Who is Kate Bush?

Kate Bush

“I am just a quiet reclusive person who has managed to hang around for a while.”

– Kate Bush


In early 1978, radio listeners were stopped in their tracks by a sound they had never heard before. If people could remember where they were when JFK was assassinated, or when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, they could remember the exact moment they first heard a banshee cry carrying across the airwaves. ‘Wuthering Heights’ was an instant hit and remained at the top of the charts for four weeks. Based on the novel by Emily Bronte and inspired by the final 10 minutes of a BBC TV production, it was written in the space of a few hours on a moonlit night on March 5, 1977. “In the case of ‘Wuthering Heights’ she was imitating this witch, the mad lady from the Yorkshire Moors, and she was very theatrical about it,” recalled engineer Jon Kelly. (www.songfacts.com)

Her name was Kate Bush.

Catherine Bush was born in Bexleyheath, Kent, on July 30, 1958. Her father was English medical doctor Robert Bush (1920-2008) and her mother was Hannah Daly (1918-1992) of County Waterford, Ireland, who was a nurse. Kate was raised a Roman Catholic and bought up at East Wickham Farm in Kent with her parents and two older brothers, John (known as Jay) and Patrick (Paddy). She had a bohemian childhood and came from an artistic family. Her mother was a traditional Irish dancer, her father was an accomplished pianist, while Paddy worked as a musical instrument maker, and John was a poet and photographer.

Kate was something of a child prodigy and began began crafting songs from an early age, teaching herself to play the piano at the age of 11. Bush attended St. Joseph’s Convent Grammar School, in Woolwich Road, south east London. Kate later said of that time: “School was a very cruel environment, and I was a loner. But I learnt to get hurt, and I learnt to cope with it.” (www.brainyquote.com) The teenager had a four-octave range. A family friend named Ricky Hopper passed a home recorded demo tape to David Gilmour, guitarist with Pink Floyd. “I was intrigued by this strange voice,” Gilmour says in an interview for the BBC. “I went to her house, met her parents down in Kent. And she played me, gosh, it must have been 40 or 50 songs on tape. And I thought, I should try and do something”. He funded a professional demo that eventually led to Kate being signed by EMI in 1976 when she was still only 18.

“I knew I had to leave school then,” Kate recalled. “I had to get away from the alternative career opportunities being rammed down my throat.” (www.marieclaire.co.uk) For the next 18 months, she worked on her her songs, and studied dance and mime with Lindsey Kemp at the Dance Centre in Covent Garden. “Lindsay opened up my eyes to the meanings of movement,’ said Bush. “He makes you feel so good. If you’ve got two left feet it’s, ‘You dance like an angel, darling!’ He fills people up: you’re an empty glass and glug, glug, glug, he’s filled you with champagne.” (www.theguardian.com) Kate also practised her performance skills in a pub band called the KT Bush Band. The band consisted of Kate on vocals, guitarist and family friend Brian Bath, Del Palmer on bass and Vic King on drums. King remembers, “a young girl with long dark hair and a floaty blouse. She stood out from other girls, she was different. Shy as shy can be, wouldn’t say boo to a goose, not overtly sexual.” (www.telegraph.co.uk) It was also where Kate met long-time partner and collaborator Del Palmer. “I felt a particular emotional involvement coming on right from the word go,” he recalled. (www.louderthanwar.com)

EMI felt that Bush was ready to record an album. Bob Mercer chose ‘James and the Cold Gun’ as her début single, but Kate insisted it be ‘Wuthering Heights’ and they relented. “It had to be the single. To me it was the only one. I had to fight off a few other people’s opinions, but in the end they agreed with me,” Kate recalled. (www.katebushencyclopedia.com) ‘Wuthering Heights’ was finally released on January 20 1978, and became one of the most played singles on the radio. It became the first record written and performed by a female artist to top the charts. “I tried to project myself into the role of the book heroine and, because she is a ghost, I gave her a high-pitched wailing voice,” Kate said of her unique vocal performance. (www.tricialo.wordpress.com)

