FEATURE: Female Icons: Part One: Kate Bush




Female Icons

PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush 

Part One: Kate Bush


IT has been a bit of a strange week in general...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Moorhouse/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

what with one thing or another. Two British football sides, Liverpool F.C. and Tottenham Hotspur F.C., have made the final of the Champions League after trilling and unlikely comebacks (the media have dubbed both reversals ‘miracles’ but that belies sheer determination and, worryingly, suggests God had something to do with it!). Danny Baker has just been fired by the BBC and, elsewhere, there is the usual assault of political ineptitude and anger. It is my birthday today and, whilst I should be taking things easy, I am compelled to, once more, put Kate Bush onto the page. I should really stop promising each time – I don’t know why I do it – that this will be the last time I’ll post anything Kate Bush-related for a while. I love writing about her and, in a music world where there is nobody like Bush, it is always brilliant pushing her music to new people. I am always writing about sexism and gender inequality in music and, in a year where there is no sign of improvement and more cases of festivals ignoring women, we would do well to remember all the iconic women who have pushed music to where it is now. In future instalments, I will look at everyone from Madonna and Aretha Franklin through to Joni Mitchell and Beyoncé. It is a wide remit but I wanted to start with Kate Bush because, to me, she is the epitome of the unique and ever-striking artist.

Before I talk about my experience of Bush and why her music connects so hard, one cannot accuse her of being idle and sitting on her hands. Since 2011’s 50 Words for Snow – her most-recent studio album – there has been some movement. In fact, a lot of her more recent activity has been retrospective and focused on her past. Director’s Cut, released in the same year as 50 Words for Snow, saw Bush rework some of the songs from her albums, The Sensual World and The Red Shoes. If not completely essential, that album did give Bush the chance to ‘correct’ some of the issues with songs that were recorded as digital technology was coming through. In 2014, out of nowhere, she announced a residency at Hammersmith with her show, Before the Dawn. It was only the second big live project of her career. In 1979, her only tour, Tour of Life, happened; taking her around the world, it was a masterclass in progression, ambition and theatre (watch this great documentary regarding the process). Thirty-five years later, Before the Dawn gave fans a chance to see her back on the stage, where she performed some of her best-known songs in addition to the song cycles from Hounds of Love (1985) and Aerial (2005). Last year, Bush released a book of lyrics, How to Be Invisible, and re-released/remastered her back catalogue.

Like any self-respecting Bush fan, I have snapped up as much of this remastered material as possible and revelled in the vinyl goodness of her masterful work. Whilst the last four or five years has largely been about looking back and, in a sense, fulfilling long-held demands and dreams (for fans at least), we look forward and wonder where she will head. 2011’s 50 Words for Snow was a critical success and a lot different to her earlier work. Rather than rely on tighter songs with emphasis on the voice, the songs (on 50 Words for Snow) were longer and boasted, I think, richer compositions. Alas, the new direction was a welcomed one and I feel, when new material does come, it will most likely sound similar to this rather than her earlier days’ material. So, then, when is a new album to come? With Bush, it could be anytime and arrive in any format. It is not going to be similar to Madonna and how she is parcelling-out her latest record, Madame X: lots of tweets, photos and offerings drip-fed and gradual. Bush will announce the album and then, maybe, a single will come out and that will be it until the record arrives. I have a bit of a knack for predicting when certain artists will release new albums – I got Madonna pinned with Madame X – and I have a feeling that Bush will release something in the autumn/winter (I might be wrong but it has been nearly eight years since her last studio album so one holds hope). Why rank Bush as a female icon of music?

 PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

Just look at her influence and how she has impacted music since her arrival in 1978. One can draw a line from Bush to everyone from Tori Amos, Madonna; Björk, St. Vincent and Florence Welch (Florence + The Machine). All of these women have elements of Kate Bush and each are fiercely creative and powerful. Think about all the accomplishments and ‘firsts’ Bush has been responsible for. The aforementioned Tour of Life was a masterpiece that, with little bits of David Bowie added to the theatrical mix, it set a high standard of what a live performance could be. Including mime, scene changes and this immersive world, critics raved. Although she has not toured since 1979, her sole tour inspired countless artists in terms of performance scope and ambition. Bush helped invent the wireless head-microphone (used, famously, by Madonna) and her albums have broken records. Her debut single, Wuthering Heights (her only number-one), eventually made its way to the top of the charts and it meant, in 1978, Bush became the first British female to have a self-written song reach number-one. Her third album, Never for Ever, was the first number-one album by a British female artist. It is amazing to think it took until 1978 (1980 in the case of the album) for these records to be broken - but it gave impetus and inspiration to other women in the music industry. There are other reasons why Bush should be considered iconic. I listen to interviews (including gems such as this and this) she conducted through the years and you get this very warm, intelligent and compelling woman speaking so passionately. Her visual aspect and love comes out through her album covers, videos and live performances.

I have talked about Bush’s sole tour and her 2014 residency and all the brilliance she brought to the stage. Her album covers are consistently striking and original and her videos, more than anything, show what a wonderful eye she has for film, story and memorable moments. There are countless golden videos one can source but Wuthering Heights – where she wore a white dress and performed a beguiling dance (she wore a red dress for the U.S. version of the video) – stands out. The first video I saw of hers was for Them Heavy People (from, like Wuthering Heights, her debut album, The Kick Inside). The quirky and charming video beguiled my young mind. She grew more ambitious visually in-tandem with her sonic evolution. Hounds of Love’s Cloudbusting, Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) and The Big Sky are all unique and utterly wonderful. I especially love The Big Sky because it is so busy and colourful (there is one moment, at 0:40/0:42, where she gives the most beautiful smile you could ever imagine!). Bush has stated, in numerous interviews, how much she loved film and T.V. She has directed some of her own videos (including The Big Sky) and has created some of the most memorable videos of the past four-or-so decades. When it came to be being captured in front of the camera, there have been countless poses and looks that have stopped the heart. Whether being photoed by the press, an associate or her brother, John Carder Bush (I suggest you get his book of photos, Kate: Inside the Rainbow; also check out Graeme Thomson’s wonderful biography, Kate Bush: Under the Ivy), you just know Bush never phoned it in: every photo was a chance to be seen in a new light and provide something amazing.

Kate Bush is a complete artist and one who has always been fiercely independent. Right from the off, she knew what she wanted and trusted her own instincts. Famously, she fought her record company to ensure Wuthering Heights was released as a single. They relented. She also battled to have The Man with the Child in His Eyes as the next single. Again, they trusted her determination. As a teenager, new to the world of professional music, one would not expect such fight and exertion from an artist regarding their single releases. One does not see much of it these days but I know there are artists out there who have taken a Bush-like approach regarding their work and ensuing they are heard – rather than the record label having too big a say and releasing a single because it is more commercial-sounding and radio-friendly. Indeed, one could detect a seriously passionate voice and soul from the off. On The Kick Inside, Bush was unafraid to talk about sex in a very bold and open way. Men, throughout her career, were never cast as villains or accused: instead, they were seen as objects of desire and, as a curious artist, Bush wanted to explore men/sex in a very personal way. She discussed menstruation (Strange Phenomena) and incest (The Kick Inside); a grown man with an innocence inside of him (The Man with the Child in His Eyes) and the power of movement and dance (Moving) – uncommon back in 1978 but one feels doors were opened and minds altered by this very brave and unique artist.

