I've never been so excited to receive a pair of tickets as I was last week when finally, almost 6 months after ordering them in a panicked frenzy, I received my tickets for Kate Bush's first concert in 35 years. Yes, I'm one of the lucky ones who managed to get first night tickets for what must be the most anticipated comeback in modern popular music. How did I get them? It's all down to instinct.
Instinct has been behind my gradually evolving appreciation of Kate Bush since I first encountered her music. In 1985, as an 8 year old boy, I remember sitting in wonder watching her ground-breaking video for 'Cloudbusting' on Top of the Pops. That was the first time I really noticed her, the first time I'd noticed the great actor Donald Sutherland and possibly the first time I'd heard and really appreciated a classical string arrangement.
'Cloudbusting', like nearly all of Kate Bush's output, was then and remains unlike any other music. The generation before me had a similar experience when she came completely out of left-field to top the charts with 'Wuthering Heights', another song unlike any before or since. Bush is utterly unique and beguiling, an undoubted musical genius.
However it took me a while to really appreciate the richness of her music. Sometime in the 90's, as a teenager, I bought the compilation 'The Whole Story' and a good portion of that album got regular airplay in my otherwise heavy-metal dominated teenage years.
I clearly remember walking through a shopping centre in 1993 and hearing 'Rubberband Girl' from her then new album The Red Shoes for the first time. The rocker in me was impressed by the Joe Satriani style guitar riffs going through the song, yet again she'd produced a song that I really liked. However, for some reason I can't explain I didn't buy The Red Shoes or indeed any Kate Bush studio album until 2005 when she made her first big comeback, not to the live stage, but with her first batch of new material since 1993, the double album Aerial.
At the time, I was living in Finsbury Park, London just after finishing a composition degree at the Guildhall School of Music. Whilst classical music studies had dragged me away from the pop music world for a while I got curious about the album after the UK media frenzy that announced its arrival. Instinct set in as I walked by the record section of my local Tesco’s and I decided to buy the album without hearing anything but a snippet of the Elvis-referencing single 'King of the Mountain'.
I went home to my dingy Finsbury flat, put the first disc of the album 'A Sea of Honey' on and didn't stop listening until the second disc 'A Sky of Honey' ended almost two hours later. Then I listened again and again. It was a mind-blowing masterpiece!
I became a bit obsessed with that album for a while and even bought copies for relations as presents. For pure consistency and content it is my joint favourite Kate Bush record alongside The Hounds of Love.
Soon after this her entire back catalogue ended up in my possession and Kate Bush was firmly etched onto my mind as one of my favourite composers in any genre.
As I have listened to these albums a little documented fact about Kate Bush became more and more obvious. Kate Bush, that supposedly ‘quintessential English’ songwriting genius is half-Irish and proud of it too as she explained in an Irish Independent interview a few years ago
"I'm incredibly proud of being half-Irish. I really wanted to get that Irish blood in me to come through, so I worked very hard on it."
Her Irishness comes from her late Irish mother Hannah Daly. One only has to listen to her moving tribute song 'A Coral Room' from Aerial to understand how incredibly close she was to her Irish Mum.
One certainly can't deny the quintessential Englishness the British press laud in appraising her work, as highlighted in the recent BBC4 Documentary. However that documentary lamentably ignored her Irishness, as have most of the British press articles surrounding her live comeback this week.
So this is my attempt to redress that balance. We Irish have a right to lay claim to Kate Bush as also being one of our own due to the Irishness that Bush so earnestly incorporated into her classic 1980's output.
Throughout the 80's Bush acknowledged her Irish roots by integrating Irish traditional musicians and instruments into ALL her 1980's records. Her brother Paddy Bush apparently drew her in this direction and his mandolin playing and her lilting vocal on the 1980 hit 'Army Dreamers' give the first strong hint of her Irish roots. 'Violin' from the same Never for Ever album features The Bothy Band's Kevin Burke as the titular violinist.
The list of famous Irish traditional musicians to play on her subsequent albums is like a who's who of Irish music. The roll call of Donal Lunny (Bothy Band, Planxty, Moving Hearts), Liam O'Flynn (Planxty), John Sheahan (The Dubliners), Seán Keane (The Chieftains), Davy Spillane (Moving Hearts) and very characteristic arrangements by Riverdance composer Bill Whelan connect her to almost all the major Irish trad bands of the 60's, 70's and 80's and the Riverdance boom of the 90’s.
It's hard to tell from the sleeve notes how much of the trad-style music is arranged/composed by Kate Bush or Paddy Bush and how much is Whelan’s, however one thing that's unmistakable is the instrumentation and melodic content are like an angular, experimental precursor to Riverdance.
'Night of the Swallow' from the 1982 album The Dreaming, Whelan's first credit on a Bush album, features Lunny, Keane and O'Flynn intoning a very Whelanesque turn of phrase over Bush's dramatic story-telling.
Perhaps the best known use of Irish musicians in her output is during The Ninth Wave, a concept piece that makes up the second half of her 1985 masterpiece The Hounds of Love. Sheahan lends gorgeous whistles to the haunting opening track 'And Dream of Sheep' before Lunny and O'Flynn join in on the climactic coupling of 'The Jig of Life' and 'Hello Earth'.
A b-side of 'Cloudbusting' is Kate's sean-nós version of the old Irish song My Lagan Love. If her beautiful version doesn't convince you of her Irish blood nothing will!
