FEATURE: It Started with a Famous White Dress... The Visual Brilliance of Kate Bush



It Started with a Famous White Dress...

IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush captured by her brother John Carder Bush (taken from his book, Kate: Inside the Rainbow

The Visual Brilliance of Kate Bush


MY first exposure to Kate Bush would have been...


 IN THIS PHOTO: Shots of the young Kate Bush from CATHY by John Carder Bush

when I was a child and I saw a video of her greatest hits, The Whole Story. It was that white dress Kate Bush wore in the Wuthering Heights video that opened my eyes and, with it, my world. I shall track things forward a bit because I write quite a bit regarding Kate Bush. I was going to pen a piece regarding an absence of material. Bush is a hard-working and always-inspiring artist and we are no stranger to gaps. The biggest one was the twelve-year gulf between The Red Shoes in 1993 and Aerial coming along. It has been almost eight years since her last album, 50 Words for Snow (2011). My article was going to be about the gap and whether anything is coming along in 2019. Bush always releases albums in the autumn and winter so one cannot expect anything too much before then. Maybe she will leave things until 2020 but there was an intimation, back in a 2011 interview she gave with Front Row’s John Wilson, that she was working on new stuff. There were new ideas, at least and that has not manifested itself yet. She has not been exactly quiet the past few years and, whilst I have discussed this recently, I want to briefly nod back to it. Her 2014 live show, Before the Dawn, was a sensation and her first live show since 1979’s Tour of Life. Bush released a book of lyrics last year and has also re-released her back catalogue; remastered and all available on lovely, shiny vinyl.

The fact we have received news and stuff from her as recently as 2018 should keep as all happy and satisfied. There is that need for new material, mind – the world is always better when we have Kate Bush music in it! Going back to Before the Dawn and it reminds me of a side to Kate Bush that is often overlooked: her visual aspect and how she inhabits new worlds on the stage and through videos. I mentioned the Before the Dawn show and how it marked a return to the stage after several decades. I was not lucky enough to get a seat there and be able to see one of the twenty-two shows at the Hammersmith Apollo. That show was definitely not lacking in theatre and there was this entire world. Bush performed the suites from Aerial and Hounds of Love (so there was a story and arc) and there were some big hits in the mix. The set contained masks and dancers; there were great backdrops and visual elements. Videos played to introduce various sections and it was this multi-media bonanza. It is not shock that 2014-Bush still had some magic in her fingertips. Look back at her 1979 live tour debut and she entered with a unique bang. This Guardian article from 2010 looked back at the Tour of Life and how Bush changed the game:

 “Few other artists had taken the pop concert into quite such daring territory; its only serious precedent was David Bowie's 1974 Diamond Dogs tour. There were 13 people on stage, 17 costume changes and 24 songs – primarily from her first two albums, The Kick Inside and Lionheart – scattered over three distinctly theatrical acts. Her brother John declaimed poetry, Simon Drake performed illusions and magic tricks, and at the centre was a barefoot Bush, still only 20 years old...

For Them Heavy People she was a trench-coated, trilby-hatted gangster. On the heartbreaking Oh England, My Lionheart, she became a dying second world war fighter pilot, a flying jacket for a shroud and a Biggles helmet for a burial crown. Every song offered something new: she moved from Lolita, winking outrageously from behind the piano, to a top-hatted magician's apprentice ; from a soul siren singing of her "pussy queen" to a leather-clad refugee from West Side Story. The erotically charged denouement of James and the Cold Gun depicted her as a murderous gunslinger, spraying gunfire – actually ribbons of red satin – over the stage. There was no room for improvisation. The band was drilled to within an inch of its life and Bush never spoke to the audience, refusing to come out of character. "She was faultless," says set designer David Jackson. "I don't remember her ever fluffing a line or hitting a bum note on the piano."


PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

As the tour rolled out around the UK the reviews were euphoric: Melody Maker called the Birmingham show "the most magnificent spectacle ever encountered in the world of rock", and most critics broadly concurred. Only NME remained sceptical, dismissing Bush as "condescending" and, with the kind of proud and rather wonderful perversity that once defined the British rock press, praising only the magician”.

If the visuals and the cinema Bush brought to the stage, both in 1979 and 2014, were mindblowing and unseen, one can forgive her for leaving a gap between her first and most-current tour – and why we might never see another tour/live set from her. So many modern gigs/tours have basic sets and lighting and, although it is expensive to put together, where is the sense of the magical?!

Even the biggest artists of this time – with deeper pockets and larger budgets – tend not to be too ambitious with their tours. Kate Bush, in many ways, was a benchmark in 1979 and, over four years since the last time she stepped on stage, is still the high-watermark! It is not only her shows that dazzle and stun. One need only look at her photos to realise that this visual imagination was not restricted to the stage. If you have not read the book Kate: Inside the Rainbow then you must. It documents photos taken by Kate Bush’s older brother, John, through the years. There are no simple poses and concepts regarding the snaps. Even when shot at home, there is a twinkle in the eye or something about her look that stands aside. It is worth exploring the photoshoots between 1978 and now and seeing all the wonderful images that feature Bush.

PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

Her album covers, perhaps, strike the eye the hardest. If The Kick Inside’s (her 1978 debut) had a cover image that would be bested then the promotional images of the time were more gripping and bold. Whether dressed in a leotard or posing on these elaborate sets, Kate Bush the visionary definitely outshone her peers. I love her album covers and whether you prefer the John Carder Bush-shot Hounds of Love (1985) or the intriguing The Dreaming – Bush with a key in her mouth, passing it to a man whose face we do not see (it is her then-boyfriend, Del Palmer, and relates to a song, Houdini, where a kiss is passed to the escapologist through a kiss) – there is much to choose from!

 PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

Kate Bush, as a dancer, was always attracted to the visual element of music and providing this very physical and theatrical look. It is her videos that, to me, represent the pinnacle of the Kate Bush visual experience. She has revealed in plenty of interviews how much she loves videos and her attachment to film. I mentioned the Wuthering Heights video: it is almost as iconic as the song itself because of the simplicity and power. She wore a white dress for the U.K. video release and a red one in the U.S. version. This amazing dancer entranced and enraptured in the song beguiled and, this many years after its release, it still amazes.


IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush and crew watch the rushes of The Line, The Cross and the Curve (in 1993)/PHOTO CREDIT: Guido Harari

My favourite video from her debut album is Them Heavy People. Bush, in a trilby and purple, created this quirky and memorable film where she gets to dance and fight off these two men; there are broken chairs and bottles and something that definitely catches the eye – it raises a smile and stays in the mind! On Hammer Horror and Wow (singles from her second album, Lionheart), the wide-eyed and mesmeric Bush created these amazing videos that went far beyond the standard of the time (1978). By 1980, the standard had increased and Babooshka - where Bush played a couple of roles and could be seen twirling a double-bass (in the verses) and this brazen and enflamed figure (the chorus) – was a pivotal moment.

No other musician (aside from David Bowie, perhaps) was creating these colourful, vivid and bold videos that matched music that was as original and special. Look at the other two singles from Never for Ever, Breathing and Army Dreamers, and there are more iconic visuals. Breathing finds Bush cocooned in this bubble: foetus-like and protected from the world, it is almost a little film in itself. Army Dreamers, Bush’s favourite of her videos, sees army soldiers (played by Bush and members of her band) going into battle. The images follow the lyrics and we see a young man plunged into war; Bush and her comrades avoiding fire and the striking Bush, again, wide-eyed and amazing. Look at the charm and quirk of Kate Bush dancing through, what looks like a barn, in the Suspended in Gaffa video (from 1982’s The Dreaming).


PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

Even if the album was more challenging and out-there than her previous efforts, the videos did not alienate. Sat in Your Lap, with its vivid pitch and pace, is matched in a video where Bush is on the floor, at first, almost jester-like in her movements. As the video progresses, she is joined by a cast of characters and the video is almost like an acid trip! One almost remembers the video about the song because of the amazing scenes! By 1985’s Hounds of Love, with the increase in ambition and the release of her most popular album, the videos become bigger and more filmic.

I love the packed and busy video for The Big Sky and Kate Bush as this sky-gazing figure. The song itself is the wonder of just staring at the sky and its wonder but the video throws in pilots, a jet and wild festivity. It is a joyous and bighearted video that is charming and filled with life. In Hounds of Love’s video, Bush runs through the woods with her sweetheart, chased by physical and spiritual forces (the ‘hounds of love’). One can hear Bush’s love of film and how she wanted to explore more. The video could well be adapted into something longer; maybe a short story or something a bit more expansive. It is hard to match a song as vivid and immediate as Hounds of Love with a video that does it justice but one cannot thank Bush alone – the directors she worked with in each case help bring these visions to life. I love Hounds of Love but one cannot talk about the album and ignore Cloudbusting and Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God). The latter is a simpler dance concept but it is amazingly sensual, brilliant choreographed and executed. Bush and her partner, Michael Hervieu, created something more sophisticated and classical than a lot of the dance videos of the time (the mid-1980s). Videos, mostly, had flashy images and effects and there was a real lack of sophistication and imagination.

