Okay, I’m trying to start an internet meme here. I’ve doctored some ‘profound’ words of wisdom quotes, the stuff you often find on Facebook, but added a little addition to each one. Feel free to copy and paste anywhere on the internet!
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…???
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.
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.
“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…
“Sometimes I get that feeling
And I want to settle
And raise a child up with somebody
I get that strong longing
And I want to settle
And raise a child up with somebody
But it passes like the summer
I’m a wild seed again
Let the wind carry me”
Joni Mitchell – ‘Let The Wind Carry Me’
Three women entered my life on a small Maxell cassette tape in the early 90s. They were Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and Happy Rhodes. I have spoken about Laura in another blog post. Happy is yet to come. This post is dedicated to Joni.
The cassette in question came from an old friend, Martin Rowan, whom I met at Pontypool College. Martin was a strange hybrid of new age mysticism and wannabe gangster. He would stand on street corners wearing a fedora, like Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, trying to look like a ‘heavy’. But Martin never tried to peddle drugs to under-age kids. Oh no. Martin would try and sell Guatemalan worry dolls to pensioners. He was that kind of guy.
However, he was also into Joni Mitchell. Or at least, he was absolutely into her 1970 album ‘Ladies Of The Canyon’
“Riaz, listen to this album,” he said one day as we sat on the green outside the college. It was a summer’s day and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Well maybe one, but that was a long way away.
“Who is it?” I asked, taking the cassette off him.
“Joni Mitchell,” he said. “I don’t know anything about her, but this album rocks.”
For something to ‘rock’ in 1990 usually meant it had a two chord bass riff and a one chord guitar ‘melody’ which would be played by an unwashed, long haired, toothless junkie.
I took the cassette home and played it on my beloved Amstrad twin cassette deck midi system. It even had a built in CD player. The album began with ‘Morning Morgantown’ and at once, I was captivated by her crystal sharp voice which sent shivers down my spine. Whatsmore (yes, it’s a word because I say it is. Apparently if you make up a word and it appears in print in five seperate publications within a two year period, the word suddenly becomes official and enters the Oxford English Dictionary. That’s what I am trying to do with ‘whatsmore’) her lyrics were quite unlike the lyrics of other songs I had heard. Joni spoke about the usual subjects – love, life, nature, death, but wove those timeless themes into unusual stories. The song ‘For Free’ was about a successful musician, who played before huge fee-paying audiences, having a chance encounter with a street busker who was playing ‘for free’. The song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ was possibly the first ever composition to send a strong ecological message to it’s audience, reflecting on the fact that trees were being pulled up to make way for parking lots (that’s ‘car parks’ if you live in England, or ‘midnight race tracks’ if you live in Wales).
So the next week I spent £4 of my hard earned £27 unemployment benefit on a copy of Blue, which was the only other Joni Mitchell album that Martin’s The Newsagent’s stocked. Martin’s The Newsagent is not to be confused with Martin Rowan, my friend. Their is a strange similarity in both their names, but Martin’s The Newsagent is a franchise of shops that stretches from Land’s End to John O’Groats while Martin Rowan stretches to about four foot six. And he isn’t a franchise either.
So I bought Blue.
Blue was a beautiful, raw album. When I say raw, I mean emotionally raw. In this album, Joni not only wore her heart on her sleeve, she would also take her heart and put it on *your* sleeve too. It was that kind of album. The arrangements were perfectly sparse and the melodies were instant and memorable. The very first song ‘All I Want’ was a toe-tapping, up-tempo number, but like all of the songs, the lyrics were brightly melancholic. (Hey, I just made that up but I like it!)
Over the next few months I played this album constantly until I knew the lyrics to every song off by heart. I would lie on my bed at my grandparents house in Hollybush, Cwmbran, at 19 years old, with my windows open letting in the soft summer sun, while I listened to this album. Like many people at that age, I wanted to connect with something, someone, someplace. I was looking for my identity. I wanted to know who I was. Hell, if who I was was wrapped up in the lyrics of a musician, who was I to argue?
And I didn’t argue. Joni spoke to me – personally – through her songs. In the same way that many people of that age, across the decades, have had their own favourite artists speak to them ‘personally’ through their music. Whether it was The Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Kate Bush, Lady Gaga, Adele or Rick Astley – there has been a teenager out there who has come to know a little bit more about the world, purely through listening to their favourite artists songs.
“All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin’ behind bottles in dark cafes.
I’ll be a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase, these dark cafe days.”
Joni Mitchell – ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’
I had a few difficult years in the 1990s. I was the full time carer of my beloved grandmother, until she passed away in 1998. I had little time to socialise. Little time to be with friends. I just submerged myself in books and music. And Joni was always there. Whenever I felt low or just wanted some company, I would play Court & Spark, Blue, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Hejira, or one of her many other albums. I certainly had a crush on her. I find creative women extremely attractive – especially musically creative women. If I meet a girl that can play guitar, I tend to fall in love with them after five minutes. That’s just me.
“I wish I had more sense of humour, keeping the sad blues at bay…” – Joni Mitchell ‘Peoples Parties’.
Joni, I hope one day you tour again. I hope one day you come to England and play a concert, preferably in my sitting room, but in a major town will do. Like many artists I have come to love – Crosby Stills & Nash, The Incredible String Band, Nick Drake, Laura Nyro, Happy Rhodes – they either only play in their native country these days, or sadly have passed away. But I would so love to hear Joni Mitchell play live and then sneak backstage and just take her hand and give it a gentle squeeze and say “Thank you.”
Because that’s all I would need to say.
Laura Nyro entered my life on a small Maxell C90 cassette, sent to me in a small brown jiffy bag, sometime in the summer of 1990. It was one of many compilation cassettes sent to me at the time by one of my many pen pals. This particular pen pal was Pami Gill, who would become a very important part of my life nearly twenty years later. But at the time, we were just pen pals and this was one of many cassettes she would send me, hoping I would enjoy the music within.
I had never heard of Laura Nyro. Not a mention of her. Not even a whisper of her in the hallowed pages of the New Musical Express or Sounds. The UK charts from the mid to late eighties were full of Stock, Aitken and Waterman who brought us Rick Astley, Sinitta, Brother Beyond and Kylie Minogue. The alternative was the soft rock sound of bands such as Def Leppard, Bon Jovi or Aerosmith. Mainstream pop had Kate Bush, Wet Wet Wet, Terence Trent D’arby and Genesis. If you were really daring you might tell someone you were into Killing Joke or The Cardiacs, but they might look at you funny.
Or even Bulgarian folk music, which might get you ostracised.
So the name Laura Nyro meant nothing to me. I had no idea what she looked like, whether she was British, if she was old or young or if she had a cat. I knew nothing. So I placed the cassette in my treasured Amstrad midi system and pressed play.
The album that Pami had taped for me was called Eli & The Thirteenth Confession. On the other side of the cassette was a compilation of Laura’s work from the late sixties to the late eighties.
It was like nothing I had ever heard before.
In 1990, at the tender age of 19, I was not really into mainstream chart music anyway. I loved Kate Bush and was just discovering Joni Mitchell. Other albums in my collection at that time were Aja by Steely Dan, U by The Incredible String band and What We Did On Our Holidays by Fairport Convention. All different in their own way. All with their own unique sounds. But none of them prepared me for Laura Nyro.
Her voice was clear, smooth and passionate. And, a big appeal for me, she wrote her own songs.
And what songs they were. The structure of them seemed chaotic to me initially. Especially a song like New York Tendaberry, which I now consider to be one of her masterpieces. At the time, however, its free form compositional style and lack of a ‘hook’ left me puzzled. But the songs on Eli & The Thirteenth Confession were more accessible. Poverty Train (see the video link below for one of her rare live performances of this song) hit me hard with it’s stark, bleak, confessional lyrics and a melody that I found mesmerising. “Why was I born,” sang Laura, and it appealed to that dark melancholic streak inside me that I have always held tightly on to, throughout my life.
Over the coming years I managed to acquire all of her albums, one by one. At the time I was living in Cwmbran, which in 1990 only had an Our Price. I would spend my hard earned ‘unemployment benefit’ travelling to Cardiff, where they had a huge Virgin Megastore. Sometimes I would return back to Cwmbran empty handed, but other times I would return clutching a Laura Nyro CD which I would listen to over and over again, much to the chagrin of my dear bemused Nan who preferred the more dulcet tones of Jim Reeves or Patsy Cline.
And now, twenty-two years later, her music still means the world to me. Albums such as Nested, Mother’s Spiritual and Smile have a special place in my heart and there are certain songs on those albums that I will never tire of.
Sadly, I never got to see Laura play live in the UK. She passed away on April 8, 1997, aged just 49, of ovarian cancer – the same disease that had taken the life of her mother too at the same age.
