In the Light of Day

By now, there will be plenty of reviews and critiques of Kate Bush and her concert last night in Hammersmith. Fans will chant a hymn of adoration: share, relive and adorn their experience. Detractors will mock and sneer to amuse their tribe.

My approach is neither of those things.

I write from my perspective – way up close to the deluxe beryl green art deco ceiling of the Apollo – for no such defined readership. Lucky me,  I have few expectations to meet.

Never For Ever by Will-O'Mailley - non-commercial reuse

As we waited for her first concert after thirty-five years, my husband wondered aloud what she might be feeling. I thought about that too. How I have so often read artists in different media say:

I wonder if I can do it again? Will I pull it off this time?

And the astonishing thing, at least to me as a beginner with so much to learn, is that the most established, practised and loved artists in any field feel the same. Over and over again truly creative people doubt themselves.

From what I have read and understood the hard way, there are two ways to get through this. Both require a particular kind of focus. Not straining, not blinkered, but a sort of yearning.


First is a deep involvement with the piece of art itself – for itself. Growing it, wondering at it as an entity with its own existence. Through nurturing the song, the story, the dance, you lose sight of any pointing, leering critics and the dark pitfalls of the ego. Putting the sculpture, canvas or poem at the centre of the process means all helpful suggestions can be accepted – from whatever source.

This also means waiting until the text is ready to be performed, until the oils are quite dry and the frame is gilded, until all the right sound effects have been sourced.

Secondly, when leading this precious new being out onto the stage, introduce it first to just one person. Read your opening chapter for that one listener who truly hears what you’re saying. Focus on delighting that girl with the open face, that boy with his head cocked, paying attention.

I began to voice my focus-on-the-work-in-hand theory to my husband. Then the first stirrings on the stage led to joyous tumult all around us – fans standing and calling and waving their arms. There was no chance of discussion.

ticket fish painted on

Even the tickets were art.

In the interval, I read the programme. It’s more of a work of art tracing the blooming of the stage show than any practical guide to what happened  on stage. What struck me, though, was how the project had become an entity in Kate Bush’s experience – an ‘it’.

As for focusing on one person, I have no idea if she did that. What I observed was a woman surrounded by a creative hive and its outpourings. Protected perhaps, yet at the heart of the events. As the music and drama and stories burgeoned, it seemed to me she loosened. The stories the music told began to dance through her and that lovely voice soared free again. Older and different in timbre, certainly, but recognisably hers.


Something I long to do.

I do not have the body of work in my past that she has – but to see a mature woman create something so idiosyncratic, risk it all in the public view and then triumph on her own terms is a joy.


Before the Dawn

I tried to have a nostalgic wallow – a warm sound-bath of memories from the 70s onwards. We had the snacks, we had the beer and we watched two hours of Kate Bush on BBC4 – her career and her performances.

It turned out quite differently.


That voice split open my carapace. The notes burrowed somewhere behind the centre of my ribs and gave my heart room to swell. How could I have forgotten how much those songs meant to me? The words gave me no chance to appreciate their cleverness in some filtered way – they swooped in and demanded to be loved again.


I wonder, does it hurt hermit crabs to creep out of their too-small homes? It hurt me to be excavated like that but – ‘what a lovely feeling!’ 

Those songs draw me into other worlds I desire to experience – so many lyrics I have learned by heart. And they dance in my mouth, they move me literally. Her passionate vulnerability rouses mine. Like dry moss in a downpour, it twists, stretches, grows green and fresh again.

Exuberance is Beauty – William Blake, Proverbs of Hell, 1790 – 1793

She sought her voice in her first recordings, tried out all manner of characters – and adolescent me went along for the ride. Alone in my attic bedroom, my shadow was Kate’s. It spread long fingers over the postcards of Pre-Raphaelite beauties on the sloping walls, and swirled amongst the incense trail and cobwebs. It became the woman in The Warm Room, clawed at Heathcliff or flew off In Search of Peter Pan.


Kate Bush’s songs are full of narrative; poetic, sometimes impressionistic, but still they tell stories or fragments of them. I recall that in one of her rare interviews she echoed this sentiment from one of my favourite writers:

I am far more interested in other people than in talking about myself – Joanne Harris

They both want to give the stories themselves a voice – I admire that so much.  I am in very good company: Jeanette Winterson, Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry are amongst the writers who treasure that literary spirit. How could I not adore a singer whose first hit was based on Emily Brontë?

My adult self does not wish to be her, but I’ll have a shot of that engaging weirdness. I’ll knock back a tincture of esoteric flavoured by a dash of out there and infused with the dark and ethereal.


I rejoice that her songs and voice and their meanings have deepened over time. It takes more musical power to crack open scar tissue and release that spinning, yearning girl of the Seventies. So many moments of pleasure, jugsful that refresh and sometimes chill the jaw with a rush of pain.

I will take long inspiring gulps on Tuesday, even if my eye-teeth howl like banshees – and there will be no barriers between us if I can help it.


I will be at the Hammersmith Apollo on Tuesday 26th August. Please do say hello.
[Heaven help anyone whose I-Pad, phone or any other gizmo gets in my way, though!]