Thursday, 2 October 2014

What Kate did...

When I first clapped eyes on Kate Bush, I was thirteen and barely formed. I saw her - this wild, graceful, exquisite girl - on Top of the Pops, on the pages of Smash Hits and on her LP covers. And I listened to her. I ignored the critics who complained that she wailed, who compared her to a banshee. I knew better than that. She sang about Heathcliff and kites and periods and all manner of elemental things with a pure, otherworldly and totally unforgettable voice. And I recognised instinctively what she was saying. Her music, her words, her art spoke to me as a girl, as a teenager, as a twenty-something, as a thirty-something. 

Now, thirty-six years on and I perch on the edge of my seat at Hammersmith Apollo not quite believing my eyes. Her band starts up and she marches on, understated and barefoot, with her singers. It is clear that this is the KT Fellowship – and that includes the audience. She opens with pulsating, prophetic Lily and from the crowd breaks an astonishing wave of affection. We are ecstatic. The years collapse and the tears fall. I am thirteen years old again.

She performs a handful of hits including Joanni, Top of the City, Running Up That Hill and Hounds of Love until, being unconventional Kate, her raw and joyous King of the Mountain is interrupted by a sinister stage invasion: a tall wiry man whirling a bullroarer, scattering Kate and her band. He is the storm bringer. The set is changed, a tempest erupts and we realise something extraordinary is about to happen. The visual song-story of The Ninth Wave begins.

Kate reappears, singing the crystal-clear, mournful And Dream of Sheep wearing a life jacket, floating in a tank and projected against a desolate sea. I am immersed, overwhelmed, in her sound-scape as the tragic drowning unfolds. The stage is colonised by her Fish People, mime artists and actors, pulling us through the story with movement and subtleties that challenge me to keep up. The lights, the effects and the sound are astounding - designed to enthrall us and wrestle our emotions. Kate's voice is rich, soft and angry, yearning and mellifluous as she takes us down through Watching You Without Me to Jig of Life, and from Hello Earth to the terrifying sinking depths of the inevitable. And suddenly, The Morning Fog breaks amid a sunrise as band and performers assemble around her to lift us with the melodious promise of an awakening, a re-birth. We need the interval to recover. 

She greets us in the second half with Aerial's A Sky of Honey, painting the picture of a summer's day with vision and sound, from dawn and daybreak, through a perfect afternoon to dusk when a huge tawny moon – this interlude sung by her son Albert – rises in darkness under a sky of diamonds. I sit dumbfounded, my mouth open. The stage becomes a metaphor for the whole earth as she celebrates the power of nature, of sunlight, sea, sky and birdsong. She takes us to a garden under water, linking us briefly back to The Ninth Wave, and then to soar through the sky, rising with endless flocks of birds. We hear church bells. We revel with her in the seemingly benign pastoral scene. And then as the pageant reaches its crescendo, I realise the true meaning of Aerial – there’s something dark, something primeval and rather sinister. We see chaos and possession and nature turning on us, violently. Then finally, Kate breaks free. She flies.

She finishes with an encore of Among Angels – during which I could have heard a pin drop - and the radiant Cloudbusting. I leave the auditorium stunned, weeping, speechless. Kate Bush's talent and art is so innate and unique, generous and encompassing that to attempt to describe it further will break its spell, make it lose its potency. It's not just about the music.

Outside, on the billboard of Hammersmith Apollo, the sign simply says 'KT Fellowship presents Before the Dawn'. Kate Bush has absolutely no need to have her name up in lights. 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

D Day from the Other Side

The Normandy Diary of Marie-Louise Osmont 1940-1944

Ships and still more ships - the sea made grey with this immense Armada. Thirty-one thousand Allied airmen over northern France in one day, alone. As Churchill said: An invasion far larger than has been seen so far in the world. And, the next day: ‘All still goes well on the coast of Normandy…’

You might feel uneasy at the mild frivolity of that last statement - for we know now this was not the case in those early days. And what of the ordinary people living there beneath the shelling, beneath the fire in Caen, in Bayeux, in Falaise?

Some ten years ago I chanced upon The Normandy Diary of Marie-Louise Osmont 1940-1944 in a second-hand book shop. From her first entry in the summer of 1940 after the Fall of France - stating with simplicity that German soldiers were occupying her small Normandy chateau, bringing in with them their rough boots and penchant for singing - to the last terrified accounts of the devastation of Caen in 1944, I was completely enthralled.

Madame Osmont was an ordinary woman living through the day to day terror and long uncertain years of occupation – and her story stayed with me; it haunted me. As the first booms of the mighty British naval guns thundered in over the Bay of Seine and the multitude of parachutists came raining  down, she witnessed the Allied invasion as it unfolded incredibly and devastatingly around her. But how was she to know, as we do today with the luxury of hindsight, what on earth the outcome would be. Her story intrigued me. I wanted to somehow relay her experience, try to do it justice.

And this is how the idea for my novel The September Garden was born.