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Thursday, July 31, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #27 - Talking

"I don't see myself as a famous person, as a personality. It's really just me pushing my work. You know, I have to kinda promote my work, not me."

I guess in olden days if you enjoyed a particular ditty from a minstrel or a pretty piece of poetry from a bard, you could engage them over a jug of mead and discuss its finer details. Nowadays though, with our artists working on a global scale, we rely on the media to reach out across the divide and be our proxy, asking the questions we would love to have answered to our favourite artists about our favourite things.

Or at least ideally that's how it should work. For somebody like Kate Bush, who spends months, if not years, perfecting her work, interviews are a necessary evil. If you've spent all that time working, you want people to know your art is available, so you have to promote it. Sadly, for every informed, interested and dedicated journalist that carefully prepares for an interview, researches their subject and poses thoughtful, articulate questions designed to elicit similarly considered answers, there are at least three that couldn't give a monkeys about the who, what and why of it all.

At the start of her career, Kate was everywhere in every medium. Now, she carefully selects the newspapers, magazines and radio shows that will treat her and her work with a degree of empathy. They may not have the widest readerships or biggest audiences, but they will arguably reach more receptive eyes and ears. It's not that she doesn't want people to know about her work, it's just that there is a limit to how much she is willing to expose herself, and a balance between her artistry and her privacy. I know I'm not the only person that finds this incredibly refreshing in these Kardashian days.

If there was a moment when Kate thought "bugger this for a game of soldiers", then most fans think it was an infamous interview she gave around the time Hounds Of Love was released to an American cable TV company. Somehow, the unedited 37 minute rushes began circulating among fans. It is excruciating to watch the entire calamitous encounter. Here are the "highlights", so you can get the gist:

As a contrast, Kate did a lovely interview on BBC Radio 2 with Jamie Cullum when 50 Words For Snow came out. Speaking to a fellow musician allowed Kate to relax and really open up about her music in a way I've rarely heard. Here's a short clip:

Predictably, Kate has been completely silent about her live shows up till now. None of us fans expect to hear from her beforehand, what would be the point? She's already sold all the tickets. Kate won't want to spoil the show, she'll want people to be surprised and thrilled. I do hope that when it's all over, Kate does find time to sit down with a worthy interviewer and give us a little insight into the whys, the hows and the wows. Because when Kate talks, we all listen.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #28 - Katemas

Happy Katemas everyone!

You look puzzled... let me explain. Today is Kate Bush's birthday, a day of great celebration not just for Kate and her friends and family, but also for the thousands of fans she has reached through her music. On this day each year, we give thanks for the gift of Kate. Some of us may even gather together, throw a party, or raise a glass in her honour. Being a Kate Bush fan is like being in the loveliest, gentlest and most enthusiastic secret club. Yes we can sometimes fall out over little things, like who loves Kate the most (it's me, by the way), but mostly we are bonded together by the knowledge that there is another person in the world who get's it.

Of course, fans come in many shapes and sizes, and I'm not suggesting that Kate fans are any better than fans of say, One Direction. I'm joking: of course I'm saying that. To be a Kate Bush fan requires levels of fidelity and insanity that a teenybopper can only dream about.  In years to come they will look back with nostalgia and maybe a little embarrassment at their teenage crush, but we'll still be waiting for Kate. Always waiting.

I remember when four years between albums seemed like a lifetime. Kate would disappear into her studio and we'd [figuratively] lurk outside, hoping for scraps of information. Finally she would emerge, usually when we were on our last shred of hope, with something beautiful that made the absence feel like mere seconds.

We've weathered 12-year gaps between albums and 35 years between live shows. We think we have Kate all worked out, then she does something like release two albums in the same year. That is the best thing about being a Kate fan. We just never know what's coming next; we just know it will be brilliant.

The fan community around Kate has many clans, but they are not competitive or warring tribes: we are a nation of friendly states. For me, those many long gaps were made bearable by the regular arrival of Homeground magazine. Launched in 1982,  it was a carefully crafted and always loving tribute to everything Kate. Its founders, the "strange twins" Peter, Krys and Dave, were so welcoming of other fans and still are to this day. Homeground has ended its life in print after 79 glorious issues, but lives on as part of the Kate Bush News and Information website, created by Se├ín in 1998. There is also a great online forum attached to this site, where all the latest tidbits on her Kateness are shared.

Earlier this year, Peter, Krys and Dave published two meticulous anthologies, gathering together the best material from Homeground. It stands as a fine testament to Kate and her fans. It's available on Amazon (hint, hint).

More recently I have been welcomed into the pond. FishPeople is an online community of fans on Facebook, named in honour of Kate's record label, where the only rules are:

[1] Be nice. [2] No ads & commerce. [3] Be a FishPerson - in the best Katy way you can be.

