Always Forever: An Ageless Icon
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush (2014)/PHOTO CREDIT: Trevor Leighton
Kate Bush at Sixty
THIS coming Monday will be a lot less gloomy…
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in 1978/PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Moorhouse/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
than most other week-starters, that is for sure! Other websites have beaten me to the punch – I shall bring them in soon-ish – but there are few more excited about Kate Bush turning sixty than me! It seems strange Kate Bush is even capable of ageing – her music is timeless and, even today, it is influencing countless artists and making its voice heard! Maybe we will see announcements and new developments post-Monday – it would be good to think Bush is preparing music... – but I know she will celebrate in quite an understated and modest way. The last interview she gave was back in late-2016, I think. I heard her speak with BBC Radio 6 Music’s Matt Everitt regarding the release of the Before the Dawn performances at Hammersmith Apollo (in 2014). That interview is the most recent, I believe, piece of Kate Bush audio we have. If you asked me to name the three gigs I wished I had attended – whether that involves time travel or being better prepared – then Kate Bush’s 2014 bonanza would be right at the very top! The other two, for full exposure, would be The Beatles playing Liverpool’s Cavern Club in the early-'60s. I know Macca has just played a legendary, life-affirming set there but to be at that humble space and seeing The Beatles in their first flushes is something very few people can relate to and recount. The other gig is as modest but completely different.
Jeff Buckley played New York’s Sin-é café back in 1993. This would have been between the time he was a freelance artist and signing with Columbia Records. To be in that coffee shop and hearing the master reinvent and own some brilliant songs (from the likes of Bob Dylan and Edith Piaf to Van Morrison and Led Zeppelin) and showcase new material (that would feature on his sole solo album, Grace)…how can you put that into words?! The reason I lament missing Kate Bush’s where-the-f*ck-did-THAT-announcement-come-from gig(s) at Hammersmith is because, sadly, it might be the last time we see her perform. The fact those gigs were the first time she has performed since the 1970s shows how rare a Kate Bush gig is. I am confident she will bring another album out before ‘retirement’ but a show…is that ever going to happen?! I have the Before the Dawn L.P. – a multi-vinyl set, in fact! – and can attest to its spine-tingling sound and atmosphere. The fact I am still sad at missing it, and people who attended those nights buzzing and remembering it, shows what a never-ending and always-present musical force Kate Bush is. We look at Kate Bush in terms of her albums and videos – the rises and falls – but never really note the facts and records.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
She was the first woman to score a number-one in this country with a self-penned song. That was in 1978, for Wuthering Heights, and has only been equalled a few times. I think, actually, we forget how few women reach the number-one slot in this country and how few of them write (solely) their songs – Kate Bush, in a way, is a reminder of what music should be about. The Kick Inside is my favourite album of all-time and one I can talk about and defend until the cows come home! (I even have lyrics from Moving, the opening track, tattooed on my left arm; lyrics from the closing track, The Kick Inside, tattooed on my right arm!). Most people argue Hounds of Love (1985) is the king/queen – I shall come onto that record in due course. The reason the album resonates and obsesses me every waking hour is (because of) the moment it arrived in my life. The record was released in 1978 – when Kate Bush was nineteen and living at home – but I was not born until 1983: I discovered the album in, about, 1989 and was starting to hear other albums of hers like Hounds of Love, Lionheart (1978) and The Dreaming (1982) - captivated by the music videos for songs like Sat in Your Lap. Most of my childhood experiences of music were male musicians. The Beatles were, and are, the voices that define what music means to me – the greatest thing in music history and the apex of human creativity and genius.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan were all played on the family turntable; The Kinks and T. Rex were big fixtures. Aside from the odd female artists – like Carole King, The Bangles and Joni Mitchell – most of my early musical exposure was male-made. Michael Jackson was a big early influence but Kate Bush changed…everything. I remember Caitlin Moran talking about Bush on Desert Island Discs and recalling that Wuthering Heights video – the young Bush pirouetting and beguiling in, essentially, a nightgown! The reason The Kick Inside held hostage my young mind, and is my unerring favourite album, is the accomplishment and sense of confidence in a debut album from someone so young! I listened to the album (for the millionth-and-second time!) a few hours ago and was agog at the nuance and sense of endless revelation. Songs I sometimes overlook, like The Saxophone Song and Kite, revealed unseen brass and flight. It is controversial but, to me, The Kick Inside is the only Kate Bush album that contains no weak(ish) track. It does not have something as emphatic as Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) on it but the sheer audacity, originality and beauty from Bush make every song timeless and perfect! Although the video for Them Heavy People – an underrated song from the album – stands in mind hottest; the genius of Wuthering Heights, and the legacy it has, is indelible.
