Interviews & Articles


Time Out
"Daft As A Bush"
by Nick Coleman
Nov. 1993

To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents

Date: Mon, 15 Nov 93 14:48:53 GMT
From: nbc@inf.rl.ac.uk
Subject: Kate article in Time Out Nov. 1993

There is an article about Kate in Time Out No. 1212 Nov 10-17. Kate is also on the cover and there are some stills from the film inside. I have scanned the article in. Apologies if someone else has already done this - but I seem to have problems receiving the digest at the moment.



Nick Coleman

Kate Bush - what's she like, eh, with her wailing voice, whimsical words and penchant for throwing wild Terpsichorean shapes? Suitably intrigued by her new album and accompanying, film, Nick Coleman tries to suss out the bird in the Bush.

I have a friend who lives in the house Kate Bush grew up in. It's an old and creaky Victorian house and my friend inhabits the attic, which was converted into a flat some time in the '80s when the house was sold. My friend's name is Catherine and she gets loads of post.

Kate Bush has a solitary dimple on her left cheek beneath her eye. It certainly looks like a dimple, being a small, oblong depression in the highest flesh of her cheek, like the imprint in dough of a toothbrush handle. Its charm is such that it must be a dimple. And though it's one of those negotiable features that never seems to come out in photographs, it serves a very useful function in the flesh. It tells you what's coming. It's an early warning dimple.

Bush has two smiles, you see. One smile is a tidal thing. It comes in quite slowly then crashes over her features uproariously, her eyes pressing into hyphens, her mouth opening and relaxing, while the entire upper portion of her face subdivides into jolly circles. It's the sort of smile you'd want for company on cold days. Unlike the other smile, which is not so warm. It's an unaccompanied hitch of the mouth, a mirthless, mannerly derivative of a blank face. You wouldn't want it around your person at all, ever, not even on really hot days.

And the dimple tells you which one's coming, either by disappearing altogether in the frosty glare of her cold smile, or by expanding to meet the furrows of her warm smile, when she manages to forget the invidiousness of her situation. Sadly, the cold smile out-performs the warm one by a ratio of about four to one, though of course this is a rough estimate based only on an interview.

Bush hates interviews, prefers her art to speak for her; has felt betrayed by journalists, who acquiesce at first to her insistence that they only discuss her work and then go off and write about what kind of person she appears to be. In fairness, Bush has been the subject of some terrifically creative speculation. It's been that sort of career. She appeared as a teenager in the mid-'70s throwing Terpsichorean shapes and hooting 'Wuthering Heights' on 'Top Of The Pops'. Photographer Gered Mankowitz, who took memorable early publicity shots of her, and shared in the creation of the attic-set sleeve to the 'Lionheart' album, remembers her as 'incredibly bright, exhaustingly creative and striving'. They got on 'terribly well'. She seemed mature beyond her years. Mankowitz says he found in her a mixture of vulnerability and self-confidence that was both unusual and attractive.

This seems to have been most people's view of Bush at the time. And as each new album appeared, invariably accompanied by a slew of visual appendices demonstrating a heightening taste for sub-literary interior fantasy, Bush acquired the imprimatur of an authentic English auteur-eccentric: part sphinx, part pixie, part bookish homebody on heat; the missing link between Angela Carter and Felicity Kendal. For the first time in pop, suburban middle-class Englishness had sex.

Yet Bush has maintained a buffering distance between herself and the knowing methodology of traditional pop-craft, preferring to define herself as an expressive vessel of subtle emotion, for whom creativity is both a burden and a joy, from whom music just comes out, like blood. She says ideas come to her at the piano, from doodles, which evolve rapidly into visual images, which are then nurtured and enlarged upon through various stages until they are given final, incorruptible shape in the recording studio. Over recent albums, the studio itself has become a musical instrument, which she has learned to play with some accomplishment. The talk is always of art, creativity and reaching inside; never of craft, commerce and giving people what they want. This is English, suburban, middle-class sexiness with a high mind.

Is she disingenuous? Almost certainly not. But then one of the privileges of eccentricity is perceived innocence. Bush doesn't have to be disingenuous, because no one would believe it of her, not even if she went on telly and announced formally to a choking Michael Aspel that really she never meant a word of it; and isn't it great, pop, the way you can do anything you like so long as there's demand! After all -- perhaps above all -- she embodies the homely Noel Streatfeild ideal of creativity as a distinguishing mark, as a personal brand, fizzing, black and indelible. In a world overstocked with Gemmas and Paddies and Susies and Kates, who you are is what you're good at. That's how the grown-ups tell you apart.

