Saturday 30 August 2014

Kate Bush: A Dissenting View

I write these words with some trepidation. Must it really fall to my lot to be the little boy watching the Emperor’s parade who states the obvious? Is no-one courageous enough to boldly say “Kate Bush is rubbish”? 

Well not rubbish exactly, but not the transcendental genius and god-like avatar that everyone in the media is proclaiming. We can discount  John Humphrys’ opinion, of course, but when the singer adorns the cover of the new Mojo, with the gushing tag-line 


and further, 


... well, something just snapped. 

May I just say that Kate Bush is alright if your ideal of femininity is Glinda the Good Witch of the South. For deeper, more complex insights into the female condition, might I offer Bjork, a more consistently innovative artist, P.J. Harvey, who could eat Kate Bush for breakfast were she not a vegetarian, and Jenny Hvall and Susanna Wallumrod, whose joint album, Meshes of Voice is as captivating as Aerial is said to be, and a lot more edgy (and still waiting a review here)? And ... Laura Nyro.

Why Laura Nyro? Well, there I was, away from home for the first time, in 1977, grooving to ‘I Am the Blues’ by Laura Nyro (it must have been on a cassette) in my little bedsit, when, quite by chance, a neighbour's radio issued forth with ‘Wuthering Heights’, the then current hit by youthful sensation Kate Bush. The close juxtaposition didn't do Bush any favours: 'Wuthering Heights" seemed very prissy and fey by comparison.  

Unfair, I know. That competitive mentality, where the claim of one artist cancels out another, is self-defeating and juvenile, and opposed to my deep-held views about inclusiveness and respect for individuality. I know. I’m just saying what happened, and the drift of my thoughts, and the conclusion I reached back then. 

And somehow, the Kate Bush prejudice lay unexamined through all the subsequent decades, though, like everyone else, I tapped an appreciative foot to ‘Running Up That Hill’ in 1985.

I can’t here critique Aerial or its successor, 50 Words For Snow, or pass comment on her triumphant comeback concert because a) I haven’t heard them and b) I wasn’t there. I mainly dislike the unthinking, uncritical critical consensus that deems that Kate Bush can do no wrong, and object, on principle, to media-prescribed compulsory worship.

But not to be negative, we do have things to be grateful to Kate Bush for. I know that Jon Thorne was inspired to take up the string bass after hearing Danny Thompson on Hounds of Love, and has shadowed the maestro to the point of dedicating a music suite to him (Watching the Well, Manchester Jazz Festival, 2007), and has stepped into his shoes by accompanying Donovan in live performance.  

I also have a happy memory of playing Charades in a Lancaster park where Sue’s gay friend mimed ‘Running Up That Hill’ by running up a hill! In my mind’s eye, I see him running backwards. Was “backwards” part of the lyric, or am I (or possibly Sue’s gay friend) confusing ‘Running Up That Hill’ with ‘I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas’? 


Monday 11 August 2014

Steam Engine Marvels and Noble Don’t Knows

This two-part youtube posting came to my attention yesterday: - 

Fascinating in its own right, and exemplary in a number of ways. 

Surprisingly, it is unscripted. Only a few broadcasters have the command and authority to extemporise freely on air: famously, the historian A.J.P. Taylor, and virtually no other. 

In several places, Alex concedes that he might have the facts wrong, and when he doesn’t know something, he says so. How refreshing! How innocent! This, in a culture where politicians and pundits would sooner die than admit that there’s anything they don’t know, or worse, that they might be wrong. It seems that only neurological scientists and steam train buffs (i.e. those with deep and long-held expertise in arcane and specialised areas) have the humility to own to their own ignorance. 

There’s a winning directness and ease about the presentation. Look, and be charmed at the interaction of homemade model animation and stock documentary footage. Listen, and learn something about a subject you didn’t think you cared about. Enthusiasm, wonder and love make for the best entertainment and the most painless instruction. 

Shall I declare an interest? I am the film-maker’s doting uncle, and Alex does for steam trains what I try to do for folk music and jazz: viz. freeze the past by celebrating the overlooked and lost. It might be a family trait, actually. That’s the men-folk of the family (Dad with stamps and coins, me with records, Ant ditto, Mark with cars, Alex with steam trains). The women I think, manage to live in the moment more successfully. 

The Complete Chris Ackroyd vs Vladimir Putin 1-61

Chris Ackroyd, who manages to lead a fulfilled life without a computer, asked if I could send a message to the world. Well, I sometimes have...