By Karl Hodge
There is a danger that this will end up sounding like a rant at Kate Bush — but it’s not.
It is a rant though.
It’s a rant about the disproportionate cultural importance attributed to London in the UK. But before we get to that bit, I want to talk about Kate Bush.
The peerless Kate Bush; a mercurial British singer-songwriter whose work exists outside fashion and cultural trends, but who has had an enormous influence on both. A radical and experimental musician who never needed shock or awe to unsettle the mainstream. A truly unique artist in a world full of cut and paste kookiness.
And, finally, a much-loved performer who — at one time — disappeared from public view for 12 whole years. 12 years when many of us thought she was gone for good.
Now Kate has announced her first live shows in three decades. A series of 15 shows that will run throughout August and September.
All of them are at the Hammersmith Apollo in London.
Firstly, it’s superb news that Bush is back. Her last substantial live commitment — off the back of the huge hit Wuthering Heights — was her Tour of Life in 1979. In later interviews she claimed that it left her emotionally and physically exhausted.
It makes sense that Kate would choose a residency rather than a tour for her return to the live scene. But it’s a pity that, in choosing a London venue, the shows were priced out of the reach of many ordinary people.
Hyperbole? Let’s do some guesstimating.
Ticket price: The shows are now sold out, but there were five ticket prices offered; £49, £59, £75, £95 and £135. For £49 quid you’ll be in the Gods behind a pillar. For £135 you’ll be down the front of the stalls. Let’s be sensible and accept that we’re travelling a long way to see Kate Bush sing “Army Dreamers” live for the first time in 35 years — and imagine we had bought a ticket somewhere in the middle:
Travel: I live near Leeds — the UK’s 3rd largest city by population — so that’s my example here. It’s about 200 miles for London. Here’s the price of a Super Advance Off Peak Return from Leeds to Kings Cross — the cheapest ticket currently available for the first night of the gig:
And I have to get to Hammersmith from Kings Cross. That’s pretty cheap — £2.20 per single journey on an Oyster Card as it’s only in zone 2. I may want to travel around a bit more while I’m there though. Let’s budget for half a dozen journeys:
Food: I’ll need to eat. A man cannot live on Bush alone. A hotel picnic will cut it for a late lunch on the day, dinner out and breakfast at a greasy spoon the day after. Let’s be conservative and say:
Hotel: It’s going to be an overnight stay. The cheapest that sites like LastMinute offer is around £100. We might manage cheaper – but would have to do more travelling in the capital so…
RUNNING TOTAL: £330.80
But, hang on, would I really want to go alone? That’s not how we see gigs is it? If we add another person, sharing the room but paying for food and tickets:
That’s a lot of money. For the same price, we could have had three nights in Rome. Or bought a 32” 3D TV. Or paid the average water rates on your house for a year.
And we’ve been pretty tight in our calculation. We haven’t even factored in the price of drinks at the venue, merchandise and other bits of incidental spending.
The UK National Minimum Wage is £6.31. Assuming an average working week of 40 hours, that’s £252.40 a week before tax or NI.
In short, a shop worker from Leeds would have to work a full seven days to earn enough to take her trip to London to see Kate Bush with her partner.
I earn a bit more than minimum wage. And even though I would put Kate Bush in my top 3 must-see acts (full disclosure: David Bowie, Radiohead, Kate Bush) — I don’t think I could justify that expense either. Not after the five years we’ve just had.
What can we do about we do about this?
In the short term, we can hope that Kate Bush and other performers take some inspiration from her old friend Peter Gabriel and that the shows are filmed and then shown in cinemas.
Gabriel has had some success turning his most recent concerts into “event cinema” — programming short runs of his New Blood and Back to Front gigs in UK picture houses. Filmed in London, shown in 4K, IMAX or 3D everywhere else.
My partner and I went to see Back to Front. It’s a greatest hits gig, where Gabriel and his band play their biggest selling album So in its entirety. The total cost for two people, including travel and popcorn? Somewhere around £30. It wasn’t live but — in an age where stadium show performers are little dots in the distance, flanked by screens — it wasn’t far off.
Live screenings of plays, opera and ballet are a positive step forward too. They’re a way to keep cinemas relevant as digital continues its takeover of every aspect of entertainment.
In the long term, we need a change of culture. A change that’s unlikely to come about naturally. We need cultural institutions to follow the BBC’s lead and move their operations North. We need policies that equalise funding of the arts proportionally.
Finally, we — us folk in the rest of the country — need to stop spending our money in London. Really. It already gets enough from us as it is, as the glad recipient of a disproportional amount of our taxes.
So, good luck Kate. We all love you — we really do. We promise to spend some of our money on the Blu Ray, when it comes out. But forgive us if we don’t come to see you in London.
We had a month’s worth of food to buy instead.