In late October 2014, SDE Editor Paul Sinclair interviewed legendary guitarist David Rhodes about playing with Kate Bush on her Before The Dawn shows.
Rhodes was fresh from the experience which had at that time only ended a few weeks earlier and he talked to SDE about the all aspects of the the shows, from first contact with Kate to opening night and beyond. With the release of Before The Dawn imminent, we can now – finally – bring you the interview with David, over two years later…
SuperDeluxeEdition: How was it? Can you sum up the whole experience of those six weeks performing in Before The Dawn?
David Rhodes: It wasn’t just six weeks of course, I found out about it, or I was asked about joining, last October .
SDE: And how were you approached; how did that happen?
DR: That was quite funny. I got a call from her [Kate’s] manager. No, it was an email from her manager and he said can you call me as soon as. So I called him and he said would you be interested in playing for Kate and I said “yeah, of course.” He then said “can she call you tomorrow?” and I was out on the road, I was in Dusseldorf with Peter Gabriel and so I said “yeah, if she calls me at nine o’clock her time, I’ll have had breakfast and I’ll be back in my room reading the paper.” I was back in my room reading the paper and I’d forgotten she was going to call and you know when you get an unknown number on your mobile, it’s PPI or it’s your own bank or it’s some shit and I picked it up and just went “AND WHAT DO YOU WANT?”And then she said, “Oh, it’s Kate” and I spent ten minutes apologising to her! She just sounded … well, it just sounded like a delightful project. I guess I didn’t speak to her then for quite a long time, but she sent me a list of songs to check out towards the end of the year.
SDE: When you first got that call in October, did she already have quite a clear vision of what she wanted to do?
DR: I think she was pretty damn clear, yeah. She knew the material late in the year, but very precisely. There was only one thing I’d started listening to – and I can’t even remember what it was – but something got ditched.
SDE: Really? Because The Ninth Wave and the second half of Aerial, A Sky of Honey, they’re obviously as is. You’re not going to leave anything off that.
DR: No, the first section … I can tell you if I look [David clicks around on his computer]
SDE: This is probably a stupid question, but you didn’t have any hesitation in accepting the offer to play…
DR: No, none at all… [David find’s the info on his computer] She was wanting to do Sat in Your Lap and then changed that for Top of the City. We never rehearsed Sat in your Lap. I learned it, but it never got as far as rehearsals.
SDE: If that had been done, that would’ve been the earliest track to be performed, because that was off of 1982’s The Dreaming.
DR: Yeah. Well, Never be Mine we rehearsed quite a lot, but only did it a couple of times.
SDE: Why didn’t Never be Mine make it into the show, then?
DR: I think Never Be Mine was just a bit too downbeat. And then the other thing we looked at briefly, what was it? The Big Sky, which we’d tried. We only tried it once with the whole band – once or twice – and it just sounded like a bit of a mess because she was thinking of that as the encore, maybe. I think both Bertie and I thought Cloudbusting would be better, so we pushed for that.
*Note A rehearsal recording of Never Be Mine has been included in the forthcoming audio release of Before The Dawn.
SDE: So with Sat in your Lap, that was on some list that she said “have a look at these songs…”
DR: Yes, that was on the A-list.
SDE: And by the time you got to rehearsals, that had been dropped?
DR: That would’ve been long gone! Yes, that didn’t make it past January , I don’t think.
SDE: The early rehearsal period, how did that actually work? Because obviously you’ve got all the theatricality that’s going to be going on, all the technical stuff.
DR: We didn’t know anything about that.
SDE: So the early rehearsal stages, was it just a band in a room, just playing?
DR: The very first rehearsals were just myself and John [Giblin] and Kate and we just played through a few tunes, only for three days, but just to kind of ease in. That was back in March  I think and then we did band rehearsals in April in a cold room.
SDE: In terms of the arrangements of the songs, was that quite collaborative or was Kate specific about how she wanted it to sound?
DR: Well, she drove it definitely.
SDE: Something like Running up that Hill, for instance, was quite similar to the sound of the studio recording. Was that a goal, to try and make it sound as good as the record?
DR: I think she feels, and I think it’s true, that there are signature sounds like the droning of Running up that Hill, as soon as you hear that, you know what’s going to happen.
SDE: That always got a big reaction, as soon as that sound came in.
DR: Yeah. So a lot of the keyboard sounds were very specific and were worked on carefully and studied.
SDE: Would she have gone back to multi-tracks and sampled sounds?
DR: Yeah. Well, it’s what everybody does when they’re playing older material, they go back to those things because, in fact, with a lot of modern technology, you can’t recreate those things so it’s actually easier to go back to source material. And rhythm parts and whatever, I think she has a very specific feel for rhythm that’s actually quite light. I mean even though Running up that Hill chugs along, the actual feel of it, the playing of it is quite touchy, it’s nice. And on things like that, I think we added an extra bar here and there so she could get her breath back.
SDE: I noticed that, particularly on Hounds of Love because on the studio recording it’s very crammed in, isn’t it, and there were little beats and breaks where there was, as you say, room for Kate to get her breath. But did none of the band, when you were rehearsing, say “Come on, Kate, Man with the Child in her Eyes, why aren’t you doing that one?” Did she articulate why she was avoiding all that early stuff in any way?
DR: I think she was very specific about how she wanted the evening to go, so we’d rehearse in chunks. We’d rehearse The Ninth Wave, we’d rehearse Aerial so she knew exactly what she wanted to achieve.
SDE: But why didn’t she … for instance, at the end, the encore, when she sat at the piano and did Among Angels, she could easily have done probably half a dozen different songs, sitting at the piano.
DR: There were two or three others that she decided not to do.
SDE: Which tracks?
DR: I’m not sure I’m allowed to tell you [laughs]
SDE: But there was no variation either, it was always the same set list, wasn’t it? I was there on the last night and I thought maybe she’ll add an extra one or do something different.
DR: Yeah, but I think with all big shows, you get into a groove where you feel it works and it has its ebbing and flowing and it exists as that thing. And she definitely wanted to do it as a show, not as a concert, so I think that’s why it was so rigid. That’s why big shows are rigid, once you’ve found what it is that works, you don’t mess with it.
SDE: And Kate’s voice. It’s always been an astonishing instrument but it was absolutely stunning, really. Do you think that’s because she hasn’t toured for most of her professional career, that she’s almost ‘preserved’ it?
DR: No, I don’t think singers lose their voices at all and I think it maybe just goes to prove that maybe she’s singing a lot more in her house than we think she is! Actually, when I was doing the early rehearsal with just her and John, I think we were just doing Prologue, I was just playing my single note all the way through. But just hearing her … well, hearing John play is always a pleasure and then hearing her sing was so wonderful, a tear came to my eye, I just felt very lucky to be in the room with them both.
SDE: As a professional musician, how do you feel when you’re asked to interact with the wooden puppet and dress up like a bird?
DR: [laughs] Fortunately, I’m shameless!
SDE: You just said ‘yes’ to everything she wanted to do!
DR: It doesn’t bother me, because once I started to understand the story more with the puppet … I mean, I did ask when the puppet first came in, which wasn’t until July, I think, – and that was only one rehearsal or two rehearsals – and Adrian Noble said “Oh, and this is going to happen.” And gradually more and more stuff, more and more people came into the room but we’d been rehearsing separately on the same site, but the silk people and puppeteers had been working in another room so it was all … we were kept apart for quite a long time! And then actually the funny thing about the bird masks, we knew about the bird masks but it was only about four days before the preview show that we did that Kate said to me, ‘Oh, and David, you can get off your riser at the end here and we’ll do something.’ ‘Oh, all right!’ We never rehearsed it, as such, just went for it.
SDE: But all the theatricality, presumably it does add a thin, extra layer of stress because you’ve got to remember to be in a certain place or step up on…
DR: Yeah, but I enjoy that and you take it on and if you fuck up, you fuck up. So you just jump in, which is great.
SDE: I was very impressed with the sound. It was probably the best sounding gig I think I’ve ever been to in terms of the quality of the mix and the sound reproduction. How much time and effort went into that aspect of it?
DR: Oh, an awful lot. We did basic music rehearsals in, I think, April and June and then in July when we moved into a different room at the rehearsal space, I think that was July and a control room was set up so we’d actually go and listen to versions of what we’d played and actually hone in quite carefully, quite precisely on details, which was good. And then that stood us in good stead because when we got into rehearsals in Hammersmith there was actually very little time for the music once we were on stage. At that point it had to be pretty solid.
SDE: When did you get access to Hammersmith in relation to when it started on the 26 August?
DR: Originally, we were meant to go somewhere else and then just do a few days in Hammersmith, but I think we got in near the beginning of August. Yeah, it had to be.
SDE: Can you explain some of the technicalities about how some of the performances worked? For instance, And Dream of Sheep on The Ninth Wave, Kate recorded her vocal in that floatation tank apparently, according to the program notes. How much of the music was also recorded at that time?
DR: For that, the piano was recorded at the same time. So it’s very much a performance. Kate didn’t want to fudge anything, she wanted it all as performance, even if it were filmed.
SDE: And as you progressed through The Ninth Wave, what difficulties does it pose when you’re standing behind the action going on in front of you, the theatrical stuff? I imagine you can’t see much?
DR: I’d got no idea what was going on! People are cheering and going ‘Yeah, great!’ and you’ve got no idea what’s just happened!
SDE: So there weren’t any monitors that you could look at? Was it just not necessary?
DR: No, no, it’s not that sophisticated. Musicians in shows just get shoved around… you know, we could’ve been in a pit! You do feel connected, of course and one of my favourite moments was the ‘fish people’ walking through the laser, I thought that was beautiful. And actually in a thing like that when everybody’s trying … I know the songs exist as a whole but you’re also dynamically trying to reflect the action as much as you can and support it – that’s what you could see of it.
SDE: Waking the Witch sounded quite complicated as well because it’s quite different, in a way, to the record, that live performance.
DR: Well, the difficulty there is it’s very much a kind of cut up piece on the original and actually some of it, Steven Tayler did a great job with Kate’s voice there, where he applied the same gating and effects and did wonderfully, I thought.
SDE: When she was doing those bits, was that live then, because I was thinking some of it must be on tape or whatever, there’ll be layers that are live and layers that aren’t live?
DR: I’m not sure I’m at liberty to say! [laughs]
SDE: I don’t want to get you into any trouble…
DR: …or she’ll send me an email! But Steven Tayler did a great job.
SDE: After each show, did you have little debriefing sessions where Kate would say can we change this or that didn’t work as well as I expected, let’s do something differently?
DR: No, we’d go in for sound check every day so the following day, if there was a problem we’d look at it. But it was more kind of monitoring and show elements, we’d often go in and go through show elements and then do a little sound check at the front of the stage before getting ready for show time.
SDE: So what was the daily routine once the performances had started?
DR: Four o’clock soundcheck unless there were big problems, in which case we’d go earlier, but generally four o’clock. Five o’clock or five thirty, eat and then I don’t know, I used to go next door for a coffee, there was quite a good coffee bar next door. Everybody kind of does different things.
SDE: And building up to day one, the first gig, I know there was a kind of family and friends pre-show, wasn’t there?
DR: Yeah, that was on the Sunday and that was a disaster.
SDE: Why’s that?
DR: It was terrifying. Any number of things went wrong and I think we were meant to have the Monday off but we were in by … the crew were in early, band in at 12 and we worked right the way through into the night and finished at about ten, I think.
SDE: What went wrong, was it just technical things?
DR: Yeah, mostly technical things. It was nervy and tech problems, mostly tech problems and then on the Tuesday of the first show, we went in early and I seem to remember we ran the whole thing. We probably did the opening section in the morning and then did the show bits in the afternoon. Yeah, leading up to the proper opening night was pretty harum-scarum, but that’s all right.
SDE: How was Kate on the eve of the first performance? Could you feel the nervous tension? She must’ve been really, really nervous?
DR: Yeah, we were all nervy and worried and wondering how it would be received because even to us, who’d been working on it for so long, you never know how people will take it. The first night went well, even though it was a bit twitchy and then the next day seeing the reviews, suddenly went ‘Phew, isn’t that amazing’ because it was so over the top and it seems that people really had got a lot out of it, which is great.
SDE: That must’ve given everyone and Kate a massive lift, obviously.
DR: Oh yeah, yes, just to feel that people were willing to go on the journey of the evening. I guess that was quite empowering and it felt wonderful to get that sort of response.
SDE: It was quite a brave decision that she made, (a) to do such a technically challenging theatrical show and (b) not to play a kind of ‘jukebox’, greatest hits type of a set. So on two levels she was, in theory, taking quite a big risk, but obviously it paid off.
DR: A very big risk. I think if the reviews had been in any way iffy or poor, even though it had sold out… audiences can be quite unforgiving, so it seems that there was a feeling for everybody that it was worth watching and listening to.
SDE: I went on the third night and I was amazed at the audience. I knew it was going to be over the top but there were standing ovations three times in a song and all that kind of stuff. I mean had you seen that kind of reaction before?
DR: Never! No, it’s great, the audiences adore her. Lucky her!
SDE: Tell us about some of the backstage stuff, because the show was attracting all the big stars. I read a rumour that Madonna had even turned up, I don’t know whether that was true.
DR: That I don’t know. Occasionally, we’d be getting ready to go on and then all of a sudden, a security guy who wasn’t one of ours would come through looking very bossy and they were coming to check if their person could get into a little back room before the show. It’s pathetic really, some of that – you don’t need it!
SDE: Elton John was there, wasn’t he?
DR: Yeah, I got a nod from Elton.
SDE: And he must’ve been accorded a warm welcome from Kate, I suppose, because obviously she worked with him on 50 Words For Snow.
DR: I guess, but again, what would happen is those kind of people would watch the show and then they’d be ushered into a back room and she’d go and meet them. I actually normally went off to the pub, if I could, afterwards. The only time I went up to the VIP bar was to meet Peter [Gabriel] because I knew he was going to be there with his wife and it was so sweet. Stella McCartney came up to me and just said ‘Ooh, great show’ it was lovely. So I think people did that.
SDE: There was a couple of nights were there were a few hitches, the night with the power cut, where you didn’t start until late.
DR: Yeah, that happened twice actually and that was power not actually coming into the site… I think it delayed us only by about 20 minutes one night and then the big delay was that they hadn’t actually fixed it properly the first time. And I don’t know what the problem was, but it just meant there was some power, but no lighting power, no three phase or whatever it is. That was just unfortunate and then that’s weird, as soon as you delay it by a certain amount of time, everybody feels tired and the rhythm of the evening’s gone a bit. But it was great that we did finish the show, it would’ve been awful if we hadn’t.
SDE: Tell me about the Tawny Moon song. Obviously that’s a brand new song and the understanding is that … I imagine Kate wanted to give Bertie a little moment in the spotlight or something. Did she discuss much how that was going to fit into the whole Aerial thing?
DR: It was almost as though they’d decided that they wanted another section, possibly to explain the artist more.
SDE: Had Kate written that song in the last 12 months? I imagine it must be a fairly recent-ish song.
DR: Yes, I think it was fairly recent. Yes, because she said early on ‘Oh, and there’s this other song’ but it actually came to us relatively late in rehearsals. I think maybe she’d been working on it a bit with Bertie and figuring it out.
SDE: Bertie then was pretty amazing, for such a young guy, in such a high profile thing. He seemed to cope with it all amazingly.
DR: Yeah, he’s a brave lad for taking it on and well done to him for being a success at it, it was a tough call.
SDE: My understanding is the shows were recorded, all the audio was recorded every evening and there was a couple of nights where it was filmed. Presumably, there’s going to be a kind of DVD live album type thing coming out?
DR: Yes, I think there is, I think that’s common knowledge. When, I don’t know, I think they were trying to do it as quickly as possible but I it’s a bit of a big old beast to sort out.
*Note In the recent promotion Kate has ruled out a DVD/Blu-ray of Before The Dawn, at least for the time being.
SDE: Looking back on the whole thing, have you got a favourite moment or a favourite song or just a favourite part of the whole experience?
DR: It’s wonderful when you play a song like Running up that Hill and she’s doing it there, it doesn’t get much better! But then other things that I really liked, I loved playing Prologue actually where I played one note for a few minutes and there’s something very satisfying about that and just listening to what’s going on, that was nice. And I did enjoy putting on my bird beak! I like all that.
Thanks to David Rhodes who was talking to Paul Sinclair for SDE. Before The Dawn is released on Friday 25 November 2016.
Before The Dawn
CD 1 – Act One:
01 – Lily (04:48)
02 – Hounds Of Love (03:33)
03 – Joanni (06:07)
04 – Top Of The City (05:24)
05 – Never Be Mine (05:55)
06 – Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) (05:40)
07 – King Of The Mountain (08:05)
CD 2 – Act Two:
01 – Astronomer’s Call (02:44)
02 – And Dream Of Sheep (03:37)
03 – Under Ice (03:04)
04 – Waking The Witch (06:38)
05 – Watching Them Without Her (01:57)
06 – Watching You Without Me (04:23)
07 – Little Light (02:08)
08 – Jig Of Life (04:11)
09 – Hello Earth (07:55)
10 – The Morning Fog (05:23)
CD 3 – Act Three:
01 – Prelude (01:55)
02 – Prologue (10:10)
03 – An Architect’s Dream (05:22)
04 – The Painter’s Link (01:39)
05 – Sunset (08:00)
06 – Aerial Tal (01:30)
07 – Somewhere In Between (06:59)
08 – Tawny Moon (06:08)
09 – Nocturn (08:51)
10 – Aerial (09:43)
11 – Among Angels (05:48)
12 – Cloudbusting (07:16)
Before The Dawn 4LP vinyl
1. Act One – Lily (Live)
2. Act One – Hounds Of Love (Live)
3. Act One – Joanni (Live)
4. Act One – Top Of The City (Live)
1. Act One – Never Be Mine (Live)
2. Act One – Running Up That Hill (Live)
3. Act One – King Of The Mountain (Live)
1. Act Two – Astronomer’s Call (Live)
2. Act Two – And Dream Of Sheep (Live)
3. Act Two – Under Ice (Live)
4. Act Two – Waking The Witch (Live)
5. Act Two – Watching Them Without Her (Live)
6. Act Two – Watching You Without Me (Live)
1. Act Two – Little Light (Live)
2. Act Two – Jig Of Life (Live)
3. Act Two – Hello Earth (Live)
4. Act Two – The Morning Fog (Live)
1. Act Three – Prelude (Live)
2. Act Three – Prologue (Live)
3. Act Three – An Architect’s Dream (Live)
4. Act Three – The Painter’s Link (Live)
1. Act Three – Sunset (Live)
2. Act Three – Aerial Tal (Live)
3. Act Three – Somewhere In Between (Live)
4. Act Three – Tawny Moon (Live)
1. Act Three – Nocturn (Live)
2. Act Three – Aerial (Live)
1. Act Three – Among Angels (Live)
2. Act Three – Cloudbusting (Live)