Suddenly, she was everywhere, and her life would never be the same again. “It was extraordinary how everything changed. It happened, it was instant. It was frightening,” she said. (www.marieclaire.co.uk) It was a challenging time for the shy teenager. “People weren’t even aware that I wrote my own songs. The media just promoted me as a female body. It’s like I’ve had to prove that I’m an artist,” Kate has said. (www.brainyquote.com)

Kate Bush

Kate’s début album ‘The Kick Inside’ was released on November 17 1978 and peaked at number 3 in the UK charts. There was a change in tempo with the release of the second record from the album. ‘The Man With the Child in His Eyes’ was purportedly written when Kate was 13, and reached number 6 in the UK charts. The pressure was on for Kate to replicate the success of her first album and ‘Lionheart’ was released on November 10 1978, just 9 months after the release of her début album. It spawned the hit single ‘Wow’ which was released in early 1979 and peaked at number 14. Kate expressed dissatisfaction with the album and the pressure to release it so quickly. She set up her own publishing company, Kate Bush Music, and her own management company, Novercia, so she could have complete control over her work.

A year after her début album, Kate embarked upon her first stage show, ‘The Tour of Life’. Starting in April 1979, the tour lasted just over one month and consisted of 24 shows from Kate’s first two studio albums. The show took in cities such as Paris, Cologne and Copenhagen, as well as the UK. It was huge success, notable for the dancing, complex lighting and Kate’s 17 costume changes per show. Each show cost more than £10,000 a night to stage, had a cast of 13 dancers and musicians, plus a 40-strong behind the scenes crew.

‘Never for Ever’ was released on September 7, 1980, and presented a diverse range of styles. It was Kate’s second foray into production (her first was for the ‘On Stage’ EP), her first number 1 album and the first ever album by a British female solo artist to top the UK album charts. The first single from the album, ‘Breathing’, reached number 16 in the UK, but the second single ‘Babooshka’ became one of Kate’s biggest hits, peaking at number 5 in the summer of 1980 in the UK and reaching number 2 in Australia. ‘Army Dreamers’ was the third single and reached number 16 in the UK charts. In 1980, she began a long-time collaboration with Peter Gabriel when she sang on his album, and soon after constructed a state-of-the art recording studio in her home. In November 1980, Kate released the Christmas single ‘December Will Be Magic Again’, which reached number 29 in the UK charts.

For her fourth album, Kate broke out on her own and began experimenting with production techniques. “I wanted to take control of everything and go for it, ” Bush recalls. (http://gaffa.org) The single ‘Sat in Your Lap’ was issued 15 months prior to the album’s release, and peaked at number 11 in the UK singles chart. The second single, title track ‘The Dreaming’, peaked at number 48, and although the album peaked at number 3 in the UK when it was released in September 1982, it only remained on the chart for 10 weeks, making it Kate’s lowest-selling album. “‘The Dreaming’ was my ‘She’s gone mad’ album, my ‘She’s not commercial any more’ album, ” says Kate. (http://gaffa.org)

In the summer of 1983, Kate built her own 48-track studio in the barn behind her family home, giving her the freedom to explore her sound. It took 18 months to complete her fifth album, and 12 of those months were for mixing and overdubs alone. ‘Hounds of Love’ had a cinematic quality and was inspired by films such as Warner Herzog’s film version of ‘Nosferatu’ and the 1957 British horror ‘Night of the Demon’, and Peter Reich’s memoir of his father. The album became Kate’s biggest commercial success and was split into two sides – side one being ‘Hounds of Love’ and side two ‘The Ninth Wave’, a conceptual piece. ‘Running Up That Hill’ was released on August 5, 1985, entering the UK chart at number 9 and peaking at number 3, becoming her second-highest chart single after ‘Wuthering Heights’. It also reached the top 30 in the US and featured prominently in the dance charts. ‘Cloudbusting’ was released on October 14, 1985, with a music video conceived by Terry Gilliam and Kate, starring Canadian actor Donald Sutherland. The song peaked at number 20 and on February 24, 1986, ‘Hounds of Love’ was released and reached number 18 in the UK singles chart. ‘The Big Sky’ was the final single, released on April 28, 1986, and peaked at number 37.

