Tuesday 23 September 2014

The rocking chair

Snakes alive - it's my 100th post. So, as the old blog prepares to receive its telegram from its most royal reader (thank you, ma'am, thank you), maybe it's fitting that I've been thinking about age a fair bit in the past few days.

I know why this is. It's because of looking forward to, then owning, and now spending time with the new Leonard Cohen album, 'Popular Problems', released as Cohen turns 80. Cohen's recent history - which I'm sure many of you will already know about - is particularly bittersweet. During the nineties he was content to withdraw from public life into a Buddhist monastery, emerging only to find that he had seemingly been swindled out of his life savings by his management.

While I'm sure the various lines between cause and effect are more complex than this makes it sound - his ultimate response was to pick up where he left off. Touring again, the warmth of the reaction seems to have re-lit his creative fire and he's made two new albums in three years - matching his old work rate. In fact he's more productive at 80 than in the 80s.

'Popular Problems' works beautifully whether taken by itself - or as the latest in a series of stepping stones. Of course, it cleaves closely to the familiar LC sonic template and you could have a successful game of Cohen bingo while listening: Slow, funereal pace? [Tick.] Angelic female backing vocals? [Tick.] Arrangements of seemingly infinite space? [Tick...]

But more than that, it's an album that evokes Cohen ageing into an 'old sound'. I love LC beyond reason, and still, when I listen to some of his early songs, I feel he has that Dylan-like quality of wanting to be let out for the day, a significantly higher vocal on the point of wandering off, bored of the serenity. By the time of 'I'm Your Man', he's deeper and robust, the standard-issue acoustic guitar superseded by a steady, shiny rumble to reflect his voice.

His last album title, 'Old Ideas', has that lovely wordplay that can mean 'new thoughts from the aged' - and to me it feels like it would be the perfect name for this release. As it stands, the reappearance of the black and red shadows from that sleeve on the sparse artwork of this one gives 'Popular Problems' the feel of a sequel. It certainly announces a further stage of maturity. It's stately and sedate; an adult record, for adults. The licks of brass or strings sometimes sound distant, as if our hearing isn't what it was, or too sharp or strident a blast would worry our hearts. Roaming basslines carry tunes leaving Cohen with the drawling, delicious precision of a rapper on a 45 played at 33 ('Almost Like the Blues'). On one track, 'Did I Ever Love You', LC carries an audibly demanding - and gorgeous - tune in the verse, only to delegate the entire chorus version of the theme (a faster shuffle) to backing singer Dana Glover, as if he's off for a lie-down or getting his breath back. The record insists you follow its trajectory, and take the appropriate time to digest.

Cohen is so advanced in years for a rock star that his age is still a surprise, an anomaly. As ever, this is just rock being an upstart. Length of tooth is not an issue in, say, classical, jazz or folk. You're expected to wave your baton until it drops, or play piano until you slide off the stool to the pedals. But rock - a youth itself in comparison - is still working its way through what to do with its first old people, despite carrying a hint of the idea that even pop shouldn't be left to a bunch of unreliable kids. More mature figures have haunted bands' peripheries since the start and some pioneers have attained their own fame/notoriety: businessmen (Brian Epstein, Berry Gordy), ferocious guardians (Peter Grant), boffins (George Martin, Joe Meek) - it's why we have the Cowells and Watermans of recent decades.

But now the artists themselves are moving nearer the radiator, and warming up. Obviously, with nostalgic hits tours, there is sheer exhilaration for the audience - plus income and, I trust, a pleasurable sense of achievement for the musicians. That said, I wonder if we're beginning to see a trend where those in their career-twilight are discovering the freedom and will to make late and great artistic statements. Paul Simon released the extraordinary 'So Beautiful or So What?' in the year he turned 70, and assembled a crack band to tour it (the 'Live in New York City' record showcases these amazing sets, without being skewed towards the 'Graceland in full' gigs he was doing around the same time). Scott Walker - the personification of avant-old-guard - is about to release an album with drone/doom metal band Sunn O))). Robert Plant, who will not stay artistically still, however intense the pressure to cave in and let Page reassemble Led Zeppelin, has just released a new record, with another new band, to rave reviews. And appropriately enough, the spring chicken among them, Kate Bush, has returned to the stage showcasing recent rather than old material and re-inventing the 'normal' live gig into something rather innovative: the introspective, intimate spectacle.

