When legions of fans turn up for Kate Bush’s first live performances in 35 years this summer, what will they be hoping for? That she still has the magic? That achingly beautiful voice? The rhythmic, lyrical delicacies in her music that few other artists possess?
All that and more. She is still an elusive, captivating figure whose last original album 50 Words for Snow, released in 2011, proved she had lost none of her epic virtuosity, flair and originality. The form was still there, even if the eccentricity of allowing Stephen Fry to run riot (with his 50 words for snow) was a liberty too far for some people.
But there seems to be a bigger thing going on with artists like her – a deeper, intimate connection that is inexplicable as well as intoxicating. I would stretch that out and include many, many other female artists like Bjork, Natasha Khan, Tracy Chapman, Feist, Dusty Springfield, Jocelyn Pook, PJ Harvey, Alison Goldfrapp and Ella Fitzgerald. They all seem to share something: a musical sensibility that transcends the mundane and creates an emotional depth that is both soulful and enigmatic. There are plenty of gorgeous, meandering melodies to go around – and they’re all the better for the indulgence, daring and experimentation.
Of course, this may be just be a gentle howl of gender favouritism; the romantic tug of a female artist on a male listener – but that’s too neat and reductive. After all, enjoying the brilliance of Stevie Wonder, King Creosote, Ryan Adams, Gregory Porter, Cheikh Lo and all the rest doesn’t make me any less emotional or uplifted; in fact, it can provide an even deeper connection in some cases.
No, there is a special, undefinable quality that gives the female soloist the edge. I could cite reasons like natural maternal instincts and other aspects but controversy is not something this piece is about. It’s about beauty, grace and wonder – and on that the score, the female musician wins hands down for me.
Of course younger girls might think differently; particularly when the fleeting, fluttering eyelashes of the boy band cyclops are looking their way. But once that passes, then what? They, too, will look for something richer and long-lasting.
Which is precisely what the female soloist gives – repeatedly. They may have a band too – and an army of musicians, producers and mixers who must also be given their dues. But once the first sound escapes from their lips – and blends into lush, lonely instrumental – the melody can sweep you away like no other.
Here’s to a bit more Kate-flying this summer.