Director David Garfath brings the best out of both dancer and it is another amazing visual. Perhaps her most ambitious video was for Cloudbusting. Featuring Donald Sutherland as the inventor (as the cloudbusting machine, Wilhelm Reich) and Bush as his son, Peter, it is an amazing video. The video shows the two on the top of a hill trying to make the cloudbuster work. Reich leaves Peter on the machine and returns to his lab. In flashback, he remembers several times he and Peter enjoyed together as Reich worked on various scientific projects, until he is interrupted by government officials who arrest him and ransack the lab. Peter senses his father's danger and tries to reach him but is forced to watch helplessly as his father is driven away. Peter finally runs back to the cloudbuster and activates it successfully - to the delight of his father who sees it starting to rain. Again, like so many Kate Bush promotionals, there is this film-like thing happening that elevates the song and augments its potent and unique lyrics. The fact Kate Bush is such a strong writer and creator gives her videos that natural edge. She never phones it in and, by 1985, was creating some of the best videos of the decade. Even by 1989’s The Sensual World, the standard did not slip. On The Sensual World, Bush looks elegant and resplendent as she dances and waltzes through woodland.


It is a gorgeous and beautifully-lit video that has this elegance and maturity to it. Bush, unlike so many other artists, changed between albums and did not stick with the same visuals and concepts. Kate Bush never does anything by halves and, with her videos, she wanted to create these special worlds. A lot of artists, then and now, do something quite basic and expend very little imagination. Even when she was representing a more stirring and emotional song like This Woman’s Work, the visuals did not lack. Bush, at the piano, provides this solemn, heartbreaking and memorable performance that far-surpasses other videos at the time. There is so much mystery and story in the video; a sense of devastation but also of wonder and curiosity. There have been fewer videos since 1993’s The Red Shoes but that is because there have been fewer singles released – and Bush, on Aerial and 50 Words for Snow – and longer songs. Moments of Pleasure is similar in scope and look to The Sensual World. Bush looks equally stunning and classical and there is this enticing dance and magical look.

PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

Bush seemed to have these two worlds. In terms of dance, she could bring this physicality and beauty to performances and, when more ambitious and bold, provide these filmic scopes that brought new life from songs. Eat the Music, to match the Reggae and festival mood, sees Bush dancing in a tropical scene whilst And So Is Love is darker-lit and stormy; The Red Shoes has this trippy, devilish and demented. So much range from the one album! I do wonder why we overlook the aesthetic and visual side of Kate Bush - given that it is so strong and captivating. Every one of her videos holds weight and gets into the mind. You just know she sees videos as art; part of her craft and something that not only sells songs but adds to them. It is hard to pick a favourite because there are so many classics in the pack - I guess every one of us picks different ones for separate reasons.

My favourite video from The Red Shoes is Rubberband Girl. Even if the record received some mixed reviews – many felt a decline was happening – the videos definitely did not suffer. Rubberband Girl sees Bush leaping on a trampoline and entwined with a dancer; keeping hold of him and not letting go. It is a great dance and, through the video, we see Bush walking the floor and, when the mood calls, letting her dancing side out. Apart from King of the Mountain on 2005’s Aerial, there have not been that many videos from Bush. She has just released some covers and rarities so we get videos for Rocket Man, The Man I Love and Under the Ivy. I recommend people get involved with that release, The Other Sides, and also check out her official website. There is, even in 2019, so much more to rediscover and uncover from this icon of the music world!


IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in the make-up chair whilst filming The Line, The Cross and the Curve/PHOTO CREDIT: Guido Harari

They are all great songs but, once more, we see new sides to Bush and her unending passion for film. One hopes, if there is another album coming, there are more chances to see Bush on the screen. Even though she is now sixty, she still has that verve, dance ability and passion. I look back from 1978 and the incredible videos that happened right at the start. From the innocent-yet-beguiling woman on the Man with the Child in His Eyes video and the live versions of Moving and Strange Phenomena, Bush was this spectacular performer. Even when she brought the songs to T.V. and the stage, she added this dose of pixie-dust and spirit; a chemical reaction that was hers and hers alone! They should bottle it because I see a lack of the same zeal and colour in today’s scene - perhaps indicating that Kate Bush is unicorn-like in her rarity and wonder.

The live spectaculars – just the two of them – defied expectations and blew away the critics whereas her photos show all the complex sides of a phenomenal woman. It is hard to say just how influential Bush has been regarding the visual aspect. Look at artists like Tori Amos and Björk and you can see a bit of Kate Bush in all of them. Nobody quite meets the standard but her legacy continues today. Bat for Lashes and St. Vincent cite Bush as a heroine and I feel a lot of other artists, in some form or the other, have been compelled by Kate Bush. We talk about Bush as this amazing voice and songwriter but few address her videos, photos and visual side. It is an important part of her aesthetic and a reason why she is she is so lauded. I look forward to seeing what the future holds and what she gives to the world. There is no official word regarding new material but I have a feeling this year will the year! There are many reasons to mark a Kate Bush album but the videos and artwork is definitely part of that. She creates these eye-opening and wondrous things that blow the mind and exceed anything out there. In an industry where record sales have declined and things are less physical; music videos lack the spark and quirkiness only Kate Bush can provide, I am glad we can all see and watch her work and remind ourselves that there is no one...


PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

QUITE like her.