‘Hounds of Love’ was a big critical success. “EMI left me alone from that point,” Kate later said. “It shut them up.” (www.uncut.co.uk) The album earned Kate Best Female Solo Artist, Best Album, Best Single, and Best album of all time at the 1986 BRIT Awards. It was awarded the 48th greatest album of all time by Q magazine in 1998 and 41st best British album of all time by NME in January 2006. Peter Gabriel released ‘Don’t Give Up’ in October 1986, as a duet with Kate. The single spent 11 weeks in the UK Top 75 chart and peaked at number 9. On November 10, 1986, EMI released a greatest hits compilation called ‘The Whole Story’ and became Kate’s third number one album. The album featured a new track called ‘Experiment VI’ and and a new vocal version of ‘Wuthering Heights’. ‘Experiment VI’ was released as a single on October, 27, and peaked at number 23 in the UK chart. It featured an impressive music video, with appearances from Dawn French, Gary Oldman and Del Palmer.

Kate’s sixth studio album was finally completed at the end of May 1989 and the title track ‘The Sensual World’ was released on September 18 and peaked at number 12 in the UK singles chart. The song was inspired by James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ and featured the Irish musician Davy Spillane and a traditional Macedonian piece of music called ‘Nevestinsko Oro’, or ‘Bride’s Dance’. ‘The Sensual World’ was released on October 16, 1989 and peaked at number 2 in the UK albums chart. “This album is very much like short stories for me. Ten short stories that are just saying something different in each one, and it was a bit like trying to paint the pictures accordingly,” said Kate (www.gaffa.org) The album featured lush oriental instrumentation and performances from violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy and backing vocals by Bulgarian vocal ensemble Trio Bulgarka. ‘This Woman’s Work’ was released on 2November 20, 1989, and peaked at number 25 in the UK singles chart. It originally featured on the soundtrack of the film ‘She’s Having a Baby’ (1988), and the music video was directed by Kate herself. ‘Love and Anger’ was released on February 26, 1990, peaked at number 38 in UK singles chart, and reached number 1 on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, making it Kate’s only chart-topping US single.

Kate’s long-time dance partner Gary Hurst died in 1990 of AIDS and she began working on her new album. On Valentine’s Day 1992, her mother Hannah passed away. “When your mother dies, you’re not a little girl any more,” Kate said (www.brainyquote.com)

‘The Red Shoes’ was released on November 2, 1993, and featured high-profile performances from Prince, Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton, and contributions from the Trio Bulgarka. The album was inspired by the 1948 movie by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. To accompany the album, Kate wrote, directed and co-starred in a 50 minute movie titled ‘The Line The Cross & The Curve’ which she later called “a load of bollocks”. (www.theguardian.co.uk) Around this time, her 15-year relationship with Del Palmer came to an end.

The album peaked at number 2 in the UK album chart and number 28 in the US album chart. It spawned the singles: ‘Rubberband Girl’ (released on September 6, 1993), ‘Eat the Music’ (released September 7, 1993), ‘Moments of Pleasure’ (November 15, 1993), ‘The Red Shoes’ (released April 5, 1994) and ‘And So is Love (released November 7, 1994).

Kate decided to take a break. It was two years before she began work on a new album and was living with her guitarist boyfriend Danny McIntosh. In 1996, she wrote a song called ‘King of the Mountain’ and in 1997 found herself pregnant. In 1998, she gave birth to son named Bertie (Albert). Kate and Danny found themselves “completely shattered for a couple of years”. She moved house, converted the garage into a studio and became a full-time mother. Speculation rose around her long absence and Kate sent her fans a special message through the Kate Bush Club in 2000: “I just want everyone to know I am very happy and proud to have such a beautiful son, Bertie – he is absolutely gorgeous. Far from being secretive, I am just trying to be a good protective mother and give him as normal a childhood as possible whilst preserving his privacy – surely everyone can understand that”(www.katebushnews.com)

‘Aerial’ was released was released on November 7, 2005, 12 years after the release of the 1993 album ‘The Red Shoes’. It was one of Kate’s most critically acclaimed albums and entered the UK album chart at number 3, and on the January 10, 2006, she was nominated for two BRIT awards for Best British Female Solo Artist and Best British Album for ‘Aerial’. The only single to be released from the album was ‘King of the Mountain’ on October 24, 2005, and entered the UK chart at number 4, becoming Kate’s first top 10 single in nearly 20 years. In 2007, Kate composed and recorded ‘Lyra’ for ‘The Golden Compass’.

In 2009, Kate began recording her her next album. ‘Director’s Cut’ was released on May 17, 2011, and was a retrospective album revisiting tracks from ‘The Sensual World’ and ‘The Red Shoes’. The song ‘The Sensual World’ was renamed ‘Flower of the Mountain’ and contained a passage of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. All the tracks had new lead vocals and reworked instrumentation. The album entered the UK chart at number 2.

Kate Bush

Simultaneously, while working on ‘Director’s Cut’, Kate had been recording her 10 studio album. ’50 Words for Snow’ was released on November 21, 2011, and marked the first time since 1978 that Kate had released two albums in the same year. The album comprised of “seven songs set against the backdrop of falling snow”. (www.clashmusic.com) It featured a duet with Elton John and two stop-motion animation videos released online to promote the album: one to accompany a section of the track ‘Misty’ (called ‘Mistraldespair’), the other to accompany a section of the track ‘Wild Man’. On November 27, ’50 Words for Snow’ entered the UK album chart at number 5, making Kate the only British female artist to have top 5 albums across 5 decades. ‘Wild Man’ was the only single to be released from the album and was available as a digital download in the UK on October11,  2011. It peaked at number 73 in the UK singles chart.

Kate was cautious about the publicity: “At the moment my family life is incredibly important to me and it comes first,” she told BBC’s Radio 4 in 2012. “Then my work fits in around it, which is quite easy to do with the recording process, but something like doing shows would be incredibly disruptive, and I just can’t see that would be something that would work at this stage.”

In 2012, Kate recorded a new remix of ‘Running Up that Hill’ for the Summer Olympics closing ceremony, and released a limited edition 10” disc of the remix as part of Record Store Day on April 20, 2013.

On March 21, 2014, Kate announced via her website her plans to perform live for the first time in 30 years. Tickets went on sale to the general public at 9:30 on Friday 28 March and were sold out within 15 minutes. The 22-night residency at the Hammersmith Apollo was called ‘Before the Dawn’ and ran from August 26 to October 1 2014.The multi-media performance featured a combination of folk, classical and world music, dancers, puppets, conceptual staging and 3D animation. The set list comprised much of the album ‘Hounds of Love’ and featured the entire ‘Ninth Wave’ suite, most of ‘Aerial’ and the second disc ‘A Sky of Honey’, two tracks from ‘The Red Shoes’ and one track from ’50 Words for Snow’. ‘Before the Dawn’ received widespread critical acclaim. Following the first week of performance, Kate became the first female artist to have eight albums in the official UK top 40 albums chart concurrently, putting her at number 3 for simultaneous UK top 40 albums (behind Elvis Presley, with 12 albums in 1977, and The Beatles in 2009, with 11 albums); altogether she had 11 albums in the top 50. “Now all the shows are over, it’s pretty difficult to explain how I feel about it all. It was quite a surreal journey that kept its level of intensity right from the early stages to the end of the very last show. It was also such great fun,” Kate said later (www.katebush.com)

Kate Bush is one of the most important British female artists of all time. Unique, enigmatic and highly influential, she has been recognised with an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. She has also been nominated for three Grammy Awards throughout her career.

Words: Alex Karas
Images: Tracy Ryan

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