On Tuesday, Kate Bush will take over London’s Eventim Apollo for 22 nights of concerts collectively entitled “Before the Dawn” (selling out 77,000 tickets in 15 minutes while doing so). Just in time for the momentous occasion — her first live shows since 1979’s epic Cirque du Soleil-styled “The Tour of Life” — the BBC has released an hour-long documentary on the singular chanteuse, featuring talking heads like St. Vincent, Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour, author Neil Gaiman, Elton John, and actor Stephen Fry interspersed with footage of Bush’s interviews, live performances, and clips from music videos.
For someone as anarchic and mesmerizing as Bush, Running Up That Hill is structured like a fairly standard documentary. Bush herself doesn’t appear, so her narrative is fleshed out with comments from those close to Bush, like her brother Paddy, who recruited her as lead vocalist for his pub band. From these intimate retellings, a story emerges that appeals to both fans that bought a $750 ticket and a flight across the pond to see “Before the Dawn,” and an audience that might respond to the high-pitched warbles of “Wuthering Heights” like the Slits‘ Viv Albertine: “Eh? What’s this?”
One of the throughlines of Running is the reconciliation of Bush’s reclusive, “waif-like” side with a singer-songwriter who has complete confidence in her groundbreaking artistic choices. You see her gyrating in a sparkly belly-dancing outfit in the video for 1980’s “Babooshka” and tapping her purple satin-clad derriere in “Wow,” and compare that to the demure 20-year-old softly asking “The Tour of Life” attendees backstage if they enjoyed the show, or responding to comedian Alan Partridge’s satires of her in the late ’90s with, “It’s nice to hear those songs again.”
“She was as timid as hell,” says Lindsay Kemp, who taught mime to David Bowie before he emerged as Ziggy Stardust. Describing his first encounter with Bush at a 1976 dance class at the Dance Centre in Covent Gardens, he continues, “I had to coax her forward… Once Kate started dancing, she was a wild thing.” Putting that much intensity into her work, however, took its toll. British comedian Steve Coogan recalls a conversation with her about performing on stage, in which she admitted terror and fear of going out there again.
Perhaps she’ll be reassured by the documentary’s glowing, thoughtful interviews, despite a few too many “bush” jokes. Many of Running‘s interview subjects, oddly, listen to Kate Bush songs queued up on iPhones or other mobile devices, and the tinny renditions can be distracting, especially in a studio setting where there’s obviously a better sound system. For example, the barely audible strains of 50 Words for Snow somewhat discount Fry’s observation that it’s “wonderfully atmospheric”; but the poor sound quality can’t diminish Big Boi‘s adoration of “Running Up That Hill,” or Kate Bush in general.
The most affecting testament may come from trip-hop legend Tricky, who shares his personal relationship with Bush’s music that speaks to how broadly affecting she can be. Of “Keep breathing my mother in” off “Breathing,” which influenced a career based on his mother, he says, “I’m a kid from a council flat, mixed-race guy, grew up in a white ghetto. It’s a totally different life to Kate Bush, but my whole career is based around that lyric.”
It’s hard to sum up Bush’s career with a series of sound bites and visual clips in 59 minutes, but Running‘s well-rounded selection still serves as a nice preview for “Before the Dawn” without venturing to hypothesize whether the concerts will mark Bush’s triumphant return in other ways.
No matter whether she goes on to make more records, or even tour again, her influence on music is ongoing. As violinist Nigel Kennedy says, “She’s become a legend not just because she’s been absent, but because she’s been as important to musicians as she has been to the British public.”