Laura, I thank you for mark you have made upon my life. I thank you for the pleasure you have given me, through your music, for all these years.
I wish I could have met you.
Kate Bush has played a large part in my life. In my formative teenage years, lacking the sort of parents that could provide me with the sort of role model that could, well, sort me out, I looked further afield. In 1987 John Noakes was too bourgeois and Burt Bacharach wasn’t hip enough so that only left Kate Bush. I discovered her accidentally of course. I guess that’s how most of the best things in life are discovered, by accident, like gravity, penicillin, and nocturnal sexual deviancy.
In 1985 the word on the street was that Back To The Future was a film worth watching. It had all the plot ingredients that can be found in any classic movie from Casablanca to Saving Private Ryan, namely, incest and skateboarding. However, Back To The Future mixed all of this with time travel and school, which was a stroke of genius.
My father took me to the main cinema in Newport, South Wales to watch it. It was October 1985 and I was fourteen years old. I loved going to the cinema. I loved the red velvet seats, the sordid red lighting, the long red curtains and the red flock wallpaper. I think that’s why my favourite colour is blue.
Back then, it was common for some ‘B’ feature to play before the main presentation. Just a year ago I had been to watch The Smurfs And The Magic Flute and had to sit through a full length feature film about a samurai warrior that had been frozen in ice and had come back to life in modern day New York. That was a bit of a bizarre feature to put on before a cartoon but hey, it was the 80s and a lot of bizarre things happened back then.
The ‘B’ feature on this occasion was the pop video for Cloudbusting, the second single to be released off the album Hounds of Love.
I had no idea who Kate Bush was at the time. But this strange music video, which had been produced and directed as if it was a genuine mini movie, entranced me. The images it contained, of a boy on a hill grappling with some strange mechanical machine that could create rain, remained in my head for a long time afterwards. A few months later, scouring the track listing on various compilation albums, I came across her name again. The album was Hits 4, a slightly less successful competitor to the Now That’s What I Call Music series of albums. The Kate Bush single ‘Hounds of Love’ was included on it. By this time I had forgotten the name of the song Cloudbusting and thought that Hounds of Love was, in fact, Cloudbusting. It wasn’t but I enjoyed that song just as much. Incidentally, that album also included The Captain of her Heart by Double, which I sometimes used to sing while standing in the queue at the dole office.
I played Hits 4 constantly, but mostly I would skip to track 2, side 4, to listen to Hounds of Love. I was living in St Arvans Road, Southville, Cwmbran. It was 1986 and Cwmbran had yet to experience the industrial revolution – we still didn’t have a Somerfield, Waitrose or Morrisons. We had to make do with a Gateway and a Famous Army Stores. Online retailers like Amazon didn’t exist back then either. Most of my music was bought from Martin’s the Newsagents which doubled up as a Hornby retailer too.
At the end of 1986, the Kate Bush compilation album The Whole Story was released on a suspecting world. It sold a few million and was promoted by an extensive television advertising campaign, as well as a mention in my favourite comic, Whizzer & Chips. I bought The Whole Story from Boots, ‘the dispensing chemist’. Today, in 2012, Boots are mainly known for their toiletries, perfumes and pharmaceutical wares. In the 80s, they also used to sell computer games and music. Interestingly, I watched the classic film Brief Encounter the other day, which was made in 1943. There is a scene in that film that takes place in a branch of Boots that had a huge book department! Who knows – ten years from now Game might start selling fridges and Waterstones might begin offering in-store cognitive behavioural counselling.
So I bought The Whole Story and spent the next month listening to it at least twice a day on my Sony Walkman, scrutinising the cassette inlay and concentrating on the lyrics.
I noticed on the inlay that there was an official Kate Bush club, based in Welling, Kent. The next day I posted an s.a.e to them, asking for more information…
TO BE CONTINUED…
In 1988 I left school. If I was Groucho Marx I would add, “It was about time, I was forty four.” But I’m not Groucho Marx and I’m not that witty.
Besides, I was only thirty-seven.
Okay, okay, I was just seventeen and I left school due to the fact that my resolve not to learn anything had been very successful. I just didn’t seem to be that good at anything and had heard that there was something called the Youth Training Scheme that school leavers could join, which would pay you for not being good at anything.
