When I was younger, I had a test to find out if somebody was a true Kate Bush fan. I’d ask them to name their favourite song. If they were a true Kate Bush fan, my reasoning went, they wouldn’t answer with a song. They would simply say, “The Ninth Wave”. We’d exchange knowing nods and go on, nothing more needing to be said.
I don’t think I’m as pompous as I used to be, I hope, but there’s a certain truth behind the test.
The Ninth Wave is the second half of the Hounds of Love album. It’s a suite of songs based around a woman who is cast adrift in the ocean, kept afloat by her lifejacket. During the next twenty-five minutes or so, her thoughts/dreams/hallucinations become ever more powerful as she imagines watching over those she’s left behind, being tormented by both demons and priests, and floating above planet Earth; all this while trying desperately to remain conscious.
Hounds of Love was the first album that Kate Bush self-produced in her own studio, and what it did was marry songwriting with production. This enabled her to create a fully realised sonic world.
The best way to listen to it is on headphones in a darkened room, to cut off your other senses.
Last night, the concert was a triumph from beginning to end. But seeing The Ninth Wave brought to life was a particular highlight for me. It mixed film, music and theatricality. Even her son Bertie artfully played out a scene in the drama. At another point an eerie lighting rig, with its flashing red lights and a roving spotlight, floated desperately over the audience, searching for the survivors of the shipwreck, as the sound of a helicopter reverberated around the auditorium. The radio chatter from the pilot, the music, the searching spotlight; it tugged at the heartstrings without manipulating you with cheap tricks.
The Ninth Wave is undoubtedly the deep-rooted product of a single-minded imagination. I think that’s why Kate Bush fans are so passionate about her work. They sense an artist who doesn’t chase an audience, who makes music for herself. That might seem selfish to some. But in fact it’s quite the opposite.
It’s the greatest respect any artist can show her audience.