Babooshka... Kate Bush is making a comeback on stage
If Elvis Presley was on the bill to play Electric Picnic it could hardly have generated more fuss than the news that Kate Bush is to play live for the first time since 1979, writes Tanya Sweeney
Published 30/03/2014 | 02:30
When Kate Bush appeared on The Late Late Show in March 1978, her rousing performance of 'Wuthering Heights' was followed by a breezy interview. She and Gay Byrne exchanged pleasantries about her mother, originally from Waterford, and how her family were already being 'bothered' by the public.
"So you've decided that music and showbiz is your career?" surmised Byrne. "Well music is for sure," replied the then-19-year-old. It became clear even then that a public life didn't appeal to Kate Bush one bit.
It's for this reason, among others (of which, more later) that on the spectrum of pop possibilities, a Kate Bush tour live show fell somewhere between Elvis playing the Electric Picnic and Jimmy Page releasing a Blur covers album. Which is precisely why this week's announcement of not one but 15 shows in London's mid-sized Hammersmith Apollo this summer has really kicked up some dust.
"On a scale of 1 to 10 how surprised was I? About a 9," laughs Phil Alexander, editor-in-chief with Mojo magazine. "She had made allusions to various things, but 15 shows in London ... I thought that was insane."
It's long been part of rock'n'roll lore – Kate Bush took to the road for one six-week tour in 1979. The Tour Of Life featured poetry, 15 nightly costume changes, magicians and untold amounts of theatricality. To the chagrin of fans, she hasn't toured since. Her last tour show on May 14, 1979, was at the Hammersmith Odeon (now, the Apollo, allowing for a return of sorts to the scene of the crime).
A number of factors are said to have been at play: some intimated that Kate wasn't a fan of flying. Others speculated that Kate was devastated after the accidental death of 21-year-old lighting director Bill Duffield during a warm-up show in Dorset. In a Mojo magazine interview in 2011, she recalled that touring was ''enormously enjoyable ... but physically it was absolutely exhausting''.
All of which begs the question: why now? At a time when the cut and thrust of the music industry requires artists to have a cast-iron constitution, why would the seemingly sensitive, fragile Kate Bush seek to do live shows?
At last count, Kate's personal fortune clocked in at around €36m. With that, Alexander is adamant that Kate's decision to take to the stage isn't financially driven. "Good God, no," he says. "She doesn't need the money. I think she just wants to try it and see how it is. I'm surprised she's going down this route, but no-one in music is getting any younger, and perhaps some musicians just take stock of where they are.
RTÉ radio presenter Dave Fanning is in agreement: "I'd say it's artistically founded," he says, referring to Kate's decision to appear on stage for the Before The Dawn shows. "She has released a couple of new albums down the years, and I would imagine there's a part of her that realises that she's never played these songs live, and she'd maybe like to play to a live audience who will appreciate it, not be in it for the Miley Cyrus-type spectacle."
Of course, thanks to that fateful 1979 tour, Bush has always been a sort of forerunner to the showy, high-octane likes of Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus. What way the Before The Dawn shows will play out, nobody knows.
"Her recording techniques have always been so dense and 'prog' in a way that it'll be interesting to see how it works on stage," muses Fanning.
"The different price points on the tickets (from £49-£139) suggests that something out of the ordinary is going on," says Alexander. "If there was a way for her to perform without it being a gruelling or traumatic experience for her, she'd have done this earlier, so I say she will try to do something different. I don't think she will sing a set of 20 songs. But if you're going to presume that what you'll find at these shows is Kate preserved in time ... well, you're an idiot."
Adds Fanning: "I'd say people will be just so thrilled and delighted to see her, it doesn't make a difference that she won't be swinging out of ropes and using Trojan horses like Lady Gaga."
Clearly, there is much feverish sensitivity and secrecy still afforded to Kate Bush. Alexander recalls an email from EMI where he was summoned to a media listening of 2005's Aerial album, yet the label were loath to even mention her name in the email.
Yet one thing has become clear in the last week: Kate Bush isn't a hypersensitive, fragile or even troubled artist. Though she has been dogged with the 'reclusive' tag, she isn't even much of that, either. Rather, it becomes clear that she is very simply a conscientious artist that does things on her own terms.
Not for want of trying, it takes her several years to complete albums, Aerial came 12 years after The Red Shoes, while her latest, 50 Words For Snow, finally landed in 2011.
"It's very frustrating the albums take as long as they do," she told Front Row in 2011. "I wish there weren't such big gaps between them."
"She never had an A&R man, and no-one's ever told her what to do," notes Alexander. The famous elusiveness, of course, is all part of the package. Down the years, it has translated not into churlishness but integrity and honesty: a considerable factor in Kate's evergreen appeal and ever-reaching influence.
"There is an aspect of absence making the heart grow fonder," concedes Alexander. "She's never tried to court publicity, not even back in the day. She doesn't enjoy the process of it ... I don't think she ever did. The truth is, she's actually very good-humoured and has enjoyed parenthood, which is another big part of why we haven't seen her. Kate is married to guitarist Danny McIntosh and has a 15-year-old son, Bertie.
And, while Kate famously hasn't taken to the open road in 35 years, there have in fact been a smattering of low-key live shows (including charity shows and cameos at Peter Gabriel and David Gilmour shows).
Proof positive that she hasn't been as averse to the stage as originally thought.
"These London shows aren't quite the same as touring," asserts Alexander. "The pacing of the dates means she'll get to rest, plus there will be some home comforts to be had."
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It's the most pithy and pedantic quote in pop: "I'd rather eat my own testicles than reform The Smiths, and that's saying something for a vegetarian," Morrissey has famously said. The cold war between him and Johnny Marr shows little sign of abating anytime soon. For now, any talk of a Smiths reunion isn't much more than wishful thinking.
In a May 2011 interview, Enya's manager Nicky Ryan intimated that the Donegal siren, below, was working on an album, a follow-up to 2008's And Winter Came, and would most likely tour to support it. As of 2014, her fans are still waiting on tenterhooks for both.
Nick Mason has poured cold water on hopeful prog fans, saying in 2011 that the band will only ever play together again for a major global event like Live 8. Dave Gilmour, speaking in Uncut magazine has said more recently that a reformation 'categorically' won't happen.