The song has taken on a life of its own and, for someone so young, it is amazing to hear it unfurl. Kate Bush wrote Wuthering Heights without fully finishing Emily Brontë’s novel but I look at Bush, as a teenager, writing those songs. Some of the tracks were written when she was still at school – The Man with the Child in His Eyes was penned aged thirteen, in fact. There are modern artists who are teenagers and write some pretty good songs – Billie Eilish, a U.S. Pop artist, is one. We NEVER hear of anything as accomplished and phenomenal as The Kick Inside in our time – there has not, in my view, been an album as impressive from someone so young since 1978. Another reason I adore Kate Bush is that of the subjects she covers and her approach to the arts. One of the reasons I am such an avid and dedicated feminist is the effect and brilliance of Kate Bush. She had to fight from the outset of her career – she pitched to get Wuthering Heights released as a single; the record label wanted a more commercial cut like James and the Cold Gun instead – and was determined not be trodden on and treated like a girl. Interviews from 1978/'79 range from awed to plain patronising – some interviewers almost patting Kate Bush like an infant, assuming she is helpless and a weak little sparrow! There are some great videos and documentaries from that period - or shortly after.
PHOTO CREDIT: Guido Harari
The tenacity, determination and sheer strength Kate Bush has displayed from the start have inspired legions of female performers to take charge and kick the nuts of the musical patriarchy! Everyone from Madonna and Tori Amos to Florence Welch has taken something from Kate Bush’s treasure chest and incorporated it into their aesthetic. I will look at the remainder of Kate Bush’s career – 1978-now – but one forgets the humour and wit of the woman. When explaining her vegetarianism back in 1980; she felt it okay to eat plants because, let’s face it, they like the attention – “I think they’d be really sad if no-one paid attention to them” she said. She also stated they would go well with Marmite. She appeared on a show with Richard Stilgow – I am cribbing from The Guardian’s sixty(number)-based Kate Bush tribute; a little threadbare and hollow feature – and talked about her skincare regime. Whether talking about diet or beauty; music or how she was raised – we forget how witty and sharp Kate Bush was. In fact, when promoting her 2011 albums, Director's Cut and 50 Words for Snow; she charmed interviewers like Lauren Laverne (see later in this feature), Mark Radcliffe and Ken Bruce and provoked much laughter. Before I go back to discography and timeline; it is worth noting an EMI executive visited Bush during her twelve-year gap (between The Red Shoes and Aerial) and was there to see what she had been working on. The rumour she presented him with baked cakes is false...but you can SO imagine that scenario happening!
Back we go to 1978 and, after The Kick Inside, there was public and industry pressure for her to follow the acclaimed and spectacular debut. Lionheart was released that same year – how many modern artists do that?! – but it was a critical flop! Many felt short-changed and felt there were few songs that rivalled the likes of Wuthering Heights. It is, perhaps, her most (least-)mentioned record - and one that few people discuss! Although the songwriting dynamic was different – the debut was mostly written, at her home, before coming into the studio; the sophomore album was mostly written in the studio or rushed – there was plenty of gold on the record. The beauty and kiss of Symphony in Blue and In the Warm Room; the standout hit, Wow; the inventive and semi-weird quirk of the closing duo, Coffee Homeground and Hammer Horror. There are no nerves or any huge errors on the album but, pressured to quick-release a follow-up for The Kick Inside; Kate Bush was not allowed time to germinate, ruminate and create. One can see the period between Lionheart and Hounds of Love as a mission to gain full control and make music on her own terms. I will skip through those albums but look at the material that you hear on Never for Ever (1980), The Dreaming (1982) and Hounds of Love (1985) and you can feel that incline and sense of maturity grow.