 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Maybe there was a feeling from some, early in her career, that the songs were not addressing themes as big as war and politics. Even though her songs of love were hugely sophisticated and, at times, risqué, she did widen her horizons by the time of 1980’s Never for Ever – standouts Breathing (about nuclear war as seen from the perspective of a fetus) and Army Dreamers (about the waste of war and how young soldiers march to their deaths) were a world away from earlier tracks about love and desire. Many people focus heavily on Bush’s sublime voice and ignore her words. Buy her lyrics book, How to Be Invisible, if you can to see just how imaginative, creative and varied her lyrics are. At a time when a lot of mainstream artists were writing about love in a very ordinary way, Bush was proving to be an exception. Right from her debut album, you just knew there was nobody like her. Consider that some of the songs on The Kick Inside were written as young as aged thirteen (or a smidge earlier than that) and it seems scary she was that accomplished that young! Everyone has their favourite Kate Bush album and, to many, that honour belongs to Hounds of Love. I can see a case for the 1985 release being at the top of the public consciousness. In terms of confidence and quality, one cannot fault a moment on the record. In the summer of 1983, Bush moved out of London, set up a home-studio and took inspiration from her surroundings.

It was a pivotal and important move after a period of time that took a lot out of her – 1982’s The Dreaming was her first sole-produced album and, given its complexities, took a while to get made; she felt burned-out at the end - and a comparative lack off critical acclaim got to her. The Dreaming is this wildly eclectic and bold album overloaded with texture; 1978’s Lionheart was a bit of a rushed affair but contains some brilliant moments; The Kick Inside, as I shall explore later, is this wondrous and timeless debut. Not every song she touched turned to gold but one can detect conviction and passion in every move. The Dreaming is often seen as too out-there (even for Kate Bush!) but contains some of her best work to that point (Houdini and Get Out of My House, especially). Never for Ever is an underrated gem whilst her post-Hounds of Love work have plenty of brilliant moments. Bush herself loved Aerial. The double-album has a very natural feel. Songs, literally, talk about nature and birdsong; there is this very open and conceptual arc that immerses the listener and is miles away from something like The Dreaming. 1993’s The Red Shoes was the last album before a twelve-year gap but, despite it being a difficult period – her mother died around the time the album was released and she split with her long-time beau, Del Palmer (who still engineers her albums); poor reviews and an ill-fated short-film, The Line, the Cross and the Curve, all contributed – there were some wonderful songs in the pack (Rubberband Girl, the opening track, is one of the most buoyant and uplifting songs she ever released).

 PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

What else to cover? I have covered the music itself and the lyrics; the wonderful videos and entrance than Bush provides. Many bemoan the amount of time it takes between albums. Consider if they were rushed or released quicker. One would not get the same quality and, as Bush has said, she writes very quickly but the actual recording takes longer. She has not performed a lot but, again, if she did that then we would not get as many albums. It is a hard balance but the sixty-year-old wants to make work at her own rate at her home-studio. She has a son, Bertie, and there is not the same pressure as there was in the first few years of her career – don’t forget that from 1978-1980 she released three albums, embarked on a worldwide tour and was constantly under the media’s gaze! I have sort of skimmed through her back catalogue but, in addition to me including an ‘essential’ list of Kate Bush songs in the playlist at the bottom, I urge people to check her music videos and, as much as they can, buy her records and experience the music in its truest, warmest form. Bush is someone who love vinyl and the tactile nature of an album. You just know that she takes every care to ensure that the finished record we receive is as good as it can be; that the sound is perfect and she has sweated blood and tears to ensure it is up to her standard.

Kate Bush is an icon because of how she has changed music and all she has achieved. Her influence is clear and ever-growing and you cannot compare anyone to her. Most legends sort of get reinterpreted by future generations but there hasn’t been anyone who has got close to updating Kate Bush or touching her quality. That is no slight to them: such is the power and brilliance of her music that it is unlikely we will ever see anyone like her again. Before getting around to my final point, I guess all I love about Kate Bush can be found in her debut album, The Kick Inside. Although she has, to an extent, distanced herself from the album (she felt it was a bit airy-fairy and not as raw/masculine as she’d like; she wanted to have more control and feels her later work is better), I think it is a phenomenal work. Not only is her voice at its most beautiful and tender; the songs are so bold and confident for a then-teenager. Anyone who can self-write every song and tackle subjects as unusual and hefty as incest; talk about love and sex in a very fresh way should be congratulated. The Kick Inside is my favourite album ever and the one I come back to time and time again. It makes me feel warmer and safer and, in a world that is becoming more unsure and tense, we need music that can provide support and escape! The fact of the matter I that all of her albums mean something different to everyone. I love Hounds of Love for my own reasons and we all have that different connection to Kate Bush.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Moorhouse/Getty

