LET IT never be said that Kate Bush is not a pioneer. Aged just 19, her initial ascent to musical infamy was propelled by 1978’s Wuthering Heights – the first self-penned UK number one to be released by a woman.

In a seamless continuation of her feminist icon status, the seemingly apolitical musician recently declared an unwavering respect for prime minister Theresa May, a figure she defiantly dubbed “wonderful” to the horror of many disgruntled fans.

Yet, despite this recent shower of ill-feeling, her latest, live LP Before the Dawn more than succeeds in astounding audiences with both impeccable showmanship and persistent vocal prowess.

Released by Bush on her own label ‘Fish People’, the three-part live album spans the length and breadth of 22 sold-out shows at London’s Hammersmith Apollo in 2014.

Several sparse television performances aside, this was the elusive songstress’ first live tour since 1979 – a factor that serves to render the already gargantuan nature of the record all the more so.

As always, Bush wastes little time in crafting a grand sense of the theatrical, carving her performance into three distinctly varying ‘acts’. The first opens in a soft barrage of strings with Lily, an ethereal track that weaves cyclical guitar with a disjointed monologue sample to emphasise a gently unnerving note of spirituality.

Lily flows with ease into the gloriously echoing percussive thuds of Hounds of Love, allowing a vast host of similarly gut-wrenching anthems such as ‘never be mine’ and ‘running up that hill’ to follow close suit.

After a haunting spoken-word piece, the second act progresses with experimental tracks from the Ninth Wave, splintering into Bush’s oscillating mix of genre-defying musical styles. With the increasing quirkiness of each fresh track – such as the gently piano-driven And Dream of Sheep – it becomes abundantly clear that the incredible power of her vocal remains the only true constant within this extensive collection.

Whilst it is difficult to admit that the infamously shrill edge of her earliest work could be lost forever, it has instead been replaced with the fruits of over thirty years’ audacious musical exploration: leaving behind a devastatingly heartfelt soprano that reaches into the very depths of the soul.

The final act is the lengthiest and, perhaps, best of all. As the stormy and thoroughly dreamlike array of tracks are drawn to a climactic head within the sweeping tones of Cloudbusting. Lain on a bed of razor-sharp strings, tremulous backing vocals and a potently melancholic lyrical narrative, it stands head and shoulders above the others as an elegant epitome of her far-reaching musical legacy.

For those who find the idiosyncratic nature of Kate Bush a pretentious or, in the very least, a little hard to digest, this album cannot be recommended highly enough: as her reams of dedicated fans will undoubtedly tell you, it oozes a rare and exciting note of raw authenticity that simply cannot be found elsewhere.

By Emily Ingram

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