So I signed up for a Pitmans course. Now there was no Wikipedia back then. All I had for research was the weekly copy of the New Musical Express which I bought religiously. I used to dress up in a robe and sandals when I walked into Martin The Newsagent’s. Incidentally, not once, in all the Martin’s I have visited in the UK, have I ever met the ubiquitous ‘Martin’ himself. I think he’s made up. A bit like John Noakes.
The other fountain of knowledge available to me in 1988 was Ceefax.
It was through Ceefax that I learned about JHP Training, in Cwmbran, which offered a YTS course of ‘Pitman’ qualifications. This included typing, spreadsheets and wordprocessing. As computing was the only thing I was good at back then (I loved my Amstrad CPC6128), I signed up.
I was one of only two boys in a class of thirty. The other fifty six breasts, all arranged in pairs, belonged to twenty-eight girls.
This was my idea of hell. At 17, I was petrified of girls. They fascinated me of course but scared the hell out of me. So I made a beeline for the only other male in the room. He wore a green anorak and had a distinctive appearance. A few years later, the term ‘grunge’ would be applied to his kind of look, but in 1988, all I had to make do with was ‘pit of infinite angst’, which is how he came across to me.
“Hi,” I said, sitting next to him.
He had headphones on. In 1988, the earpieces of headphones were still attached to a band that went over your head. The earpieces were usually cushioned in small balls of coloured foam that were often blue. Coincidentally, blue was also the name of a classic Joni Mitchell album, as well as of a slightly cosmetically challenged boy band.
He pointed to his portable cassette player.
“What are you listening to?” I asked him.
“All About Eve,” he said, showing me the cassette inlay.
I took it off him and studied it carefully. Scrutinising the covers of albums was something that any self-respecting music lover did in the 1980s. The cover of this one was dark. Gothic, in fact. I knew what gothic was as I had read Anne Radcliffe’s ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ over the last few months, heralded as the first ever gothic novel.
I was into my 18th and 19th literary classics. While all my friends were head banging to Def Leppard and Bon Jovi and drinking Newcastle Brown Ale, I was at home reading Wuthering Heights and The Mayor of Casterbridge, sipping mead from stone goblets.
“Have a listen,” said my new friend, identifying himself as Ian, passing me the headphones.
The track listing had songs with titles such as ‘Flowers in our Hair’, ‘In the Clouds’, ‘Gypsy Dance’ and ‘Apple Tree Man’, it had a slightly hippyish feel about it.
I listened to ‘In the Clouds’.
“This is good,” I said to Ian, who by now had pulled out a gardening magazine from his rucksack and was studying it closely.
I continued listening and quickly realised I was enjoying myself. I did what any self-respecting teenager did in the 1980s. I asked him to make me a copy of it.
All About Eve, to me, was Julianne Regan. To a lot of us back then, the singer *was* the band. Def Leppard *was* Joe Elliott, Duran Duran *was* Simon Le Bon, Dollar *was* that nice looking bird and the other bloke. I began to see gorgeous pictures of Julianne gracing the covers and inside pages of magazines such as Smash Hits, Melody maker and Patches. She even turned up in a copy of Whizzer & Chips, which I still used to buy in secret. I don’t know why I bought it in secret – I used to end up reading it in public on the bus.
So, a few months later, being the proud new owner of an Amstrad midi sytem with a built in CD player, I was eager to amass an instant CD collection. With a generous amount of money given to me by my grandparents I went into town and bought some CDs. They were – The Kick Inside by Kate Bush, The Best of Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music and All About Eve. That was it. That’s as much as my generous £40 bought me as this was still in the age where it was rare to find a CD for less than a tenner. But I didn’t care. It was a new hi-tech medium of listening to music and I was there! I was there when it all happened!
I ended up seeing All About Eve live on two occasions. The first was at St David’s Hall in Cardiff but the second, and most memorable time, was when I went to the Fairport Convention festival in Cropredy, in the summer of 1989. I was barely 18 and it was my first ever festival. It was where I was handed my first ever Eccles cake. I think All About Eve played the early Saturday afternoon set. I do remember them playing ‘In The Meadow’ as their last song and they pumped up the volume and layered on the guitars until it almost became a thrash metal song. I remember sitting there, in a field with 20,000 other revellers, having one heck of a good time.
Great days and great memories. As Simon & Garfunkel once said, they’re all that’s left you.
Many years later and I still enjoy listening to that debut album and it takes me back to a halycon age when nobody questioned why you were on the dole and the thought of carrying a telephone in your pocket was frankly ludicrous.