Interviews & Articles


"The Story of A Musical Misfit"
by Pat Thomas
Fall 1985

To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents

(This article originally appeared in Andrew Marvick's The Garden.)

Date: Sun, 08 Jan 89 19:38 PST
Subject: Article about Kate Bush: by Pat Thomas 1985

The Story of A Musical Misfit: Kate Bush

Pat Thomas goes walkabout in the Kate Bush

[Edited by Andrew Marvick.]

In the days when the Boomtown Rats actually had something to contribute to popular music and Bobby Geldof's aspirations were to feed his own basic desires rather than the world, a strange sort of foil to the new wave movement emerged in the shape of a doctor's doctor from Plumstead in Kent.

She was Kate Bush, and in the late 'seventies she and Bob used to sweep the boards at the then prestigious Melody Maker Readers' Poll awards. They stood together like chalk and cheese, but Geldof, not usually known for heaping praise on other performers, thought Kate was ace.

Kate, whose first single, Wuthering Heights, took her to number one in 1978, couldn't have been more flattered by the chief Rat's praise, especially since she thought the Boomtown Rats were, well, amazing.

"I didn't think they'd be into me. With really beautiful punk groups like that, and the Stranglers, too, I wonder if they think I'm...not so much square, but whether they think maybe I'm oblong."

At the time it seemed like a typically Kate Bush thing to say. But actually, it's quite a perceptive statement. In the context of the new wave, Kate Bush was rather oblong, a sort of flower floating on a sea of muck.

She was born July 30, 1958, and by the time she was sixteen she had pocketed a 3,000-Pound advance and an EMI recording contract. Mindful of her age, and since they probably had no idea what to do with her anyway, EMI kept her "under wraps", studying dance, music and mime, and writing songs, for just over two years.

The advance, plus an inheritance left to her by an aunt, made sure that from the moment she left school, with ten "O-levels", she would never have to cope with the same worries that most sixteen-year-olds have about finding a job. Also, by the time her first LP came out, her parents had set her and her two brothers up in a three-story house (one floor each) in Lewisham--so her independence was assured from an early age.

Although music was an option, it wasn't really first choice. She really wanted to be either a psychiatrist or a social worker.

"I never thought of music seriously as a career, because it's so difficult to make it. It's all a matter of timing, contracts and talent--and luck. I deliberately tried to have a career-orientated ambition, something I could hold onto."

But as luck would have it, she was so bad at physics, chemistry and maths that music won almost by default. <This statement conveys a false causality. Kate's choice of a career in music was already well underway by the time she returned to school briefly to take her "mock A-levels".> So she began writing songs in her bedroom, never daring to let anyone hear the results. <Kate had in fact been writing songs since the age of eleven. There was in fact no connection between Kate's discovery of her vocation as an artist and her performance in the sciences.> Eventually, though, a family friend, Ricky Hopper, heard her tapes and tried to flog them to the record industry. The industry, true to form, was not impressed.

Ricky decided to get in touch with his old pal from Cambridge, Dave "Pink Floyd" Gilmour. Gilmour gave Kate some studio time to do proper demo tapes, introduced her to a producer--Andrew Powell--and eventually persuaded his record company--EMI--to give her a contract. Without wishing to sound too glib, from there on in it was plain sailing.

Kate comes from a musical family who enjoyed a passion for traditional English and Irish music. Indeed, to this day, Kate's brother Paddy plays in her band. In the early days, though, she sang in his band, the K. T. Bush Band. <Although Brian Bath and Vic King were evidently friends of Paddy's and had been playing with him for a time before Kate joined in, it's safe to assume that the band's name did not pre-date Kate's involvement.> As Pete Silverton at Sounds wrote:

"She talked about that period as though it were a part of a fondly remembered but long lost childhood. Her affection for it, for once, obscuring the hesitancy and inarticulacy <sic> of her speech."

The band, such as it was, did the rounds of South East London pubs for only five months in the Spring of '77, singing songs by the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Free. The mind boggles at what, say, Satisfaction must've sounded like with Kate's tonsils wrapped around it, but she insists that it was "a good experience". So she didn't exactly pay her dues, but neither was she the novice that early press reports made her out to be.

Her first LP, The Kick Inside, and her second, Lionheart, were released at opposite ends of 1979. <Sic--the year was 1978.> The Kick Inside contained Wuthering Heights and the superb The Man With the Child in His Eyes (written by Kate when she was a mere fourteen), and was a brave musical debut. Few listeners could understand how such a young girl could write such sensual and perceptive songs. Men wanted to get into her knickers <God how the IED hates the kind of sleaze-bags who still make statements like this!> and women wanted to scratch her eyes out <And like this, too!> Nevertheless, enough of the U.K. bought the LP to put it at number three on the charts.

