That’s the abridged version :-)
Wowsers - a lot to take in there but really good write up. Her back catalogue is unchartered waters for me again so bring it on...............
The K Fellowship - Kate Bush - Before the Dawn
Background to my choice.
I formed most of my musical allegiances between the ages of 13 and 20. Many of them very obvious for a boy that became a teenager in the early 70’s. Zeppelin, Yes, Genesis and tracking back into the 60s The Doors, Beach Boys, Stones, Beatles, The Who. A number of others have emerged since, but one artist stands out atop all of those obvious picks; Kate Bush. From the first time I saw her on ‘Top of the Pops’ with Wuthering Heights to this, her last recording, her music is the soundtrack to my adult life.
Two albums in the 70s, 4 in the 80’s, one in the 90’s and 3 others since the turn of the century, her output has not been prolific, but what music - eclectic and experimental, unconventional lyrics, and literary themes, she is quite unique. Her compositions ranging from exquisite ballads, driving prog rock, folk, classical and choral genres. As a song writer, musical arranger, producer, pianist and vocalist she is without peer. In the UK I can only think Bowie, Elton John and at a stretch Peter Gabriel have musical output which compares for originality, quality and longevity.
So my choice of album was not difficult but is a little controversial. First, its a live album (I have chosen it because it showcases much of her best work) and secondly, it’s not available to stream for free. Yikes.
Now I am confident that many that inhabit this thread, as connoisseurs of the very best music, may already have the album. Some may be encouraged enough by this review to go and buy it (£11.99 from your favourite outlet). Anyone that doesn't, can find the concert track list on Spotify where it has been pulled together by multiple sources from the parent albums. Simply tap in Before the Dawn in the search function and choose playlists. You will see multiple versions……….Now listening to the album as a track playlist will be a magical, wonderful musical journey but you will miss some of the ‘live experience’. For example, some tracks are 'heavier' as a live version. However you choose to listen, please give it your best shot. :-).
The album was released on 25 November 2016. It was recorded in 2014 during Kate's sell-out 22-date residency, Before the Dawn, at the Hammersmith (Eventim) Apollo in London, which saw her return to the stage following a 35-year absence. Mrs S and I attended on 24th September 2014 (how we managed to get tickets is another story).
The concert was the best, most exciting, most musical, most emotional most absolutely perfect in every way event I have ever been to. (the emotions from 93:20 came close but that was through the medium of TV).
The Album captures that concert without any overdubs or re-engineering of sound. It is, as was played in the 22 nights of her residency at the Apollo. It eclipses any other live album I own by some distance. The CD/LP versions feature three discs, each covering one of the three ‘acts’ of the concert. The band are a very experienced group of session musicians, many who have worked with Kate in the past and with Peter Gabriel and others. They included Kevin McAlea – keyboards, Uilleann pipes, accordion, Jon Carin – keyboards, guitars, programming, vocals, David Rhodes – guitars, Friðrik Karlsson – guitars, bouzouki, charango, John Giblin – bass, Mino Cinelu – percussion, Omar Hakim - Drums. Like a previous pick, The Lonesome Jubilee, the music is elevated by the use of unusual 'rock' instruments, accordions, strings, bouzouki and even a bull roarer at the climax to 'King of the Mountain'.
Act 1. Runs at around 40 minutes and is Kate’s nod to a ‘best of’ selection at the concert. It has a couple of her best known singles from Hounds of Love that most will be familiar with. It kicks of with ‘Lily’ from her 6th album the Red Shoes which is a cracking start. The song dedicated to Bush’s ‘spiritual healer’ who she met after her mother passed. The extended intro had Bush and her extended band entering the stage to what I can only describe as waves of love rolling down the circle and stalls like dry ice. I have never felt a reception like that at any concert.. You can actually hear Kate’s vocals start to relax as her nerves come under control and you believe her when she spits out the line ‘I feel like life has blown a great big hole through me’. Remember, this is a woman who hasn't sung in public for many many years. The band are wonderful throughout and Kate’s vocals, given she has not performed live in decades simply astonishing, rich, powerful with an enormous dynamic range. The highlight is the last track, ‘King of the Mountain’, a song about Elvis. Crank that one up a few degrees on the hifi and listen to it build. It will literally blow you away.
Act 2. Covers the entire side 2 of ‘Hounds of Love album. Kate’s ambition was to bring the listener on a voyage into death and rebirth with fear of drowning a recurring metaphor. It was her first attempt at a ‘concept’ song suite. Entitled “The Ninth Wave,” (after a line in a Tennyson poem) the suite consists of seven songs that tell the story of a young woman adrift at sea, drowning, losing hope, fighting sleep, waiting to be rescued and experiencing 'out of body visions' through hypothermia before finally she is released to celebrate her life.
It is nuanced, layered, complex, and one of the most profound pieces of contemporary popular music I have ever heard.
At the concert, the songs were interspersed with ‘dramatic’ visual scenes to aid the story telling. You can hear them in track 8. ‘Astronomers call’ and track 12. ‘watching them without her’. For those listening on a spotify track play list, you will simply hear the 9th Wave as originally recorded.
It's difficult finding the words to adequately describe the music, it’s complex but simple, beautiful and stark, ethereal and driven. It includes many different genres including progressive rock, folk (an Irish jig in deference to her family roots) and a good old Gregorian chant for good measure. It deserves to be listened to in its entirety, more than once, sat in front of a good hifi with your most favourite beverage. For me, it is the finest ‘concept’ piece in rock music and makes the Hounds of Love a classic album. Here it is performed meticulously live. All of it is exceptional, multi layered, beautifully sung, lyrics are as deep as you want to swim. My particular favourite is ‘Hello Earth’. I am a totally soft sod but I was in tears when she sang that at the concert.
Act 3. A SKY OF HONEY (the second side of the album Ariel) is Kate’s second ‘concept ‘song cycle. It isn’t as complex musically as the Ninth Wave but it is as beautiful. It describes a perfect midsummer day from dawn to the rising of the sun the next day. It was composed as a reflection of the idyllic rural life that Kate lived when bringing up her son Bertie. The visuals and theatrics were toned down a little for this act but the light show was at another level. It is another piece of music that should be consumed in one sitting. Repeated listening will uncover layer upon layer both in the music and the lyrics.
The overriding imagery is that of the sky, the quality of light and nature itself, particularly her garden birds. Manipulated bird song is used as a repeated motif throughout the piece.
The lyrics perfectly capture how she feels ‘in the moment’ at each stage of the day. Her genius is how well she captures the beauty of nature and a perfect english summers day. Listening, you can almost feel the warmth of the sun and hear the gentle lap of the warm sea as the day culminates in a midnight swim.
Tawny Moon is a track inserted to showcase her son. Bertie was seemingly extremely influential in persuading Kate to tour again despite the fact that she suffers from extreme stage fright so I will let him off with this slight ‘bump’ to the original song cycle. Tawny Moon will not be included in the Spotify playlist.
The climax in ‘Nocturn’ and ‘Aerial’ is stunning in its build, use of birdsong and Kate’s euphoric vocals as she greets the new dawn, arms outstretched (and imagines she is reborn as a bird).
Taken together, these two ‘song cycles’ are for me the peak of her career and quite unique which is why I was so keen to review this album for you.
The concert culminates in a couple of encores. ‘Among Angels’ (from 50 Words for Snow) and ‘Cloudbusting’ (from Hounds of Love). Among Angels is exquisite with Kate accompanying herself on piano, Cloudbusting a fitting energetic finale.
Its a long listen, and a rich feast. The album perfectly reflects the concert and takes me back to a very happy moment in time every time I listen to it. I hope it gives you some pleasure and if it encourages even one of you to explore this iconic artists work more closely, then my work here is done.
I look forward to hearing what you think.
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