Four years ago, the Guardian ran a long retrospective feature about Kate Bush's solitary 1979 tour.
It did so in the certainty that she would never play live again.
Half the piece was devoted to former collaborators hypothesising as to why: Bush had found the experience of touring too exhausting; she had been shattered by the accidental death of her lighting director, Bill Duffield, after a performance in Poole; the tour had proved too expensive to stage; she had only ever intended it to be a one-off event, and – having proved she could mount a groundbreaking visually extravagant tour in the face of condescending suggestions that she "couldn't gig" – had chosen to move on.
In fact, a year after the article appeared, she made vague suggestions in an interview that she might perform live again – "maybe not a tour, but something" – but no one really held their breath in anticipation.
Kate Bush had said stuff like that in interviews before, but the only live performances she had given in decades were five fleeting guest appearances, one of which involved duetting with Rowan Atkinson on a song called Do Bears Shit In the Woods? at a charity show.
After Bush broke a 12-year silence with the release of 2005's Aerial, it was painfully apparent that she was only interested in conducting a musical career entirely on her own terms: given that she has only made one public appearance since Aerial's release – collecting an award for her 2011 album 50 Words For Snow – it seemed safe to assume those terms did not include returning to the stage.
On Friday, however, Bush confounded all reasonable expectations by suddenly announcing a 15-night residency at the Hammersmith Apollo – the same venue at which she performed the final shows of her 1979 tour – beginning on 26 August. Although tickets do not go on sale until next Friday, her website almost immediately broke down under the weight of traffic following the announcement.
Even in a world where David Bowie's 2013 return to recording has supposedly immunised the public to rock legends springing surprises on their audience, the level of shock the announcement has caused seems entirely understandable.
The decade that Bowie spent in "retirement" feels like the blink of an eye compared with the 35 years since Kate Bush played a full live show. Indeed, it's hard to think of another artist who has left it so long between gigs. The last time Kate Bush announced she was playing live, James Callaghan was prime minister, beer was 34p a pint, Mind Your Language was still on TV and no one outside of the south Bronx had heard of rapping.
And the public perception of Kate Bush was markedly different. She was a star – indeed she was such a big star that tBBC News covered the preparations for her tour – but there was the sense that she wasn't taken terribly seriously. In the popular imagination she was a dippy woman who waved her arms a lot, sang in a shrieky voice and said wow every other word.
The fact that she was possessed of a talent so preternatural as to appear slightly eerie – if your 13-year-old daughter wrote a song like The Man with the Child in His Eyes, it's tempting to wonder whether your first call would be to a record label talent scout, or a psychiatrist – was somehow outweighed by the fact that she was a gift to impressionists.
Thirty-five years on, she returns to the stage of the former Hammermsith Odeon such a towering, totemic presence in British rock that it's virtually impossible for a young female artist to try anything even vaguely out of the ordinary without being compared to her.
The prospect of her performing live is intriguing, partly because of the question of what's prompted her decision, but mostly because of the question of what form the shows might take: the announcement gave nothing away unless you count the accompanying photo of Bush bobbing about in water, wearing a lifejacket, which some observers have taken as a reference to The Ninth Wave, the suite of songs about a drowning woman that took up side two of her 1985 masterpiece Hounds of Love.
The 1979 tour was a tightly choreographed, physically-demanding extravaganza that left the 20-year-old Bush "wiped out": it's hard to imagine her attempting anything equivalent at 55.
That said, Bush has been obsessed with presenting her music in a suitably lavish way since the start of her career, so it's equally hard to imagine that the shows are going to involve a stripped-down, unplugged performance at the piano. You can speculate wildly, but the truth is that no one really has any idea what Kate Bush is going to do, which seems perfectly fitting: that's been pretty much the case throughout her career.
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