Kate's whooping, soaring vocals, described by NME as capable of "aging the nation's glassblowers", became an immediate target. She refuted suggestions that it was a deliberate and cultivated hook. Her story was that it stemmed from her days in the school choir. In those days she couldn't hit the high notes, so she practiced hard until her voice could span an impressive four octaves. <This figure, for some reason quite commonly cited, is quite inaccurate. Virtually no human voice is capable of "spanning" four full octaves. Kate' recorded vocal range extends slightly beyond three full octaves.> "Honest," she would smile, "I just opened my mouth and out it came."

Undoubtedly her most eloquent champion back then was Harry Doherty of Melody Maker. On the release of Lionheart he wrote:

"Kate Bush scares me for a combination of reasons. The first is the diplomatic pleasantness and awesome logic she displays in interviews. But that is only one dimension--she is in fact a 'nice' person. It is when that initial impact is paired with the multifarious intensity of her music that I start to quiver.

"The contrast is eerie and frightening. In the studio, living out her imaginative fantasies, Kate Bush is stricken by a rush of surrealism, and suddenly a range of weird personalities are displayed."

Which pretty much sums up what Kate Bush's music was, and has continued to be, right up to her current LP, Hounds of Love. It also brings up that old chestnut of her "niceness". Most of her early interviewers were either trying to find the chink in her armour of niceness or were full of ridiculous praise for how well adjusted she was. It's particularly damning to the music press that most of these articles were headed Bush Whacked. So much for creative journalism. <This from a man who ascribes to "men" a communal passion to "get into her knickers"!>

Kate, however, was difficult to provoke, and breezed through the task of meeting the press with impressive ease. Everybody from Vogue to The Vegetarian was interested in her off-beat views on sex, drugs and bean curd. Kate's niceness was, in fact, a deliberate attempt to hold onto sanity in a world where praise and success were being heaped onto her faster than most personalities could cope with. She jibed at Tim Lott from Record Mirror, in a rare moment of sarcasm and after considerable provocation, "Actually I mug old ladies. Would you like me to smash a window or something?"

Of course, she didn't break the window. She was never into drugs, either--her only real addictions being nicotine and chocolate. In the same article Lott said, "She has experimented with drugs--marijuana and something she never managed to identify." He wrote it as an indictment of her naivete, but it really only served to reinforce how incredibly average a teenager she was. <Average? Nowadays, Kate's moderation is not at all typical of teenagers.>

Spring 1979 saw the next major event in the explosive days of her early career. For months Kate had been locked away in a North London theatre preparing for her U.K. concert debut. It was one of the most highly publicised secrets of the time. She was being wired up with a special headset-microphone so that she could perform her interpretive dance sequences without hindrance.

The second single from Lionheart at the time was Wow --the story of and "aging gay actor and a starlet who slept her way into a dream role", according to The Sun. She sang it on TV for the first time on (and the papers made a real "Shock! Horror!> out of this one) Good Friday--and on the BBC, to boot! The occasion was an all-star Abba TV special, The Daily Express reckoned she would jam the switchboards by flinging her body into wanton, erotic gestures". The Daily Mail wrote: "She walks like Joan Collins. She looks like Joan Collins. For a moment you think she is Joan Collins."

The Abba show was a taste of what her live show was to be. Kate was given enough money to let her fertile imagination run wild, and it did, in an onstage orgy of fantasy, theatre, mime, dance, magic, and, oh yes--music. <Actually, Kate used a large part of her own fortune to finance the tour. She lost many thousands of Pounds on the venture.> She was so busy preparing the extravaganza that she had to decline the coveted invitation to sing the theme from the Bond film Moonraker. <Again, this is misleading. Kate probably could have found time to record John Barry's song if she had wanted to, but she has said that she did not feel it was quite the appropriate song for her to sing. She said afterwards that the song was "lovely", and praised Shirley Bassey's performance.>

Things were still coming pretty easy to Kate Bush. The tour was, overall, well received, although Charles Shear Murray of NME .bf ital did proffer the opinion that it was "one of the most condescending gigs in history", and "crammed with lame attempts to widen the audience's artistic horizons.". <Something from which Mr. Murray would clearly have benefited.>

"Just tell me one thing," asked Kate of the review, "was he actually at the Palladium that night?"

Charles assured her that he spent a week there that night. <This is a distortion. Murray allegedly said something like that to his colleague Danny Baker at NME, and Baker in turn told Kate.> And so it went.

Despite this, her international reputation continued to grow. The only problem on the horizon seemed to be where she was going to find the time to write material for her third LP. EMI, worried about keeping the momentum going, released an EP-- Kate Bush On Stage --which, for a show whose entire success hinged on a stunning visual impact <Well, obviously not its entire success!>, seemed a bit silly. The later release of the video made eminently more sense.

