When Kate Bush announced she would be performing a series of 22 live shows at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, stretching from late August through to early October 2014, the music world went into paroxysms of hyper-excitement. The reclusive songstress had not been seen on stage since her tour of 1979 – which had ended with a three-night run at the same venue.
People travelled from all over the world to see their idol’s 2014 return to the public eye, and from all accounts she did not disappoint those who secured tickets and made the journey. London’s Evening Standard newspaper even called the show ‘unambiguously brilliant’ and ‘something to tell the grandchildren about’.
So now, two years on, Bush has finally released a live audio document of these performances so that the rest of the world can hear how these shows unfolded and imagine how the rest of our senses would have responded if we had have had the privilege of being in the audience too.
The triple disc CD set is, I would suspect, not something that those who obtain a copy will play through in its entirety too often, as finding three hours of free time is a luxury not many of us get that often these days. It is worth the effort though to play it through disc by disc at least once before you start selecting highlights for your iPhone.
The initial impression you get from these recordings is that the band has surprising muscle and the songs are delivered with a greater amount of punch and cohesion than expected so you may actually find that, once you do take it off the shelf for a second listen at a later date, it will be hard not to sit through the whole thing, such is its musicality and consistency of mood and atmosphere.
Bush’s core band are excellent throughout, especially drummer Omar Hakim and percussionist Mino Cinelu who provide a strong backbone to the songs. Guitarists, David Rhodes and Friorik Karlsson, are top notch and on-form.
Keyboardist, Kevin McAlea actually got to reprise his role at these Hammersmith concerts, as he was the only member of Bush’s current backing band to have also been playing with her back in 1979.
Supporting the star are a plethora of actors whose spoken word roles underpin the storylines of the two main song suites here – the first of which is Hounds Of Love’s The Ninth Wave, performed here in its seven-song entirety. (Hounds Of Love is also well-represented by the classic singles from side one of that same album, Running Up That Hill, Hounds Of Love and, as the grand finale on disc three, a powerfully emotive version of Cloudbusting.)
Some of the vocals on the earlier pieces in this first suite were actually pre-recorded whilst the vocalist was immersed in a large tank of water so that her vocals would give off a more realistic impression of someone who is lost and floating in the ocean, which is the underpinning premise of these songs. Other than this particular vocal effect, which was used in the stage show, Bush confirms in her liner notes, that there were no overdubs or other studio ‘corrections’ made in the post-recording process, what the performers delivered on the night is what we hear.
The second suite is from the relatively more recent double album, 2005’s Aerial. Bush treats us to the entire second half of that record as well, and the nine songs that form A Sky Of Honey are transformed here, coming across as a much stronger and cohesive set of performances than on the original recording – and highlighted by magnificent versions of Sunset, Nocturn and the album’s title song, Aerial.
The 24 page booklet does supply a range of photographs that give a relatively clear idea of what the stage production would have looked like – but at times, especially when incidental dialogue is being delivered, you do feel that you are listening to disembodied soundtrack music that sounds a little lost without a visual anchor to lock it onto some form of contextual meaning.
The show was, apparently, filmed over two performances in the middle of its 22 night run, but, until that footage is released in some form, we will just have to listen and let our imagination fill in the gaps.
Overall, there are some sublime moments scattered across these three discs. Bush does not let her vocals dominate proceedings – but her voice is in good shape when she tackles the few ‘hits’ that are included here. Those who expected her to do a ‘greatest hits’ show, however, will be disappointed. She remains steadfastly an ‘artist’ , not a ‘pop singer’ – so therefore no Wuthering Heights, The Man With The Child In His Eyes, Babooshka, Wow or Hammer Horror!
You do get the aforementioned Cloudbusting as the finale though – and this song is worth the cost of the package in itself. It is a rousing, hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-raising wonder of a song delivered with conviction and power, culminating in a crowd roar you would only normally expect to hear in a football stadium, not in the relatively intimate surrounds of the Hammersmith Apollo. I had forgotten the uplifting quality of this song, and its chorus now seems very apt at the end of 2016’s seemingly endless musical armageddon: Ooh, I just know that something good is going to happen…/ And I don’t know when / But just saying it could even make it happen.
Let’s hope that’s how things unfold.
The great news to take from all of this relatively recent burst of activity is that Kate Bush is still being creative, eccentric and entertaining – and alive! –and that means there’s still hope for more examples of her genius to come our way in the future.
Until then though, this will do nicely.
The K Fellowship Presents ‘Before The Dawn’ is out now on CD, LP and digitally, released by Fish People / Noble & Brite