The return of Kate Bush to the stage on Tuesday night after an absence of 35 years is arguably the outstanding musical event of 2014, if not the decade. By comparison, David Bowie’s surprise return last year after a 10-year silence looks almost humdrum.
The little we know about Before the Dawn suggests she has lost none of her gift for drama. The RSC’s director Adrian Noble is on board, as is choreographer Anthony van Laast, who worked on the Tour of Life. Bush will perform The Ninth Wave, the conceptual suite from her 1985 classic album Hounds of Love, as part of the show, and spent three days in a flotation tank for the filmed sequences. The musicians include Peter Gabriel’s guitarist David Rhodes and West End performer Sandra Marvin. There have been excited mutterings about puppeteers. One source said Bush had been obsessing over every detail, down to the design of the ticket stubs. “Driving us mad,” they sighed, not unkindly. It’s classic Bush: tightly controlled, utterly idiosyncratic. In an age of full disclosure she has somehow managed to retain the trump cards of mystery and surprise.
The signs are positive. Bush has controlled her career with such fierce independence it is inconceivable to imagine her doing anything against her will. She is not performing live for the money, nor because the industry demands it of her. She is doing it because she wants to (she has been talking about a visual adaptation of The Ninth Wave since 1985) and because the timing is right.
The shows should also put to bed the perception of her being, in her words, a “weirdo recluse”. So complete has been Bush’s retreat from the spotlight that at times her absence has threatened to overshadow her presence. It’s easy to forget that she made her impact as a wildly experimental artist working firmly, and very visibly, within the mainstream music industry.
The early part of her career had all the trappings of the conventional pop star: hit singles, videos, record store signings, TV performances, mimed cameos at European pop festivals. In 1985, she came back after a three-year absence by performing Running Up That Hill on the Wogan show. Even in the 90s she appeared on the Des O’Connor Show and Top of the Pops. Only when Bush vanished in the mid-90s did her creative eccentricities – always a big and positive part of her appeal – really hijack her personal narrative. When she returned after a 12-year silence in 2005 with Aerial it was to fight off rumours that she was mad, or agoraphobic, or a drug addict.