Kate Bush – 1978

Its taking me a while to suss out how I was going to give due diligence to an artist I admire as highly as Kate. One of the wonders of December is that its a month so long, and at times so cold, that you settle into the warmth of comforting things. This comfort zone, could mean giving more times for things that matter to you, at the cost of things/ideas that can be so fleeting and temporal. How does this pertain to the blog or the music we’re listening to? Musically, now, whenever I put an album by Kate I start to realize all this other history contributed immensely to its importance. Detailing the rise of English Neo-Folk music on this blog, has done something worthwhile, its rekindled my appreciation for certain connections you see being made by Kate. Sometimes, its important to sacrifice certain steadfast rules, and road blocks, (maybe days or posts) and take more time to paint the bigger picture. Hopefully, this brief personal sojourn, will be worth it for this, and other future pieces that round out its history.

Before

Let me set the stage for you, in case you missed the previous post. Sometime in 1977, EMI and Kate Bush tussled over what single to release to launch her career. Finally released in January 1978, few expected how absolutely out of the norm a song like “Wuthering Heights” would treat reality. Rocketing up to #1 in the UK charts, this spectral mix of Symphonic Folk, Prog, and Kate’s own unique Pop sensibilities, for a month in March dethroned ABBA’s “Take a Chance on Me.” People forget how special this occurrence was.

Can you believe that on the month of “Wuthering Heights” release, Paul McCartney was ruling supreme with his highest selling single ever (Beatles included) the now forgotten “Mull of Kintyre”, a beyond lovely Scot-lilting folk ballad dedicated to his homestead? What dethroned him would be one joke of a reggae song, then one awful single by a openly ABBA-aping English group called Brotherhood of Man, and finally one magnificent neo-motorik dance pop single from ABBA. Somehow, few expected this young woman to come out of nowhere to captivate and dethrone such a scene. However, when one hears the mesmerizing fulfillment that commences after the first 30 seconds of this track lure you in, one starts to understand how everyone easily fell under her spell.

…and After

At age 19, and far wiser than her corporate record label overlords, Kate Bush had adamantly fought for and won the chance to release her choice for a single, the mystic New Romantic “Wuthering Heights”, over the more conventional dance-rock of “James and the Cold Gun”. The label heads agreed, doing so only to prove a point. If she chose that single, a single they believed would flop, she’d rescind and succumb to let them control the rest of her career. As shy as she was, Kate always had a unique ability to see beyond her current situation. Rather than face the indignity of releasing a single with a blatantly sexual cover (as originally conceived by the heads), she bid her time and succeeded on her own terms. When “Wuthering Heights” reached the top of the charts, she achieved something unheard of then, Kate became the first female English songwriter to top the charts.

According to Kate, this track off her first masterpiece 1978’s The Kick Inside, was written as an endpiece, one conjured up nearing the completion of her first album. A year before its creation, she had caught the last ten minutes of a 1967 BBC miniseries based on the Emily Bronte novel Wuthering Heights. Not having read the novel, she was intrigued by its gothic love story presented on TV. She went on to read the book, only to find out a bit later that she shared the same birthday as Emily. Inspired by this discovery, one late night with the moon outside her window, the song came streaming in to her psyche. Sussing it out on her piano, as she has always done with countless other songs, something about this dark romantic song attracted her attention.

wuthering heights books
“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte

Sharing the same name as one of the main protagonists from the novel, Catherine, allowed her to inhabit a role. By using her as the cyper from who to sing a viewpoint of she was able to shine some light on some hidden feelings. Catherine, from the novel, haunts the romantic anti-hero of it, Heathcliff. Either through class warfare waged during her more mature waking life, or in death through ghostly apparitions showing the wilder parts she gave up when she nearly all of the parts absconded with him at a younger age.

When Catherine finally succumbs to death from self-inflicted illnesses meant to punish or antagonize him, we start to see how much she really loved him and had to depress such actions due to the morales of the time. While Heathcliff might have been the sometimes brash, and heated despot people can grow to begrudgingly accept…Catherine’s image was the one that lingers far longer. What’s interesting is that when we read on the page “Let me in your window – I’m so cold!” we can see the flickers of such intensity threatening our subconscious, but now when we hear them in vivid fire, as performed by Kate in this song…there’s just something there, that’s far more powerful than in the novel. She found a way to amplify something set in history (fictional of course) by creating the environment to bring it to life, in some other form.

A very young Kate and Paddy Bush

From a young age, Kate had been struck by music. All of her brothers and family, of Half-Irish and Half-English descent, had played in some sort of band or practiced some instrument. Her father a doctor, would frequently play records for them (mostly jazz and traditional folk) and together with their mother promote the family learning the musical art as an addendum to their regular studies. Her father, best remembered seeing her sing and dance to songs on TV, only stopping when someone laughed at her for doing so.

From this young age, Catherine always felt beyond her years. She would think about the world not in the eyes of a child, but in terms far older than that. She frequently wrote poems about loneliness, escaping to the woods, or even whales as escapes from her thoughts. At age 13, she had already started to write strains of songs like “The Saxophone Song” or “The Man With the Child in His Eyes” which would appear on The Kick Inside. Diligently listening to the music her older brothers would listen to: the King Crimson, Genesis, Bowie, and other Prog; her own faves likes Nina Simone, Minnie Riperton, plus all this other traditional folk music they would hear or play on the side, she started to realize that her poetry sounded best when she molded it to something she could sing or portray.

Catherine Bush piano practice.

Plonking away at the piano endlessly, sometimes 6 hours a day, 7 days a week, she taught herself how to master its workings. As long as she hit three notes, she knew she had a chord. Using that as a basis she expanded on her compositions. Setting aside copying lyrics from library books, she started to write her own, seeing as how she could bend the music to fit the words more. Striking up the courage to record those songs, she used a portable recorder to record some 50 or so demos of her just performing and singing along to her piano.