Us Fishies are regularly swapping rare photos, clips and sharing our thoughts on all things Kate.

So as you can see, we're not just Kate fans, we're family. This year's Katemas is particularly sweet, as in a few short weeks we will get the chance to breathe the same air as Kate again and witness what comes Before The Dawn.

Happy Birthday Kate x

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #29 - Waving

"I see it very visually. I would eventually love to see this as a piece of film..."

Prior to the release of Kate Bush's fifth album, Hounds Of Love, a lot of the publicity had been focussed on the fact that half the album would be a "concept piece". I wasn't entirely sure what that meant, being slightly too young to have experienced the heyday of prog rock, which had brought the concept of "concept" into being. I knew it meant that the tracks on side two were part of a whole piece, telling a single story. Apparently it was the tale of a woman lost at sea after some unknown disaster. At the start of The Ninth Wave we find her alone, floating in the cold water, on the edge of consciousness.

Let me be weak, let me sleep...

How casually we half-listen to those safety announcements on planes. There's a light and a whistle for attracting attention. We smile to ourselves; as if that tiny light could be seen, or that whistle be loud enough to be heard. But that's all we have. That tiny light on our face. We're so tired and so cold. Our imagination is playing tricks, but we won't join in. We'll just close our eyes...

Under the ice... moving... under ice... through water...

A child skates on a frozen pond, the sharp steel carving through the ice. What's that? Something's moving under the ice! It's a person... quick, someone help them. I can see their face... it's... it's... it can't be...

Bless me father, bless me father, for I have sinned...

We're snapped awake. We stand accused. Weren't we warned this would happen? Why didn't we listen? We're being pulled down, deeper. If we're innocent we'll drown, but if we're guilty...

Can't let you know what's been happenin', there's a ghost in our home...

I'm here. Watching. You must see me. Waiting. You have to talk to me. You have to help me. I need you. You have to...

Now is the place where the crossroads meet, will you look into the future...

Who is that old woman? Her face is so familiar. Why is she so angry with me? I'm killing her, she says. I'm killing my children yet to be. She's forcing me to fight. To swim. To breathe. To live...

Can't do anything, just watch them swing with the wind out to sea...

I'm still here. It's just me and the elements. Not sure I can do this much longer. There's something in the sky, so bright. Is it getting closer? I'll just close my eyes. It's still there. I'm so cold. I'll just close my eyes. There's a storm coming. I'll just rest my eyes. Why did I go?

Do you know what? I love you better now...

What would I do if given a second chance at life? Is this what is happening... is this the end? Or a new beginning...

It only took that first listen to understand. Kate had created a whole life in less than half-an-hour of music. It was a fully-realised tale, like a motion picture for the ears. You could taste the ambition and the painstaking craft in every track, but nothing felt forced, it flowed like water. Wave after wave, each mightier than the last.

Back in 1985 Kate wanted to make a film of The Ninth Wave, she saw the piece very visually. How far those ideas progressed to reality, we'll never know. But now, perhaps, we will finally get to see Kate's visualisation of The Ninth Wave. The only officially confirmed information about the forthcoming live shows, is that part of it is centred around this piece. We've heard the rumours about filming in a water tank. The very title of the show, Before The Dawn, is suggestive of peril and rescue: it's always darkest...

29 years later, The Ninth Wave is about to come crashing down on our heads once more.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #30 - Hunting

"...this album for me is like two quite separate pieces of work..."

As a fan waiting to hear a new Kate Bush album, you're never quite sure what to expect. Kate's voice is a constant, of course, but even that has changed and matured over the years. After the dark intensity of The Dreaming, and the drama of Running Up That Hill, I remember expecting another exciting and challenging listen from Kate's fifth album. Instead she delivered something that was instantly accessible, stirring and powerful.

The publicity surrounding the release of Hounds Of Love made it clear that the album contained two discrete suites of songs. The first side (and they were physically separate in those days, no CDs or downloads, you had to turn the record over or flip the cassette) had five separate songs, each telling their own story. As for side two, well, we'll deal with that tomorrow...

I remember placing the album on the turntable on day of release and settling down to listen. I was glad Running Up That Hill was the first track, as I knew that inside out by now and it gave me a chance to calm down. My relaxed state lasted about three seconds into the next track.

It's in the trees! It's coming!

Has any song ever had such a gripping introduction? I shot up and inched to the edge of my bed, my hands gripping the mattress. Kate was being hunted! She was afraid and running for her life. Cellos and drums created an urgency that swept you along, side-by-side with Kate, looking nervously over your shoulder. You pause for breath and find a fox on the edge of life. You throw your shoes into the lake, but the Hounds Of Love are still on your tail. They're going to catch us! But then Kate realises the truth. She faces the hounds, and her fears, and is rewarded with love love love love love love yeah.

