Of Kate Bush, iPhones, and the Artistic Legacy

In the lead up to Kate Bush’s much anticipated London shows, much has been made of her polite request to her audience not to follow other audiences down the trend of watching it from behind an LCD screen, but to commune with her on a more old fashioned basis, by watching and listening. I read an article in he the Guardian on this and found myself nodding along with the sort of middle aged grumpy analysis that “young people today are more interested in showing themselves as being there than actually being there.” And that is true, and lies at the heart of other contemporary concert irritations, for example the incessant loud chat you get.

But then as a fan you find yourself in the chill grip of a contradiction, because the fuzzy distorted YouTube videos are a souvenir or in many cases the only way into the magic at all. I failed dismally to get hold of Kate Bush tickets, as they dissolved like fairy gold when I reached for them, and I’ll certainly be scanning for videos the morning after the opening night. And I have to confess that I specifically asked someone to film Wendy singing with Tim Burgess at the Sage. So it’s a bit of a “one rule for them but I’m special so I have an exception”.

Anyway I was pondering this, and trying to square the circle. And I think what it’s about is the gap between the artist’s vision and realisation,  and the way that sometimes conflicts with the way an artistic legacy is viewed.

I’m sure that at the heart of this request, Kate Bush was concerned that her vision might get out in an adulterated format. She’s notoriously in control of what is out there, so for example when a marvellous recording of a 1979 concert emerged a while ago and started circulating, it was shut down very quickly. That’s quite reasonable really: for her the art is the end point, and like most artists she starts with a vision she then reaches for imperfectly. Most of us can identify with that: this post was transcendent in my head, but when I started to type the words it became less so. I’ll work to fix it up, but it’ll never reach the vision. That’s a trivial and slightly self regarding example, but you can also see that in Paddy’s reluctance to record: once the notes go down it’s not what it was in his head, quite. It’s work to get it even imperfect, while all the time the original vision sits and mocks.

This is the struggle of the artist. For the consumer of art, we don’t see or understand this. “But it’s brilliant, why not just record more, just you and a guitar, and sell it on the Internet?”

As a collector and archivist I literally dream of finding dusty half worked tapes. I have an old recording of Paddy in Avalon in which he grinds out covers of “Brown Sugar” amongst early versions of some of his own songs. I couldn’t be more delighted or excited to have this, and said that to Martin when I met him. “Bury it deep” was his advice. He couldn’t conceive of any reason why it should be prized, because it was nothing more than a historical interlude.

Fundamentally, this about the distance between sketches and realisation. When Turner died, he left his studio and contents to the nation, and the excited curators visited it to collect their treasures. They found chaos, with sketches trampled underfoot and stuffed away here and there. For Turner, what we now consider priceless material was nothing more than day to day scribblings. It was the work of years to catalogue the material and understand the sequence between studies, compositional sketches and finished paintings, yet this is at the heart of the appreciation we now have for his work.

And this is why artists are the worst guardians of their own legacy. Because for an artist, it is all about the gap between vision and completion; this is what drives the creative process. The intermediate steps are essentially ephemera.

But swinging out to the viewpoint of critic or historian, the experience is different. In a Turner sketch, you see the germ of an idea delineated. You can trace that idea through further steps, and to me, often it’s the finished work that lacks dynamic. It’s often too worked and finished, I prefer the first flush of artistic inspiration.

So it goes with music. Finding early versions or demo tapes allows you to compare with what came afterward and to be amazed often about how consistently that propagated. Hearing live performances contextualises development of a band. That I think is why I do it, beyond the jackdaw collecting instinct to find new shiny things.

I suppose my definition of art is “that which is irreducible”. In that sense, you search for that in all incarnations of an idea, from the most basic sketch right through to the Thomas Dolby produced epic realisation. It’s the DNA of a piece of work.

And so there we are. I hope people heed Kate Bush’s request not to film. But I hope some people don’t too. Please bear that in mind if you go.




2 thoughts

  1. I’m a huge Sprouts fan and I’m going to Kate Bush on Wednesday Night. I agree with everything you say. I respect her wishes, but I too want my own little piece of footage to remember the night by. I may wait till the final bow to take a photo or record a snippet. I will enjoy the show, but surely the purchaes of a ticket entitles me to a few seconds of personal footage. “Tonight I’ll go to sleep and dream of sheep”. Mick Lynch

  2. A very enjoyable read. I think fans should be allowed take a short clip or photo of the concert. It’s standard for press photographers (if allowed) to take photos in the first 3 to 5 minutes of a gig and then no more. Fans should be allowed the same.

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