The sudden announcement that legendary UK singer Kate Bush will be undertaking her first ‘live’ gigs in thirty-five years (the Before The Dawn tour) took the media world by storm yesterday. As things stand, it seems that she will be playing 15 dates at what is now called London Eventim Apollo – but in my day was the Odeon Hammersmith – from 26th August 2014. Radio Five Live broke into its programming to flip to entertainment correspondent Colin Patterson’s breathless announcement of the news, within minutes the official Kate Bush website had allegedly crashed due to weight of traffic and there’s no doubt that tickets for the concerts will sell out within an hour of going on sale next Friday (28th March).
We all know versions of the Bush story.
Highly-talented – she hails from an artistic family – she taught herself piano at the age of eleven and by sixteen had written over 50 songs, including The Man with The Child in his Eyes. Some of her early demos reached David Gilmour the Pink Floyd guitarist through a mutual family friend and he paid for three to be re-recorded and sent to EMI Records, who immediately signed her. Fearing she was too young for exposure to the pressures of the music industry, they then waited two years until she left school at eighteen before releasing her debut album The Kick Inside in 1978.
The rest is history.
Bush retains a unique position in British pop music. Nobody denies the quality and appeal of her music and she remains a key icon to women generally – particularly those of her own generation.
In an era when the majority of females in UK pop were overwhelmingly decorative, fluffy and wholesome – think Pickettywitch, Tina Charles, Bucks Fizz, Three Degrees or Olivia Newton-John et al. – Kate Bush was a ‘serious’ musician. She was also clearly possessed of a ‘kooky’, artistic, uncompromising, artistic temperament which tended to divide reactions along gender lines.
To men, she was something of an acquired taste – a whacky female with half a screw loose.
For women, this image was central to her appeal. Several ladies of my acquaintance are prepared to smile and confess that they spent large parts of their teens devising dance routines in devoted imitation of Kate Bush music videos, which they then performed (with the appropriate Bush track playing in the background) to each other, or occasionally to their long-suffering parents and/or any other adults on hand.
Adding to the great mass of women born between about 1960 and 1975, many millions of younger women have since become Kate Bush fans via radio plays, television repeats and YouTube.
Interestingly, it seems to me, part of the adrenalin and excitement generated at the news of this tour comes from a fear factor.
In her heyday – say roughly between 1978 and 1990 – Kate Bush’s image was that of a slightly batty but intriguingly sensuous and sexually-attractive female who sang original and complex ‘strong but feminine’ songs. She was one of the few female musicians who controlled her own music and ploughed her own furrow, rather than cow-towed to any of the standard sexist preconceptions the music industry tended to impose.
Is she still that same person, hewn from the same stone?
My National Rush colleague Jane Shillingford, whom I spoke to by telephone yesterday and happily declares herself a Kate Bush fanatic, had some pertinent comments to offer on this theme.
Whilst determined to acquire tickets for this new Kate Bush tour, she harbours slight misgivings about the whole enterprise. Try as she might, she told me she cannot help instinctively expecting the 2014 Kate Bush to emerge in the flesh as if untouched by the past thirty-five years of Time.
She describes it not as a case of wishing to turn back the decades and relive her youth … but a longing for proof that, if the legend that is Kate Bush remains untouched by the ageing process – like some real-life portrait of Dorian Gray – then so shall she.
In the next breath, Jane admitted to her fear that, at the age of fifty-five, Kate Bush will emerge on the stage of the London Eventim Apollo this summer as a still-attractive but chubby middle-aged mum, which of course is what she now is. That walk-on in itself could destroy the hopes and dreams of a million women the world over.
Talent is one thing but, of course, image is another. When the two come perfectly together, you have a superstar in the making.
I could see exactly what Jane was getting at. Referring to my own perspective and era, how would it have been if a now 71 year-old Jimi Hendrix, instead of having died in 1970, had put in an appearance playing the fool in some sketch for the Sports Relief telethon last night?
Sometimes the act of dying young is an excellent career move – if you can forgive the crassness of that statement.
Watching the idols of our youth grow decrepit and old can be a sobering reminder of life’s frailties. On the other hand, of course, ageing happens to everyone and what’s to be afraid of in that?
For those who are fans, or who wish to be reminded of what all the fuss was about, here are two examples of Kate Bush at her peak, on the album Hounds Of Love (1985):