You never understood me, you never really tried...

We've barely caught our breath before Kate taps us on the shoulder and points us towards The Big Sky. This song is a glorious release of all the tension, disappointment, criticism and expectation that Kate must have felt after The Dreaming. It's a rallying call for anyone who's ever needed a renewal of faith in themselves. Forget what others think of you, what do they really know? Look up at the clouds, let your imagination fly, dream big. Up! Up!

Am I the cat that takes the bird? To her the hunted, not the hunter...

The sound of smashing glass alerts us to trouble. The lies come tumbling out, the child is pulled into more mischief, but this time it's gone too far. Never fear, Mother Stands For Comfort. Has the bond between mother and child ever sounded so unsettling?

You're like my yo-yo that glowed in the dark, what made it special made it dangerous...

We escape that troubling parent-child relationship and are faced with another that also has its problems. This time though the child is trying to make sense of what happened to their father. There is confusion, hurt and mystery. There is also hope and belief and, eventually, joy. The song grows organically from a single voice and hypnotic strings. The sounds become richer, there are drums, multiple voices, we rally, we march, we sing, it rains and rains, we collapse, spent and warm with love.

Side one is over, what a journey that was. I need to hear it again. And again and again. So many questions, so many new sounds and perspectives and riddles. But first I need to hear side two...

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #31 - Running

After being pretty ubiquitous since her debut in 1978, the sudden absence of Kate Bush through 1983 and 1984 led many to assume her career was on the rocks. Various bizarre rumours were in circulation: she'd ballooned in weight, moved to France, been dropped by EMI. In August 1985, NME even ran a "where are they now" article on Kate, but just days later that question would be decisively answered.

On that summer day in question, I was 14, and sat up in my bedroom on the third floor of our terraced house, probably mastering the intricacies of Kate's routine to The Dreaming, when I heard a screech coming from two floors down. My mother, who by this point was fully aware of my Kate-o-philia, was yelling "Kate Bush is on TV". I can still recall those 2.7 seconds it took me to descend two flights of stairs. My heart stopped beating and a rush of adrenalin propelled me down. What greeted me was quite literally beyond belief.

It was Kate! Live! Now! Really, really her. She was performing a new song. I knew it must be new, because I'd heard everything else she'd released. She was standing at a lectern, wearing a long, military style coat. She looked totally gorgeous. What was she singing about? She had her hand raised to make an oath. The band were dressed like Kate and in a V formation behind her. They were moving forward. The beat was insistent. The effect was dramatic and menacing and I just stood in the middle of the living room transfixed. Something about deals with God, hills, exchanging the experience. Then Kate removed a bow from her back, took an arrow from Paddy's quiver and knelt to the ground, aiming at the sky. Every hair on my body stood erect. Every goose was pimpled. I finally let out the breath I'd been holding for five, far too swift, minutes.

Oh, the agony and the ecstasy of that night. The record shops were closed. There was no Internet to find out what was going on. I didn't know any other Kate fans I could call. She was back! Out of nowhere. And all I could hear in my head was that insistent drumming, repeating over and over again. If only I'd had the presence of mind to press record on the video, but no, all I had was less than total recall of what had just passed.

The next morning I raced to my local record store and there on the counter was a special box with Kate's picture on it, filled with singles. The song was called Running Up That Hill and there she was on the cover, with the bow and arrow primed. My hands shook as I picked one up. It was a gatefold sleeve, the inside cover had the lyrics and Kate with her back to us, and words written across her arms and shoulders. It was a thing of beauty, an artefact to treasure. And there was a 12" single too! A first for Kate. It had an instrumental version and a remix that was about to blow my mind even more. More good news, there would be an album soon too. I raced home with my precious cargo and I don't think I surfaced from my room for a good few days, as I absorbed the joy of this surprise gift from Kate.

Over the next few weeks more joy, as the single climbed to number 3 on the charts, erasing the disappointments and silencing the doubters. The video was indescribably gorgeous. Kate and a male dancer wrapped around each other in choreography that was sensual and impressively elaborate. The final shot of Kate was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.

Kate was back, and I only had to wait a few short weeks to have a whole new album to explore...

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #32 - Baffling

Ever since Wuthering Heights hit number 1 in 1978, Kate Bush had been on an endless treadmill of recording, promoting, recording, promoting, touring, recording, promoting, recording. By the end of 1982 she had released four albums, numerous singles and embarked on her first tour. Everything she touched had turned to gold. And then, suddenly, it just didn't.

Kate must have felt confused about the the public and industry reaction to The Dreaming. Here was an album she had poured her heart and soul into, her first completely solo production, with hours of toil and sweat and blood and tears, and nobody seemed to care. The album charted at number 3, but sales soon quickly dried up. The title track stalled at 48 in the UK chart. EMI seemed bemused with what Kate had delivered and did little to help her promote it. After years of building to this moment of total creative freedom, suddenly the walls fell in.

Of course the fans stayed true, but in those days you couldn't tweet your support or post love to a Facebook page. Eventually The Dreaming would be reassessed and recognised as the masterpiece it is. If The Dreaming is Kate's great lost album, then its singles are similarly forgotten gems that deserve the attention of pop archaeologists.

The third, and final, single released in the UK was There Goes A Tenner, an uptempo romp about a robbery gone wrong. It became Kate's only single to fail to reach the top 75. Ok, it doesn't have a chorus to speak of and it's hard to pin down Kate's character as she veers from posh to cockney, but come on 1982 record buyers! What is your problem? Witness the genius at work in this completely trippy performance on children's TV show Razzmatazz.

In the rest of Europe a different track was released, my personal favourite from the album, the mystically whimsical Suspended In Gaffa. If you must know what it's about, it explores what it must be like to live in hell having had only a glimpse of God and then being made to spend the rest of your eternal life pining for more.

I don't think you need to know that to appreciate the song's brilliance, it is aural ecstasy. Here's Kate on French TV baffling another studio audience.

After all the disappointments of 1982, Kate decided it was time to take a proper break and regroup. It would be three long years until we heard from her again, but when we did...

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Friday, July 25, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #33 - Dreaming

"People can react as seriously as they want to. I'd like them to sit there with the lyrics in front of them and the record turned up really loud giving themselves to it. A lot of people will listen to it, and a certain percentage will take time and effort to get into it."

I'm just going to put this out there. Kate Bush's fourth album, The Dreaming, is a work of genius.

What's that? You need more information? How can I make such a bold assertion without backing it up with evidence? Fine, have it your way.

Having retained Jon Kelly, who engineered her first two albums, as co-producer on Never For Ever, Kate was finally ready to take over sole production duties for her fourth album. Given free reign, Kate could experiment and push the boundaries of her sound like never before. And boy, did she.

On first listen I admit The Dreaming could seem impenetrable. Not one of its ten songs lets you off easy. There are no catchy Babooshka-like choruses, no simple piano-led ballads. Each song is intense, layered, lyrically complex, occasionally brutal. There are strange noises, hypnotic rhythms and treasures buried deep in the mix. In the album notes, Kate writes: "This album was made to be played loud." More than that, it was made to be listened to, not just heard.

To fully appreciate the magic of The Dreaming, you need to sit in a darkened room, turn up the volume (no headphones, these sounds need to bounce off walls), turn off your many digital distractions and wallow. Be transported across time and place - Vietnam, Australia, Ireland - let your pulse be driven to a different metre. Absorb the words, unpick their poetry. Get caught up in the drama - a failed bank robbery, a home invasion or Houdini's desperate escape act. Submit to this temple of weirdness and be rewarded with an emotional euphoria more intense than I can try to describe in words.

If you've never heard the album, here's the title track performed by Kate on German TV, complete with giant lizards. The lizards aren't important, they're just cool.

So the critics at the time didn't get it. So it sold less than her other albums. So the emotional and financial toll caused Kate to retreat and regroup. Let's be clear, The Dreaming is the foundation on which all of Kate's future successes were built. It is her coming of age, fulfilling her potential and changing forever the boundaries of what was possible in music.

This album changed my life. I knew after hearing it that I would be judging every other record I heard against it. I'm still waiting for something to beat it. I'm content if nothing ever does.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #34 - Knowledge

"...I think I've discovered that while videos are needed to go with a single, I can explore the medium of film-making, of what works and what doesn't. Much of what happens in a video is dictated by the song: the mood, the subject matter; but it's a fascinating area, and from what I can see so far, it's very similar to the recording process. It's working with pictures instead of sound..."

Despite Kate Bush's career beginning in the pre-MTV era of pop, she has always been a very visual artist. She described herself as "one of the television generation" and she loves cinema. Visual imagery has often been a source of inspiration for her songs, and she ranks directors like Hitchcock, Gilliam and Powell among her inspirations. It is this visual acuity that makes Kate such a magnetic performer, it is hard to tear your eyes away when she is in front of you. Even simply sat at a piano, Kate will use her face to full effect to convey the emotions in her music.

Kate is rightly regarded as one of the pioneers of music video, which was becoming a prime promotional tactic by the early 1980s. While she disliked the necessity of producing a video for every single, she decided that she could at least use that medium to explore visual ideas.  It also reduced the need to promote her music in distant territories, and compensated in a small way for the lack of a further tour. The videos from Kate's first three albums were directed by Keith "Keef" Macmillan, though the visual ideas were all Kate's. Each video would become more elaborate as Kate's knowledge and confidence in working in this new medium grew.

In 1981, Kate was hard at work on her fourth album. Strengthened by the success of Never For Ever and entranced by the possibilities for experimentation presented by the Fairlight synthesiser, Kate was determined to take her time. EMI was concerned that going a year without releasing a new song could risk Kate slipping from the public's consciousness (oh, how we laugh - a whole year, you say?). To appease them Kate agreed to release a single.

Sat In Your Lap was a very different sound for Kate. She says that seeing Stevie Wonder play live inspired her to create the rhythm track, which helped transform her piano demo into a fevered search for knowledge. The video plays out like a dream, with Kate hearing voices warning her against hubris and fierce bull-headed creatures running rampant. Kate appeared on the children's show Razzmatazz to talk about her new video.

And in case you've never seen a man-bull rollerskate, or if you don't know how to properly wear an armwarmer, here's the video in its full glory.

The single was a solid hit and gave Kate the space to beaver away on her new opus. If Sat In Your Lap was any indication, it was clear we were heading in another new and exciting direction.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #35 - Magic

When Kate Bush released her last album in 2011, 50 Words For Snow, she was at pains to point out that, despite the songs being linked by the theme of snow, it should not be considered a "Christmas album". It was understandable that she would want to make this distinction, as records made specifically for the Christmas market have a somewhat checkered reputation. It was also clear upon listening that 50 Words For Snow was far from a fuzzy concoction created to warm a winter's night.

It would be wrong though to suggest that Kate is dismissive of Christmas songs. In fact she has written two songs that are specifically linked to that most festive time of the year. While I understand that Christmas is the last thing many of us want to contemplate in July, let us, just for a second, close our eyes and feel the snowflakes land on our face...

One of the new songs Kate previewed on her 1979 BBC TV special was a seasonal number called December Will Be Magic Again. Kate sang the song at her piano with only a few jingle bells for accompaniment. As you might expect by now, the song is far from a straightforward celebration of all things Yule-ish. Kate does indeed promise us magic again, but with a wry eye on the realities of life.

As the snow falls, Kate is parachuting down from the sky. Well, why not? She romantically pictures the snow falling, laying on lovers, sparkling up the dark and... covering the muck up. Not the most uplifting sentiment, but we know what she means, don't we? Kate manages to capture the essence of Christmas: the traditions, the hope, the magic and the truth that we sweep everything else under the carpet until the New Year.

Kate's original studio recording of the song in 1979 didn't get commercially released until it surfaced on a Christmas compilation a couple of decades later. Affectionately known as the "bongos" version, Kate performed it on ABBA's Christmas special that year in a gorgeous routine in a big red chair.

A more sophisticated version, with a gorgeous arrangement was released for Christmas 1980. It performed reasonably, reaching the top 30, but that festive season was marred by the murder of John Lennon. Perhaps Kate burst of realism was too real for people that year. The single did bear another wonderful illustration by Nick Price and is one of my favourite Kate record covers.

So what was Kate's other Christmas song you ask? Stick around, you'll find out in due course.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #36 - Waltzing

It's fair to say there aren't that many waltzes that make the top twenty. There's something about a 3/4 time signature, it harks back to a simpler time, suggesting romance and longing and love and loss. Kate Bush harnessed these traditions to create a waltz to lament the many young men who have died in service to their country.

Army Dreamers though is not about to be adopted as an anthem by the Royal British Legion. It is not told from the point of view of a grateful nation, drumming up feelings of patriotic pride. It is in the voice of a grieving mother, wondering whether she could have helped her son along another path, and possibly a different fate.

The song is the earliest example of Kate exploring her Irish heritage (her mother was from County Waterford), which would add such richness to some of her later work. She also sings the song in an Irish accent, though as a nod to the influence of traditional Irish music, not because the song is about Ireland.

The third and final single from Never For Ever, Kate made a memorable and moving appearance on German TV to promote the song in a routine that's become affectionately known as "Mrs Mopp".

It is a masterful piece of songwriting, with the lulling waltz sharply undercut by the sound of rifles being cocked and the shouts of a sergeant major. Without preaching or posturing, Kate showed us the very human cost of war.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #37 - Exciting

"It's strange when I think back to the first album. I thought it would never feel as new or as special again. This one has proved me wrong. It's been the most exciting."

Kate Bush's primary ambition was to make an album, something she achieved at the age of 19 with The Kick Inside. However, she soon realised that composing and performing music is only half the creative act. An album's producer has enormous power in defining the final shape and sound of a record. The reason Kate found working on her third album so exciting was that for the first time, she would be the only one calling the shots: she had persuaded EMI it was time that she produced her own music.

A rack of my brains and my record collection has found only one other woman who had that amount of control over her music at that time: Joni Mitchell. Even today, producers are predominantly male. So what, you may ask? To answer why this is so critical, you only have to compare Kate's work before Never For Ever, with everything she has done since. Finally we were not just hearing Kate's compositions, we were hearing inside her head.

An immediate and obvious difference is a shift away from a traditional band sound, to more complex, layered arrangements. For example, Kate beautifully creates the sense of a sunny day by the river on her gorgeous ode, Delius (Song Of Summer). Here is Kate in a special performance of the song from, of all things, a Dr Hook BBC special.

Kate's move into the production chair also coincided with her introduction to synthesisers, notably the Fairlight CMI, which she discovered through her work with Peter Gabriel. Now Kate was able to experiment with sound not just from traditional musical instruments, but from pretty much any source she could imagine. Her first tentative steps into such creation are found here. The explosion of ideas coming from Kate is playfully interpreted on the album sleeve, illustrated by Nick Price, which shows all manner of creatures bursting out from under Kate's skirt (you need to see it...).

The one thing that didn't change was the broad palette of themes and stories Kate would share with us. This time we visit Egypt, witness a bride brutally widowed, get more than a little excited by a violinist, and experience questionable feelings towards a child. If you're looking for "boy meets girl", you'd better look elsewhere...

My favourite track from the album is Blow Away (For Bill), a song that muses on the meaning of life and death. and imagines an incredible heavenly jam session featuring some of rock's departed legends.

So Kate had done it, proven that she was the best person to produce her music. If EMI had any qualms, they were stifled by the album becoming Kate's first number one. In fact it was the first UK number one album ever by a British woman, and the first to enter the charts in pole position. Surely there would be no stopping her now...

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #38 - Imitation

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

Kate Bush is an original. By that I mean she has no predecessors, nobody who came before you can point to and say "oh, she's like so and so". Don't believe me? Try it.

There is certainly a long line of artists that came along in Kate's wake that have been influenced by her: indeed, many are more than happy to admit to it. I bear no judgement on this, it's just a fact of life; some lead, others follow.

Of course some of Kate's imitators are not riffing off her muse, they are quite literally taking her off. Impressionists were a mainstay of comedy and light entertainment in the UK, their heyday was undoubtedly in the 1970's and 80's, around the time Kate was at her most visible. Given her unique style of performance, it was inevitable that she would be the subject of parody.

Her most frequent imitator was the impressionist Faith Brown, who specialised in mimicking singers. Among her most popular turns was Kate, seen here in 1980 being "interviewed" by Faith and premiering a song from her third album, Kick A Lion Inside The Heart. (Excuse the poor video quality... it's old!).

Far from being upset by Faith's take on her quirks, Kate found them hilarious. As well as reportedly writing Faith a four-page fan letter, Kate also expressed her admiration for the detail in Faith's sketches in this interview from March 1979.

For my money though, the best Kate parody was by Pamela Stephenson, on the satirical sketch show, Not The Nine O'Clock News. In a number dubbed Oh England My Leotard, Kate's media image is cleverly deconstructed, alongside a wry commentary on the sexism directed at female musicians. What I particularly love about this though is the careful construction of the track from iconic bits of Kate; it must have been written by a true fan.

Impressions are no longer a staple of comedy, partly as tastes have changed, but also because I think there are just fewer originals around these days to inspire such affectionate caricatures. It's good to know that Kate saw the funny side; flattery gets you everywhere, after all.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #39 - Delight

Am I the only one that misses singles? I'm not talking about downloads, or limited vinyl pressings, or online exclusive previews. I mean proper physical singles you could pick up with your hands, after waiting impatiently for the day of release. They had sleeves, usually with new pictures of your favourite artists, and B-sides, that could often be as thrilling as the main song.

These days, for artists like Kate Bush, singles are almost irrelevant. Kate has released just one single apiece from her last three albums, really as a promotional tool to get radio interested, and only one of those had a physical release. How different it was back in 1980, when to stir up anticipation for her forthcoming third album, Kate released not one, but two singles ahead of its launch. Breathing had performed respectably, but it was her next single that would firmly signal that Kate was back in business.

"Babooshka is about futile situations: the way in which we often ruin things for ourselves."

That was Kate's take on her new single, set out in her fan club newsletter. Babooshka is indeed a tale of misadventure, of mistrust and jealousy leading to deception and disaster. It tells the tale of a woman who tests her husband's fidelity by posing as a secret admirer. You just know it's all going to end in tears. Let's see what happens in this stunning performance from German TV.

Despite it's dark subject matter, Kate's catchy tune and hooky chorus caught the public imagination and she had her biggest international hit since Wuthering Heights. The song's broad appeal wasn't hurt by the costume Kate chose to represent the temptress in the video, which has perhaps become her most iconic look.

Oh, and that smashing glass sound at the end of the track was achieved by Kate and her band breaking box-loads of crockery in the recording studio. Apparently the canteen ladies were less than impressed.

Sometimes in life, everything just comes together to create perfection. That's the case with Babooshka. The song, the visuals, the routine; it all synched. It is Kate, the storyteller, at the height of her powers. A strange delight indeed.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #40 - Breathing

Oh, the days before 9/11. What an innocent world we lived in... Wait, what is that terrible sound? And what is that in the distance? It's like a huge cloud. A huge, mushroom cloud!

Yes, back in 1980 we didn't have to worry about global terrorism. What kept us awake at nights was the very real fear that the USA and the USSR (that's Russia now, you know, that nice Mr. Putin) would blow each other to kingdom come with their ridiculously huge arsenal of nuclear weapons. That is after laying waste to Europe, of course, where most of the American bombs were based. Ah, happy times.

I know, you're thinking "why didn't somebody try to stop this madness!" Well, dear reader, somebody stood up and warned the world to think twice about the Armageddon we faced. A brave woman, willing to rock back and forth in a a huge inflatable ball and wade waist deep in water to get her message across. Yes, that's right, Kate Bush was back, and this time there was not a sign of a leotard. She had something important to say.

Kate's new single was called Breathing, and it explored the the threat of nuclear war through the eyes of an unborn child in the womb, forced to breath in the fallout from a nuclear blast. So intent was Kate to ensure we stopped the madness, she appeared on the BBC current affairs programme, Nationwide, to explain why she felt the need to speak out.

This was the first time we had heard a Kate Bush track over which she had complete artistic freedom. She called the song her "mini-symphony" and it is indeed a complex piece. Breathing clocked in at a whopping 5 minutes and 30 seconds, Kate's longest composition to that point. The backing was layered and textured, with the use of voice overs and sound effects to create the right atmosphere. This was a game-changer.

The visual side of Kate's work also took a leap forward. No longer just an interpretation of the song through dance and movement, the video for Breathing had an elaborate set, location filming and video effects that wouldn't have looked out of place in Doctor Who.

For all of Kate's production wizardry, at the heart of Breathing is a stunning ballad. It is one of the few songs recorded post-1980 that Kate has performed live. Here she is reinterpreting it as a piano solo at a Comic Relief show in April 1986.

For such a complex song, it did well to reach number 16 on the UK chart. It marked a turning point in Kate's career; what would she hit us with next?

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #41 - Special

The first two years of Kate Bush's career are remarkable by any measure: a number one debut single, two top-ten albums, a critically-acclaimed live tour, Kate had come from nowhere to become a household name. In light of these achievements, the BBC decided that Kate merited her own TV special: a rare honour.

Simply entitled Kate, the 45-minute show was broadcast on 28 December 1979. It featured a number of previously unheard songs, hinting that work was already underway on the third album. Among the new tracks was a real curiosity, a waltz that told the tale of a cheating wife and a cuckolded husband. Kate played the husband, naturally, and the routine of The Ran Tan featured Gary Hurst as the world's largest baby, and Stewart Avon Arnold giving some serious face as the wife. The choreography was truly stunning.

Kate's special guest on the show was ex-Genesis front man, Peter Gabriel, who had released two highly creative solo albums. His third, released the following year, would feature Kate on backing vocals on two tracks, Games Without Frontiers and No Self Control. Working with Gabriel would prove to be highly inspirational to Kate, not least through the discovery of the Fairlight synthesiser. But more on that soon. As well as performing Here Comes The Flood, Gabriel duetted with Kate on a Roy Harper song, Another Day. It is considered by many fans to be a classic. Although it is rumoured a studio recording of the song was made, it has yet to see the light of day.

Another highlight was a dramatic tale of love, murder and revenge. The Wedding List finds Kate at the altar, only for her groom to be shot dead in front of her. Who was that mystery man? Do you think she'd ever let him get away with it? Hell no! She'll put him on the wedding list...

Kate was a wonderful way to round off Kate's first two years. It underlined her success, showed how much she had grown as a performer and singer, and signaled that she was moving in an exciting and decidedly experimental direction with her music. What would 1980 bring?

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #42 - Touring

So Kate Bush is playing live again: what's the big deal, I hear you say? Given the extensive media coverage and general hysteria around the announcement of Kate's forthcoming live shows, you might be forgiven for thinking that the primary reason for fans' excitement is the fact that it is 35 years since she last went on tour. It is not.

For Kate fans, the excitement is down to the fact that we know that when Kate puts on a show she redefines the very notion of a pop concert. Her one and only tour in 1979, which has become known as The Tour Of Life, saw Kate blend music, dance, mime, poetry and magic in a bravura performance that stunned critics and thrilled fans. Among the innovations:
  • the show was divided into four distinct "acts", with elaborate choreography and costume changes.
  • to allow Kate to sing and move, her sound engineer invented the first known head-mic... out of a coat hanger.
  • Kate shared the stage with a poet, her brother John Carder Bush, a magician and illusionist, the now quite famous Simon Drake, and two dancers who became an enduring part of Kate's performances on TV and video, Stewart Avon Arnold and the late, lamented, Gary Hurst.