From the release of her third LP, Never For Ever (1980), the Kate Bush story becomes a real problem. The big noise amidst which she was unleashed onto an unsuspecting public had died down. She toured. She kept her head and persevered in reading the teachings of the philosopher Gurdjieff, and in her belief in the supernatural.

< All three of the preceeding statements are misleading. Kate had toured, once only, in the spring of 1979. She did not continue to tour; in fact, she has not concertised since then, except as a guest performer at other artists' shows. She did not "persevere in reading the teachings of the philosopher Gurdjieff." All indications are that whatever benefit Kate gleaned from the writings of Gurdjieff had been acknowledged and assimilated long before Never For Ever was recorded. There is no indication that Gurdjieff's ideas have had a particularly important or dominating influence on Kate's life or work, at any time in her life--except insofar as those ideas harmonised with her own. Finally, Kate has never said that she "believes" in the supernatural. She has always tried to make it clear that she simply maintains an open mind on such subjects as supernatural phenomena, as on all subjects about which human beings have no conclusive data.>

She kept on having hit records. She kept making money in the pop world, even though to the pop world she was a bit of an outcast.

Never For Ever gave her her first number one LP in September 1980, and delivered three hit singles: Breathing, Babooshka and Army Dreamers. The Eastern Evening News (Who? -- Ed.) <original to text> described the album as "faultless". Melody Maker gave it a grudging thumbs up. NME, bless them, proclaimed it "dishonest" and "the very opposite of what we need". Annabel, ever on top of things, stuck its neck out and claimed Kate Bush was "going to be B-I-G."

Soon after, the "Kate Bush Silly Season" began in the press. Oh Boy gave her the "Nastiest Barnet Award". "Seems Angela Rippon's sick of hearing her hair compared to a lump of stale meringue," they wrote. "Instead we've presented the award to Kate Bush...And 'bush' is the word, all right. Sometimes she looks like an old mattress with springs sticking out! We'll bet if her hairdresser dug deep enough, he'd probably find her school beret under all that lot!"

Kate took a break from music, but made a brief appearance in the BBC series Looking Good, Feeling Fit. "Slinky, hip-swiveling singer Kate Bush can be seen tonight as audiences have never seen her: tired, perspiring and completely disheveled," wrote The Daily Mirror's television editor--who was obviously into that sort of thing. Her single, December Will Be Magic Again, just scraped into the Top 30. There was a six-month silence, then a single, Sat In Your Lap. Then a year's silence broken by the occasional press report and a Record Mirror interview with John Shearlaw.

In it, she spoke about the tiredness and depression that followed her only tour, the Tour of Life, in 1979. She recalled that Never For Ever was "the first album I would actually hand over to someone with a smile"; and the long period of non-creativity that followed its release. She talked about "recharging" her creative batteries and about the next LP. "I want it to be experimental and quite cinematic--if that doesn't sound too arrogant." There it was, that niceness creeping up again.

Her fourth LP, The Dreaming, appeared months later than scheduled, in September '82. It was her first attempt at producing herself, and once again the reviews were mixed. Peter Gabriel was a contributor <This is untrue.> whose influence on the whole tone of the LP was considerable.

<This judgement has been made often. It is untrue that Gabriel "contributed" to the album. He took no part in its recording, and is not credited with any direct input on the album's liner-notes. Some of the sounds and techniques created for Gabriel's third solo album--on which Kate sang some supporting vocals--did indeed influence some of the sounds on The Dreaming. This is partly due, however, to the two albums' heavy use of the Fairlight CMI, a sophisticated sampling synthesiser; partly due to the innovative sounds which the drummer Phil Collins and the engineer Hugh Padgham devised for the rhythms on the Gabriel album; and partly due to the experiments which Gabriel and other adventurous musicians were making at that time with the technique of composing to the accompaniment of synthetic rhythms, rather than or in conjunction with other musical instruments. But The Dreaming was every bit as innovative an album as the Gabriel LP--in some ways considerably more so.>

Of the disk's three singles-- Sat In Your Lap, the title track and There Goes a Tenner --only the first one was a hit.

Kate Bush is a musical misfit who would do better to turn her talents to the cinema or the theatre. <"Do better"?!> She is a bedroom musician who got lucky. <"Bedroom musician"?! What does that make pop-music critics?> A delicate creature who rationalises the creative process more than is probably good for her. In an interview with Harry Doherty she said of the process of recording her first album: "It's very frustrating to see something that you have been keeping transient for years just suddenly become solid. It's a little disconcerting...but exciting."

Kate Bush still sells lots of records, but now it seems more like hard work promoting and explaining her increasingly difficult-to-grasp concepts. With each release, her albums become less of an entertainment and more of an adventure. <Adventure is not entertaining?> Certainly Hounds of Love (see reviews section) finds her diving deeper into that netherworld of fantasy for which she is so well known. <Fantasy? Hounds of Love is as firmly rooted in reality as any album of its time. The question is, how narrowly can "reality" be defined?>

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