I feel like I’ve been a fan of Kate Bush my whole life. Maybe I was seven or eight when I was first really aware of her music. I’ve certainly been a fan ever since then.
The song Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) is the one that I kept coming back to – an intriguing and brilliant pop song. It seemed to follow no trend and no one has ever bettered it. The same is true of the album it kicks off. The same is true – when we get down to it – about every Kate Bush album. She doesn’t follow trends. She sets them.
Then there’s Wuthering Heights. What a bizarre and beguiling first single. The song that announced Kate to the world. She’s singing in character – she is Cathy from the story. That’s an audacity. What a way to introduce yourself to the world.
When Bush was a teenager she wrote not one but two albums of material. They were released in 1978, a few months apart. The Kick Inside and then Lionheart. They feel like part one and part two, The A Team and then The B Team. A couple of years on and Never For Ever arrives. It’s a relentless pace. After that Kate takes a small break. She turns back up in 1982 with The Dreaming – which freaks people out a little since it’s got big, big drums and weird cabaret-gone-mad songs. She retreats further and refines the sound. In 1985 she releases Hounds of Love and the only compromise she makes is that she agrees to not call her song A Deal With God. It will be Running Up That Hill – to give it a chance at charting. But it will carry its real title up that same hill (in brackets).
I think I’ve always known about Kate Bush being consummate. An artist. A curator of her own sound. A sculptor. A poet. A dancer. A conceptualist. A moviemaker that just happens to work with music. A songwriter that always thinks like a producer.
Recently I spoke about Kate Bush on RNZ.
It’s a real treat to get to do these music feature chats. Every month or so I am live on air as part of Jesse Mulligan’s Afternoons show on Radio NZ. And I have a theme, or an artist, or an era and I’ve got 40 minutes of radio-space to fill. A mixture of me talking and the songs from that artist or era playing in and around my contextual space-filling, my intros, my research.
I pick the topics – so it’s artists I love. And artists I’m going to (further) research. I play a mix of the well-known and the slightly obscure. I try to take an angle that isn’t just the Wikipedia crawl through the biography.
With Kate Bush it was dreams-can-come-true material; the sort of scenario the nine or ten or even twenty-nine year old me could never have imagined. (Well, maybe at 29 I was ready. But it’s been a long wait to get a bit of radio airtime. And, yes, I’d like more than I currently get. Absolutely).
So when I work on these radio features I have a bit of a strategy. And it’s pretty straight forward.
Start at the start. Work through the catalogue, do some mahi – read and watch and listen.
With Kate Bush it’s a finite discography. The albums I mentioned already, five of them, form the front half of her career. After that, the “pop” years, shall we say, the breaks get bigger. In 1989 there’s The Sensual World and in 1993 The Red Shoes. Then Kate has her biggest break.
In fact she has a child. And has no interest in letting anyone know other than her family and friends. She keeps it a secret from the press for most of the first two years of the child’s life. She doesn’t make another album until 2005.
Aerial arrives as a double album and is reviewed, gushingly, as her best since Hounds of Love; there’s a link there because the second half of Aerial is conceptual, a wee suite of songs, as was the case for the back half on Hounds of Love. But it’s a teaser of a return.
There is no tour. There is not much in the way of promotional appearances. Just the album. A video or two. And then more silence.
I’ve always loved the fact that this finite catalogue is a showcase of only saying something when you really want to – or need to. Or both.
In 2011 Kate once again releases two album – first off, Director’s Cut which has fully reworked, re-arranged and re-recorded versions of songs from the late 80s/early 90s records. And then a few months later 50 Words For Snow, brand new songs – including a duet with Elton John. The title song has Stephen Fry literally reciting 50 different words for snow, many of them made up of course.
I’ve owned all of these albums on vinyl (and I do regret selling the more recent ones, I’ll say that I’m going to buy them back – but I won’t). And all of the albums are still available in various formats, including on all of the streaming channels.
So I sat about listening to them, timing it in the weeks leading up to the radio chat. I don’t want to peak too early. I don’t want to cram for the exam the night before. So an album or two a day in the week or two ahead of the show.
But also there are biographies and books of lyrics and books of photographs and then the YouTube clips. I read two bios and the books of ephemera, thank you Wellington Libraries!
I make a folder of YouTube clips – the classic music videos, some interviews (including this one with our own Dylan Taite from her promotional trip to NZ in the late 1970s). And various versions of The Tour of Life. In 1979 Kate plays her one and only tour. There are 24 performances and then no more. She turns up to sing a song at various charity gigs and awards shows, but she doesn’t play a live set right through ever again. (Until 2014’s Before The Dawn concert residency, 22 shows in one venue – there’s a live audio document of this too).
But the Tour of Life is fascinating. There is a documentary and there are various versions of the songs from the shows – including the official (truncated) document. And the full show. I watch it all. Also worth checking out – and I revisit it for the fourth or fifth time – is a BBC documentary from 2014 called The Kate Bush Story.
So that’s my prep. That and the 30 years or so of fandom and listening. I will say that I searched around to see if there were any good podcasts and all I found was The Kate Bush Fan Podcast. It is members of her fan club talking about their fandom. I stopped a couple of episodes in when one sweaty-sounding mouth-breather was overjoyed at meeting Kate and asked her for a hug. He then shares that she “smelled wonderful”. I threw my hands in the air. I was out. Fandom comes in many shapes and various sizes. And this is not my fandom.
If you checked out the RNZ page you’ll have seen there’s a Spotify playlist of the songs I played snippets from during the feature. I’ve linked that there above also – and because I’ve spent a lot of time with this material just recently I wanted to build an even bigger playlist. So here’s a whopping great 50 track Best Of – because the single-disc compilation ironically called The Whole Story only just tells the half of it.
I’m a Kate Bush fan because I love the music. I love the thought and process behind it – the care and craft. The decision to strike when the muse is in town. To sit and wait and live life removed from the spotlight in and around doing the work.
At one point Kate was an enormous star. She seems to have managed that without ever quite freaking out, without turning in mediocre work and knowing that star-factor could have carried her.
Also, the profound influence of her. Without Kate there is arguably no Tori Amos, no Bjork, no PJ Harvey. Later we have Bat For Lashes and Florence + The Machine. They seemed to arrive on the scene not just because of Kate Bush but almost to fill the space since at that time she wasn’t releasing any music for public consumption. There’s dozens more that owe their careers or sought initial inspiration from Bush – Alanis Morrisette for instance. But also Tricky. Enormous Kate Bush fan. And people like Prince – up and running, making music at right around the same time as Bush – couldn’t wait to finally work with her (it happened, he’s on her 1993 album, she’s on one of his 1996 albums).
It’s a real pleasure to get the chance to put together these radio features. Particularly when it’s someone as important and brilliant as Kate Bush. Genius gets used too often in so many cases. In the case of Kate Bush there’s a reason the word ‘Genius’ is used. It’s just the truth.
I hope you’re fans – or open to checking out some of this woman’s work.