She pours tea and places herself on the edge of her chair. She is small, not minute, and erect. One booted leg crosses the other and bumps gently up and down. She cocks her head and waits. She is courteous, cool and suspicious.

My friend Catherine has never opened any post addressed to Kate Bush. There was, however, a letter that came addressed merely to 'Catherine '. So Catherine opened it. Inside was a lot of stream-of-consciousness stuff about dreams, and about how the writer was watching Catherine. So Catherine snorted, noted the postmark and forgot about it. Then another letter arrived, identically addressed, from the same postal region; then another, and another, each of them increasingly weird and disturbing. Sometimes three would arrive in a day. And it so happened that on the day that Catherine decided to go to the police, a letter arrived that included a reference to Catherine's poetry and music, neither of which are big with Catherine. Also, the letter included the appellation Kate.'

'It's so nice to talk about my work for once,' she says. By this she means she's glad we've started by talking about the great film director Michael Powell and his influence on her, which is signally manifest in the title track of her new album 'The Red Shoes'.

'The Red Shoes' is a ballet film made by Powell and Emeric Pressburger in 1948, telling the story of a dancer who is torn between the demands of a great impresario, who can help her to become an artist of destiny, and those of her composer/husband, who can bring her happiness. The story elides an old fairy tale and a take on the power struggle that raged between the dancer Nijinsky and Diaghilev, first director of the Ballet Russe. Bush says the song evolved out of a feeling she had one day at the piano of music running away with itself. The image in her mind 'was like horses galloping and running away, with the horses turned into running feet, and then shoes galloping away with themselves'. Which corresponded, conveniently enough, with the key fairy-tale element in the Powell film: the red pumps worn by the tragic ballerina, which are imbued with a magic that carries their wearer off in a terrible outpouring of expressiveness.

Bush contacted Powell shortly before he died, 'to see whether he'd be interested in working with me. He was the most charming man, so charming. He wanted to hear my music, so I sent him some cassettes and we exchanged letters occasionally, and I got a chance to meet him not so long before he died. He left a really strong impression on me, as much as a person as for his work. He was just one of those very special spirits, almost magical in a way. Left me with a big influence.'

Which makes some kind of sense. Powell's super-rich three-strip Technicolor, his English-ness, his 'expressiveness', his interest in the shadows cast by daylight; even, you could argue, his thematic preoccupation with islands, solitary souls and the unconfined spirit; these are some of Bush's favourite things.

'His work is just so... so beautiful,' says Kate, in her tiniest voice.

Meaning what, exactly?

'Well, there's such heart in his films. The way he portrayed women... that was particularly good and very interesting. His women are strong and they're treated as people...'

That's one kind of beauty.

'The heart, I think, is the main beauty. This human quality he has. Although there's clever shots in his films, they're not really used for effect, to be clever. They're used for an emotional effect. I'd call that a human quality. Like vulnerability. Also, I like the emotional qualities of the characters. I suppose in one way they're very English ...'

To combine her interest in Powell with her lust for new directions, and perhaps to solve one or two promotional problems, Bush has directed a 40-minute film interpreting six songs from the excellent 'Red Shoes' album. It will be premiered at the London Film Festival.

'I'll be very interested to see what people make of it. To see whether they regard it as a long promo video or as a short film,' she says.

Where do your stories come from?

'Oh, all kinds of sources but generally they come down to people. People's ideas or works. Films, books, they all lead back to someone else's ideas, which in turn lead back to someone's else's ideas...'

I've always assumed you must be a bit of an Angela Carter fan.

'Um, no. I don't think I know her stuff.'

She wrote 'Company Of Wolves' and was big, I believe, on pomegranates, the predatory nature of nature, the heat of female sexuality; that sort of thing.

'Oh, yes.' Bush smiles, and her dimple disappears.

Other post addressed to Kate Bush arrived which went unopened. Then one day a letter came for the attention of Catherine Earnshaw. This being ambiguous, Catherine opened it just to make sure. Inside was a note from a Harley Street doctor indicating that Catherine was fit as a fiddle. This was good news. Unfortunately, Catherine had not been to see a Harley Street doctor. She hastily sent the letter on to Bush's record company, blushing at her daftness in not remembering immediately that Catherine Earnshaw is the name of the storm-tossed tragic heroine of 'Wuthering Heights '.

You're 35 and you've been doing this since you were a teenager. How have you changed?

'I think I've changed quite a lot. Essentially I'm still the same person but I suppose I've grown up a lot, and learned a lot.'

What's made you grow up the most?

