To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
Date: Wed, 25 Oct 89 03:19:50 PDT
From: email@example.com (Edward Suranyi)
Subject: Q magazine November 1989
The November Q magazine has Kate on the cover. Inside, there's an interview and a review of the album. (There's also a full page ad for the album.)
First, the review:
Welcome back to the fey, pattery, indeed *sproingy* world of Kate Bush
The Sensual World
Romping home a close second to the Blue Nile in the increasingly competitive Studio Marathon stakes, Kate Bush's sixth album has finally arrived almost exactly four years after her last, The Hounds Of Love. "Each record gets harder to make" may not sound like much of an excuse for being so late either, but to judge from the fineness of detail and diversity of influences Bush has compressed into the 40-odd minutes here, it's a perfectly plausible one: The Sensual World is as highly wrought and deeply thought as any album since the last by Peter Gabriel.
Like Gabriel, Bush has been busy thinking up ways to incorporate more exotic and atmospheric elements into her already broad and quirky rock coalition. Unlike him, though, she has leaned less heavily on the obvious source, Africa. The Uillean pipes (courtesy of Davey Spillane) which barge brilliantly into the chorus of the album's opening, eponymous track are the first of a number of surprise guests, of whom the all-woman Bulgarian folk a cappella troupe, Trio Bulgarka, are the ones who stay the longest and leave the strongest impression. Their shrill, ghostly whoops and harmonies decorate three of the tracks on side two: a pattery, Gabriel-esque meditation on the ambiguous blessings of technology, in this case computers, called Deeper Understanding; a heavily modified bluesy rocker, Rocket's Tail; and best of the lot, Never Be Mine, a tremulously Bushy ballad with a beautifully wiggly interlace of keyboard motifs.
While Bush's famous fey voice would probably be enough to hold the disparate strands of The Sensual World together, the album takes its cue and colouring too from the hypnotically sinuous sway of the pipes on the title track. There are some strapping power chords to be despatched here and there, most notably on Love And Anger, but the dominant mood is of Oriental reverie, similar in feel to that achieved latterly by Japan. And in fact the last track on side one, Heads We're Dancing, reproduces that mysteriously *sproingy* bass sound favoured by Mick Karn.
An analysis of its parts however doesn't really do justice to the boldness of the album. Bush has taken on a lot of styles but The Sensual World doesn't, thankfully, end up sounding simply clever or stylised. Which is not to say that all the bridges she tries to build here stand up, but to acknowledge that the imaginative effort and patience that went into their design should guarantee Kate Bush's position in that peculiar class of her own for some while yet. **** -- Robert Sandall
And now, the interview:
Although signed at the tender age of 18, Kate Bush stoutly refused to be "the record company's daughter." She's quietly become her own manager, producer, publisher, and video director, retreating to the strife-free sanctuary of a home studio to agonise over her complex recordings and cautiously contemplate trips to the outside world. Phil Sutcliffe encounters "the shyest megalomaniac you're ever likely to meet".
"It felt like a mission," says Kate Bush. "Even before I'd had a record out I had a tremendous sense of conviction that my instincts were right. You know, *This is it!* There could be no other way.
"I remember so well sitting in an office at EMI with some very important people who were saying that James And The Cold Gun should be the first single. For me this was just *totally* wrong. How could it possibly be anything other than Wuthering Heights? But they were going, Defintely not. Look, you don't understand the market. So we went on saying the same things to one another for a few more minutes -- I was being politely insistent, I usually am in an argument, I'm not good at expressing anger, that's still hard for me.
"Then a guy called Terry Walker, another executive, came in with some papers in his hands and put them on the desk. He looked around, saw me and said, Oh hi Kate, loved the album! Wuthering Heights *definitely* the first single, eh? And he walked out again. If he hadn't come in at that moment, well, I don't know what would have happened. It was so well-timed it was almost as if I'd paid the guy to do it. They obviously thought of me as just a strong-willed girl, but they trusted his opinion."
