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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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  1. Thank you, Bradley. You made me feel the anticipation and the joy of what it must have been like. And I know every song she played, so to me, it would have been like a greatest hits show.


  2. Thank you so much for sharing your moments of pleasure! It goes so far beyond just a set list or review; it's great to feel how it feels. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

  3. Will this wind blow us all away?

    Will this wind be so mighty as to lay low the mountains of the earth?