Kate Bush’s reputation as an utterly individual artist beholden to no one but herself is perhaps best expressed in the way she’s become a global phenomenon without taking the usual route of endless world tours and live work. In fact, she’s done just the one tour in 1979 and the Before The Dawn shows in 2014.
But, while she hasn’t gigged much in the traditional sense, she’s performed in front of live audiences on numerous occasions as part of promotional TV appearances. And being Kate Bush, these performances quickly progressed from simply sitting at a piano to something altogether more involved, reaching their apogee of weirdness in 1982 during a series of live promos for the title track of her fourth album The Dreaming.
Describing it later as her “she’s gone mad!” album, The Dreaming saw Bush make a defiant break from (relatively) conventional songwriting into uncharted sonic territory, with the Fairlight CMI now at the heart of her sound. With its thumping rhythm track, orchestral crashes and sinister didgeridoo (made all the more sinister in hindsight by being played by Rolf Harris), the title track feels both futuristic and primal. And, as a chorus-less song about the exploitation of Aboriginal Australians, it was certainly an interesting choice for a single.
Even more interesting was the single’s video. Featuring Bush and three dancers gyrating in a sci-fi desertscape, the visual aesthetic is somewhere between Nic Roeg’s classic 70s movies Walkabout and The Man Who Fell To Earth (Bush was a fan of the maverick director). The lineage of the white ‘survival suits’ they’re wearing is also intriguing, with David Bowie having worn similar in both the aforementioned TMWFTE and the video for Ashes To Ashes. (They’re actually adapted ‘fairy suits’, as worn by pilots in the 1950s.)
This video was the basis of a series of TV performances around Europe. There’s a couple on YouTube from Italy – Discoring and Riva Del’ Garda – where Bush and two of her dancers do their routine in what looks like twin versions of Light Entertainment Hell. But the most renowned performance is from the German show Na Sowas!, which takes a decidedly more inventive approach…
Host Thomas Gottschalk – who with his cream jacket, skinny tie and mullet would literally implode if he was any more 80s – excitedly introduces the song, but the first thing we see is a giant lizard beadily surveying a similar landscape to The Dreaming video. Bush and the dancers gradually fade up in the foreground, and writhe in some very real dirt. But the lizard looms large at the back, looking like it’s about to join them for a tasty snack. Then the lizard fades, and the three performers are left to complete their routine against a black sky and glowering red orb – the effect is genuinely eerie.
The song ends, and Gottschalk can’t resist showing us how it was done, with the giant lizard revealed to be just an ordinary iguana in a model desert, filmed and superimposed behind Bush & co in a clever piece of video mixing. All that’s left is for Gottschalk to bound across the studio – “Kate, I’m coming!” – and present a gold disc to Bush for her previous album Never For Ever. She accepts with a combination of bemusement and good grace – her default response in nearly all her TV appearances at the time – then takes a bow.
Watch the delightfully bizarre moment in Kate Bush history below.