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Singer Kate Bush, whose "Wuthering Heights" is climbing the chart, talks to Harry Doherty
BY NOW, the voice of Kate Bush will have made a full-frontal attack on the brains of the nation. Attack? Not an unreasonable word when you consider the strange, weird quality of Ms. Bush's vocal, captured in all its resonant glory on her first single, "Wuthering Heights."
Whether attack is construed as compliment or insult is down to the individual, but after an initial reaction of shock - as one reacts to all things foreign - I've grown to like "Wuthering Heights" and am presently engaged in learning the finer delights of her competent, if occasionally erratic, first album, The Kick Inside.
But first - an introduction to the unknown name and face that is suddenly being hailed as a major new singer songwriter in Britain.
Kate Bush is 19, comes from Kent, is now resident in South East London, has a pretty face with curves to match, and is more intelligent than the usual singers who have emanated from EMI in such dramatic fashion in the past. The girl has a mind of her own and is not adverse to forcefully presenting an opinion (an asset in itself).
She comes from a "good" family. Her father is a GP and she had quite a comfortable childhood. The family itself was always musical, specialising in English and Irish traditional and playing around local folk clubs.
Kate, however, never performed outside the confines of home and was content to learn the basics, starting piano at the age of 11 and quickly finding that she could write her own songs.
School was St Joseph's Grammar School, in Abbey Wood, but apart from her early period in the classroom, it held little fascination. The explanation in hindsight: "I found it wasn't helping me. I became introvert. I guess it was the teachers' system the way they react to pupils and I wasn't quite responsive to that."
Nonetheless, Kate quit school at the age of 16 with 10 'O'-levels, specialising in English and Music and showing an unusual interest in Latin, although she found it an incredibly difficult language to master.
"The reason I left was that I felt I could do something more in tune with my purpose -- music."
This she was able to do with the help of an inheritance of an aunt who died. Effectively the money gave her the security to become her own boss and follow her own mind.
At one time, just before leaving school, there was an ambition to become either a psychiatrist or a social worker. Both careers made sense to her as an alternative to her first love.
"I guess it's the thinking bit, trying to communicate with people and help them out. The emotional aspect. It's so sad to see good, nice people emotionally disserved, screwed up when they could be so happy.
She couldn't have pursued the ambition because she was lousy at physics, chemistry and maths. She agreed that the careers she fancied, psychiatry, social work or music, were in direct contrast. Music is completely self-indulgent and the other is almost charitable.
"I know what you mean. The only reason in the first place that I did think of those things was that I in no way thought that my music could be a career because it's so difficult to make it. It's all a matter of timing and contacts and talent . . . and luck. I never thought I would have a chance to do that so I deliberately tried to have a career-orientated ambition something I could hold on to.
"The reason I chose those sort of things is that they are, in a way, the things I do with music. When I write songs I really like to explore the mental area, the emotional values. Although in a way you can say that being a psychiatrist is more purposeful than writing music, in many ways it isn't because a lot of people take a great deal of comfort from music. I know I do. It makes you feel good.
"The really important thing about music is that all it is is a vehicle for a message, what ever your message is. I'm probably a lot better at being a songwriter than I would be a psychiatrist, for instance. I might have people jumping out of windows now."
She thinks, then that her music is a therapy?
"Oh, yes, it's very much a therapeutic thing, not only for me. That's a really good word. It really is like a therapy. The message I would like people to receive is that if they hear it and accept it, that's fantastic.
"If they let it into their ears that is all I can ask for and if they think about it afterwards or during it, that is, even more fantastic. There are so many writers and so many messages, to be chosen out of all of them is something very special.
"The messages? Things that maybe could help people, like observing the situation where an emotional game is being played and maybe making people think about it again."
It's very glamorous to make a statement like that but how true did she think it was?
"It's easy to say everything. Really all I do when I write songs is try and write something that affects me: something that I feel does have a solution or something that is unexplored.
"It really is just self-expression, and although I know that a lot of people will just say it's a load of rubbish, I would like to think that there is a message and maybe people will hear it."
On leaving school, Kate took up dancing, because she felt it was an art parallel to music, "another pure art form inasmuch as it's free". The straw that inspired her was Flowers, a Lindsay Kemp performance at the Collegiate Theater, London, three years ago. Kemp's mime attracted her and the next day a perusal through Time Out magazine uncovered an advertisement for classes by Kemp.
Kemp made an instant impression on Kate, displaying an ease in communication that she had never experienced before. He taught her the importance of disciplining the body before attempting to mime. The association with Kemp lasted only six months: he went off to perform professionally in Australia and she moved on to another class.
She reacts vehemently but positively to my comment that mime appeared to be an upper-class art.
"No, I wouldn't call it an upper-class thing at all. It's probably further away from the upper class than anything else, because they probably find it hard to be free as they are so caught up in all their status problems, and the same probably goes for working-class people in a lot of ways because they always feel this alienation from other people."
Because of her inheritance, Kate didn't have the trauma of desperately searching for a job on leaving school. However, she had decided her career would focus on music . . . Iong before.
"The money did enable me to think that I could do it because I was obviously worried about leaving school and finding myself nowhere. I had strong feelings in not having little securities like a nice, little job. I wanted to try and do what I wanted and if it went wrong, okay, but at least try to do it."
During this time, Kate had been staying at home writing songs and accompanying herself on either guitar or piano but not daring to let anyone outside the sphere of family hear her work.
Then a friend of the family, Ricky Hopper, who had worked in the music business, heard her material, took an interest and started flogging tapes around the music biz, with little luck. The big break came when Hopper contacted an old friend of his from Cambridge, Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour.
Gilmour came and heard and liked.
Gilmour suggested recording proper demo tapes. He put up the money, "an amazing thing", for the studio, found Kate a good arranger and the songs were recorded properly. From there it grew. Gilmour introduced Kate to a friend Andrew Powell, noted for his work with Alan Parsons and he was to produce the album.
The voice? Ah yes, that voice. Kate is genuinely bewildered at the response her vocal has evoked. She refutes suggestions that she deliberately "cultivated" the voice. "Honest, I just opened my mouth and it came out."
And then came the album. "Wuthering Heights", by the way, emphasises her unique high-pitched vocal more than any other track. Usually, she comes across as a stranger concoction that resembles a Joni Mitchell-Noosha Fox mongrel, which is a fascination in itself. It's a very promising debut, and that it has spawned a hit single already is a surprise to Kate.
"I was so involved with all my artistic frustrations that I never thought of having a hit. I was thinking of all the things that I wanted to be there musically that weren't and vice versa.
"The battle with yourself because there's your expression going down there, and there's no way you can change it. It's there forever. It is very frustrating to see something that you have been keeping transient for years just suddenly become solid. It's a little disconcerting . . . but exciting."
At this early stage in her career, Kate appears uncannily aware of the dangers of an early hit. She is determined that her work in music stays an art.
"You see people who are into the glamour and the ego of it and not the work, and really work's what it's all about. It's not anything to do with ego. Music is like being a bank clerk. It's still work, only a different channel of energy."
To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush
Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds