“Your reason for coming to the U.K.?”
I know better than to josh around with customs officials. Once, crossing the border from Tijuana, my mom was asked by an immigration agent where she was from and she quipped “Kuala Lumpur” for a giggle. That little remark didn’t go over well.
But in this case I’m telling the whole truth. I flew to London to see a show I never, ever thought would happen, by my all-time favorite musical artist. Kate Bush hadn’t performed live in 35 years. Though she has continued to make music since her one and only 1979 tour, rumors abounded about stage fright and travel aversions; some people thought she simply preferred the studio environment. When 22 shows at London’s Hammersmith Apollo went on sale in March, 77,000 tickets sold out in 15 minutes.
After seeing tickets going for up to $1,000 on eBay, I gave up hope. But then luck struck: I joined a Kate Bush fan board and saw a posting from a German named Rolf with an extra ticket to the Sept. 5 show — one he was selling at face value. It was a bad financial time to take a pricey trip (I’ve been looking for work, and beyond that, my kid needs my daily limo-driver services), but, hey, it was Kate Bush.
I booked a cheap room – seriously, $80 a night! — at the fittingly named London Visitors Hotel. Ten days later, frequent flyer miles cashed in, I was on a plane.
Kate Bush, of course, is the British musician who burst on the scene in 1978 with the colossal hit “Wuthering Heights,” followed by a slew of other chart-toppers. She writes intricate songs, plays keyboards like a genius demon and sings with a soaring voice that can be chilling, ethereal, commanding and warm as chestnuts. She’s also known for her interpretative dance routines onstage and in videos. Many college students wrote their dissertations on the meaning of her elaborate lyrics.
I first fell hard for The Dreaming, her 1982 whack-job album of jarring, melodic, dizzying, grandiose songs. On the cover, she had a small gold key on her tongue. Every song was like a little play. I’d never heard anything like it.
Her music was the perfect next chapter for this Anglophile hooked on anything with an English accent, starting with the movie Oliver! and quickly moving into Robert Plant and David Bowie. Kate Bush’s music has more moors, English roses and 10-shilling notes per stanza than Dickens.
How much do I love her? She’s my deathbed song. Years ago I decided I want to leave this mortal coil to her chilling track “Hello Earth” from Hounds of Love. (The details of my final-breath scenario have yet to be worked out.) My son was even born on Kate’s birthday — that’s gotta count for something, right? I had planned to have “Cloudbusting” playing in the delivery room, just so I could say that her lyric “your son’s coming out” was literally happening.
The point is: I worship Kate Bush, and I absolutely had to be at one of her shows. And now I was there.
Members of a Facebook group I joined, “Martin’s Kate Bush Meet Up Group,” gather before each show at the Swan pub down the road from the Apollo. We come from all over. Besides the Germanly low-key Rolf, there is a sarcastic gay Irishman named Tony who attended the previous night and whispers, “She does all new stuff.” There’s Vickie from Chicago, who painstakingly listed every group member by the night they were attending. Fun gal Catherine from Lancashire will later be escorted out by security for trying to get onstage to nab a feather. Self-proclaimed “crazy fan from Texas” Amanda explains how she packaged each ticket: “I had two sets of tickets for two different nights. Each ticket was placed into a Ziploc bag. Then all four bags into one large Ziploc bag, then sandwiched between very sturdy cardboard.”
Hoisting a pint with this group — including Jo’anne from Liverpool, who’d spent £450, or about $730, for her ticket — I’m amazed by how much we have in common, even beyond the fact that none of us ever thought we’d be here.
Unlike me, some had saved every magazine clipping about their idol and talk expertly about initial printings of certain album covers. But we all bond, pronto, about how emotional we are going into our No. 1 bucket list event. One thing we feel strongly about is how we avoided all spoilers in the press about the show. “I know two things I wish I didn’t know,” I confess. Petrified looks of “don’t say another word” appear at every angle.
My ticket is fourth row, dead center. I hear that Elton John and Robert De Niro are both in the audience, but I can’t be bothered to look for them. Kate Bush is soon coming onstage.
At promptly 7:45 p.m., Before the Dawn begins. Kate walks out with band — barefoot, dressed all in black. It’s really her. I’m like a child seeing Santa Claus. I can’t believe she’s there in the flesh.
She opens with “Lily,” followed by several hits with hand-held mic — no headset (which she used before Madonna or anyone else). She seems a bit demure at first, though the crowd’s adulation equals 3,000 beating hearts of soaring love.
After “King of the Mountain,” the show morphs into a theatricality that is entirely something new. She flies, turns into a bird, almost drowns, gets rescued from the ocean onto a moving buoy. There’s a helicopter overhead. And a giant birch tree lands on her piano. We all sing along to the “yeah-ee-yeah-ee-yeah-ee-yos” of “Cloudbusting.”
The show is over. I exit. Outside, Andrea from L.A. is waiting near a gate where Kate is said to emerge in her limo. “I know the windows will be tinted, but I want to wave goodbye,” she says. I can’t take that kind of finality, so I walk down Hammersmith Road.
By the way, Kate Bush’s mug is nowhere to be seen in the National Portrait Gallery, and that is a crime.
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