Do you ever have those moments where you feel like are witnessing a piece of history and that you are one of very few lucky people to do so? Well having the opportunity to see Kate Bush’s new show ‘Before the Dawn’ live in London was one of those moments for me. I often lament the fact that I will never see bands like the Beatles or the Smiths play live; that these are fragments of musical history that I have, as part of my generation, missed out on. I may not have been waiting 35 years like some of her most avid fans but I was just as excited and understood the significance of these shows now playing briefly in the Hammersmith Apollo in London.
(Note: As photography was not allowed in the venue, I have shared some photos from the programme. This programme is a beautiful collector’s item, superbly designed with Kate’s voice and vision ringing through to inform us of how the show was envisioned and brought to the stage. I wrote this piece before reading the details of both theatrical shows in the programme in order to preserve my own interpretation)
The Apollo in itself is a charismatic venue. Despite having been newly refurbished, it still encapsulates the presence of an experienced and mature building. It takes the visage of an old style movie theatre with sweeping red carpets and high ceilings scattered with old worldly chandeliers. We arrived at around 7.20 with the show to be begin at 7.45. We were in our seats at 7.30, about ten rows back and to the left of stage. But unfortunately 7.45 came and went. So did 8 o clock. At around 8.05 there was an announcement that there was a power supply problem to the building and we would be informed of the shows’ start time shortly. Then it became apparent we had been ushered into a theatre with no power. It made sense why we could not see our seat numbers because there was no main lights on, only backup emergency flood lights.
By 8.30 and two vodkas later I had a distinct sinking feeling that we may have flown over to London for nothing. The audience, also agitated by the lack of news, commenced sporadic accelerated clapping, with one particularly rowdy older gentlemen standing up to curse at the stage.
Suddenly without warning the huge chandeliers of the theatre lit up to a chorus of amplified cheers with the show to begin in 20 minutes.
I don’t know if it was the hour and twenty minute wait, the excess drinks consumed before the show or perhaps the sheer possibility that we might not get to see Kate Bush on that particular evening but the crowd was electric. We were giddy to the point where Kate herself seemed excited and humbled. A serial Kate Bush concert attendee commented on Twitter that of the four shows he had attended, this was by far the most energetic crowd.
At 9.05, an hour and twenty minutes late, Kate emerged on stage to a raucous standing ovation before she had even begun.
The show takes the form of three parts and an encore. The first section lulls the crowd into a traditional concert setting. Kate plays some of her well known songs (Hounds of Love, Running up that Hill) backed by a fantastic 5 piece band and four backing singers (that include her son Bertie). The reaction is superb with constant standing ovations and the audience is satisfied with just being in the same room as Kate.
I don’t know if any of us were prepared for what came next. Suddenly the stage is transformed into an underwater graveyard and we are launched into the second section entitled ‘The Ninth Wave’, a self contained theatrical production. I can only describe the next two sections as literal and theatrical visions of Kate’s music. This section acts out the second half of the album Hounds of love.
Hounds of Love has always been and perhaps always will be my favorite offering from Kate Bush. I love the incomprehensible madness of part two; the sheer experimentation and diversity of it. Did I ever have a clue what was going on? Not until now.
This theatrical segment opens with a video of a disgruntled astrologist out stargazing and overhearing a radio transmission from a boat in trouble out at sea. After pleading with the authorities to go and help them it seems his rescue attempts go unfounded. Cut to a haunting image of Kate Bush floating aimlessly in dark waters gazing up into the camera. And so begins the most beautiful version of ‘And Dream of Sheep’.
The plot continues with Kate entering some sort of underwater nightmare continuing with other classics of the album (both equally terrifying) ‘Under Ice’ and ‘Waking the Witch.’ By the end of the first half, we have been taken through an entire theatrical performance and I could barely believe we had another half to go.
The second half was calmer and focused upon Kate’s 2005 release ‘Aerial.’ The staging was superb with the band playing a more prominent role than that in ‘The Ninth Wave.’ The story charts the flow from afternoon, to dusk, to sunset, to night and into morning with the presence of birdsong and various characters. The most memorable characters were the childlike puppet, the painter and Kate herself transformed into the bird. Again the show works to visualise and conceptualise the stories that Kate was always trying to tell through her music but that we as an audience could only ever fathom. The song 'Sunset' really stands out in this section once again bringing the audience to their feet.
Much to my delight the entire cast arrives back on stage for the encore with a rousing performance of one of my favourite Kate songs ‘Cloudbusting.’ The crowd arose to their feet and the night ended in a unanimous and well versed chorus of ‘YEAH-Y-YEAH-Y-YEAH-OHHHHH.’ And that was it.
I am not sure I will ever see a live music show or theatrical show for that matter that comes close to topping that. The combination of the visual and musical was perfection and I am so happy for Kate as a person to be able to finally present her music in the way she always wanted. As my Mother so eloquently put it ‘there are no gimics… this is pure theatre.’ And as I would add; the show was
pure music and pure storytelling.