This doesn't appear to be a group dynamic. Bands have too many moving parts, nothing still or exact enough to settle. I think people really do prefer their Stones and Who when keeping to the hits. There is something about it being one pair of shoulders, a solo figure who has borne all that experience and is channelling decades' worth of it into their music. And it strikes me, just running my eye over the examples I've happened to mention - Cohen, Simon, Walker, Plant, Bush - that it helps if there was something old about you, even when you were actually young.

Sunday 21 September 2014

Chorus line-up: Opera on 3

Another public service announcement! Some of you will know that one strand running through various posts on this blog is my rediscovery of - and resulting addiction to - opera. I'm also aware how lucky I am to be in a position to go to a fair bit of live opera, in particular at the Royal Opera House (where I've bought the 'lowest rung' level of membership).

However, one absolutely invaluable aid to hearing a lot of opera easily, especially if you can't get there in person, is BBC Radio 3. Thanks again to my holiday surgically removing my finger from the pulse, I've only just realised that the new radio opera season starts - as I type - well, today.

The 'Opera on 3' strand features complete performances from a variety of venues and companies. (This season seems to feature noticeably fewer Royal Opera House performances than the last - although note that two slots are still shrouded in mystery. It's certainly to the Beeb's credit that it casts its net wider than the capital to feature the likes of Opera North and Welsh National Opera, and we hear from Madrid and New York, too.)

I've included the schedule below for ease of reference. You can also find the list, with more details, guides, podcasts and the like on the BBC website's 'Opera on 3' page - although it may be easier to paste and print the basics from here. Remember that if you're in a region where you can access the BBC iPlayer, the operas will normally be available for seven days after the broadcast (I believe you can still click through to them through the main page).

Mon 22 Sept, 7.30pm - Mozart "La Finta Giardiniera" (or "The Pretend Garden Girl") (Glyndebourne)
Sat 27 Sept, 6.15pm - Verdi "Otello" (English National Opera - so, sung in English)
Sat 4 Oct, 6pm - Handel "Xerxes" (ENO again, sung in English)
Mon 13 Oct, 7pm - Purcell "The Indian Queen" (Teatro Real, Madrid)
Mon 20 Oct, 7.30pm - Rossini "Mose In Egitto" ("Moses in Egypt") (Welsh National Opera)
Mon 27 Oct, 7.30pm - Monteverdi "The Coronation of Poppea" (Opera North, sung in English)
Mon 3 Nov, 7.30pm - Verdi "I Due Foscari" ("The Two Foscari") (Royal Opera House)
Mon 10 Nov, 7.30pm - to be announced.
Sat 15 Nov, 6.15pm - Mozart "Idomeneo" (Royal Opera House)
Sat 22 Nov, 7.30pm - to be announced.
Sat 29 Nov, 6.45pm - Donizetti "L'Elisir D'Amore" ("The Elixir of Love") (Royal Opera House)
Sat 6 Dec, 6pm - Rossini "Il Barbiere Di Siviglia" ("The Barber of Seville") (Metropolitan Opera, New York)
Sat 13 Dec, 5pm - Wagner "Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg" ("The Mastersinger of Nurnberg") (Metropolitan Opera, New York)

I am not steeped enough in live attendance to give a detailed analysis of the casts, but I do know that some of my favourite singers are involved. In particular, Alice Coote - remarkable mezzo and trouser-wearer extraordinaire - sings the title role in ENO's 'Xerxes'. Also two great baritones feature at the Met - both particularly good actor-singers: Christopher Maltman in 'Barber' and Johan Reuter (who was magnificent in the ROH production of Stauss's 'Die Frau Ohne Schatten' and is reunited here with tenor co-star Johan Botha) in 'Meistersinger'.

Finally - for an accessible, enthusiastic and quietly knowledgeable introduction to the upcoming productions at the Royal Opera House in particular, I can warmly recommend this blog post. Karen Richardson's 'Nights at the Garden' is always fair, witty and informative reading (not always guaranteed in opera criticism!) and well worth following.

Toi toi toi!

Saturday 20 September 2014

News just in...

Just back from a wonderful fortnight's break in Northumberland (there'll be more on this in an upcoming post) but the wi-fi access in our holiday cottage was going through a difficult, fickle phase, and driving our landlady to distraction. I did little more than hop on and off Facebook to post pictures and the like. As a result, I've only now fully realised that a lot of the musicians I love and support, in a kind of artistic perfect storm, have become extremely busy in my absence - perhaps they prefer it when I'm not watching? - and there's a great deal of activity to report.

