A Ruby Kick:
The Continuing Influence of Kate Bush
THE same way I placed an embargo on the mere mention…
PHOTO CREDIT: Evening Standard/Getty Images
of Billie Marten last year – so blown-away as I was with her debut album – this will be the final inclusion of Kate Bush for 2017! Actually, this is no flimsy and crow-barred excuse to explain my endless love for Kate Bush. Next year, in February, it will be forty years since her sublime debut, The Kick Inside, was released to the world – hence, the reason for the title of this piece (ruby is the gift one gets/receives after forty years of marriage). I wanted to focus on her debut but, more than that, explain how that album started the ball rolling – one that would hit and affect so many artists along the way. It is clear and evident Kate Bush affects and resonates in the heart with so many musicians today – male artists in addition to women.
PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest
What I wanted to do, if I have not left it too late, is compile an audio documentary that brings recorded interviews (with Bush and other musicians) and pairs that with revelations and stories from new artists. There are so many out there who have taken from Kate Bush and carry their music wherever they go. Different albums/periods of Kate Bush’s career affect different artists. To me, and the reason I wanted to write this, was set the wheels rolling for a documentary of some description. It seems foolhardy and a shame to pass such an anniversary by without something authoritative and passionate. An article might not be sufficient so I am determined to find a way of interviewing some people and splicing it with archived interviews.
PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest
Of course, as with any self-respecting journalist, the ambition would be to interview the woman herself! I realise I do not have the cachet and celebrity to warrant such an audience. If I worked for BBC or another station – maybe I would be able to get that chance (fighting off stiff competition, I can imagine). I wonder whether, as her debut is forty next year, there will be new material. None of us likes to think 50 Words for Snow (her last studio album came out in 2011) is all we will hear from Kate Bush this decade. Of course, she has been busy and stunned fans lucky enough to catch her at Hammersmith Apollo back in 2014. That is a gig that, if I could turn back time, I would make every effort to get myself to – the other one I regret missing was Jeff Buckley when he played New York cafes in 1993 (I was ten and based in the U.K. - so I can forgive myself that). I have Before the Dawn (the name of her live show in 2014) and it is a treasured vinyl that is exceptional to hear. I know I am diverging from the tracks but I am amazed at how, forty years after her introduction to the world, she continues to amaze and…wow.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush signing copies of The Dreaming in 1982/PHOTO CREDIT: Peter Still/Redferns
Whether you see The Kick Inside as inferior to The Sensual World, The Dreaming and Hounds of Love – seen as her finest album by most – one cannot deny how important The Kick Inside is. Without that album, and the response it gained, there would not have been any more material. It began the process and lit the fire: sparked a wave of fascination that continues to this very day. Before I come to look at the artists inspired by Kate Bush; I will outline why we should celebrate forty years of The Kick Inside. One needs to be patient – 17th February is the official anniversary – but, with four months remaining; it is ample time to dive into the album and chart its heritage. You can, from there, look ahead and draw a line between the album and so many other records. I said how many are inspired by Kate Bush: one finds elements of her debut in some unexpected places! My first experience of Kate Bush can be traced to, around, 1986, I guess. I would have been three (maybe it was 1987) and a V.H.S. of her collected music videos – a sort of ‘best of’ that included songs such as Wuthering Heights.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in 1978
I think Them Heavy People is my earliest memory of Kate Bush – that incredible and charming video makes me smile every time I see it. That charm and quirkiness is one of the reasons Kate Bush stays in the heart this far down the line. The Kick Inside does not have the same variations and enigmatic diversions as Hounds of Love but, to me, it is a more solid and impressive work. Bush was a teenager when the album was released and broke ground with the album. One can argue about the voice and how that is the most notable and long-lasting facet. To me, it is the songwriting and control. There was a record label involved – and experienced musicians like David Gilmour helping with production – but look at those songwriting credits! Few albums in the mainstream contain one writer for every song – meaning, that artist takes care of ALL the songwriting. A few names are exceptions but, look closely, and it is hard to find musicians who write their own songs. That seems quite natural and many argue it is not a big deal.