After Wuthering Heights had spent four weeks at Number 1, these same execs -- most of whom, a contemporary recalls, had groaned "What is *that*?" when they first heard it wailing round the corporate corridors -- began to view this stubborn kid (all five feet three and seven stone of her) with a mixture of guarded respect and superstitious awe. Kate Bush was on her way to taking control of her working life and, as she puts it, becoming "the shyest megalomaniac you're ever likely to meet".
She'd have put her best dress on for that meeting. Probably the smart red number she used to favour when she met the press, black patent leather shoes, make-up elaborately conceived and executed. The approach was consistent, the effect varied. Sometimes she looked beautiful. Sometimes she looked oddly blowzy, like Joan Collins or Elizabeth Taylor at a royal premiere. "I used to dress up all the time," she says. "Every day I felt as if I was *presenting* myself. Hopefully I'm more relaxed now."
So it seems: she's wearing battered sneakers, old blue jeans, the sort of Fair Isle sweater her mum would probably dig the weeds in, hair just combed back, maybe a touch of eye shadow, nothing more. But then she is in her home-from-home, a recording studio at Abbey Road where she's worked on all her albums, including the latest, The Sensual World.
Lounging in a swivel chair beside one of the mixing desks, she talks very quietly, full of thoughtful pauses and also laughter at herself and other things. Her voice is faintly accented with the suburban twang and burr from the boundaries of South London and Kent where she's lived for all of her 31 years.
It's an undistinguished area, neither town nor country, but it seems to have been a safe haven for her. At least, her family certainly has been. Her home itself could hardly have been more solid, a 350-year-old farmhouse with ample grounds and outhouses. Her father is a doctor, her mother an Irish nurse. Brothers Paddy (now 37) and Jay (45), musician and poet respectively, were always around and encouraged her to share their own very '60s awareness of self-expression: writing poems and painting butterflies on the walls of the old barn that was her hang-out, listening to The Beatles, The Incredible String Band, T. Rex, and reading the tranquil philosophisings of mystics like Gurdjieff and Kahlil Gibran.
When she was 10 her father showed her middle C on a decaying harmonium and, with nobody around who would dream of mocking her efforts, she thumped and pedalled away at it. When the mice had finished eating most of the moving parts, she moved to an upright piano and drifted naturally into writing her own songs -- 200 of them by the time she was 16.
By comparison, the outside world could only have appeared the more unpredictable and threatening. Finding herself "a loner" in the crowd at school, she would invite a few best friends back to the barn to play records, cook feasts and smoke, but she kept her own music secret from almost all of them. In particular, she would never mention it to her boyfriends because when they found out, as happened a couple of times, "It would always cause trouble. They'd think I was cleverer than them or something daft like that -- I was a threat to their masculinity."
Her own instinct as she approached the outskirts of the music business was to make her career feel as much like an extension of her own family life as possible. However, young as she was, there was soon a queue of potential Svengalis forming whose intention, kindly meant, was that she should become what EMI people called "the record company's daughter" -- which she very nearly did.
At first, in ignorance of the industry, the family sent out dauntingly indigestible demos of 60 songs at a time. Then when she was 14, a friend of her parents called Ricky Hopper, who had some connections with the industry, contacted Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd. Something about those rough tapes caught his ear and he began his remarkably generous one-man campaign on her behalf. He invited her to his home studio where she recorded three tracks including The Man With The Child In His Eyes. When Bob Mercer, an EMI executive, came up to Abbey Road where Floyd were recording Wish You Were Here, Gilmour handed him a cassette with his recommendation. This was just after Dark Side Of The Moon. Suggestions from Pink Floyd were treated with all due reverence.
Mercer played it and he was hooked too. After long discussions with Kate and her family, at which it was agreed that, even if she already had the songs, she wasn't emotionally ready for the hurly-burly, he came up with a novel "sponsorship" scheme: in July, 1976, she was given 3,000 pounds by EMI Records and a further 500 pounds by EMI Publishing to finance her for a year of personal and professional development.