So, in the spirit of retrospective efficiency, here's a round-up. Sorry that some of it is short-notice, and also very London-based in parts, but it is still far better if you know about these people and their music, than if you don't. Here goes! In chronological order, with links as we go along.....

Er, now
Shadow Biosphere album, 'Parallel Evolution'

Some of you will, I hope, be familiar - especially if you read this - with Seventh Harmonic, the powerful neoclassical band featuring the compositions of Caroline Jago. Shadow Biosphere is a new project from Caroline, and SH drummer and visuals guru Lesley Malone. Actively concerned with ecological issues (the duo are behind the epic fundraising 'No Red Seas' compilations), this album veers into atmospheric ambient territory inspired by nature and super-nature. Ascribing themes to instrumental music, then realising those themes, is not a simple task; yet even as you stream the opening track, it conjures up waves, heartbeats and a real sense of depth. Available straight away for download and there's a limited CD release too: here's the Bandcamp page - and a preview clip:

Wednesday 24 September
Jo Quail and Jordan Reyne on the bill at the O2 Academy 2, Islington

This concert is headliners Tribazik's launch gig for their latest single. I confess that the bands at the later end of the bill are new to me (although I quite like that sort of 'discovery' element and will try and still until trains or fatigue defeat me). But the key point here is the chance to see these two particular artists on the same extremely affordable ticket. (I've blogged about cellist-composer Jo in particular on several occasions in the past - try here first.) Both women are highly charismatic artists who marry the organic/acoustic elements of their playing with loops/electronics to each become something unique and fearless: neither seems to recognise performing solo as placing any restriction on what they can achieve onstage and take you somewhere quite beyond what you might expect.

Arrive early. JR goes first (around 7.20pm or so) with JQ next (approx 7.50pm). Do not miss. And you can find and buy their music on the web here:

If you like some crunch with your cello, you should also have a listen to this: Jo guesting on the new EP from Iroha, a rather fine band dealing in a kind of dream metal. Addictive stuff - the Bandcamp page for the new release is here.

Sunday 28 September
The Disappointment Choir play the Finsbury, Green Lanes, Manor House

This band feature two highly talented pals of mine, Bob and Katy. They are, on paper, a slightly lunatic match. Bob is an electric animal, fusing laptop boffinry with guitar heroics and deadpan vocals, while Katy is a powerfully rhythmic acoustic guitarist possessing a voice with both purity and grit. What results is marvellous: indie pop at its root, but with generous lashings of folk and dance influences, and harmonies that gel rather than blend, making your attention switch between them and keeping the songs fresh. (I wrote about them at greater length here.)

Sadly, I can't get to this gig, their last in a while. But as I've seen them twice, I can confidently send you as my envoys, should you be free. Bear in mind that their album 'Polar Ships' is temporarily available on a 'pay as much/little - as you want' basis on their Bandcamp page, so you can download for an advance listen.

Friday 17 October
Sieben plays Surya, in Pentonville Road, King's Cross

For us capital-cocooned dark folk lovers, this really is an event. Sieben - the name used by Matt Howden for albums of his own songs (as opposed to soundtrack work and the like) - is based in Sheffield and mostly plays locally or on mainland Europe, so a London visit is something rare and special. (Ticket link here.)

Matt's gigs are unforgettable - again, with the aid of a trusty loop pedal, he uses just his voice and violin to build up entire songs live, and flits between showman and shaman as he employs a range of visual as well as sonic devices: whether it's the whirring of the bow around his head or singing into his violin pick-up rather than his mic to create a different vocal sound. (Start with his latest beautiful record - which I write about here - then work backwards. It's all available from the Sieben/Matt Howden website. I can also heartily recommend Matt's collaborations with his father, poet Keith Howden: 'Barley Top' and 'The Matter of Britain'.)

Also worth noting that the concert features among its support bill the brilliant Lloyd James of Naevus, performing a solo set.

Thursday 6 November
Rasp is unleashed!

This brings a few of the preceding paragraphs nicely together, as Rasp is a collaboration between Matt Howden and Jo Quail. Long-standing readers (I LOVE YOU ALL!) may remember that I went to Sheffield to witness this come to life first-hand (read the post here): Rasp was and is as much a performance art event as a band and was deliberately created by Matt and Jo as essentially an improvisational project, the debut record written and recorded from start to finish in two days. This would be startling for any musicians, but given the intricacy and concentration of their normal work, which involves such careful composition and layering of parts and loops, it was a brave and bold departure. The results - where you can recognise their individual sounds and styles, but meshed and filtered in such different ways - are arrestingly great. After a hiatus to get their latest solo records out, the Rasp project is coming back to life with the album's release in November. I will share more details as and when they appear - in the meantime, you can listen to a preview track below, which was donated to the latest 'No Red Seas' release.... and so we come full circle.