'You get lots of disappointments. I'm not sure that they make you grow up but they make you question intentions.' She pauses. 'But life is what makes you grow up.'

That's a fantastically evasive answer.

'It is quite evasive but I think it's true.' Still no dimple. 'It's hard to say... when I was young I was very idealistic, and I don't really think I am any more. I think I'm more... realistic. I think it's good to change. I think I'd be unhappy if I didn't change. It would mean I hadn't learnt anything.'

Do you ever get curious about living another way?

'I do. But so far I'm extremely lucky to be doing what I'm doing. I feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to do it.'

Mankowitz, who last worked with Kate in 1979, says he saw her being interviewed on TV by Michael Aspel recently. 'She struck me as being rather humourless, and I wasn't aware of that when I worked with her. She seemed uncomfortable, suspicious even, and was obviously tormented by the fact that if she doesn't promote then she can't expect any success.

'Although I haven't had any contact with her for years, it's certainly true to say that she has her world and it's very important to her, and, to begin with, that held her feet on the ground. And of course as she began to have this huge success, and the money that goes with it, she found she was able to shape her world to her own design, and that must isolate you. In a general way, that has to be part of the madness of being a very successful artist. With so much control over life, the artist's reality becomes unreal to the rest of us.'

Kate, do you concern yourself with how you're perceived. Does it worry you that to a lot of people you seem quite potty?

'I'm not sure that it's something I've created. But potty is okay.'

What do you think it means?

'I presume it means people think I'm mad.'

Do you ever think you're mad?

'Yes.' This is a slow answer, not without humour. 'Yes, I do. But it could be worse ... I think everyone is mad in their own way. I mean, what is normal? I do think I have quite a lot of fun with my madness, though. It's nice that I can channel it into my work.'

Does work ever feel like it's not quite enough?

'Oh, now! She glares. My blood vessels turn into zip-fasteners. Now I've done it. 'Those last two questions seem like they're coming in on an angle ...'

The lecture follows about how she makes it quite clear that questions about her private life are out of bounds. I protest that I'm not trying to get her to betray facts about her private life but to talk about how she sees herself, and the world outside. After all, I bluster, there is a connection between her feelings and her work, is there not? She pours tea, clanking the lid of the teapot, doing stuff with her hands.

'Yes, well, I think my work is far more interesting than me, and nobody would be interested in me if it wasn't for my work ...'

It used to be said of Olivier that when he wasn't acting there didn't seem to be much of him left.

'Well, I'm only five foot three, so there's not so much of me here anywhere. I have so much time for actors. I mean, that really is putting yourself on the line. And acting is being so many different things, isn't it? I wonder how easy it is for very famous actors to hold on to a sense of who they are.'


'But Olivier was awfully good at what he did, wasn't he? So if there wasn't much of him left, who cares, really? What he did was great.'

What do you make of children?

'I suppose I think in a way that we're all children. And the older I get I think there isn't any difference between children and grown-ups. It's just that grown-ups are the ones trying to pretend that they're not children, while all the time they're the most sensitive children of all.' Another long pause. 'There's a sense of preciousness, don't you think, about children? Especially when the child is young enough. Such a pure spirit, so uncorrupted. A child is so symbolic of purity and tremendous potential. And people who have childlike qualities ... well, it's a lovely thing. It's tough for people to hang on to things like that ...'

Supposing someone were to point their finger at you and say, 'J'accuse Kate Bush of...'

'I confess.'

... of trying to occlude the nasty, real world so that you can live in a protected fantasy world of ballet shoes, over-ripe fruit and warm feelings. How would you respond to that?

'Um, I guess I'd wonder why someone should feel like that, and what it is within themselves that makes them feel that I don't have the same kind of pressure and problems in life as they do. My work deals with fantasy, and there's levels of realism in all fantasy...'

I tried to sucker her with some pretty low-level sub-Freudian stuff about the world of common reality as a place exterior to her own experience: as somewhere she visits. But she wasn't having any. She told me that there's a perpetual correspondence between the exterior world and the interior world and that that was what life was all about.

Catherine hates going to bed in her attic when there's a storm blowing. There's a casement window up there, loose and weathered, and when the wind howls it creaks. Catherine says she keeps imagining Kate Bush outside in the storm, calling to be let in; says she feels quite haunted by her. Especially when cab drivers insist on telling her that this is where Kate Bush used to live.

The album 'The Red Shoes'is out now on EMI. 'The Line, the Cross and the Curve' is being screened on Saturday. See Film: LFF Listings for details.

To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents

"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush

Reaching Out
is a
Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds