So, Kate Bush is playing live again after 35 years…

Riaz Ali  1987

Me, 1987.

So, Kate Bush is playing live again. From 26th August to 1st October 2014 she is playing 22 dates at the Eventim Appollo in Hammersmith, London. Her last tour, the Tour Of Life, was in 1979. Since then she has played or sung live on just a handful of occasions – at the Prince’s Trust concert in 1986, at a surprise appearance during a Peter Gabriel concert in 1987, at the Comic Relief concert in 1988 – but it has been thirty-five years since she has performed a full show on her own.
On Friday 21st March I woke up in the early afternoon after working a night shift. I did my usual thing – reach over for my laptop and switch it on. Whilst still in bed, I booted up Outlook and Facebook, in that order. The Outlook emails began with the usual stuff. Offers from Hotel Chocolat (legitimate), World Of Books (legitimate) and an offer from a Saudi Prince to pay me £57,000 if I helped him to release funds from his personal bank account by paying him £2000 as his country was at war with Porthcawl and his account had been frozen (not so legitimate). Then I noticed an email from KateBush.com titled ‘Before The Dawn – Presale’. Due to me having signed up to the mailing list, I was offered a chance of buying tickets for her live shows 48 hours before they went on sale to the general public.
Hang on a minute. Live dates? Shows? What the…???
Kate Bush Ticket
I checked Facebook. Several of my friends had posted to my wall, informing me of the incredible news. It was so unexpected it had featured on the Guardian newspaper’s website, the BBC News website and the following day, would get full page spreads in many of the national papers.
I was dumbfounded.
Since roughly 1986, when I first considered myself a fan, the idea of her touring again was met with a sort of resigned sigh within the fan community. Each album since her last tour presented an opportunity for live shows, and each time Kate would be non-committal in interviews.
“I’m being non-committal,” she would say, evasively and, broadly speaking, without commitment.
Kate Bush
I was a fan then. At sixteen, I looked up to Kate Bush. Previous to her, I had looked up to John Noakes, Lesley Judd and the Green Cross Code man but now my allegiance would change. If I wanted to know how to make a tardis from an egg carton or know how to cross a road safely, I would listen to a Kate Bush song and derive the necessary lesson from her music and lyrics. I became a member of the official Kate Bush fan club, subscribed to a popular fanzine at the time called Homeground, and spent all of my unemployment benefit on attending record fairs and buying rare and not-so-rare Kate Bush merchandise. I had pen friends all around the UK that were fans and I attended many fan gatherings – a November 1988 meeting at Top Withens, Haworth, a 1989 meeting at Glastonbury Tor, another 1989 meeting at Birmingham and also, the official 1990 Kate Bush convention at the Hammersmith Palais, London. It is that convention that served as the perfect ending to my book ‘My Life With Kate Bush’. In that book I felt it was the first and last time I would ever see her in the flesh, let alone hear her sing (she did sing at the convention – to the tune of ‘My Lagan Love’ she sang lyrics she had written specifically for the fans on that day. When I left the venue late that afternoon, I thought that was it. It seemed an apt ending to a wonderful four years that I had spent as what I would call a ‘diehard’ fan, but now my life was changing and I felt that was the end of a chapter in my life.
Over the subsequent years, my interest on a fan level faded quickly. I remember taking a call from a friend one day. He was a major fan and was eager to tell me that one of her songs was being featured on some television show. That’s how it was back then. Fans networking with each other to keep each other up to date on the latest Kate Bush news.
“She’s on Top Of The Pops!” he said. I could hear his drool dripping on to his dog.
“That’s fantastic,” I replied, with what I thought was an appropriate amount of enthusiasm.
A pause.
“You’re not really a fan anymore are you?” he said with a sad note in his voice. No, I wasn’t and I murmured my agreement. Equally sadly, that was the last I ever heard from him. Strange how a friendship could hinge on a single mutual like and when that shared interest is shaken, the friendship dies.

From the early nineties, other interests became more important. Reading, writing and becoming a full time carer for my grandmother forced me to grow up very quickly and the idea of becoming a fan of anything seemed to be a luxury I couldn’t afford.

Years would pass without me playing any of her music and then, on some whim, I would play Hounds of Love or The Kick Inside, enjoy it for a fleeting moment, and then go back to my other two main musical loves – Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro.

