Interviews & Articles

BBC Radio 2
The Mark Radcliff Show
November 7, 2005

To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents

Mark Radcliff: Aerial, the new double album by Kate Bush is released today. It's a double album. We'll talk about the second one, "A Sky Of Honey" a little bit later on. We'll start with songs on the first of the albums "A Sea Of Honey". So I went her house, and we had asparagus flan for our lunch. And she was utterly charming, friendly... and something she's worked very hard to preserve - normal. Doesn't live a show business lifestyle. Doesn't live the life of a celebrity. She doesn't have a domestic staff or anything like that. She's a working mother, mother to Bertie. Something which has had a major effect on this record. She's also a devoted pet owner, and as we talked in her sitting room, her dog Ted made his presence felt on more than one occasion during this conversation. But it has been a long time since "The Red Shoes", 1993, so I started off by asking her why it's taken so long?

Kate: Well, I suppose when I finished the last record, I really didn't want to go straight back in and make another one. I thought I'd take a year out...

Mark: Right.

Kate: ... because up until that point...

Mark: ... which takes us to 1994.

(Both laugh)

Kate: Yes, it's been a long year. I think after about a year, I decided really that it was just something I want to kind of stay with a bit longer. I suppose really, since I was about 17 or 18, I'd gone and made a record and then come out of the studio, promoted it, and then gone straight back in to do the next one. And because they take such a long time, there's the impression that, you know, there's these big gaps where I'm not doing anything. But with a lot of those records, I was actually working on them for a long time. And it's... it's quite an intense process. And I think it got to the point, at the end of the last one, where I just thought, I don't want to just go straight in and do another one. I want to just take a break, and do some other stuff.

Mark: Yeah. Why does it take you a long time? Have you got the songs when you go into the studio? Do you write in the studio? Or do you go in with the songs, but it takes a long time to get the sound in your head down onto tape? Why does it take so long?

Kate: Well, that's a very good question. I ask myself that "why does it take so long?" Because the actual writing is normally very quick.

Mark: Yeah.

Kate: And with a lot of them, what I do is go in and just write straight onto tape. So, it's a bit different, with piano/vocal tracks, where I would, that would be written at the piano as opposed to written onto tape. And then once I've written it I'd just put it onto tape. So that's a different process, because that's the way I always used to write, when I was a little girl really. I used to just sit at the piano and write the songs. And in a way, it was like I was the tape machine, I guess. But once I started working in my own studio, I wanted to stop making demos. Because the problem was, you'd make a demo, and it would be really good, but you couldn't use it because it wasn't technically... sounding right or... So you try to reproduce it and it would never sound the same. It wouldn't have the atmosphere, or the buzz.

Mark: Is that something you've managed retained on this? I mean… two albums, there's a lot of stuff here, isn't there? Just tell us a bit about the concept that's driving it, in that sense.

Kate: One of the things I thought I did wrong with the last record, was that I think it was too long. And what I was trying to do, was give people as much for their money as possible. I think it's very difficult, ‘cause as an artist you want to give people their money's worth. In a lot of ways, people's attention span doesn't really last that long. And what was so great about vinyl records was you had that forced gap. And so you'd listen for 20 minutes, and then go off and have a cup of tea or something and then turn it over or put another record on. You had that enforced break between the two sides. And I think that was a much more comfortable length of music for people to listen to.

Mark: Yeah. So, you've made two albums, so your attention span is... seven songs... and then this kind of "song suite" or whatever you want to call it, which is kind of nine tracks. So you thought that was a reasonable amount of attention to demand from people, did you?

Kate: Well, what I was finding was, once I started putting this sort of concept idea together, I'd get to about the third track... you know when it was just sort of in its very basic form... and I'd find it so tiring, you know, just to try and get beyond the third track, I found almost impossible. And I thought, well Christ, what's it going to be like for people who'd never heard it before, to get to this lot, and then to have extra tracks as well? And I started thinking that, well maybe, what I should do is actually split it, and have a double album. [Mark: Yeah] And I mean, you know, initially I was concerned, you know, it might be very expensive for people to buy. I suppose, also, I always really liked the process of making "Hounds of Love", which was a sort of... similar idea... except that was one side of a record, rather than a two record set. So in some ways, this is a bit like a kind of larger version, more like a sort of... "Irish Wolfhounds of Love".

(Both laugh)

Mark: How much has being a mother, and a mother and son, how much has that has inspired and infused this record, do you think?

Kate: I think it's all over it. You know, it's everywhere in the record. He's such a big part of my life so, you know, he's a very big part of my work.

