In September 1981 I rented a video recorder from Radio Rentals. It wasn’t very expensive but I was quite excited as none of my friends had one. After a cricket match for Tye Green and after the obligatory beer and curry I suggested to some of my friends that they might like to come back to my flat to watch the highlights of the NatWest Cup. After they had called me an idiot because we were too late to catch the broadcast, I explained that I was recording the highlights. We knew the scores – it had been a very exciting match with the scores tied off the last ball. Derbyshire had won by losing fewer wickets. We all spread out in my luxurious penthouse suite, er, sorry, I mean we all crowded into my tiny flat, I fiddled with the equipment for ten minutes and, with beers in hand, the sense of anticipation was almost tangible. I pressed “Play” and the continuity announcer said “And now, over on BBC2, the highlights of the NatWest Final. Here on BBC1, Peter West presents ‘Come Dancing'”. At this point, only being called an idiot would have been a blessed relief. Oh well, not the last mistake of my life.
I’ve previously written about the joy of watching The Waterboys on “The Tube” but I’d like to write a bit more about how watching a musical performance on TV can transform my musical taste by making me reconsider my previous preconceptions. It’s possible to “not get” an artist until I see them perform and the presentation of their act can make a big difference.
I’d never particularly admired Kate Bush until I saw her on “Top Of The Pops” performing “Running Up That Hill”. It’s makes for remarkable viewing. The seven members of the band are squeezed onto a small stage which is bounded by scaffolding. The overall colour of the whole performance is purple. They are all obviously miming which I don’t normally like but in this case the visuals are so stunning as to make this superfluous. Kate has got her hands in the pocket of a long greatcoat. The close up of her face shows that the lighting, her eye make up and lip colour are all perfectly synchronised. When it gets to the chorus, the whole group takes a small step forward with the first beat of each line. It’s wonderful. The band (including Kate’s brother Paddy on balalaika) are in thrall to Kate, closely watching every move she makes. By the end of the performance, Kate, Paddy and the guitarist (who may be Alan Murphy, later of Level 42 before his tragically early death in 1989) are at the front of the stage, close enough to each other to be touching and clearly very proud of what they have just done.
It would be too easy to trivialise why I like this performance. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to appreciate physical beauty and clearly, Kate is beautiful. But it’s more than that. It’s the combination of theatricality, beauty and sensational music. I taped this performance on Top Of The Pops and have watched it several hundred times and it never fails to leave me wowed out.
There are many other pieces of music that I don’t think I would have appreciated without the combination of visuals and sounds. Of the top of my head I can think of the video for “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor where she starts crying, The Cure playing “Siamese Twins” while two members of The Royal Ballet dance in front of them and a great performance from Alicia Keyes of “Empire State Of Mind”. I don’t think I would have appreciated any of these songs without the combination of listening to the music and watching the performance. “Don’t you wonder sometimes ’bout sound and vision?”
This is a great record. The title track was recently voted as Kate Bush’s best song in one of the music magazines I read. I had dismissed it until this vote forced me to reconsider and it is a very clever song. The song is about being afraid to fall in love and comparing this feeling to being chased by a pack of hounds. It starts with “It’s in the trees – it’s coming” from the 1957 film “Night Of The Demon”. Her vocals on this are strong and powerful, vulnerable and emotional, all at the same time. When she sings “Take my shoes off and throw them in the lake”, the emotion threatens to take you out of this universe completely.
“Cloudbursting” is also incredible and the video with Donald Sutherland tells the story of a scientist who built a machine that could make it rain. Kate plays the scientists son. The Utah Saints sampled part of this song for their hit “Something Good”. Side 2 of the record is a suite of songs subtitled “The Ninth Wave” concerning a woman who may or may not have drowned in a accident at sea. It was performed in Kate’s live performances, subsequently released as “Before The Dawn”. It’s great. It’s progressive music at its best.
This is a classic record. I could write about it endlessly. It normally features in the Top 100 albums of all time according to which magazine or website you read. I feel that without my video recorder watching the Top Of The Pops performance over and over again, it might have passed me by. Luckily, that Thursday evening I had the recorder on BBC1 then otherwise I might have recorded “Pot Black” or “Coronation Street”.