The Tour Of Life: The Kate Bush German And British TV Specials

The documentaries about Kate Bush’s 1979 tour are a refreshing change from her usual trivial treatment on television at the time.

In the 1979/1980 period, Kate Bush was still ostensibly a ‘pop star’, doing what pop stars did – an album a year, several hit singles (even if none quite matched the success of her debut) and the accompanying Top of the Pops performances, appearances on chat shows and kid’s TV and embarking on her first UK tour – which people might have reasonably considered to the first of many to promote each album as they were released. Little did they know, eh? Looking back at all this now, it’s clear how awkward she found a lot of this – the empty questions of TV interviewers who often seemed to treat her like a child, the constant insinuation that she was a bit weird, a bit pretentious – it’s perhaps unsurprising that as soon as she good, she would withdraw from this world as much as she could, the TV and radio appearances to promote each new album becoming fewer and fewer – which of course just meant that the media, used to unfettered access to pop stars who crave publicity, began to describe her as a recluse, a shut-in, an oddball who had withdrawn from the celebrity world through some sort of breakdown or anxiety attack. I mean, why else would she not want to be interviewed by Jonathan Ross or Graham Norton? Why else would she not attend glittering events and film premieres? Why else would she not tour?

During the peak of her mainstream fame, she was the subject of a surprising number of TV documentaries and specials. One the one hand, there is the sense of her being pushed towards what was then the light entertainment establishment, with a BBC Christmas Special, the sort of show that safe, wholesome pop acts like Abba or past-their-prime acts like Tom Jones or Lulu would star in. The resulting show, complete with a duet with Peter Gabriel singing Roy Harper’s despairingly bleak love song Another Day, was not exactly the sort of festive special people were used to, though it was middle of the road stuff compared with her 1978 Dutch TV promo film.

On the other hand, Kate Bush was unquestioningly loved as an artist and musician by a certain kind of TV producer and was famous enough to justify documentaries following her UK tour, her recording or simply her career to date. In 1979, BBC1’s  Nationwide – a post-Six O’Clock News magazine show, roughly the equivalent of The One Show today – devoted an entire programme to following the rehearsals, performance and aftermath of her Tour Of Life (note to whoever is in charge of these things: the 1979 live video of the Hammersmith show is long overdue a re-release on disc, and this would make an ideal extra feature) – unthinkable today and notable for being a serious, solid documentary. Don’t believe me? Well, here it is:

One of the notable things about this is how relaxed Kate seems in the interviews, perhaps glad to be away from the chat show inanity – the interviews here are not that probing, but they at least allow her to get into more considered discussion than questions about her hair.

In 1980, German broadcaster SWF3 produced Kate Bush in Concert, a film that mixed live footage from the tour with an interview, conducted in the pastoral settings of her family home. It’s a remarkably chilled-out interview, the sort of conversational piece that Kate would (presumably) have preferred to always take part in, rather than the usual TV interviews where she seems defensive and ill at ease. This was later shown on Dutch TV, which is the subtitled version that I first saw back in the mid-1980s on an nth-generation VHS tape.

It was soon after this that Kate Bush began to remove herself from the pop music treadmill. While she would still do unlikely interviews (like Pebble Mill at One, a lunchtime light-entertainment show), the wildly experimental nature of The Dreaming and the three-year gap – at the time, a very long break, though again, little did we know – after that album until Hounds of Love helped push her out of the MOR pop star world that she had never fitted into to begin with, yet seemed destined to be locked into simply because no one knew exactly how to categorise her work. Increasingly, she was content to move further and further from the music trends of the time and let the music do the talking for her.

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