Babooshka (Never for Ever) is Bush amping-up the kooky and intense; Get Out of My House (The Dreaming) is, at that time, her most vocally challenging and physically stunning revelation - a fuck*ing-nuts-at-times song that takes the breath! One might argue Kate Bush peaked during 1985’s Hounds of Love but it was an important record for her. Recorded at her own studio where she was holidaying and relaxing with her boyfriend - it was a less pressured and a more liberating process. This was a woman, in her mid-twenties, enjoying life more and putting together music at her own pace. She flitted between studios on The Dreaming so was keen to become rooted and calm during its follow-up release. Even though there is only three years between The Dreaming and Hounds of Love; it was her fifth album in only seven years! You can hear the revived and refreshed Kate Bush taking music in new directions. The first, non-conceptual side of the record contains brilliant gems like Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) and The Big Sky; the title-track and Cloudbusting.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush with her dogs, Bonnie and Clyde, in an outtake from the album cover photoshoot for Hounds of Love (1985)/PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush
I mentioned how every post-The Kick Inside L.P. from Bush contained one (or more) less-than-genius songs – Mother Stands for Comfort is the Hounds of Love progeny that seems in need of extra-curricula assistance and patience. I can understand why the majority of Bush’s fans rank Hounds of Love above all else! It is clear she was going through a phenomenal period of growth, creative peak and independence. That would spill into 1989’s The Sensual World. Even Hounds of Love’s conceptual second-side managed to stun and amaze fans – some critics felt it a little out-there and dreary (how dare they!).
It, the concept, is a woman being stranded at sea and in need of rescue. Not only did that suite feature heavily in 2014’s Before the Dawn – it was Kate Bush’s first attempt at a conceptual arc (she would do it again on 2005’s double-album, Aerial). Rolling Stone, in their first-ever Kate Bush review, were not impressed:
“The Mistress of Mysticism has woven another album that both dazzles and bores. Like the Beatles on their later albums, Bush is not concerned about having to perform the music live, and her orchestrations swell to the limits of technology. But unlike the Beatles, Bush often overdecorates her songs with exotica ... There's no arguing that Bush is extraordinarily talented, but as with Jonathan Richman, rock's other eternal kid, her vision will seem silly to those who believe children should be seen and not heard”.
Maybe there were fewer instant hits on The Sensual World but the maturity and incredible songwriter showed Bush was capable of reinventing herself and subverting expectation. Listen to the title cut and This Woman’s Work – the latter is especially important in her history and one of those songs that shows Bush has no equals or songwriting peers. The critical drool gets a little saltier and less warm post-The Sensual World…that does not mean we had seen the last of her brilliance! The Red Shoes – the first Kate Bush album of the 1990s – relied on the modern technology of the day, Maybe a bit machine-processed and compacted; some of the material sounded tinny, metallic; edgy and soulless (Kate Bush revisited a few for her 2011 album, Director’s Cut). Rubberband Girl is a stone-cold banger, mate; Lily and Moments of Pleasure are incredible; Why Should I Love You? is an under-loved and brilliant pearl. It is true the consistency and regularity of Kate Bush got a little less predictable after that record. We were treated to a fantastic return with Aerial – after a twelve-year gap – and have had two albums since then: 2011’s reworkings, Director’s Cut, and the exceptional 50 Words for Snow (featuring vocal input from Sir Elton John and Stephen Fry!). The fact we have only seen two original Kate Bush albums since 1993 makes me believe we might not see another, if at all, for a long time! Many didn’t expect two Kate Bush albums in 2011 so, for all I know, there might be another album ready to go! I have talked in academic terms and looked at the creative transformations of Kate Bush.
Before I wrap things up – and give my personal happy birthday! – a quick look at an article that caught my eye. Salon looked at the immense popularity of her Before the Dawn shows but asked why Kate Bush is not more popular in the U.S. It is an interesting proposition:
“Many fans ask why Bush isn't bigger in the U.S., simply because her albums deserve to be heard by a wider audience. However, her influence has permeated modern music for decades. In the '90s, Tori Amos was inundated with Bush comparisons; when Joanna Newsom and Amanda Palmer emerged in the '00s, they received the same treatment. These connections tended to be facile and based on surface musical attributes; however, Bush's career blueprint — encompassing the way she steered her own musical ship, for example, or the crisp, ornate details underscoring every song — has inspired countless other iconoclasts.