The Sensual World towards Riverdance
On her 1989 album 'The Sensual World', Bush and Whelan collaborated again and moved even closer to Riverdance territory with the Bulgarian-Irish fusion melodies on the title track, this time featuring Davy Spillane as the piper alongside Lunny and Sheahan. Spillane also contributes to ‘Never Be Mine’ and 'The Fog' on the same album.
But there's a mystery in all this Bushian Irishness, who composed those 'Irish' melodies? Bush remains credited as the only official composer but Whelan gets the credit for 'Irish arrangements'. The Irish style melodies in these songs certainly sound like something Whelan might pen, but then again, who inspired who? Perhaps it was Bush who composed the melodies and thus inspired Whelan? One rumour has it that Paddy Bush is behind the tunes. Chances are it's probably a combination of them all.
Besides these tracks with Irish musicians it is curious to hear Bush occasionally bring out a lilting almost-Irish accent on tracks like 'Suspended in Gaffa', 'Army Dreamers', ‘The Red Shoes’ and 'The Big Sky' (which incorporates some 'diddely dyes' for good measure).
For reasons that perhaps only Bush herself can explain 'The Sensual World' was the last original studio album by Bush to feature any Irish trad musicians. Her final nod to her Irish heritage thus far is her recording of 'Mná na hÉireann' at the invitation of Donal Lunny for his Common Ground project in 1996. Learned phonetically due to her lack of Irish and coloured by a lush orchestration, this is not a recording for sean-nós purists. Nevertheless the impassioned beauty of Bush's voice on this recording is undeniable.
Whilst it's tempting to think the Aerial track 'Bertie' might be an ironic tribute to Bertie Ahern (with its very Irish sounding chorus of 'Lovely, Lovely, Lovely, Lovely Bertie' set to Baroque strings) it is in fact a song named after her son and the Irish lilt in the song is likely subconscious.
18 years have passed since 'Mná na hÉireann' and over 30 since her first recorded forays into her Irishness. So it's hard to tell how much she'll acknowledge her Irish roots in her upcoming live shows.
The Kate Bush that re-emerged in 2005 with the wonderful double-album Aerial and again in 2011 the concept album 50 Words for Snow is clearly a different person. She's got a more mature, deeper voice yet she's still capable of reaching great creative heights, most notably the 42 minute suite 'A Sky of Honey' that makes up the second half of Aerial (rumoured to be a significant feature of the upcoming shows).
The Ninth Wave is also rumoured to be featured in the shows, if so, one wonders will some of those Irish music luminaries be re-uniting with Bush to perform those songs live for the first time? It would be quite something to see Lunny, O'Flynn (or Spillane) and Sheahan on stage with Kate Bush. Even if it's other Irish musicians in place of them it would be a hugely significant moment for Irish music.
There's such anticipation and media hype surrounding these shows there's always a worry the show as a whole might be a let-down. However, word on the street and the web has it that Bush is doing her damned best to ensure these shows will be something special. She's used innovative booking methods to ensure minimum ticket scalping and quite boldly but politely messaged her fans asking them not to spend the concert glued to their phones or iPads. In an age when concerts are plagued by phone and tablet addicts it will be a relief to attend a concert where most people will hopefully do as Kate wishes and just immerse themselves in the live experience. The Hammersmith Apollo is quite an intimate venue which makes it all the better. Those of us without prime seats might all be actually able to clearly see her and the theatrics of her show without having to rely on a big or small screen. There's even a chance the sound will be really good, which is a rarity at stadium/arena concerts!
I've been thinking a lot about what she might play and wondering how that will have a bearing on the audience's enjoyment of the gig. Whilst the exact personnel and set-list is shrouded in secrecy it is known that she's brought in a top class backing band, including her old faithful bassist John Giblin, virtuoso drummer Omar Hakim and Peter Gabriel's long time guitarist David Rhodes, so all's good there. Fans are involved in intense speculation about guest performers, with her mentor, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour top of the wish-list alongside Peter Gabriel. We do know that one of her other former collaborators Rolf Harris is definitely not going to make an appearance as he is now in jail for sex offenses. If Bush does perform A Sky of Honey she’ll surely have to replace Harris’ recorded vocal contributions, I’d suggest this as an ideal place for Kate Bush fan Steve Coogan to bring Alan Partridge back to the stage!
There are strong hints in the snapshots of official tour info that she'll play material from Aerial and The Hounds of Love. If she does, I'll be ecstatic along with most of the audience. Either way it'll be worth it just to hear her sing even one of her greatest hits, 'Running Up That Hill', 'Cloudbusting', 'The Hounds of Love', 'Wuthering Heights', 'Army Dreamers', 'Babooshka', 'This Woman's Work' etc.
Her only tour, The Tour of Life from 1979 was hailed as a ground-breaking theatrical extravaganza at the time, so there's no telling what she can do with modern technology. It's known that she undertook three days of elaborate underwater filming for the show and that there are puppeteers, experienced theatre production staff and extensive stage sets involved. All the signs are there that we're in for something spectacular.
She can't let us down can she?
She couldn't let herself down could she?
She wouldn't come back to live performance without putting on one hell of a show would she?
If the live comeback proves successful we can only hope it will inspire Bush to solidify her Irish roots by performing in Ireland for the first time. If she does I'll do my best to be in the front row, unless of course I can make it into the house band!
Kate Bush opens her 'Before the Dawn' residency at London's Hammersmith Apollo on Tuesday 26th August and continues for 22 nights. All shows are sold out however tickets are occasionally resurfacing for sale on the Eventim site.
This is Dave Flynn's personal music blog. All posts are written by him!