In 2009, I entered a relationship with a Kate Bush fan that I had known for twenty years or so, which forced me to dip my toes in the waters of the fan scene again. Waters that I found tepid and stale and I didn’t enjoy it at all. It was too insular and obsessive for my tastes and attending gatherings with my then partner was a chore. As Groucho Marx once said, “I don’t want to belong to any club, that would have someone like *me* as a member.”

So although today, at 41 years old, I am not a fan in the strict sense of the word, I still enjoy much of her music. Her last album, 50 Words For Snow is played constantly. To me, it is the best thing she has created since Hounds Of Love was released in 1985. Misty, in particular, is a song that I find incredibly touching and the soft jazz drum rhythms and haunting rhythmic melody recaptures everything that I loved about her music in the 80s.

But then, this announcement of live dates comes along, playing with my emotions again. On that morning, when I realised I had the chance to see her perform live, I also realised that I *wanted* to see her perform live. I dearly wanted to because…because maybe everything needs closure. I remember those summer days in 1987 when I would be sat on my bed, the sunlight pouring in like honey, as I pored over the Kate Bush Club magazines that were spread out before me. My Nan and Bamp would be downstairs, preparing dinner, and the smells would be wafting up into my room. My 16 year old body would be a well of energy and my mind constantly searching, inventing, wondering and dreaming. To the side, my large twin cassette deck ghetto-blaster would be playing Never Forever and the princely sum of £27, my unemployment benefit, would be burning a hole in my jeans pocket as I wondered whether to take the bus to town to buy a Kate Bush album on CD, even though I already had the album on vinyl and cassette. Then, Kate Bush was my world and I couldn’t imagine my life five years ahead, let alone twenty-five years ahead. And yet here I am, in a different bedroom, in a different county, living a life I never expected to live.

And the the past rears its beautiful head and beckons me in…

Kate Bush

Riaz Ali

Create Your Badge

The Pontypool College Years 1991-1992

“There’s comfort in melancholy
When there’s no need to explain
It’s just as natural as the weather
In this moody sky today.” – Joni Mitchell ‘Hejira’.

If old friends knew how much affection I hold for them, they would run a mile. There are some friends I made in college that I have not seen for twenty years or more. Others, from Brookfield School, I have not seen for more than thirty years. But there they are, in my heart, secure in their own little corner. I don’t care what they have grown up to be – whether they became successful or unsuccessful. Whether they became cruel or kind, good or bad. Because I knew them when they were 9 and they were part of my world. There they are now, with their grown up lives and grown up jobs. Some even have grown up kids and live grown up days, where they are sensible, responsible and serious. But I remember how we were, during those long summer days, as we sat on the grass and talked about our lives, wondering about our futures. I remember.

My first book ‘My Life With Kate Bush’ was a comedy memoir of my life between the ages of 5 and 19, taking in the years 1976 to 1990. Volume 2 ‘My Life With Joni Mitchell’ is currently being written. A substantial portion of the book, probably about half of the 80,000+ words, will be taken up by recalling, with warmth and humour, my time at Pontypool college between 1991 and 1992. I was there for about 9 months, leaving unceremoniously in May of 1992. I say unceremoniously only because I woke up one morning and decided I didn’t want to go anymore. I had dropped out of most lessons and academically had achieved very little. Socially though, my world had exploded and those 9 months were among the best 9 months I have ever lived. If ever I get anyone pregnant, then I expect those 9 months to be better, or at least more memorable, but for now, when it comes to enjoying the number 9 in conjunction with the same number of months, it is the 9 months at Pontypool college that were the best.

The main entrance to Pontypool College

The main entrance to Pontypool College

The subjects I took were English Literature, Music, Drama and Theatre Studies. I have no idea why I took the latter two. I had never acted before, apart from the nativity play in Brookfield School during the christmas of 1979. I played one of the shepherds and Mr Baldwin had given me a little toy lamb to carry when I walked out on stage. Even at 8 years old I had this instinct that it wouldn’t be cool to be seen carrying a little toy lamb. In 1979 I was mesmerised by a new film out in the cinemas called Grease, which was full of teenagers wearing leather, smoking and singing about summer nights. None of them carried little toy lambs so why should I? In fact, why couldn’t I be a leather wearing, smoking shepherd with slicked back hair and a penchant for saying “Hey!”? So as I stepped out from behind the curtain, following the other three shepherds (yes, three. It’s a long story.) I deliberately dropped the lamb. After the nativity, Mr Baldwin took me aside and said, with a sad look in his eyes “Why did you drop the lamb?”
I shrugged and stared at the floor.
That was my only experience with acting.

But within three months I was rehearsing for the second play I would perform in during my life. It was A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. And in those three months I had become friends with a whole host of people – Scott Bailey, Martin Rowan, Lisa Osmond, Rhian Hutchings, Nigel Williams, Katherine Berriman, Catherine Slater, Catherine Stone, Kath Ayling (there were a hell of a lot of Cath’s back then. Sometimes I yearned to meet a Priscilla or Florentine, but it was never to be), Sarah Letton, Stephanie Virgin, Becci Senior, Trudi Jackson and several others, all of whom I took an instant liking to.

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Sarah Letton

My persona then was different to the way I am now. I was quite flamboyant, dressing in tie-dyed trousers, hand painted boots, waistcoats and having hair that went half way down my back. I loved it. I loved being that way and entering into a world where you weren’t judged for being that way, as all around me were punks, mods, goths, grungers and other teenagers, all looking to find their own identity too and expressing it in such wonderful ways. These days I just wear jeans and a t-shirt to work. Sometimes I wear a cravat and a monocle, but that’s only after midnight, when I am alone and drunk.

In the mid 90s I became the sole full time carer for my grandmother and lost touch with most of my friends. Some twenty years later, mainly through Facebook, I managed to track most of them down. Most recently, it was Katherine Berriman that I was finally able to track down and message. Katherine was a wonderful actress and had such a sense of fun. I remember once she came back to my house in Cwmbran on my 21st birthday and we spent an hour on my bed, keeping an inflatable birthday cake in the air with our feet, before going to the Fairwater House pub where a surprise gathering of college friends was waiting for me. On another occasion, Katherine was involved in some production that took place in the evening at college. It was a monologue, if I recall, and she was so excited about it and looked forward to it a great deal. I didn’t turn up to watch her.
The next day she berated me, with a smile, saying “Why didn’t you turn up?”
I laughed it off, as I did with a lot of things back then. In truth, I was worried about transport, my Nan being alone in the evening, and money. I was such a worrier and it got in the way of things. I even worried about worrying. Of course, now I look back and berate myself even more for being so stupidly caught up in the cares of life when I should have been more carefree.
But I wish I had supported my friend.

Pontypool College

Top row : Second from left – Nigel Williams, far right – Becci Senior
Bottom row (L to R) : Sarah Letton, Cath Ayling, Katherine Berriman.

A very good friendship evolved with Scott Bailey, another excellent actor. Scott had a very likeable, warm and friendly personality and an excellent inoffensive sense of humour. He was affable, personable and palatable. Back then, my sense of humour had an abrasive streak which sometimes bordered on the cruel. I mistook sarcasm for wit on many occasions. Scott was a good antidote for that, as I used to point out people on the street and highlight their inadequacies and Scott would ground me by saying “You’re wrong.” Now, with the luxury of hindsight, I know he was right and I wish I hadn’t been so John Lennon-esque with my attempts at making people laugh.

Lisa Osmond was another close friend and I have yet to track her down. She still eludes me and, like that line from Alanis Morrisette’s unsent, “I will always have your back and be curious about you – about your career, your whereabouts.” Lisa was a beautiful, short (although at 6’4, most people are short compared to me) girl with a kindness and generosity that stole my heart for a while. We became good friends and for a while after college ended, we would meet up on Tuesdays for a coffee and a chat. We even ended up going on an employment training scheme for a few months in 1993 – CTF Training, where we learned…actually, I can’t remember what we learned. I remember writing cartoons on bits of paper and sliding them across the table to Lisa. I also remember the tutor shouting at me at one point for sliding someone else a cartoon on a bit of paper. I even carried this through to the point I built a slide out of paper and turned it into a cartoon. But I digress. I love a good digression.
But Lisa…yes, I would love to contact her again and let her know how much I valued her friendship. She, along with others mentioned here, are never far from my thoughts. My life carries on, but I carry them all inside me where they are alive, vibrant and laughing. And I will always be with them, sitting on the grass outside the drama department, in the summer of 1992.

Lisa Osmond (left)

Lisa Osmond (left)

All these memories, and many, many others, will soon be available to read in –

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