PHOTO CREDIT: REX
A lot of people can’t write music so you can forgive them for bringing people in to help with that side of things. To me, the most worrying thing about modern music is the fact so many popular artists bring too many people in to assist their process. Kate Bush, as early as 1975 (when the recording began), she was putting out her own music and exploring her unique perspective. I have heard documentaries and interviews where she explained her childhood situation: writing songs and performing them to her family; some were so long, members would walk out half the way through! Her dad was especially supportive and would hear his daughter premiere her latest work. It is understandable why Bush would want to make a debut with no other songwriters – that does not make the achievement any less impressive. I shall not go into the song-by-song rundown of The Kick Inside – I have covered that a lot before – but wanted to celebrate an incredible record that helped inspire generations of songwriters.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush, 1978
I do not know whether Kate Bush realises how many musicians count her as an idol but she has an inkling, one suspects. To me, it is a familiarity and comfort that follows me wherever I go. From the whale song at the start of the album: Moving is a sensual and physical dance that kick-starts a fantastic L.P. I love all the machinations and interpretations of love: from someone who was a teenager at the time of the album’s conception (some songs written when she was thirteen), it is beguiling hearing so much confidence and maturity. We know there are teenage artists today who display a mature attitude and produce stunning music: there is nobody like Kate Bush; nobody who has those same talents and abilities. Stunning to hear someone fully-formed and striking from her first album. That talent and ability grew but, up until 1985’s Hounds of Love, there was some critical disappointment and personal doubts.
IN THIS PHOTO: A shot from the Lionheart photoshoot
Lionheart, her second album, was quickly released (to capitalise on The Kick Inside’s success) and contains fewer pearls – the fact it was released nine months after her debut meant there was a lot of pressure. Producing another record in such a short space would be like conceiving a child the day you give birth – it works in my mind but is going to cause issues, one way or another! With those words in mind (the final four); The Kick Inside’s success was all the more remarkable considering another legendary album released in 1978: Blondie’s Parallel Lines. If Kate Bush would not regain a true potential and spark (after The Kick Inside) by the time of 1982’s The Dreaming – Blondie were challenging her right at the start of her career. Bush won a chart battle with Blondie when Wuthering Heights reigned victorious. Wuthering Heights was released later to avoid clashing with (being beaten by) Wings’ Mull of Kintyre. The fact it was held back put it in the firing line up Blondie’s Denis – Debbie Harry aiming to score her first British number-one.
IN THIS PHOTO: Debbie Harry (1978)/PHOTO CREDIT: Mick Rock
Kate Bush, as we know, became the first British female songwriter to score a self-penned number-one. That is extraordinary in this day and age. When Dua Lipa recently hit the number-one spot for her song, New Rules – she became the first female since Adele (and Hello) to scoop that honour. That speaks more about chart issues and sexism but back in 1978, nobody expected an artist like Kate Bush to arrive. The Kick Inside is as much about its records and story as it is the sound and comparative quality. It is a record that changed so much and, with it, propelled a quixotic, alluring and endlessly brilliant artist into everyone’s lives. It is my favourite album of all time and that is why, by February, I hope to have something worthy of The Kick Inside’s brilliance...