Mark: Yeah. The life you lead, has been because you prioritized being a mother, more or less, above everything else, isn't it?

Kate: Yes, and it's something I really wanted to do, through choice. It's such a great thing, being able to spend as much time with him as I can. And, you know, he won't be young for very long. You know, already he's starting to grow up and I wanted to make sure that I didn't miss out on that, that I spent as much time with his as I could. So, the idea was that he would come first, and then the record would come next, which is also one reason why it's taken a long time (laughs) Yes, it's a wonderful thing, having such a lovely son.

Mark: Yeah, yeah… Can we talk about some of the songs? When I first heard the album I didn't have any track listings. And I picked up on 3.1, and I thought, I'm pretty sure from my basic mathematics... which I haven't done since "O" level... I thought "that sounds like pi". And I went back, and I know that in "Schott's Original Miscellany" it gives Pi, the whole sequence of numbers, so I went back to check, and it was. So why are you writing about numbers in that way, why did Pi become the subject of the song?

Kate: I really like the challenge of singing numbers, as opposed to words because numbers are so unemotional as a lyric to sing and it was really fascinating singing that. Trying to sort of, put an emotional element into singing about...a seven...you know and to really care about that nine.

Mark: And did you care about it, I mean...

Kate: I really cared about that nine!

Mark: Are you hooked on, I don't know...Sodoku, or whatever it's called, number puzzles or something like that. Are you a numerate sort of person?

Kate: I find numbers fascinating, I mean, I think the whole idea that nearly everything can be broken down into numbers, it is a fascinating thing; and I think also we are completely surrounded by numbers now, in a way that we weren't you know even 20, 30 years ago we're all walking around with mobile phones and numbers on our foreheads almost; and it's like you know computers... numbers are a very integral part of how we live now. And, you know, I think what I find interesting, was trying to make it sound like an emotional lyric, when numbers, I suppose, are very much associated with machines and unemotional qualities, and it was a very interesting exercise as a singer trying to inject emotion into it.

[Intro of ‘pi’ is played]

Mark: IIt's quite funny really, because it's often been said, when people like someone's voice, and someone likes someone as a singer, and they say "what's the new stuff like?" and they say "ah well, Kate Bush could sing the telephone book, and it would sound fine to me". And you've kind of almost done it really! It's a sequence of numbers, isn't it? But why Pi?

Kate: I think...

(a low, moaning noise is heard)

Mark: That's the dog snoring, by the way...

(Kate laughs)

Kate: I don't think he thought much of that question, is getting fed up already.

(Both laugh)

("Pi" is played)

Tonight, the program is devoted to Kate Bush, on the release day of the double album "Aeriel". So the word that keeps coming up when I told people I was going to talk to Kate Bush, people kept saying "Oh, she's a bit of a recluse, isn't she?" Which is inaccurate. A recluse is someone who shuns all contact with the outside world. And that's not the way that Kate Bush lives her life at all. She's reluctant celebrity, I think in many ways, but that she does not live the life of recluse, which is kind of what she's talking about here:

Kate: I think I live an extremely normal life, and it's something that I’ve fought very hard to do. I don't choose to live my life in the industry. I guess it's all down to what matters to you in your life as to how you lead it, you know? I think I'm very privileged to be able to have my work as something that I love doing so much. And to be able to be a mother, and to still work, is also a privilege; a lot of people can't do that. So I feel very privileged, to be, really, to be doing the two things that mean the world to me.

Mark: Do you get bothered for being Kate Bush, you know, when you go out, doing normal stuff? Do you go to school sports day and stuff like that? Do people say "oh, that's Kate Bush, you know"?

Kate: I think really, for most people there I'm Bertie's mum.

Mark: Which is what you want to be.

Kate: Yes.

Mark: You must have had to fight, in a way, to make that space for yourself, because, you know, you have a record deal, and a record company... perhaps now you're at a stage where you can choose when to make a record. But you must have been under pressure from the record company wanting another record?

Kate: I don't know, I think they gave up on me years ago.

(Both laugh)

Kate: I mean, by the third album, where I was starting to get involved in the production. I remember that took six months, and um, at that time, that was considered a ridiculous amount of time to spend making a record. And of course, it just got worse from there. And I think the record company just thought... well, what could they do? They can't sort of make me finish it before it's ready, can they?

(Kate laughs)

Kate: The dog's just farted!

(Both laugh)

Kate: It's putting me off a bit...

(Both laugh)

Kate: Erm… Sorry, what was your question, young man? What were you saying…?

Mark: I'm just saying. It's just interesting you've got to the stage where you can take your own time about it. Presumably, you could make a fortune if you did do an album every two years...