Monday 8 September 2014

Picking up the baton

I was interested to read that the BBC had come in for some stick last week (it must all seem a bit of a blur to the BBC these days, to be honest) for sidelining contemporary classical music. It's possible to understand why the Beeb might be particularly aggrieved at an accusation along these lines. After all, we are in the thick of the Proms, possibly the greatest classical music festival in existence (80-odd concerts every summer), curated and run by the BBC and broadcast in its entirety live on Radio 3.

This year they have managed to broadcast three Proms a week on television (BBC4) and brought back the successful magazine show 'Proms Extra', which combines the relaxed 'panel on a sofa' format with expert - but never forbidding - dissection of classical works, not to mention some nifty closing performances by the guests. Katie Derham is particularly good at this format, knowing when to direct rather than interrogate, and by preparing the right questions for the right people, can set 'the sofa' off by itself. I've particularly fond memories of Mark Elder explaining why having composers present at rehearsals is a nightmare - with Eric Whitacre sitting right next to him; Peter Maxwell Davies delighting in "being 80 all over the place"; and the razor-sharp, yet gentle and precise, insights of pianists Imogen Cooper and Stephen Hough.

Yet, in one of those odd decisions that feels like it was made in a clouded instant and now cannot be reversed, they have been editing modern classical pieces out of TV broadcasts of concerts featuring work by old 'reliables'. As The Guardian reported on 2 September, these are not isolated incidents: pieces by Harrison Birtwhistle, Jonathan Dove, Helen Grime, John McLeod and Roxanna Panufnik were all missing when the Proms in which they appeared were shown.

The points of opposition seem clearly drawn. The BBC: we've always had to cut Proms on TV because of schedule constraints. Obviously we have to keep in the pieces audiences will know. Composers/commentators: well, actually, you don't. In fact, you're denying new music an audience, when exposing them to unfamiliar stuff is exactly what you should be doing. (It seems to go without saying that TV is the place you find your new audience. The radio broadcasts are utterly comprehensive, but listeners are usually looking for them - there aren't many people who find Radio 3 by accident, repeatedly, only to think, "Oh GOD. Classical again." But people still channel hop and stumble across things on the telly.)

If only it was this simple. After all, the BBC have made some contemporary pieces available in visual form. In particular, they appear on iPlayer - possibly the least likely place you would casually find something ever. And new music with a kind of occasional reason to take centre stage (poignantly, the final works of John Tavener, or the 80th birthday celebration for Peter Maxwell Davies) have received the 'proper' BBC4 treatment.

The problem is surely the editorial 'lie' of messing with individual concerts. One of the ways you expose rookies to new music - especially shorter works - is to combine them with more familiar fare. (This is something the Proms really do, always, strive to achieve.) And if you're on your programming mettle, you can draw out links between the older warhorses and the modern pieces, expose the odd influence, and make that newer item more memorable for the people hearing it. Televising concerts with the latest piece of the jigsaw missing: no good can come of it. It's revising the history of that performance to wipe out something that the people who were actually there got to hear. It's as if no-one is pushing classical music forward, stepping up to the challenge presented by the 'greats'. As if no new music can jostle into place and stand shoulder to shoulder on the same stage as its ancestors.

Choose whether or not to broadcast particular concerts: yes. Show concerts only to censor the bits you're worried are difficult: no. If you're showing a Prom, I want to experience what the audience experienced: no less.

On another note, though: fans of pop, rock, soul, jazz or any other genre might be reading this and thinking: 'Ah, diddums'. The truth is - do we really get any new music TV? Not really. The only real example is 'Later...', but that suffers from its 'live authenticity' format - laudable perhaps, but highly constraining because it favours a certain kind of conventional band set-up. Otherwise, it's all heritage telly: theme nights on BBC4 about anyone who isn't current; talking-heads list programmes; and coverage of events like Glastonbury slipping through the net only to be 'multi-platformed' into oblivion behind iPlayer and the red button. (The Glastonbury broadcasts this year were so mind-bendingly complex, they needed a page of FAQs explaining where bits of coverage were hiding. Imagine if it was a sporting event: "Highlights from Glastonbury every evening, 10pm, BBC2".)

