacket that has long fringe attached to the sleeves. Her hair is dark and wild and flows down her back. Her feet are bare. She surveys us. She absorbs the adoration. She sings.

As Kate calls forth her four guardian angels, they appear as shafts of light: before, behind, to the right, to the left. It wouldn't be surprising if angels actually appeared, so divine does this moment feel.

Kate is really there, on stage. Her voice as enthralling live as it is on record. The band she has hand-picked and nurtured are creating a glorious sound, that permeates every atom. I try and catch a breath, to move, but my brain is trying to freeze time, or at least slow it down so it can capture every second.

Later, my husband would say that seeing Kate in the flesh felt like seeing Santa Claus come to life. A mythic, mystical figure, beloved, but somehow you would never get to meet. Of course, Kate is no fantasy, but in that moment, I knew what he meant.

In fact, Kate was far from the remote recluse the media portrays. She was warm, chatty, welcoming, and so humble and grateful throughout it made me proud to call myself a Kate Bush fan.

Hounds of Love

The final chords of Lily are still resonating when Bertie warns us: "it's in the trees... it's coming..."

I was pretty sure that Before the Dawn would not consist of Kate standing in front of a band and singing her hits, but maybe I was wrong. There is no doubt that such a show would be compelling, but I still suspected Kate was intending to scratch a visually creative itch with this production. This second track was a fairly straight performance of one of her most beloved songs, with the winsome barking of the backing singers a strange delight.

This was a director's cut of Hounds of Love, with Kate adding some space to the frenetic pace of the original track, allowing the chorus to breathe. She calls on her lover to "never let me go, tie me to the mast", expanding the sense of succumbing to love. It was fascinating to finally hear Kate evolving her compositions for the live stage.

If you still doubt that the occasion was overwhelming, one of my favourite memories of the night is having a medicinal gin in the bar afterwards and Michelle saying "I wish she'd done Hounds of Love". You have to be pretty far gone to miss an entire song!


Kate only released one single from her 2005 album, Aerial, but if there had been another it might well have been this atmospheric depiction of Joan of Arc leading her troops on the battlefield. Three songs in and it feels like the initial nerves, both on stage and off, have settled. Kate is in imperious form, perfectly recreating the complex vocal, proving beyond doubt that her unique instrument pours from her, no product of studio trickery.

It's also becoming clear that this set is something of a pre-show, a chance for everyone to get over the fact that this is "Kate Bush live on stage". We can see that this fellowship that Kate has assembled is first class, the band are adding new dimensions to Kate's arrangements, producing layers of gorgeous sound. The singers are weaving around Kate, their voices merging beautifully. This is a labour of love, toiled over for us lucky few to relish.

Artwork created for Before the Dawn by Timorous Beasties
Top of the City

OK, this is definitely not a greatest hits show. Fourth song in and only one single so far. I'm beginning to suspect Kate was thinking "what would I enjoy singing every night" rather than worrying about whether anyone would recognise it. Not that anybody in the audience was complaining, this album track was greeted with the same screams as if the band had played the opening notes of Babooshka!

If you don't know Top of the City, it is a tale of failing love, wrapped in obsession and recklessness. Originally from The Red Shoes, Kate reworked it for her Director's Cut album, but I always thought that version was way too similar to the original. But here Kate finally seems to get under the skin of the song, adding a looping refrain between verse and chorus that underlines the tension and the longing in the lyrics.

Another memory from this number is how the bank of lights at the back of the stage that would punctuate key moments in the songs, swept up into the audience as the crescendo crashes at the start of each verse. I'm pretty sure Kate took the opportunity to look at the faces out there in the dark. In that moment did she smile, remembering how worried she had been that anyone would be interested in seeing her play live after all these years...

Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)

Everybody knows the sound of the drone that signals the start of one of Kate's biggest hits, and so it was that the crowd went berserk as it seeped into our ears. A scattered green laser formed a symbolic hill and those old enough were transported back thirty years to Kate dancing in unison with a gorgeous man in a high-windowed room. We all knew every note, every syllable. But this time Kate was singing it for us. We were there as she conjured the deal, as the love and pain and frustration spilled out. As the track climbed to its climax we clapped along to the beat, becoming part of the fabric of the song, creating this unique and ephemeral version that belonged to all of us.

King of the Mountain

The wind it blows, signalling a change in the weather. All seems calm at first, Kate ruminates on fame and fortune, wondering if Elvis still lives, free from scrutiny, atop a mountain of happiness. But as the song progresses, we can feel electricity charging the air. 

The wind it blows, there's a storm rising. Kate's vocal becomes more urgent, more visceral. The band's playing intensifies, as if they are trying to conjure a hurricane. 

The wind it blows, or is it a bird? The song extends, breaking out of its studio confines. Kate let's rip, is she warning us or embracing the oncoming storm?

The wind it blows... the wind it blows... there's a storm rising... there's a storm rising... there's a storm rising...

Then Kate is gone. Will this wind blow us all away?

A clap of thunder.

A bullroarer chases the storm away, then an explosion of golden confetti falls upon us, like the foam of a mighty wave...

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