Raf And O
The Kick Inside
the songs
of Kate Bush

Bar & Co, Temple Pier, Embankment, opposite Temple tube between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridges, London.



This article was originally written as a post on Facebook 2018.02.26.

Raf And O’s debut appearance as The Kick Inside to play the songs of Kate Bush, now relaunched as online gigs, 12.00, 20.00 hrs on Saturdays from September 26th. Booking info here.

This was an amazing evening in which Raf Mantelli and O Richard Smith (aka Raf And O) performed the songs of Kate Bush under the moniker The Kick Inside launch: The Kick Inside play the songs of Kate Bush.

I can’t honestly say I really got Kate Bush back in the day when EMI first pumped lots of money into her career: I remember enjoying the Hounds Of Love album (her fifth) when it came out but I only really clicked some years later when I was given an unexpected copy of Aerial for Christmas (thanks again Sue), a fantastic (double) album.

That’s a long time after the songs represented here which covered, I think, the first five albums. The early stuff. (If there was anything later than Hounds Of Love, someone can correct me.)

Anyway, the gig itself: the venue was London’s Bar & Co., a boat on the river Thames where a few years back I saw Raf And O play a blinding double bill with Metamono. Yesterday was less packed but that may have worked to the gig’s advantage in that less people had to stand and (I hope) most had a pretty good view. There was a nice, small club, cabaret atmosphere which might have been lost if the place had been packed to the gills.

As Raf And O, the duo normally play with a variety of instruments and electronic gizmos. All that went out of the porthole* last night as Raf played vocals and electric piano and Richard played (mostly) string bass. It felt like the pair had gone through a long process of listening to Kate’s songs and music over the years, possibly playing them for their own amusement, but more recently taking many of those songs out for a drive, finding out how the songs worked and stripping them down to their vocal, verbal, musical and, indeed, textual essence in order to rebuild the songs from the ground up.

I can imagine pulling many of the songs off Kate’s debut The Kick Inside, stripping away the band (who today sound to me like top session players of the time doing a good if predictable job with terrific material that deserved better rather than a truly great, integrated band built around the star talent Kate undeniably was then and remains today). Perhaps one day she’ll rerecord that and the next couple of albums. Or perhaps that’s too much like revisiting old news. Fine either way with me. Artists need to move on.

And perhaps Kate herself sounded better live than in those very early albums (I never saw her live so can’t comment, but it wouldn’t surprise me). Perhaps there are unreleased “less commercial” demos which will see the light of day and amaze us.

(Update, this paragraph added 2020.09.25: I believe that thanks to mentor David Gilmour, the young Kate recorded some demos with the band Unicorn, another talent he backed who sadly never rose to the heights of stardom Kate did. Which is a shame, because their second album Blue Pine Trees, on which incidentally Gilmour plays some wonderful pedal steel, is IMHO one of the best albums recorded in the seventies.)

But I digress.

Raf and Richard delivered some surprises. While songs like Wuthering Heights or Babooshka sounded as good as I’d imagined they could, the duo also took on songs like Cloudbusting which I could never have believed working without the full string section that I thought integral to the song. But no, out went the string section and instead Richard did some strange slapping of his bass. It worked and, like everything else about this gig, was completely magical.

I should add that this was much more than merely (merely!) two musicians playing another artist’s songs. This wasn’t a slavishly imitative tribute band. It was something far more cutting edge and therefore satisfying. At the start of the evening, Raf commented that she felt extremely comfortable to be here doing this. The clothes, the hair, very different from her familiar, art rock Raf And O appearance. She didn’t so much look like Kate as having found a legitimate way to make a representation of her. Not Kate Bush but an image, a skin, an equivalent. This spilled over and integrated into a whole with Raf’s voice and piano playing to deliver something very exiting to all those of us lucky enough to be there and experience it.

There’s a very real sense that Raf made these songs her own and created a Kate Bush persona in which to perform them. She’s a huge admirer of Bowie and the way she approached this isn’t a million miles from the way he used to play characters onstage at gigs. It takes a very special talent to bring this off: Raf possesses it and deployed it brilliantly last night. More please!

If this makes it sound like it was Raf’s evening alone, that wouldn’t be true. She played maybe four songs just her and piano (the number may be wrong – I wasn’t counting) but the rest were with Richard with whom she’s developed an extraordinary musical rapport over the years. He didn’t just play accompaniment (just! I did that before), he pulled off the unenviable task of being everything about these songs that made them work when Kate performed / recorded them in addition to herself.

So while it looked like he was the accompanist, he was very much an integral part of the whole story (pun intended) without which much of the magic might not have happened. Take for instance the version of Running Up That Hill, another song I couldn’t see how the duo could cover, for which he produced some sort of basic drum to supply the song’s rhythm.

All in all, this was an amazing evening and I feel privileged to have been there. This being a launch, I look forward to what comes next for The Kick Inside. If you want to check them out, they did a radio session of four of the songs which can be found at…/podcast-playlist-hello-good…/

*figure of speech. I’m not sure the venue actually has a porthole and throwing all that kit in the Thames doesn’t sound like such a good idea.

Raf And O appear as The Kick Inside to play the songs of Kate Bush, relaunches as online gigs, 12.00, 20.00 hrs on Saturdays from September 26th. Booking info here.

This article was originally written as a post on Facebook 2018.02.26.

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