So - it would appear the BBC is scared of all new music - not just classical. Yet part of me thinks that it could be classical music programming that can drag the Beeb out of this rut. Let me briefly return to the secret weapon that is 'Proms Extra'. I realise this is random enough to be, possibly, 'pie-in-the-blue-sky-thinking-outside-the-box', but why can't we have it on all year round? (With a different name, I suppose!) The BBC seem convinced - rightly, I think - that during the Proms there is an audience for, of all things, a weekly magazine show about classical music, containing a round-up of current concerts, educational pieces, comment and performance, all based on concerts given in two venues in London. Why won't this audience still be there when they are starved of actual Proms?

The more I think about this phantom show, the more I fantasise: in London alone, there are institutions that Radio 3 already have ongoing relationships with - Wigmore Hall (our leading chamber/recital venue), the two main opera houses, the Barbican, the South Bank Centre etc... Get the cameras in. Get them on the show to let viewers know what's coming up. And there's no need to be London-focused - the BBC already has five orchestras, and one is based in Wales, another in Scotland. What about the Halle Orchestra, or Opera North, and so on....? The classical music press assumes its readers are either based countrywide or will travel: the magazines carry advertising for ensembles and venues all over the country, and for opera in particular, globally. The TV show would be completely within its rights to follow suit.

And the classical field is reaching outside its own perimeter. Radio 3 has stumbled slightly with the loss of 'World Routes' but it still has some great jazz and some truly wide-ranging stuff with 'In Tune' and even more so 'Late Junction'. The Proms has already absorbed folk, jazz, urban, world and soundtrack music into its remit, not so much in the spirit of 'crossover' but inclusivity. Could my pipedream of a classical music show eventually gather these up too (in the same way that the real 'Proms Extra' has made a point of featuring the more esoteric concerts)... until the BBC realises that the audience for new music really has been there all along?

Wednesday 3 September 2014

New dawn: Kate Bush

It's still sinking in that I've now been to see Kate Bush play live at the Apollo in Hammersmith, London. A lot has been written about these gigs following the opening night of the residency, and I'm sure what I type will overlap with some of it - all the same, I'm aware that some folk going later in the run want to know as little about the concert in advance as possible. If this applies to you: please consider this post spoiler-packed, and back away now. I would love you to come back when you've seen the show, and compare notes.

Before opening night, Kate Bush had not played live for 35 years. Her previous appearances in 1979, involving all manner of theatre and dance set pieces, had apparently resulted in the kind of exhaustion severe enough to put her off doing it again indefinitely... Or, until now.

Inevitably, as when any revered artists stage comebacks or reunions, there is genuine concern (from fans), scaremongering (from the media) and all stages in between. Can it possibly live up to our expectations? And come to think of it, what are our expectations?

In the event, none of this mattered. I had read that audiences had been giving her a standing ovation as soon as she appeared and, while I realised that Kate Bush probably attracts the most 'on-side' crowd of any performer, this felt somehow improbable, too yearning. However - there myself, in the moment, I leapt to my feet as the lights dimmed, somehow not bursting with the intense joy, excitement - and even relief - that pulsed through us all like a charge.

Kate smiles broadly, most of the time, and it brought home to me how few rock performers really communicate how much they are enjoying themselves. She leads on her miniature platoon of backing singers and dancers in a line, then veers off to centre stage, faces front, opens her arms as if to embrace us and behaves precisely as if she'd never been away.

First: the facts. The show is in three sections, plus an encore. The first part is a 'set', performed in the style of a normal concert. Then parts two and three - either side of an interval - are made up of full performances of her two 'sequences' of songs 'The Ninth Wave' (the second side of the 'Hounds of Love' album) and 'A Sky of Honey' (the entire second disc of her double album 'Aerial'). Back on stage for two more songs... and then she's gone. The gig was in fact close to three hours long, but so captivating that it now feels to me like an instant, every bit the dream that seemed impossible for decades.

The sequences are not just played - they are fully staged with tremendous visual flair and in some parts actually dramatised, with sketch elements and spoken word interludes. As befits someone whose music can sound so alien and otherworldly - and somehow a perfectly plausible product of 80s recording studios - the presentation is an ingenious mix of high and low tech. During 'The Ninth Wave', a miniature stylised helicopter (with blinding searchlight) careers over our heads, yet the ocean it's searching consists purely of huge billowing sheets, agitated into waves over the stage by arms and air.

