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TV review: The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill

The programme opened with people speaking of Kate Bush in the past tense.

Musicians gave their breathless opinions of her, talking of what she was and what she had done, and through this veil of hushed reverence, there was a jolt in realising she's still alive. She was being discussed as though she had long since departed. This might be because she largely vanished from public life for over a decade and hasn't toured since the 70s. She dropped out of the music industry to raise her son and make music without interference but her fans longed for her return so fiercely it may as well have been a death and her new tour and its publicity is her resurrection.

But we can forgive people for speaking in whispery awe of Kate Bush. Anyone who wrote The Man With The Child In His Eyes, plus 100 other songs, by age 15 deserves deference and, in this documentary, artists lined up to pay appropriate tribute: there was Elton John, Neil Gaiman, Brett Anderson, Steve Coogan plus, surprisingly, some rappers. It was strange to see men who often sing of violence acknowledge their musical debt to Kate Bush. Neil Gaiman spoke of her 'banshee' sound and her 'otherworldly voice' whilst Elton shook his head, saying 'none of her songs have been normal', yet we had tough-guy rappers joining in to praise this wispy ethereal woman. One of them, Tricky, broke down the gangsta stereotype to say his mum killed herself when he was young. His life and musical career have been about trying to reach her and Kate Bush's music - specifically 'Breathing' ('breathing my mother in/breathing my beloved in) - has helped him do that.

But besides the starry weight of her art was great humour too. It was noted how Kate Bush's theatrical style has been easily aped by comedians, most memorably by Steve Coogan, and he beamed as he told how she came backstage to say she'd loved hearing him perform her songs. This showed what a complex character she is: odd and whimsical, but able to laugh at herself; becoming world famous then vanishing from view; singing in her haunting 'banshee' voice then chattering to Terry Wogan like an Eastenders bird, talking of her 'bruvvas'.

There must be an immense confidence - in her talent, if not in herself, as it was noted that she's always been shy - that allows her to flit from persona to persona, from singer to dancer to weird mime artist, then to vanish and reappear at will. How many current 'celebrities' could do this? They'd faint at the thought of vanishing to Berkshire for a decade. They'd wilt without the limelight. They could never disappear at the calling of their craft. They need to pin themselves to the tabloid consciousness with their antics and affairs and sad little stints in rehab. They must constantly parade themselves in order to be known whereas Kate Bush does the opposite: she shuns fame and, as Steve Coogan says, doesn't push her personality forward either. Her songs are written from the perspective of different characters, never her own. He likens her, in this respect, to Keats who wrote from what he imagined rather than what he lived. And, with the modesty that only a steely talent could permit, Kate says she does this because she's just not interesting enough.

This documentary was perfectly done. There was no intrusive narration; instead we had narrative subtitles accompanying footage of Kate's performances with a tiny smattering of interview clips with her and then tributes and anecdotes from fellow artists. It was the guest list which made the documentary excel: they were musicians and writers, not just the usual celebs du jour. There was no-one from Strictly Come Dancing! They gave her the contributors she deserved.

However, there was one irritant: the contributors played clips of Kate Bush songs on their mobiles. They'd hold it up to their ear and hum along, then talk of what that particular clip meant to them, but God knows why the BBC were allowing us, the viewers, to hear the music third-hand. It was a silly quirk and quite unnecessary. It produced a tinny sound - that one we all know from sitting next to neds on a bus - and served no purpose other than to perhaps make us feel 'at home' with the celeb. Oh look, we're sitting next to Stephen Fry as he scrolls through his playlist!

But this was a minor quibble. The rest of this programme was an hour of glowing wonder.

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