Kate: Yes.

Mark: … there being some financial considerations...

Kate: Yep, certainly I could be a lot richer. But you know, if I wanted to make lots of money I'd put a record out every year. And if I thought it was crap, I wouldn't worry. But that's not what it's all about for me.

Mark: So you've managed to create this world for yourself, you have a nice house to live in, and a nice studio to work in. Not lavish, you know, but a nice lifestyle. You guard your privacy fiercely. And yet the record is like full of the most soul-baring emotional stuff. Which would seem in a way, quite a contradiction. Someone who wants to be private, and yet is very public and open about emotions in the context of her work?

Kate: Well, I don't think that is a contradiction. I think that in a lot of ways, it makes complete sense, because... and it's not that I guard my privacy fiercely, but, you know, I think the creative process is something that's very difficult to focus on. You have so many distractions as… for me to get into that creative process. I have to have a sort of quiet place that I work from. And if I was living the life of somebody in the industry, as a pop star or whatever, it's too distracting. It's too to do with other people's perceptions of who you are, and what's important to me is to be a human being who has a soul, and who hopefully has a sense of who they are, not who everybody else thinks you are. 

And I think, you know, that's something that's very difficult for people who become extremely famous. I mean, I find it completely ridiculous this obsession with celebrities, and… Why are celebrities so important to people? It's absolute crap. I mean, the important people are surgeons and doctors and people actually put people back together and make a difference to people's lives. Not somebody who's in an ad on telly. I mean, okay, so that's valid for what it is, too. But why so much attention on something that's so shallow?

Mark: Has there ever been a time where you enjoyed the fame, when you were younger did you enjoy being "Kate Bush, the pop star"? I notice you laughed when you said "pop star", ‘cause you obviously don't see yourself as a pop star. But you were a pop star! I saw Top of the Pops doing a number one hit single, so you must've been. Did you ever enjoy that?

Kate: I think so. There are lots of times when it's fun. And I think that's again, that's important if you can to try to keep it fun because, you know, in a lot of ways is quite ridiculous, really. What I desired was not to be famous, I wanted to make a record. That was the big thing, and I was on the mission from God. And that's what I was going to do. And I was that driven.

Mark: What, since you were a very little girl, then? Since you were a kind of... when did you start playing the piano and making up your own songs?

Kate: It was probably about nine when I first started to play around with just little ideas. But by the time I was 12, through to 14, I was taking it very seriously. And when I came home from school, I'd, er.. you know, instead of going and watching the telly, I'd sit and play the piano.

Mark: Right. The life you lead, and you kind of paint this picture of a normal mum's life, and that's great and everything, there is a song on the album, which seems to be primarily about a washing machine?

Kate: Mrs. Bartolozzi

Mark: Mrs. Bartolozzi. Obviously there will be some raised eyebrows. There will be some people who will say, you know, perhaps you want to get out more if you're writing a song about washing machine.

Kate: Well, I don't know, is it? Is it a song about a washing machine? I think it's a song about Mrs. Bartolozzi.

Mark: I don't know who Mrs. Bartolozzi is.

Kate: She's this lady in the song who...does a lot of washing (laughs).

Mark: It's not you then?

Kate: No, it's not me, but I wouldn't have written the song if I didn't spend a lot of time doing washing. Because I know what it's like to do a lot of washing. And of course, that's what the connection was that made me write the song.

Mark: Is it a real character or a fictitious one?

Kate: No, no, it's fictitious, but, um… I suppose, you know, as soon as you have a child, the washing suddenly increases enormously...

Mark: Absolutely, it's on all the time at our house!

Kate: And I was spending a lot of time in the washing room. And, um, what I like, too, is a lot of people actually think it's funny. And I think that's great, because actually, I think... I think it's one of the heaviest songs I've ever written. And I love the fact that people think it’s funny, I think that's great. It's actually one of the moments I'm really the most pleased with, from a writing point of view, on the record, because what I wanted to get was this sense of this journey, where you're sitting in front of this washing machine and then almost as if in a daydream, you're suddenly standing in the sea. And I took a few takes... they're all live takes. So it's not something that's been pieced together in the studio. So, you know, I had to sort of take a whole performance, flaws and all. And what I was quite pleased with about that performance, although there's things in it I really hate, I think it does achieve this sense of taking you from one place to another.

("Mrs. Bartolozzi" is played)

Just extraordinary. That is Kate Bush, and "Mrs. Bartolozzi" from the first of the two albums, Aerial is released today - as you know by now, and that is Mrs. Bartolozzi from the first album, Sea of Honey. We'll have more little bit later on. Fascinating all the e-mails coming in, actually. Great affection for Kate all over the place.