As beautiful and overwhelming as this was, it was perhaps the opening section of the evening that, for me, held the most intrigue. While the songs had no formal connection with each other, it seemed to me that they were very carefully chosen, every bit a 'suite' as the two sequences that followed. I had forgotten how sinuous, how sinewy much of her music is; the band (who have clearly been drilled to telepathic levels of tightness) do not chop, strum or clatter over or against each other. Instead they make an almost uniform sound that lays the groundwork for that voice to soar. 'Hounds of Love' itself no longer jerks and judders in quite the way it used to - instead it seems to pound and resound. Most of the rhythms, like Kate herself, seem both slinky and stately, creating a kind of delicate funkiness that brings something else into focus: she is still a brilliant mover.

The pace is measured, but Kate dances all the time. Hands, arms, head, bare feet - all in subtle motion, regular, understated, buoyant on the beat. The image she has chosen to present is elegance itself: the cascades of long black tresses are familiar enough, but she turns away from the audience frequently and we can see the strands of her black shawl create the illusion her hair is almost infinite. (It would be quite wrong, in fact, to assume this isn't a physically demanding show - the theatrical sections demand a lot of mime and movement, including some brilliant illusions that involve her moving some significant distances in very short spaces of time.)

Her voice is still extraordinary, its power and versatility intact. She has total control of quiet/loud dynamics and mood swings that turn on an instant - especially during the classic 'Top of the City'. 'King of the Mountain' closes the opening set (deliberate, I'm sure, as the storm at its finish hurtles straight into the swirl and surf of 'The Ninth Wave') - and Kate finds notes so low, she merges with the bass and enhances its undercurrent.

Why this show? Why now? Why play nothing from the first four albums - when there's every suggestion that vocally she has nothing to fear from them - or, for that matter, nothing from 'The Sensual World' either? I suspect it's something to do with how driven and forward-looking an artist she is.

Her recent 'Director's Cut' album - one of her few retrospective enterprises - had her cherry-pick from 'The Red Shoes' and 'The Sensual World' and dress the songs in new sonic clothes. With the 'Red Shoes' tracks, she took the chance to improve seven of them and make versions she thought were better. 'Sensual World', on the other hand, went through slightly different treatment - only four new versions, not necessary, as such, but more opportunistic. For example, the estate of James Joyce relented on using text from 'Ulysses' in her lyrics, so she was able to put together the title track the way she'd originally envisaged. This is the closest she has come to any kind of serious reissue - as the collector's version of the album comes with the original two source albums as a bumper bonus. Only 'The Red Shoes' was remastered though - she was quite happy to include 'Sensual World' as it was. (And those first four albums remain untouched, too - so far, only 'The Dreaming', with no enhancements at all, has been given a new lease of life on her label.)

So, once something is completely finished - once she is truly happy with it - she can apparently lay it to rest. And I can see why she feels no need to revisit the early days. While her musical genius arrived fully formed, she explodes across those unforgettable first albums - released at the kind of rate that we'd never associate with her now - living through her adolescence and education in music, everything from periods to politics making cameo appearances amid the cultural and literary references.

Now her music over time has become more progressive, in the best sense of the word. Ideas and concepts are worked through at greater length, in greater detail - not only the sequences we heard live, but also, say, the latest record '50 Words for Snow', which stretches its seven wintry tracks languorously across 65 minutes.

The theme of 'artist as mature woman' (with precocious girlhood behind her) seems deliberately evoked in the show - in the opening section, two of the six songs bear women's names ('Lily' and 'Joanni') - and motherhood, even more so. This is inescapable given the prominent role she gives her game, charismatic son Bertie who dances, acts and sings until he's definitely made his own independent mark on the performance. Bertie takes on the character of the Painter in the 'Aerial' sequence - originally voiced by, of all people, Rolf Harris. While one instinctively wants to gloss over this, it's hard not to think Kate is boldly reclaiming the part by giving it to her son, a child at the time it was recorded. It's also there in the family bond central to the drowning woman in 'The Ninth Wave' who pictures herself safely back at home with her partner and boy.

I think - and hope - Kate Bush regards this beautiful, beguiling show not as nostalgia (like so many hits-packed comeback gigs) but as the latest step in her ongoing artistic progression. I have loved Kate Bush all my listening life. Would I have preferred more crowd-pleasers? No. I would have been equally elated, but not as inspired, thrilled and challenged. She has put away childish things, it seems - and so must I. Gladly.

* * *
The photograph is the main portrait on the page of Kate Bush's website advertising the shows. I can't see a named photographer but will credit if anyone knows and can tell me. Any problems with its use here - please say, and I'll remove it.