In an interview with the Daily Mail back in 2011, Kate Bush confessed that she would be terrified to go back on stage. She denied that she suffers from stage fright but said that she has the odd dream where she is onstage and has completely forgotten what she is supposed to be doing. I would hazard a guess that Ms Bush is not alone in having that dream, it's probably a dream that all performers have had at some time in their life whether they suffer from stage fright or not. Personally, the recurring dream that I had when I was performing regularly was the one where you hear the opening bars of the curtain raiser and you find yourself stuck in a room unable to get the door open and make it to the stage in time for your riff. Again, from talking to other performers, I would appear not to be alone in experiencing that particular dream. In any case, Kate Bush has clearly found a way of conquering her demons, you don't take on a whole month of gigs at the Hammersmith Apollo - it will always be the Hammersmith Odeon to me - lightly.
I didn't make it to Kate's gigs, we have some history. When Darts were number 2 in the charts and we were performing a week of sell-out gigs at the Hammersmith Odeon (it was called the Odeon back then), at the end of the evening I would come out on stage and rally the audience to buy more records and get us to number one - something we never achieved despite having three number 2 records in a row. Kate Bush was camped in the number one slot at the time with Wuthering Heights and I have to confess to being less than complimentary about her 'unusual' vocal performance in my fan rallying speech. I was blissfully unaware that sat in the audience listening to my tirade was none other than the songstress herself, she was sitting next to Michael Levy (he wasn't a sir then), boss of our record company Magnet Records. Michael called me up the next day to tell me that Kate was very upset and that I should apologise to her. Needless to say, I didn't get the chance to.
I was fortunate in as much as I never suffered from stage fright. It might have been because I was in a nine-piece band and there is safety in numbers, or it might have been because I wasn't fronting the band, but in any case I was grateful for not having that burden. It is a well documented fact that performance anxiety is rife in our profession and the acting world. Sometimes it's hard to imagine how some of our most celebrated actors and musicians can be rigid with terror seconds before they take to the stage. They seem so calm and accomplished when they are performing, how can it be that only minutes before they were locked in a toilet throwing up?
Michael Gambon, Peter Coyote, Barbara Streisand, Adele and Robbie Williams have all confessed to suffering from debilitating degrees of performance anxiety but, with help, were able to overcome their fear and return to the stage. In fact, thankfully, there would appear to be more cases of performers coping with and/or overcoming performance anxiety that there are of those who find themselves defeated by it. Hugh Grant attributes his early retirement to crippling stage fright confessing that he only made it through one of his films by loading up on Lorazepam.
The MU supports the work of the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM) which is an organisation that provides specialist health support to all full time and part time professional and student performing artists, plus production crew, throughout the UK. BAPAM can help you whether you are a musician, actor, dancer, singer, stage technician, sound engineer, DJ or variety artist. The doctors that BAPAM use are specialists in the field of illness and ailments that commonly affect performers and they are particularly adept at treating performance anxiety.
As well as offering one-to-one cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions which have proven effective in treating the problem, there are also some very useful advice sheets on the BAPAM website on a number of different medical issues affecting performers including stage fright. For instance, I bet you didn't know that you can lower your anxiety levels by eating a banana or some dark chocolate. Apparently, both these foods release serotonin, sometimes known as the happy hormone and can help you overcome the feelings of dread that often accompany performance anxiety.
Of course, if the problem is particularly acute it may be necessary to prescribe beta-blockers or tranquilisers but there are a number of techniques that can be used to reduce the affects of performance anxiety before turning to pharmaceuticals.
So, well done Kate, The Independent's Andy Gill described Bush's comeback as "the most ambitious piece of theatrical pop ever seen on a British stage" so I guess the shows must have been awesome and should our paths ever cross, I will give that long overdue apology.