The Big Picture – Inside Kate Bush’s Groundbreaking 1979 Tour

This week’s NME tells the surreal story of Kate Bush’s famous 1979 tour, as the elusive singer prepares for her first shows in 35 years. As Barry Nicolson explains in his feature, the tour transformed Bush from “music’s weird and wonderful little gypsy” as the tabloids patronisingly tagged her into a respected art pop lioness, respected the globe over as news of her incredible stage productions travelled. Here’s some photos from that tour that allow a glimpse into the theatrical brilliance of those tour dates – and make you wonder what may be in store this time around…

“Bands that do nothing, that just go out and play their latest album, or sing it then just walk off, are boring,” Bush told an interviewer before the tour. In 1979, she put her money where her mouth is…

Preparations for the dates, named The Tour Of Life, began in late December 1978, spending three months between January and March in intensive dance classes, choreographing the production.


With a cast of 13 dancers and musicians, plus a 40-strong behind-the-scenes crew, each show cost more than £10,000 a night to stage.

The tour began in tragedy – hours before a warm-up show on April 2, lighting engineer Bill Duffield was killed in a stage accident. Kate, “who knew everyone by name, right down to the cleaner” according to guitarist Brian Bath, was devestated and almost cancelled the tour.

Bush performed for two hours each night, not just performing her songs but as Barry Nicolson terms, “living them out.”

“People said I couldn’t gig, and I proved them wrong,” said Bush after gushing reviews for the tour.

The tour challenged perceptions of what a gig could be, laying the blueprint for extravagant productions by U2, Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson.

Bush didn’t speak between songs or address her audience, explaining later that to her the shows were “like a play… If you break the illusion, you ruin the concept.”


The setlist featured a marathon 22 songs each night, several costume changes, magicians, mimes, back projections and mindboggling dance routines.

Each show was a sell-out on the tour – no surprise following the mammoth success of her debut album a year previous, ‘The Kick Inside’ and its follow-up ‘Lionheart’.

The shows were Kate’s last, barring one or two one-off live performances, for 35 years, with EMI exec Bob Mercer explaining “she liked it, but the equation didn’t work, it was too exhausting.”

With Bush now 55, it’s unlikely September’s Before The Dawn production will be as physical as the Tour Of Life. But expect it to be every bit as inventive, boundary breaking and mesmerising…