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in 1979/PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest:
It is inexplicable why The Kick Inside strikes me so hard because there are, actually, so many different layers and reasons why it remains so dear. I know that assertion is shared with many other musicians and writers. One need only look at the archives to Desert Island Discs and realise why Kate Bush is one of the most-selectable artists in its history. People feel a bond with her: even though they have not met and experience her personality in a second-hand fashion. If one were to compile a Kate Bush greatest-hits album; surely at least three or four of the songs from The Kick Inside should be in that assortment – the official release, I think, overlook the debut too much. I look around modern music and, when interviewing various artists, ask the same question: “Who are the artists you grew up listening?”. The fact Kate Bush comes up so often does not surprise me – it gives me cheer and cements my assertion she is among the greatest artists the world has produced.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush during a photoshoot for Hounds of Love (1985)
Most people who name-check her are women but there are plenty of men who take from her music and can relate. There is something gender-neutral and double-blind about Bush’s music. Call it an androgynous form of sexuality or an exceptional artist who can reach every human who hears her music – forty years from her first recording and it seems more people are inspired by her than at any other time. Does that mean musicians are uninspired by new music and finding more truth in older records?! Perhaps so but I think there are special musicians who transcend time and situation and have that perennial appeal. I cannot name all the artists who I have seen source Bush as an inspiration – you can look back at my blog if you wish – but there is no danger of a drought. One of the most interesting reasons albums like The Kick Inside are so important is the huge artists that have been touched by it.
One can hear shades of Kate Bush in Tori Amos. The American musician recently released her album, Native Invader, but if one looks back at her debut, Little Earthquakes; there is so much to compare with Bush. The cover-art shows Amos crouching in something that looks like a concrete picture frame. I cannot help think of Kate Bush and his mannerisms when looking at that photo. The same way Kate Bush carved a template for female songwriters in the late-1970s and 1980s: Amos wrote the book for female songwriters in the 1990s. Little Earthquakes arrived with seismic potency in 1992. It is a less flighty and quirky work than The Kick Inside but its softer and more emotive moments – of which there are many – can be traced to Kate Bush. One hears a lot of The Kick Inside in Little Earthquakes; the raw emotion and revelations of The Sensual World; the maturity and explorations of Hounds of Love. Under the Pink, released in 1994, changed dynamic and sound and, with it, put me in mind of The Kick Inside.
IN THIS PHOTO: Tori Amos/PHOTO CREDIT: Loren Haynes
I cannot listen to songs like Cornflake Girl and not be reminded of Oh to Be in Love or Them Heavy People. Kate Bush’s influence is clear throughout – whether Amos listened to The Kick Inside (or a later) album beforehand I am not sure. I will mention London Grammar and Björk a little later – but there are so many different acts that trace their roots to Bush. Lady Gaga’s comingling of art and Pop stems from Bush – not to mention her bold and confident persona – as does the songwriting brilliance and allure of PJ Harvey. Kate Nash (is another Kate) that takes inspiration from the divine Ms. Bush – one can add Joanna Newsome and Bat for Lashes to that list. Many easily jump to Kate Bush when they hear an artist who is different and a little eccentric. Those who do not fit into the mainstream and do not follow the pack are tied to Bush.
I am not sure whether this is lazy labelling but it is humbling to hear wonderful artists take Kate Bush’s example and continue her legacy into the modern-day. Other modern artists like St. Vincent were drawn to Bush’s theatre, narratives and oddities – St. Vincent has an attachment to Wuthering Heights. Bright Light Bright Light, Wild Beasts and Placebo are among the male artists who count Kate Bush’s work among their favourites – Bright Light Bright Light hails The Sensual World as his joint-favourite record. Goldfrapp is another act that springs to mind when looking at Kate Bush’s musical progeny. They have a connection to nature and the world – elements and facets evident right from The Kick Inside onwards. A 201-piece, written around the time of Bush’s performances in Hammersmith, spoke with a collection of artists who are inspired by her.
One reads the piece and is amazed by those artists one did not expect to count themselves as fans:
Catherine Pierce (The Pierces)
The first time I heard Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill I was moved to tears. I don’t remember a song ever striking such a chord with me. I was going through a difficult time and it was as though she was reading my heart. Still, every time I listen to it, it invokes a feeling that makes me instantly go inward. It’s one of those songs that I wish I had written and would love to cover, but wouldn’t dare because I don’t think there could be a more perfect version.
Having six older siblings, I got to listen to artists like Kate Bush from an early age. When rifling though my older sisters’ bedroom one day, I found Hounds of Love. I loved the album so much it barely left the tape recorder, although I always had to run across the room to fast-forward Waking the Witch because it was too scary! That was my first introduction to her wild and rugged musical landscape, and that unique inner world. She is such a rare artist of our time, uncompromising yet always feminine, with no walls to her expression.