It has been a bit of a quiet spell for her – in terms of new material – but one feels it cannot be too long before an announcement of fresh material is out…don’t quote me on that as I have no super-powers at all; it is more a feeling, you know! Anyone who feels Bush is publicity-shy would do good to aquatint themselves with the interviews she gave in 2011 – for Director’s Cut and 50 Words for Snow. Most of the telephone interviews were with radio stations in North America whereas, when speaking with BBC presenters (this video shows that, where her and the BBC are concerned, there is this mutual love), most of the interviews were conducted at her home. Check out her interview with Mark Radcliffe about Director’s Cut and 50 Words for Snow. He had long-campaigned to have Bush on his show (he spoke with her, both times in 2011, as part of BBC Radio 6’s RadMac afternoon show, I believe) and speak with her and, when he first spoke with her in 2005 to promote Aerial, that long-held ambition came true! I love the interview Lauren Laverne conducted with her in 2011 (for 50 Words for Snow). She asked some truly great questions and there was a great, respectful rapport between them. Ken Bruce’s interview for Director’s Cut is also sublime. She has given BBC Radio 4’s John Wilson a couple of interviews and spoke with him about Director’s Cut and 50 Words for Snow (and in 2005, too) – again, like Radcliffe and Laverne, there is this very natural connection between them (listen to Jamie Cullum talk with her about 50 Words for Snow). Listen, also, to Matt Everitt talking with Bush about her residency, Before the Dawn, in 2016; the chat is the most-recent audio interview we have and sees her react to this monumental event (the album of the live shows was released in 2016).


There has been this near-eight-year gap between 50 Words for Snow and now…and we are all waiting with baited breath to see if anything will arrive this year. I have spoken to so many musicians, male and female, who count Kate Bush as an idol and follow in her footsteps. Over forty-one years since her debut album, she is still affecting artists and stunning the senses! I make no secret that one of my dreams is to interview Kate Bush. I know I would need to work for the BBC or have a bigger platform to get that opportunity and, when another album comes out, there will be a huge clamber to get Bush featured on everyone’s site/station/magazine. She commands this respect and love without having to put out an album every year. Who would want that sort of consistency if it meant a deterioration of quality?! When speaking with Matt Everitt in 2016, he asked her whether this (the live shows/album) was a full-stop. She, brilliantly, responded that it was more of a long comma. Quite. We have seen activity from her since then but nothing in the way of a new album. When she does release a new album, there will (we hope) be the slew of interviews and, whilst I will not be among the lucky asking her questions, it will be great to see what she has been up to and where her creative dial is now.

 PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

So many of us grew up around Bush’s music and hold similar memories (who among us cannot count the Wuthering Heights video as a truly landmark realisation?!). I shall leave things here – there is birthday cake to be eaten! – but it is undeniable that Kate Bush is an icon and peerless artist! At a time when we struggle to overturn gender inequality and sexist attitudes, those in power should look to artists such as Kate Bush and appreciate all they gave us. There is a new generation of female artists emerging that owe a debt to pioneers such as Kate Bush and are being denied the chance to play on big stages because of rigid and close-minded festival organisers.

IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/ALBUM COVER: John Carder Bush

Maybe this is an aside but I do feel like these iconic female artists have done so much and now, when female artists are king, the new generation are being held back. I wanted to start this feature to spotlight some of the iconic female artists who have given so much to music; who have inspired so many artists and continue to exert influence years down the track. Kate Bush is definitely among them and I cannot wait to see where she heads next. Knowing her and her music, there is no real telling what an album will sound like and what direction it will take us. There is no real rush but, in a world where there is so much negative music and a lack of real joy, the beauty and wonder only Kate Bush can provide…

IS sorely needed.