This fluidity came into focus thanks to the '00s indie scene, which spawned a surprising number of Bush covers, including the Futureheads' yelping take on "Hounds of Love," Ra Ra Riot's delicate "Suspended in Gaffa" and Wild Nothing's moody version of "Cloudbusting." Today, her spiritual descendants are even more popular; Florence and the Machine, Years & Years, and Christine and the Queens all bear Bush's imprint.
Speaking to The Fader in 2016 about developing her style, Bush said, "It's a bit like how you develop a certain style as a pianist: It's just something that gradually evolves. The more you work, the more a certain type of character evolves. It was very much a phase that went with when I was working in dance. I wonder if, as I was exploring a technique of dance, I was also sort of exploring a technique with my vocals as well".
The enigma and sheer down-to-earth nature of Kate Bush strike me. I have thrown in a couple of interviews she conducted a few years back and she is startled when being seen as a recluse. She does not publicise her every move and is not attracted to fame and the public spotlight. Nobody knew Kate Bush had given birth, to her son Bertie, until she did an interview with Peter Gabriel two years after his birth! Bush turned down a chance to tour with Fleetwood Mac on their Rumours circuit in 1978; she kicked a paparazzi up the arse in 1991 – why wouldn’t you?! – and asked The Queen for an autograph in 2005 (Bush admitted she had been a Premier League tit that day!).
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in an outtake from the Babooshka single session (1980)/PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush
She is a big fan of Prince – who she recorded with – and David Bowie. Pink Floyd (and David Gilmour especially) were a big part of her early career; she used to get through twenty fags a day (certainly during her first couple of albums) and regularly contributed to her fan magazines. Elton John claimed Bush’s duet with Peter Gabriel, on Don’t Give Up, saved his life when he was in the grips of cocaine addiction. Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) is her most-covered song (twenty-four times) and Wuthering Heights is her most-streamed song on Spotify. I want to end by talking about three different things.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush during a shoot to promote her 2011 album, 50 Words for Snow/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Fish People
It is amazing to think Kate Bush has only recorded five cover versions in her career (not counting her takes on Folk songs). Among the covers is Elton John’s Rocket Man and Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing. One of the reasons I adore The Kick Inside, and all her albums, is the fact Kate Bush is the sole writer and voice! She has had others produce her material but has not given in to the temptation to hire other writers and get them to help her. So many female artists I talk to say they take control of their music because of her independent take and need for un-distilled identity. The modern music scene has so many Pop artists who hide behind hired-guns and have ranks of producers putting their records together – none of which come close to the likes of Kate Bush’s best. Some of the finest female artists since 1978 have either taken guidance from Kate Bush’s strength and talent or incorporated an element of her aura into their music. Madonna, debatably, leant on the fashion/rebellious – in the sense that she speaks for herself and is a fierce spirit – whilst others have followed Kate Bush’s connection to nature, literature and the spiritual. I ask all my interviews who they are most inspired by and the leading artist, by a mile, is Kate Bush. Men and women are learning from the legend and unable, still, to get a proper grip on her multifaceted creative brilliance.
She is sixty on Monday, so I will end with two brief utterances. I wanted to pay tribute to someone who has made a huge impact on my life. Not only is she the first strong female artist I took to heart but her beauty, musicianship and lyrical style compelled me to investigate music more and turn to poetry. I had heard nobody like her in the 1980s and was amazed at this strange and wondrous creature coming out of the radio. Without Kate Bush, it is debatable whether I would have even got into music journalism at all – the fact I go out of my way to fight for gender equality and raise awareness is because of the music she has put out and proof of what female musicians are capable of. That sounds condescending but Bush had to fight for control and the chance to make music her own way. When allowed greater freedom and independence, she went on to create her most-celebrated and loved album. So many modern female artists are in the same position and we need to use Kate Bush as an example of what happens when artists are dictated to and, in time, decide to break free of labels/strict guidelines. I will end by urging anyone unfamiliar with Kate Bush’s impressive and always-inspiring music to buy her records and watch interviews. She remains unique and one of those artists who was/is in a league of her own. The way she spoke and how she went about things amazes me. Although she is turning sixty; I think there are many more years left in Kate Bush – let’s hope she releases more material and there is another gig! Although many artists follow her example and are inspired by her work; it is clear the music industry does not…
IN THIS PHOTO: A press shot for Kate Bush's 2011 album, Director's Cut/PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush
MAKE them like her anymore!