AerialThe high profile Kate Bush live concerts going on at the Hammersmith Apollo (until October 1) have had the beneficial effect – at least for me – of highlighting some of her lesser known material. In the 22 concerts Bush has refrained from playing her greatest hits, and focused the show around two of her longer sequences of music – the dark Ninth Wave suite from 1985’s Hounds of Love and the joyous Endless Sky of Honey suite from Aerial (2005). Both are excellent, but the latter has become my favorite – it’s been described as a journey through a summer’s day, from morning to sunset, dusk, moonlight and then the rise of the new dawn, with lots of references to the changing light, and with the sounds of birdsong (both recorded and imitated) throughout. “The day is full of birds” says the child at the beginning – “sounds like they’re saying words”.

While the songs are distinct, they share thematic material, common sounds and cross-references in the lyrics, which serves to unify the piece. And while hooks and choruses are there aplenty, the structure of each of the songs is stretched out and relaxed, with extended passages of texture allowed to run their natural course. The instrumentation, consisting of rich piano chords, subtle percussion and Eberhard Weber’s fretless bass is beautiful, and carefully mixed in with spoken material and environmental sounds, such as the cooing of the dove in “Prelude”. The musical language nods towards jazz, dance music such as flamenco, and minimalism – as in the opening of “Aerial”. And Bush takes risks that many artists would steer clear of, such as the use of her young son’s voice (which could come over as too “cute” in other hands), and her vocal imitations of birds in the “Aerial Tal” section, which in the later “Aerial” song is developed into a comparison of birdsong with human laughter, which at the end turns a little menacing. Despite these quirky vocal extravagances, the layered vocals of more familiar Kate Bush material is less evident overall.

I’m not sure what it all amounts to, but it’s beautiful to listen to and builds to an exhilarating climax before fading into birdsong once again at the end. It’s all unusually celebratory and life-affirming. Perhaps the music is a relative of the much maligned “prog rock” genre – Bush has had, after all, associations and collaborations with both Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel of Genesis. But the best thing about it is its unique personality – only Kate Bush could have created this. I can’t think now why I resisted listening to this material for so long.

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