Her family encouraged her to publish her music. Somehow, this demo got into the hands of Ricky Hopper, a friend of David Gilmour from Pink Floyd. Ricky was just floored by the talent, and passed these tapes to him. Instantly David recognized something special here.

Imagine David Gilmour knocking at your parent’s door asking if you were around? Then imagine him asking if he can hear you play and record your performance at home. This is exactly what happened to a 14-year old Kate. David was kind enough to recognize the trembling fear he put Kate in, in doing so, but cared enough to nurture her talent. With a three-song demo they recorded at her home, he offered money out of his own pocket to record a more professional demo he could present to a record label.

Rather than hand out the original demos, they used the paired down version with three songs, the first two, which I mentioned before, later serving to become part of the debut. Based on this demo she and her family agreed to let her sign with EMI at the age of 18.


Kate (center) and her family.

Rather than head off to record her first album, her family urged her to finish her school studies. Rather than splurge on unnecessary things, she used part of her record advance money to learn interpretive dance and miming under some of the greats: from David Bowie’s former teacher Lindsay Kemp, and the other Adam Darius. She loved dancing as an artform and cared enough to practice wholeheartedly, knowing full well she wanted this aspect of music into her performances. Although the EMI wanted her to tone down her vocals, to a smooth mid-rage, she bucked their advances and learned how to breathe into her rage and own its unique phrasing. Hoping to come out her shell on stage, together with her brother Paddy, she rounded up a small band she’d call the KT Band and use it present a nascent vision of the sights and sounds she wanted to present the world at large.

Kate Bush – 1978

Touring in small pubs, in front of extremely small audiences, she’d integrate smoke machines, light shows, and a very theatrical, strongly feminine style and start to win converts slowly. By the time she was paired by her label with producer Andrew Powell, who had arranged Cockney Rebel’s music, to start recording her album in earnest they were dumbfounded to find a young artist like her, fully aware of what kind of career she wanted to have. Showing brains and artistry way beyond her age she gave them the allowance to use a few session musicians to flesh out her sound. By then songs like “Moving”, “Strange Phenomena”, and “L’Amour Looks Something Like You” had been nearing completion. In a ploy to sign her, with the intent of using her looks as part of the rising visual music video medium, she was already miles ahead of their schemes. She knew exactly how to control her image to portray a certain sexuality steered by her own female point of view.

Kate Bush – “Man with the Child In His Eyes” video shoot.

Hyper-Romantic, dripping with literate musical sophistication and Pop smarts, nothing like the tracks on here sounded like what dominated the airwaves then. Nothing quite sounded so English as well. When you hear the sounds of whale song introduce the album opener “Moving” you hear the mystical sound Kate was reaching for.

Kate’s piano introducing her unique soprano voice fomenting a sound that wasn’t Jazz, Pop, or Prog, it was something different. For most people her voice is a turnoff, but when you follow it, you start to hear some unique power inherent within it. Shelagh McDonald, Carole Pegg, June Tambor, and Sandy Denny, plus countless others, had all tried and failed to present, this sound of artful pop music that didn’t dig much from rock territory as from other sounds that others deemed too dainty or fey to explore anymore. The music industry needed a younger, less respectful upstart to prop that window open. Ripping through the ambient arpeggiating ballad of “The Saxophone Song”, her ode to the saxophone, you hear the revenge of some powerful feeling.

No longer content to play the role of demure second fiddles and merely ingenues, Kate owned up to all the power, intrigues, worries, and victories women can go through and project. “Strange Phenomena”, my favorite, a loping track showing glimmers of the modern dream pop she’d display later on in 1982’s The Dreaming shows Kate’s command of using various voices to describe having power by overcoming the thing men don’t have to suffer personally. Funky pseudo-reggae songs like “Kite” lighten the mood by embracing rising above disappointments. “The Man with the Child in His Eyes” follows with its beautiful cinematic tribute to his father, and how he as a man has to see his daughter as an adult who can make her own decisions…all said in the loveliest way possible (appeasing to his own inner child). When “Wuthering Heights”, a song recorded with one vocal take on purpose, to use the strains of her voice to expose the strains of Catherine’s sad unfulfilled love, it ends the first side of the album on a bewitching note.

Is it any wonder that when Kate appears in the two videos she made for the song, she dives wholeheartedly into demonstrating its purpose. Undulating and drawing you in with song, hands, voice, and appearance, she wants you as the listener to let her into your home. In an era where punk bands and rock bands were demanding you keep away, or stay, here was someone who wanted an invitation to come into your world. When you get to “Feel It”, rather than think of the temporal thought of lust, sex, intrigue…you start to realize all of this album is all about a higher calling, making love.

The Kick Inside album cover.

A true labor of love, The Kick Inside is a love letter to the fantasy, music joined with imagery, can conjure. This new folk music won’t be made in fields anymore as it used to create such an environ ages ago. This folk music might need Kate to invent a headset to sing and dance at the same time (something never done before). This folk music might require clothing, stagecraft, and imagery that reimagines a new kind of fashion icon or popular vernacular. In spite of the change of scenery, the rise of new characters, roles, and actors, the author in this new folk sound remains the same. Without an artist like Kate, certain trails would remain untrekked for far too long. Can you guess why the Dutch invited Kate to make a TV special singing around the world’s largest haunted house Efteling? We all know there’s trickery, sleight of hand, and miming involved, but no one can deny the magic of her vision. In the end forget about 1978, in this and in any era, this would be special…

Listen to The Kick Inside at Spotify.