Rolf Harris, who has played with Kate Bush before, he used his didgeridoo on "The Dreaming", Rolf Harris is back to doing some painting and talking and singing and didgeridoo-ing. So we'll talk about that album, and what it's all about what it might be about in the whole sound and the concept behind it. But before that I just wanted to find out why Kate Bush, only toured the once? Remember, right back in the early stages of her career, she did the tour, which was very successful, never to return to the stage. But I was also interested to know when she knew she wanted to be a performer. Because when she was a teenager, she formed the KT Bush Band with her brother Paddy and bassist Del Palmer, who still engineers her records to this day. And so I wondered whether it was at that point, that she knew she wanted to be a singer.

Oh, and Ted the dog makes no appearance in this part of the conversation, having snored in the first part, and farted in the second, wandered off somewhere now.

Kate: I knew I wanted to be a writer, and in that band, which actually only existed for about 10 months, er... we did lots of cover versions and stuff like that.

Mark: How old were you about then, 16, or something.

Kate: Yeah, probably a little bit older, probably 17.

Mark: Can you remember which you were playing, what kind of songs were playing?

Kate: Yeah, we used to do "Honky-tonk Woman" and Free tracks. It was really fun.

Mark: And, you were playing piano and singing at this time..?

Kate: No, no...I was just the... I was just the singer.

Mark: Right, the lead vocalist, up at the front... And did you enjoy the attention of that?

Kate: I don't know, I think... it was a very interesting experience. I mean, learning other people's lyrics was quite interesting, ‘cause I'd never had do that before, and, em, we used to do this track called "The Steeler" and em.. Brian Bath, who was the guitarist and the singer in the band as well, he used to do that track and, sort of halfway through, I’d jump off the stage and dance around the audience, and... I mean, it's hilarious really! And it was great! The looks on people's faces, as you started to approach them...it was like, "go away, go away".

(Kate laughs)

Mark: You see, now what's interesting about that... is because, then, you would've thought... and, quite early in your career you went out and did a tour in, what was it? 1978 or something like that...?

Kate: Yeah, ‘79.

Mark: 79? Yeah...

Kate: Of course, I was only 12 of the time...

(Mark laughs)

Mark: But you did this to tour... you'd always performed... and you'd danced... you jumped off the stage, and approached the audience and you did a tour. And yet for some reason, you withdrew entirely from wanting to perform. So why was that then?

Kate: No, no, I didn't. I think that's a general presumption, and quite understandable. I loved the tour, it was fantastic fun, but I didn't want to repeat a tour with the same material. So I thought okay, I got two albums up until that point. I thought I'd go and do another two albums and then do another tour. So it would all be fresh stuff.

Mark: Right.

Kate: But then, by the time I started the third album I’m starting to become involved in the production, and it became a much more time-consuming process. And I think by the time I got to the fourth album, which I had promised myself it would be the end of the fourth album I'd do the next tour, it had all gone off into a different tangent where I was really trying to learn how to put records together in a studio. And that was a very time-consuming process, and it kind of took me away from the whole world of wanting to do shows, really, for a while, I mean. And I've toyed with it on and off a lot, because I did enjoy it, but I think I found the writing process so interesting, that I wanted to stick at that really, and try and make something of that, and it takes a lot of time.

Mark: ... but you know, people can, there are a lot of people who still find, you know, the time to perform, perhaps the need to perform... but you don't have the need to go out and do this stuff in front of people?

Kate: Of course!

Mark: ... but I know people can this a lot of people who still find you know the time to perform. Perhaps the need to perform... that you don't have the need to go out and do this stuff in front of people?

Kate: No, I suppose, I don't. (Said in a very deadpan way)


Mark: Was it ever... kind of... when you got a new album out...which... you're very proud of it and you know, the reaction is very positive. Is there any part of you that thinks "actually, I wish I could get out on stage and do this for people"?

Kate: Yes. (Said in an equally deadpan way)


Mark: But you won't?

Kate: I don't know if I won't. Normally something else comes along to sort of take me away from even pursuing the idea the any further. Yes, I would I would like to do some shows.

Mark: So you wouldn't rule it out?

Kate: No, I wouldn't rule it out, but then, I haven't ruled it out for the last 20-odd years.

(Kate laughs)

Kate: And I haven't done it yet.

Mark: It just hasn't happened yet.

Mark: Let's talk about the second album, the second of the two, "A Sky of Honey", which is a sort of song suite featuring Rolf Harris, who you have worked with before. So why Rolf again?

