This Woman’s Work: The Career Of Kate Bush
Noel Fielding’s recent performance of Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ on Let’s Dance…For Comic Relief has sparked interest in the singer from a new generation of Boosh fans. Tonight Noel will once again be donning his Kate wig and red dress for the grand final, so we felt it was as good time a time as any to help our peelers learn more about her unique talents.
Friend of TVO, Steve White has kindly provided us with a potted history of her colourful career. A Kate Bush fan extraordinaire, Steve’s summary of her work is packed with choice nuggets and juicy trivia, and we hope it encourages still further Boosh fans to check out one of our, and Noel’s, favourite artists…
Kate Bush was discovered at the tender age of 16 by pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, who realised her incredible talent from the considerable body of work she had written and begun performing since the age of 13. Kate came from an artistic family; her father was an accomplished concert pianist, and her mother was an Irish folk dancer. Her brothers also have considerable talent in the arts; John is an artist, poet and photographer (and has had a major hand in all of Kate’s album covers) and Paddy is a musical instrument maker (and has contributed his talents to all of Kate’s work, specialising in ethnic instruments such as didgeridoos, bouzoukis and the like). It was this musical background that inspired Kate to pursue a music career, and she began playing piano at the age of 11.
It was in 1978 at the age of 19 when Kate shot to fame with her smash-hit single Wuthering Heights. Featuring a haunting melody, Gilmour’s distinct guitar sound over the final chorus and Kate’s unique vocal sound, the track shot to the top of the charts, and helped her debut album The Kick Inside to enter the album charts at number 3 soon afterwards. Gilmour also contributed his production talents to her debut, on the follow-up single The Man With The Child In His Eyes, and the opening track on the album, called Moving.
Kate established herself as a unique artist from the get-go, writing all her own material, being on hand to make sure every track was arranged exactly as she wanted it, and incorporating her skills as a dancer and mime artist on the videos. The Kick Inside is an eclectic mix of different musical genres, opening with 30 seconds of whale song before segueing into Moving, and subsequent tracks incorporating elements of ballads, reggae and even honky-tonk to cover a range of topics that include the paranormal (Strange Phenomena), period pain (Kite), romance, eroticism (Feel It)the wild west (James And The Cold Gun), and even incest in the albums’ title track. That she manages to make said track sound not only romantic but also tragic, is a testimony to her talent as a songwriter.
Her second album was released in the same year, and was called Lionheart. Featuring the hit singles Wow and Hammer Horror, this was again a mix of musical styles and unusual subject material. Kate wasn’t too happy with the fact that this album was released so soon after her debut, and the fact that it charted at number 6 seemed to her to justify this. She wanted more time to work on her material, and in future her albums would be released further and further apart while she perfected each track.
While she worked on her next album, Kate embarked on her first and so far only UK tour, which included tracks from both albums as well as a couple of sample tracks that would appear on her next opus. One of the concerts from this tour was available on VHS, entitled Kate Bush On Stage, and the VHS- now a rarity, sadly- included a live CD of the show when reissued in 1994. So far, Kate has not released any of her video material on DVD, her work only being available on VHS.
1980 saw Kate’s third album Never For Ever finally top the album charts, and for the first time on a studio album, Kate took over the production helm, founding her own production unit after her disappointment with Lionheart. From this point in her career, her sound began to evolve, as each song on the album began to incorporate different elements that helped create a ‘sound picture’ that enhanced each track. Babooshka used bouzoukis and balalaikas to recreate an Eastern European flavour and add spice to a tale of illicit extra-marital romance, and proved to be another smash-hit single. Never For Ever is the first studio album by any female artist to reach number 1 in the album chart in the UK, as Barbra Streisand and Connie Francis had only achieved this honour with compilation albums until that point.
Kate’s next album, The Dreaming, didn’t fare so well in the charts despite having a number one single in Sat In Your Lap. This album saw Kate’s creation of soundscapes for every track reach new levels of complexity, which may have thrown off all bar the most hardcore of her fans, and the album also saw extensive use of Kate’s favourite instrument, the Fairlight synthesiser. Sat In Your Lap was a driving beat-led tune, using drum sequencers to create an almost hypnotic rhythm. Other gems on the album include a cockney crime caper in music-hall style called There Goes A Tenner, and Dreamtime, a track about the Australian aborigines that just oozes atmosphere, and features Rolf Harris as guest artiste. Following The Dreaming, Kate then released The Single File; a boxset of all her 12” singles to date, and a VHS video with the same title, featuring all her single videos.
It was three years until the next studio release, which saw Kate return to the top of the album and singles charts with The Hounds Of Love, and the lead single Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God). This album was every bit as experimental in its approach as her previous work, and Kate had built her own studio in the interim period to ensure she got exactly the sound she needed. The album forms two distinct halves, the first being individual tracks such as Cloudbusting (A single which featured actor Donald Sutherland in the promo video) and title track The Hounds Of Love, which featured an audio clip from classic horror film Night Of The Demon. The second half of the album was a magnum opus called The Ninth Wave, that comprised of several tracks that segued together, creating a rich tapestry of sound reflecting the thoughts, fears and hopes of a drowning woman at sea, finishing on the hauntingly beautiful Hello Earth.
One of the tracks in this sequence, Waking The Witch, was also used during Kate’s time with The Comic Strip as incidental music for the episode GLC, for which Kate also wrote the theme tune. Kate also had a guest starring role in the Comic Strip film Les Dogs. Other film work in this year included recording tracks for the movies Castaway and Brazil. To accompany the album, Kate also released a VHS video entitled Hair Of The Hound, that featured promo videos for all the singles off the Hounds album. Running Up That Hill has also been covered to great success in recent years by Placebo, and goth metallers Within Temptation.
In the following year, Kate released a compilation album called The Story So Far, which featured most of her hit singles to date, including a bonus track Experiment IV that didn’t make the final cut of Hounds, and an alternative version of Wuthering Heights featuring new vocal arrangements. It’s this version that Noel chose as the backing track for his Comic Relief Kate Bush routine!
Fans had to wait a further three years until her next studio offering, called The Sensual World. This album saw yet another radical change in musical style, incorporating the Bulgarian folk group Tria Bulgarka extensively on backing vocals to create an utterly unique sound. Highlights from this album include title track The Sensual World, which is simply pure sultriness set to music, and Rocket’s Tail, a track dedicated to one of her beloved cats.
The next studio release in 1993 was the only album Kate made in the nineties, and was entitled The Red Shoes. This saw Kate fusing the Tria Bulgarka sound to more current dance elements, and enlisted the guest artist talents of Prince on some tracks – and in return she guested on his Emancipation project. In some ways, certain flavours of the album hark back to her early days, albeit with a more mature perspective, as ballads like the haunting Moments Of Pleasure. With this album came the short film The Line, The Cross And The Curve, featuring videos and special footage to accompany the tracks of the album.
Following The Red Shoes, Kate seemingly disappeared from the radar for twelve years. An intensely private person off-stage, Kate had settled down and become a mother, so took time off to raise her son Bertie. Her next and last album to date was 2005’s critically acclaimed Aerial, which was also her first and only double album. Again, her musical style changed, more towards a folky, renaissance style, and as before in Hounds, Aerial was divided into two distinct halves, A Sea Of Honey and A Sky Of Honey. Sea details the passage of time, and includes songs about her son, and the loss of her mother, as well as abstract themes like the number of Pi and the hit single King Of The Mountain. Sky is themed around birdsong, and interestingly includes a song in which Kate’s laughter is made to sound like birdsong. Since Aerial, the only recorded work produced by Kate has been the song Lyra, for the 2007 film The Golden Compass.
Kate’s career, although providing us with precious few albums, has nevertheless been one of endless variety and experimentation, and like David Bowie, Kate has managed to change chameleon-like, yet retain the qualities she’s well known for while keeping up to the minute. Given her current track record, no-one was expecting a new album any time soon – yet this week it has been announced that 2011 will hopefully see not one, but TWO new albums from Kate: a set of revisited old favourites and, most excitingly of all, new material. It may take years of waiting between work from this lady, but I’m sure these new albums, and anything else to come will always be well worth the wait.
Hopefully that’s whetted your appetite to delve a little deeper into Kate Bush’s back catalogue. Don’t forget to watch Noel (and vote for him if you can!) tonight! For more information about how to vote, click here. You can find out more on Kate Bush via her official Facebook, Twitter and Youtube pages.
As a TVO bonus, Noel isn’t the only Kate Bush fan in our midsts. The wonderful Alice Lowe affectionately spoofed Kate in the JackalFilms short Earth Birth – which you can see below!
I love it! I saw elements of Wow, Wuthering Heights, the sleeve to Sat In Your Lap, Hello Earth to name a few! Was James Bachman (the psychiatrist in Saxondale and various roles on That Mitchell & Webb Look) one of the other dancers?
He was indeed – as was the ever wonderful Tom Meeten! James, of course, is no stranger to Booshdom – he’s the barman in Old Gregg for a start!
oh this a fabulous piece of work! So many amazing songs that i had completely forgotten about! I hope she brings out a ‘complete’ collection with all the hits on! I’d definately buy it! Beautiful lady, beautiful voice, beautiful music.
Alice’s spoof was very funny and done with genuine affection I feel! She is indeed quite a chameleon herself – a woman who can inhabit many female characters and parody them in a genuinely funny manner. I’ve loved Kate for years (the real one) and it’s good to hear of her again – particulary the fact that she is bringing out some new material – though I love all the old stuff. Wuthering Heights is probably one of my all time favourites, not only because it reeks of nostalgia (a strange and intoxicating fragrance!) but because the words are so poignant and her performance entirely mesmerising. I challenge you to take your eyes off her when she perfoms this – you just cannot! So all in all a brilliant choice from Noel and of course a amazing charity. Good luck this eve if you read this Mr Fielding aka “the man with the child in his eyes”. He does after all, have a kind of magic.