She had passed 10 "O" levels, but she left school without a backward glance. She left home too -- but only to a degree, as the Bush siblings took over a three storey house in Lewisham with Kate and her piano ensconced in the top flat. She took singing lessons to help her reach the improbable highs and lows she had begun writing into her songs. She studied mime with a leading teacher called Adam Darius, and trained as a dancer in Lindsay Kemp's 50p-for-two-hours public sessions at The Dance Centre, Covent Garden -- she wasn't the sort of person to know that Kemp was already a pop cult figure after his work with Bowie on the Ziggy Stardust show, but she wrote Moving, on The Kick Inside, about him.
From April '77 until recording began in July, she even served a brief apprenticship in a proper carry-your-own-amps rock group. Paddy enlisted muso mates Brian Bath (guitar), Charlie Morgan (drums) and Del Palmer (bass) to form the KT Bush Band who hardnosed the high streets of South London with their elfin lead singer getting stuck into stompers like Brown Sugar, Honky Tonk Women, and I Heard It Through The Grapevine. She also hit it off with the bassman who soon moved in with her.
"In many ways I was at my strongest then," she says. "I was at the beginning of something and I had a tremendous desire to make an album. That was all I'd wanted to do for a long time."
As soon as she'd secured the release of Wuthering Heights as her first single, she started arguing about the picture bag. EMI were intent on going with the subsequently famous Gered Mankowitz shot to tie in with the poster campaign -- dewy eyes and a skin-tight vest not inadvertently emphasising her nipples. Although later embarrassed by the way men reacted to this photograph, Kate saw nothing dubious about it at the time in terms of either taste or sexism ("I suppose it's reasonably sexy 'cos you can see my tits, but I think the vibe from my face is there," she said). She was simply adamant that something echoing the kite picture she had chosen for the album sleeve would work better. Again she won, even though the re-design meant putting the release date back two months to January, '78.
By then EMI must have been getting used to waving the white flag under the onslaught of relentless calm and charm. With Wuthering Heights taking off, the next joust was virtually no contest. The follow-up should be Them Heavy People, said the company. No, The Man With The Child In His Eyes, said the company's daughter. The company conceded. However, if she'd got a grip within the office, she soon encountered the chaos of other pressures and interests attracted by an overnight sensation.
"My first Top Of The Pops I didn't want to do," she says. "I was terrified. I'd never done television before. Seeing the video afterwards was like watching myself die. That was when things started getting very difficult for me because until then it had all been very creative work, writing, recording, learning to dance." But now what she was involved in was promotion. "I was talking to press, talking to television, and I couldn't express myself easily. I wa up against a different beast."
Improbable schedules were demanded. Suddenly a five-minute mime on an Italian pop programme became imperative because it was to be beamed around Europe. Kate tried to defend herself by setting what seemed to her impossible conditions: OK, if they got her there and back inside a day. A private jet was chartered, no problem. "To me it was bizarre," she recalls. "Up in the morning, over to Verona, I think it was, and walk out on this stage. I'm facing the cameras and a few hundred people who I assume are the audience. Then the stage and the whole set starts to rotate and I realise that it's a huge circular stadium and out front there are thousands and thousands of people. I've never seen so many people in my life! Anyway I mimed Wuthering Heights, bowed, and flew off home again."
That autumn, when she found the couple of months she had to record Lionheart being constantly interrupted by promotional work (much of it abroad as The Kick Inside reached new territories), she realised that it would take more than her own reserves of polite obstinacy to keep control of the musical life she'd dreamed of for so long. "I need to feel free, not manipulated," she said. To do that she had to get organised.
With the help of a music industry lawyer, she set up Kate Bush Publishing and Novercia, a management company with herself as MD and her parents and brothers the board of directors. Thenceforth, these companies licensed her work to EMI. "Because my family were involved I was with people I could trust," she says, then breaks off. "I'm sorry, I feel quite worried about mentioning the companies' names." But they're on the album sleeves. "They are, aren't they? You're absolutely right. It's my paranoia again! There have been things in the past.. . Oh, I can't remember. When you're doing interviews you have to be almost like a security guard sometimes. Anyway, for me, one of the most important things to come out of managing myself is the fact that I could decide how long I spent on each album."
Ever since, Kate Bush has been wholly responsible for herself. On occasions, though, the burden of her own aspirations has been all but unbearable. Her stage show was like that. Bashing out Stones classics in the back room of a pub was one thing, but a concert of her own music had to be a complete expression of her art and soul. In four months from January '79, she choreographed and rehearsed a separate dance drama for every song in the set, worked in a new band, took the leadaing role in set and lighting design, and even interviewed and picked the senior crew members.
Constantly putting in 15-hour days, she stood up to it because she was in Olympic shape from her dance training. But the shows, two-and-a-half hours long with 17 costume changes, took her to unforgettable depths of fatigue -- such that the 28 nights in Britain and Europe remain the entire concert career of Kate Bush, give or take a Secret Policeman's Ball. "The idea is so unattractive when I think about what the tour took out of me," she says. "I haven't wanted to commit myself since." And, being the overreacher she is, she simply can't contemplate the straightforward band set that suffices for other pop stars.
It was the same with TV. Later that year she conceived a half-hour special for BBC2 with more elaborate set-pieces including a dramatised version of Roy Harper's Another Day with Peter Gabriel. But that was the last time she tried it.
Which left video as her only active visual medium. "They're so cliched and narcissistic," she says. "Most of what I've done makes me cringe, though I liked Army Dreamers, because it was a complete little film, not too grand and not clouding the issue. And Cloudbusting too (featuring Donald Sutherland and the rain-making machine). That's probably the best I've ever done. But Experiment IV was the first one I directed myself. I was so keen to do that because I actually knew I would be making a video while I wrote the song, so I was thinking visually from the start. But then it nearly killed me, the hours it took, directing and acting in it. Two weeks non-stop. It was too much for me.. ."
Perhaps it's only in the sound studio that she can truly encompass what she strives for. Once Novercia was set up it was clear that, before long, she would be producing herself and, after co-producing her 1980 album Never For Ever with Jon Kelly, the engineer on her first two albums, she was ready. Setting out on The Dreaming, she remarked with tact and a touch of steel that, "Jon wanted to keep working with me, but we discussed it and he realised that it was for the best."
Then, the only people she still had to convince were the musicians: "I think the basic fear in everybody's head was, God, does she really know what she's doing? But you have to trust your own decisions. When everyone else is saying, No, that's dangerous, there's always a little voice in my head syaing, Yeah, yeah, it's all right." There again she's never dealt with hacks who keep time with the meter running and the statutory tea break on their minds. She has a regular team who have become her alter-family, just as the studio is a second home -- the tight circle has included all of the KT Bush Band, Dave Gilmour and Stuart Elliott (the former Cockney Rebel drummer, supplied by EMI as a sessioner on The Kick Inside, and adapted long-term).
Most of these people can make handsome livings anywhere and wouldn't keep coming back for more if they didn't enjoy the work and know they're appreciated. "They're very good for unblocking the pipes," she says, then laughs at the indelicate image. But the creative plumbing does get clogged on every album, including The Sensual World. "There's a song called Love And Anger which I started two years ago and kept on shelving because it was rubbish," she says. "Paddy and Dave Gilmour, who put overdubs on it, had so much trouble with it. They kept on asking, What's it about? and all I could say was, I dunno but, uh, doesn't it feel, uh, cohesive to you? Well, I started bringing musicians in to see if they could bring it to life and John Giblin, the bass player, just said, This is great! and came up with something fresh right away. It was so nice having someone put all this enthusiasm into a song I'd almost given up on."
Even her writing technique has reflected the will to hold her work in the palm of her hand. Plonking away, untutored, on the piano certainly developed her unmistakable style, but it left her exposed to experts in rhythm, arrangement, orchestration -- a frustrating vulnerability.
It was Peter Gabriel who gave her the lead when, in 1980, she sang backing vocals on Games Without Frontiers. She was intrigued to find him writing not with a melodic instrument, but with a drum machine. She wondered whether she could do the same as she plunged herself into The Dreaming. "That was a brave time for me," she says. "I *had* to be brave, take control of the whole album and go for it, see if I really could pull it together -- put some balls into my voice for the first time too."
With the beat box, which she'd never used before, she set herself a peculiarly disciplined task: to sit at home and write a new song every night for as long as she could. At first the rigid beat drove her up the wall. Then she got the hang of moving in and out of it and started to like it. She wrote 20 songs that way before she was satisfied.
She had also begun experimenting with the recently introduced Fairlight CMI all-round miraculous synthesizer-sampler. Once she'd mastered that, it was within her power to create every part of an arrangement on a keyboard at home.
But if the theory of self-determination was coming along fine, the practice was on the blink. Kate Bush may seem to have had a fairly stable career, always coming up with something fresh and surprising, always played on the radio and talked about, but the commercial reality was that her album sales had plotted a uniform downward curve in Britain, her main market-place given America's resolute lack of interest up to that point. The Kick Inside did triple platinum plus (more than a million), Lionheart platinum (over 300,000), Never For Ever gold (100,000), and The Dreaming was where she hit bottom with a mere silver (60,000). Reviewers were ecstatic, Radio Once wholly unreceptive, EMI utterly miserable. As a single the title track expired at 48 and the follow-up, There Goes A Tenner, was her first release not to show in the charts at all. Harsh things were said in the corridors of EMI, and some of them to the artist's face, which had never happened before so fond and respectful was the company's attitude to her. "That was my 'She's gone mad' album," Kate says, "my 'She's not commercial any more' album."
It was time to regroup and rebuild, in every sense, close to home. Kate's remaining dependency in EMI, more conspicuous after a commercial flop, was for advances to pay recording costs -- an Abbey Rosd studio then weighed in at 90 pounds an hour, for instance. The Bush response was to reduce the company's leverage.
In June '83 she began a major upgrading of the little demo studio she'd had in the old barn at her parents' house. As her boyfriend Del Palmer, more of an equipment buff than Kate, has acknowledged, they couldn't afford to buy state-of-the-art, but they moved a decent 48-track desk in with most of the trimmings and by September they were hard at work again on what was to become Hounds Of Love.
For Kate it must be the perfect sanctuary, a place of freedom to pursue her work at the heart of her happiest memories of childhood. It certainly seems to have changed her luck, though ironically it emerges that she may be so much at her ease there that she's prone to disorientation when she goes elsewhere, such as when recording Gabriel's Don't Give Up. "I was so thrilled he asked me to sing such a beautiful song," she says, "but then I got very nervous. Recording at my home studio we don't have window contact between the studio and the control room, you know. We can't see each other, we talk to each other through the mike and headphones, that's all (her choice, of course). It's quite isolated the way I work and I hadn't been to anyone else's studio for ages. And then at Real World I was *terrified*. I messed it up and had to come back another day to re-do it."
On delivering Hounds Of Love she found EMI slightly changed in personnel and much better pleased with her, but there was an old familiar debate to engage in. The A & R department had picked Cloudbusting as the first single, while Kate said it had to be Deal With God. Good grace revived, EMI gave way. But then they said she couldn't call it Deal With God. "For me, that *is* the title," says Kate, "but I was told that if I insisted the radio stations in at least 10 countries would refuse to play it because it had 'God' in the title -- Spain, Italy, America, lots of them. I thought it was ridiculous. Still, especially after The Dreaming, I decided to weigh up the priorities. Not creatively compromise, but not be so obsessibe that.. . I had to give the album a chance."
Running Up That Hill was her biggest hit since Wuthering Heights and EMI gave Hounds Of Love the big send-off with a laser show at the London Planetarium. It went straight in at Number 1 (it's now sold nearly 900,000, while the following year's The Whole Story hits collection is over the million). David Munns, then handling her A & R, now MD of Polydor (UK), says of her renaissance in the charts and the company's regard, "This is my favourite artist in the world. But for someone like her it's sometimes a lonely road and that can be difficult for people to understand. Make a record that's a bit obscure and some people in the company may start to say things to the artist that aren't sensible. Well, EMI and Kate just lost the plot for a while."
Throughout her indefatigable quest for a working environment sufficiently sheltered to allow her the artistic freedom she required, there was one area of Kate Bush's life that could not be brought under any semblance of control: the press. It's a preoccupation, something she often finds herself talking about when trying to avoid what she suspects are privacy-infringing enquiries -- as she's said, "People ask you questions you'd only answer under psychoanalysis."
Sometimes it must seem to her that the Garbo solution is the only answer. For years, her relationship with Del Palmer was an official --that is, open -- secret, the subject of many tortuous evasions. Then, in an access of optimism, they went to the Hounds Of Love launch arm-in-arm. They smiled for the photographers. Then the next day they found that the tabloid party yarn was that Youth, the former Killing Joke member who played bass on one track, had informed the world that Del was a "wally". Quite probably he'd said no such thing, but the whole venture was soured. "It surprises me that people can put such an incredible amount of energy into such negative stuff," says Kate, "They can be so wicked."
She still can't take it in stride. She's equally put out by both the in-depth probe and the careless stereotype of her as the "sex symbol" or the "wacky hippy" whose every third word was "Wow!" or "Amazing!".
The life Kate Bush has created is governed by the cycles of her albums. Despite her early versing in cosmic philosophies, no-one's ever accused her of being "laid-back", and she once enunciated something adjacent to a motto: "In music you have to break your back before you even start to speak the emotion."
She went through all the usual turmoil on her way to completing The Sensual World. "It's really frightening to me the way each album has taken longer than the one before," she says. "The writing gets harder every time. The Sensual World took about two-and-a-half years to make in all, but with a lot of gaps. I was going quickly at first, thinking, Nah, piece of piss! Then it all seemed like rubbish and I had to stop for a while. There's tremendous self-doubt involved. You think, Oh, God, I'll never get it finished."
The problem was that she had started too soon after Hounds Of Love, she decided. "I'll come off promotion of one album, start on the next and if I'm not careful it's nothing but a continuation and I don't want that," she says. "It's important for me to create some kind of wall, shut it off."
In part, she does this by going back to dancing. While totally embroiled in the studio and consoling herself with chocolate, she gets out of shape -- cause of the intermittent chubbier cheeks and hint of extra chin which have launched a thousand press rumours of her "blowing up" to 18 or even 20 stone. She gives her fierce workouts at the barre and mirrors credit for refurbishing her mind as well as her body after The Dreaming.
This time round, apart from dancing and running, the panacea was the garden at the house she and Del moved into three years ago in Eltham, Southeast London (brother Jay and family live next door; her parents' home still only half an hour away). "I sometimes I think I might as well just be a brain and a big pair of ears on legs, stuck in front of a mixing desk," she says. "But when I took that break from The Sensual World I really got into gardening. I mean, it's literally a very down-to-earth thing, isn't it? Real air. Away from the artificial light. Very therapeutic."
Another renewable source of inspiration has been exotic instrumentation, usually provided by a visit to Dublin and various members of the staunchly traditional folk troupe, The Chieftains, or by turning to brother Paddy (who specialised in making medieval instruments at the London College of Furniture and will knock out the odd koto or strumento de porco as and when). But for The Sensual World she's leavened the Celtic skirl with a bit of Balkan. She first heard the Trio Bulgarka in '86 and was suitably astonished. A year later it dawned on her that their full-throated harmonies might suit her songs. Connections were made through Joe Boyd of Hannibal Records, their UK label, and Kate flew out to Sofia for an entrancing experience of world music.
"They couldn't speak a word of English and I couldn't speak a word of Bulgarian," she says. "Everything went through translators and it didn't matter at all. Lovely working with women, and especially them, they're very affectionate. We tended to communicate through cuddles rather than words. In fact, we could get on perfectly well without the translators. At one point we were talking away in the studio when the translator walked in and we all shut up because she'd suddenly made us self-conscious about what we were doing." The Trio can be heard on three tracks, including the strikingly unlikely setting of Deeper Understanding, a very modern-world song about an alienated woman and her relationship with her computer.
"This is definitely my most personal, honest album," she says. "And I think it's my most *feminine* album, in that I feel maybe I'm not trying to prove something in terms of a woman in a man's world -- God, here we go!" She seems to be wary of provoking a heavy debate about feminism. "On The Dreaming and Hounds Of Love, particularly from a production standpoint, I wanted to get a lot more weight and power, which I felt was a very male attitude. In some cases it worked very well, but.. . perhaps this time I felt braver as a woman, not trying to do the things that men do in music."
The Fog is a brave song. It co-stars Kate's dad on spoken vocals intoning with fatherly/doctorly reassurance, "Just put your feet down child/'Cos you're all grown-up now".
"I started with the idea of a relationship in deep water and thought I could parallel that with learning to swim, the moment of letting go," she says. "When my dad was teaching me to swim he'd hold both my hands, then say, Now, let go. So I would, then he'd take two paces back and say, Right, swim to me, and I'd be, Oo-er, blub, blub, blerb. But I though it was such a beautiful image of the father and child, all wrapped up in the idea of really loving someone, but letting them go, because that's a part of real love, don't you think, the letting go?"
So it's personal about Kate and her father then. It sounds as though it might be personal about her and Del too.
"Yes, it does, doesn't it?" She laughs, really amused by her professionally evasive reply. "Have you ever watched Woody Allen being interviewed? Obviously his films are very personal and when the interviewer asks him the 'Has this happened to you then?' question, he's all.. ." She cowers back into her chair, crosses and uncrosses her legs, thrashes about like a speared fish. "Then he'll say, Uh, well, no, I'm just acting out a role. It's ironic, but it's much easier to speak about very personal things to lots of people through a song, a poem or a film than it is to confront the world with them through someone asking questions. Maybe you worry because it's going to be indirectly reported."
Kate Bush leads a quiet, fairly limited life so her options on subject matter my be relatively restricted. Although she has ventured into political issues with Breathing (nuclear war) and The Dreaming (Aborigine rights), she generally declares her own ignorance and refrains from writing songs that would only prove it. But she will often borrow a story and make it her own -- from books (Wuthering Heights, obviously, and Cloudbusting, from Peter Reich's memoir of his father called A Book Of Dreams), TV (Pull Out The Pin was inspired by a documentary about the Viet Cong), or films (the idea for Get Out Of My House came from The Shining).
However, it was a story told by an older friend that sowed the seeds for Heads We're Dancing, a near-disco piece about a night out with Hitler. "Years ago this friend of mine went to a dinner and spent the whole evening chatting to this fascinating guy, incredibly charming, witty, well-read, but never found out his name," she says. "The next day he asked someone else who'd been there who it was. 'Oh, didn't you know? That's Oppenheimer, the man who invented the atomic bomb.' My friend was horrified because he thought he should have given the guy hell, attacked him, he didn't know what.
"But the point was one moment this person is charming, then when you find out who he is, he's completely different. So I thought, Who's the worst person you could possibly meet in those circumstances? Hitler! And the story developed. A woman at a dance before the war and this guy comes up to her tossing a coin with this cocky chat-up line, Heads we're dancing. She doesn't recognise him until she sees his face in the paper later on and then she's devastated. She thinks that if she'd known she might have been able to *get* him and change the course of history. But he was a person who fooled a tremendous number of people and I don't think they can be blamed. It worries me a bit that this song could be received wrongly, though."
It could well be that the musically extended family and extended home of Kate Bush even embrace her feelings for her songs themselves. She has an intimacy with them, a distinctive candour about sensuality and sexuality to which her present album title track is something of a natural conclusion.
It passed more or less unnoticed in her early days that she was casually breaking taboos in every other song. Tricky items on her agenda included incest (brother and sister in The Kick Inside, woman and young boy in The Infant Kiss), homosexuality (Wow, Kashka From Baghdad) and period pains (Strange Phenomena, Kites [sic]). Her sympathetic, non-judgmental approach was probably one of the less obvious reasons why she appealed so strongly to both sexes, but she would occasionally remark that she was grateful the tabloids didn't read lyric sheets. Otherwise she could have been up to her neck in bishops and Mrs. Whitehouse demanding that the nation's children be protected from this filth.
In fact, the moment anyone other than a fan thinks they've spotted a hint of sex in her songs she becomes very hesitant. Once, when she was working on Breathing, an EMI executive walked in to be greeted by the hypnotic "out-in, out-in, out-in" chant. Taking a firm hold on the wrong end of the stick, he asked her how she could even dream of releasing this pornography. The possibility of such gross misunderstandings shakes her faith in the "purity" -- a favourite word -- of what she's doing. But not enough to make her back off.
"Don't you think Art is a tremendous sensual-sexual expression? I feel that energy often.. . the driving force is probably not the right way to put it," she says, still trying to skirt the fnaarr-fnaarr potential of the topic.
Whether or not her speculation about the nature of Art is on the money, she made her own experience of the creative process quite clear with the cover of Never For Ever. A cornucopia of fantastic and real, beautiful and vile creatures -- the products of her imagination -- is shown swirling our from beneath her skirt. At the time, thinking about this and the steamy, masturbatory atmosphere of many of the songs she wrote in her teens such as The Man With The Child In His Eyes and Saxophone Song, she said: "It's not such an open thing for women to be physically attracted to the male body and fantasise about it. I can't understand that because to me the male body is absolutely beautiful.. . Physical masturbation, it's a feeling so bottled up you have to relieve it, as if you were crying."
The Sensual World is a song that translates the old ache to a different level -- with the invaluable help of James Joyce. "I had a rhythm idea with a synth line I took home to work on one night," she says. "While I was playing it this repeated *Yes* came to me and made me think of Molly Bloom's speech right at the end of Ulysses -- which I *have* actually read all through! I went downstairs and read it again, this unending sentence punctuated with 'yeses', fantastic stuff, and it was uncanny, it fitted the rhythm of my song." (The last lines of Molly Bloom's great stream of consciousness read: "then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.")
Although to Kate "it felt like it was meant to happen", when she applied through "official channels" (presumably the Joyce estate) for permission to use it, she was refused. But she wasn't to be deflected. "I tried to write it like Joyce," she says, smiling in self-mockery. "The rhythm at least I wanted to keep. Obviously I couldn't do his style. It became a song about Molly Bloom, the character, stepping out of the page -- black and white, two-dimensional, you see -- and into the real world, the sensual world. Touching things." She declaims exaggeratedly. "The grass underfoot! The mountain air! I know it sounds corny, but it's about the whole sensual experience, this wonderfully human thing. . ."
And lines like "his spark took life in my hand"?
"Yes, it is rather saucy. But not nearly as sexy as James Joyce." She looks concerned again. "I'd be really worried -- there's nothing I can do about it now because it's all part of the process -- but I would be worried if people felt this ambiguity between sensual and sexual.
"I definitely *became* a person when I left school and suddenly took control of my life," she says. "I felt like that was the first time I'd really been there. Do you.. .? It was the beginning of my life really.
"Now I think I get a tremendous amount of security from my work, through being able to write songs. Though perhaps I'm very insecure except when I'm working. There again I work so much.. . I'll have to think about this. I'll be thinking about it all day now. What I'm looking out for is to let go of being so damned obesessive about work that I just get sucked into it. It's important for me now for there to be some kind of, er, *lightness* about it.
"You know, it's only an album. That is what I keep saying to myself."
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