Kate: You know, it's very interesting, because, when people hear the records...the only two points that they stop to comment when they're listening is, after "King of The Mountain"...people go "that's real drums!",

(Kate laughs)

Kate: And I think, you know, my God, you know, where have we got to that people actually have to comment that there's real drums on the track? And then the next point they comment is when Rolf comes in, and they go..." is that Rolf Harris?"

(Both laugh)

Kate: And they have this sort of really childlike delighted look on their face. Because they know it's Rolf, but they just want it to be confirmed.

Mark: Yeah.

Kate: And, em, I think that says a lot about how... he's really touched a lot of people. He's like a national treasure of ours now, isn't he? I mean… A part of our culture, and I think he's a very talented guy as well. I think we all recognize him as a brilliant painter, and I suppose really that's why he sprung to mind was because I needed a singing painter.

Mark: Right, and there aren't many.

Kate: There aren't many are there?

Mark: In the Yellow Pages under "singing painters".


So, is that the second album, and I know you don't want to talk
about individual tracks, particularly…

[“Prelude” can be heard]

…but the whole overall sweep of it seems to be... based around... well I'll tell you what I think - here's Rolf Harris in your garden, painting a picture with all the birds song going on and everything, and it seems to be a kind of dream sequence that develops into some
"Midsummer Night" from that. Anything in that…?

(Kate laughs)

Mark: Or am I clutching at straws?

Kate: No, I think that's great! I think it's what you want it to be, if that's how you see it, then I think that's lovely. Somebody said to me… they said "it's not like listening to a record, it's like watching a film or something". And that was just the most fantastic compliment anybody could have said. I mean, I suppose really, it's very much to do with the idea of Birdsong.

Mark: Hmmm

Kate: That's it. It's all based around Birdsong, and.. I like the idea of these things that are different languages from use of words, I mean, for instance, like "Pi". It is a language, but it’s not one that we really speak. I think Birdsong is a really beautiful sound. I think what I find interesting about it, too, is the way that they mark the day. Like for instance, you know, the dawn chorus - they seem to be very strongly connected with light. And I think in some ways, that was one of the sort of explorations I was trying to go off on with this, the connection between their song and light and the passing of day.

("Prologue" is played)

Mark: Right, here's some theories, some "Aerial" theories, right, of mine… mother and son relationship, a lot of water images in what you do. "Ariel" is the little mermaid, there’s one. Sylvia Plath wrote a collection of poems called "Ariel", very intense love poems...

Kate: Did she?

Mark: Yeah, there's a Shakespearean spirit in ‘The Tempest’ called "Ariel"...somebody got the Tempest... and there's also Ariel washing powder for the washing machine we were talking about before.

(Both laugh)

Kate: Uh..uh.."Product placement"?

(Both laugh)

Mark: So?

Kate: Well, um...

Mark: None of those, presumably?

Kate: Well, I think, I think all of them, [They laugh] and many more. But that's what I liked about the word was it's got so many levels to it. It actually means "of the air", and, you know, also I always have an image of aerial suggesting height, as well so, it felt like it worked very well for the second disc. Uh, you know, with the sort of theme of birds...and also an aerial is something that, em, collects and gives out sound waves, and we've all got aerials connected to our televisions and our mobile phones, and…. I just thought it was an interesting word that had lots of puns.

Mark: Do you feel a relief now it's out after, you know, after working on it for so long, is a great to have it finished?

Kate: Yes. [They both laugh] I'm so excited about it coming out. And, it took so long to make, I just thought I was never going to finish it.

Mark: Did you?

Kate: Yes.

Mark: There days when you were sort of almost crying with frustration and beating the mixing desk, ‘cause you thought we’re never going to finish this…?

Kate: ….Well, I don't know about beating the mixing desk, but… it just took so long to try and piece it all together, and try and make it work and... there were so many times, I just thought… I wasn't going to have the energy or the strength just to try and finish it. So, it's fantastic relief, to have it all done, and I mean... When I first finished, I felt like I’d been let out on good behavior. And it's great ‘cause I can do other things, and the response from other people has been so positive - I'm so excited, at it actually coming out...

Mark: Did you doubt what the response would be? I mean, has it kind of been so long since you had that kind of response that you really started to worry about it?

Kate: I don't know if I worried about it. I think I did worry about there being such a long gap, I was worried that...I suppose, you know, in some ways, without wanting to sound sentimental, I was worried that people would forget about me.

There wasn’t really a lot of chance of that, I don’t think, really Kate.

[Transcription by Chris Williams; Proof-reading by Robin Gow]

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