IN THIS PHOTO: Catherine Pierce/PHOTO CREDIT: Ken McKay/ITV/REX
Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation)
We covered Running Up That Hill in 2003. I grew up with Kate Bush because my dad really liked her music. She was always in the background. When our band started there were some parallels with the way I was singing, the falsetto voice. People were always comparing us. It wasn’t a sound that you hear a lot, especially in rock like I do. With some of her songs, when you take them apart, they don’t seem possible. If you look at the rules for how you write songs, they shouldn’t work, but they do. She’s one of a kind. She’s the icon for a lot of female vocalists. She inspired so many of us.
Emily Kokal (Warpaint)
I was late to the Kate Bush fan club. A few years ago a friend of mine spent an evening showing me videos and songs and telling me Kate’s story, and I was so excited to have this woman’s work to dive into and to discover what a pioneer she was, and how influential she was on artists I have loved. Her melodies are unreal. Singing along with Kate is like vocal Olympic training. I floated down the Nile for a week and she was my constant companion. Cloudbusting — ahhh. She’s like Glinda the Good Witch’s punk sister. She’s a champion and an innovator and I’m so happy she exists and expresses her beauty for us all to enjoy.
IN THIS PHOTO: Imogen Heap at 2010's Grammys
The piece brought in Boy George and Donny Osmond into the feature – showing it is not only female artists that are compelled by Bush’s rare majesty. Benjamin Clementine is in there – someone who is about to release a new album – and, before moving in, two more examples the article sources:
When I was 17 and getting my first record deal, it was the likes of Kate Bush who had contributed to labels taking me seriously as a girl who knew what she was doing and wanted. I was able to experiment and left to my own devices in the studio. Kate produced some truly outstanding music in an era dominated by men and gave us gals a licence to not just be “a bird who could sing and write a bit”, which was the attitude of most execs!
Tom Fleming (Wild Beasts)
Like most people I started with Hounds of Love and went outwards from there. Now The Sensual World is my absolute favourite. There’s a song on there called The Fog, which I think was the most captivating four minutes I’d ever heard at the time. It’s remarkable. She was instrumental in moving our band down certain routes — her and Antony Hegarty, Michael Gira of Swans — these writers who are playing with sexuality and delicacy versus strength. It’s all really interesting and not macho, which is really important to us. Also, she’s seen as this pop star and doesn’t really get the credit she deserves as a producer. She was really ahead of the game. I haven’t met her but I expect she’d be quite sane and normal, which the best people usually are.
IN THIS PHOTO: Wild Beasts' Tom Fleming (2014)/PHOTO CREDIT: David Daub
That is an incredible and broad list of names. It covers the mainstream: look at the new artists coming through and you’ll find acts from five/six continents, playing all genres, who have been inspired by Kate Bush. Literally, I know an Israeli Future-Beats artist and Brighton Folk singer who counts Bush as an influence. I said I would mention London Grammar (but didn’t) but cannot talk about Kate Bush and not mention Hannah Reid. The trio’s vocalist has the same drama, beauty and range as Bush. I can hear elements of Kate Bush’s modern albums in Hannah Reid’s voice. Although Reid has a deeper voice than Bush: there are some definite comparison and that common (immense) beauty that both possess. Florence Welch’s Florence and the Machine, I understand, are gearing up new material. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful was released in 2015 - and gained huge and passionate critical acclaim.
IN THIS PHOTO: Florence Welch/PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Coulson
Ever since the debut, Lungs; one can hear Kate Bush in the music. Pounding, bellicose decelerations such as Drumming Song and Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) have the same percussive and vocal triumphant as Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) and Babooshka. Welch’s tender songs find roots in albums like The Kick Inside and Lionheart. Unlike a lot of the artists I have mentioned – who, I feel, can be traced back as far as The Kick Inside – Welch’s Bush influence, to me, begins around 1985 – when Hounds of Love was unveiled. One can hear the same drama and compositional ambition/excitement in the early Florence and the Machine material. Although Welch wrote songs with Isabella Summers and Paul Epworth (and a few others) on Lungs does not detract from her songwriting ability and talents. There is a lot of the compelling and fascinating woman in that album. Welch has developed and changed her sound: growing more confident and singling herself as one of the finest singer-songwriters in the world. I am not sure what form a new Florence and the Machine album will take but there are rumours the heroine is laying down sounds – maybe we will get an album by the end of the year?!
PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Jackson/Trunk Archive
I wanted to conclude this section by looking at two artists that have helped continue Bush’s work and bring it into the modern age. The first, actually, is someone who picked up the mantle in the early-1980s and was one of the first popular artists inspired by Kate Bush: that would be Madonna. Everyone can see comparisons between Kate Bush and Madonna. The same sense of show and self-empowerment; the incredible songwriting and sonic/thematic shifts between albums – the ability to stand out as an icon and inspire legions of fans. Madonna projected a more provocative and sexual version of Kate Bush but many critics and commentators noted how Madonna saw how Kate Bush blossomed and progressed in her early career and ran with that, to an extent. Madonna, as her career developed, went in different directions but her image, confidence and artistry can be compared with Kate Bush. I feel Björk is one of those artists who is seen as unique – she inspires so many others and is one of the most groundbreaking and extraordinary artists since the 1990s. Her debut album arrived the same year as Kate Bush’s The Red Shoes.
IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna
Not that the Icelandic pioneer would have had intel about the recording and taken from that – it is interesting and one can definitely hear some comparisons between the works. The Red Shoes arrived after Björk’s debut but The Dreaming (1989) arrived at a perfect time to inspire a hungry and original artist. From her earliest days; I could tell there was a bit of Kate Bush in Björk. The way Björk experiments and pushes the boundaries of music; the way each album has a different skin and brings in new elements, Björk does not repeat herself and ensures every record progresses from the last.
IN THIS PHOTO: Björk
Her forthcoming record will be prefaced by The Gate – her single is out later next week and gives an indication into an album she says explores the purity and luminous nature of love. It is her ‘Tinder album’, as she says, and represents transitioning from break-up to rekindling a desire to be in a relationship. The way Kate Bush put art and depth into music: Björk continues that and is the most notable and strong successor to Bush. I speak like Kate Bush has died but I mean – the artists mentioned – they are picking up the baton and keep the flame burning bright. I hope Kate Bush does release more material but, even if she does not, her music lives on through some of the best artists of our day. Björk is a perfect example of how Kate Bush’s incredible talent and music has inspired the new generations.
I am excited by the approaching fortieth anniversary of Kate Bush’s debut album, The Kick Inside. It is an album that means more to me now than it did when I was a child. I cannot believe how fresh and inspiring it is all these years down the line – yet, it sounds like nothing else and stands on its own. The fact few other Kate Bush fans do not rank her debut as the best does not dent my enthusiasm: I feel like it is my little secret and I have to explain why it is so good. Nobody can deny how important it is and how many artists, consciously or not, have been moved and affected by the record. It does not seem aged or outdated at all. The Kick Inside is a fantastic work that began a glistening and exciting career.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in 1979
Later work would cement and elevate Bush’s name and brilliance to new heights and audiences. She is a talent that continues to inspire new artists to come into music and explore themselves with freedom, brash expression and boldness – unconcerned with the mainstream and fitting into holes. That might be the greatest thing Kate Bush has given us: an unorthodox and entrancing spirit who, back in 1978, could not be compared with anyone – she remains distinct and unique to this day. I am touched so many people have taken so much wisdom and beauty from Kate Bush’s work. People will be talking about her work forty years from now: it is timeless and, as such, when The Kick Inside’s anniversary arrives; we should not only celebrate a remarkable debut album but…
A truly brilliant artist.