Kate's live shows broke the mold and raised the bar. The legacy of that one tour can be traced right down to today (yes, I'm talking about you Madonna, and you Lady GaGa, and yes, even you Katy Perry). For Kate to consider performing live again she must believe that she has something new to show the world, another revelation in how music could be performed live on stage.

Anyone expecting to rock up to the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo and see Kate standing in front of a mic and banging out a selection of hits is going to be in for a rude shock. Despite a veil of secrecy that shames our national security agencies, news has filtered out that Kate recently spent a few days in a water tank at Pinewood Studios filming material for the show. This will not be a "gig", it will be theatre of the highest order, operatic in scale and majestic in its visual mastery. How can I be so sure? Well the best evidence we have to go on is what she did last time, so here's a peek at one of the showstoppers from The Tour Of Life. Enjoy.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #43 - Spinning

There is a dark side to my love for Kate Bush. A story of shame that I have never shared with the world... until now. This is a tale about desire, confusion, obsession and crime.

It was 1979 and, after what seemed like a long absence to an 8 year-old, Kate was back in the charts with another song that completely fascinated me. It had a hypnotic, twirling, spinning introduction that led into a verse of strange foreboding. Then there was this incredible, explosive chorus, where Kate seemed ecstatic and amazed, only for that foreboding feeling to return once more. What could it all mean? Who was all alone on the stage that night? Why wouldn't they make The Sweeney? What was so unbelievable?

Despite my pleading, nobody bought me the single, so I had to make do with a poor tape recording I'd made off the radio during the Top 40 countdown. I just couldn't understand what Kate was singing about, I needed to see the words written down. In those olden days, before the Internet, the only way to get song lyrics was to buy a music magazine, like Smash Hits. One afternoon on the way home from school, I found a magazine which had the words to this enigmatic wonder. Only slight problem... I had no money.

I knew it was wrong, but I just had to have that magazine, so I could listen to the song again and pour over the lyrics to unlock its meaning. I slid the magazine inside my navy blue Parka and tried to casually walk out of the shop. Clearly I was no master criminal in the making, as before I was even halfway to the door, I heard, "Here, are you going to pay for that?" Luckily, the kindly owner knew me and pretended to believe my tearful explanation that it was an accident. He put it under the counter and told me to come back and buy it when I'd got my pocket money. I was shaking like a leaf. I have never stolen another thing in my life.

That was the hold Kate's music had over me, I was willing to risk everything to unlock its secrets. It turns out the song's about an ageing thespian and a starlet who sleeps her way to the top: the perils of life as an actor. It would be years before I understood the Vaseline reference. That's probably just as well.

Oh, and it's still one of my absolute favourite Kate songs.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #44 - Roaring

"Looking back, I don't really think that Lionheart actually expressed the true phase I was in at the time, whereas all the others have."

Kate Bush learnt a harsh lesson about the commercial demands of the music industry very early in her career. After being cossetted by her record company, EMI, and allowed a couple of years to craft a debut album, its huge success meant they gave her slightly less time to produce a follow-up: a few short months in fact. Luckily Kate still had a large number of songs she'd not used on The Kick Inside, and EMI gave her a whole four weeks to write some new material. How generous.

The recording sessions were less than happy. Andrew Powell, the producer EMI had chosen to guide The Kick Inside, was back, but this time Kate was less happy to hand over full creative control. She grew frustrated when the tracks didn't sound like she heard them in her head. It didn't help that Powell replaced her band with his own session musicians. This would be the last time Kate did not produce her own music.

The resulting album, Lionheart, could be unfairly seen as a mix of cast-offs from the first album and some hastily written tracks. Despite Kate's chagrin, for many fans the album is a treasure. It was the first Kate album I owned and it is why I am so deeply devoted to her.

I had never heard anything quite so magical, nor had music taken me on such a journey of discovery. The characters, landscapes, emotions, stories and melodies were like nothing I'd ever experienced. Kate sang about having great sex, becoming an astronaut and finding Peter Pan, thighs as soft as marshmallow, a serial poisoner and Hammer Horror stars. My 14 year-old mind was well and truly blown.

The one aspect Kate had complete control over was her voice. Her vocals on Lionheart are just extraordinary. She finds a greater range and depth than on The Kick Inside, she is playful, sexy, mournful, terrified, mad, wistful... I could go on and on. Kate is as much an actress as she is a singer, and Lionheart is a theatrical triumph.

The one song that means the most to me from this album is Oh England My Lionheart. Being English and patriotic is never straightforward in these postmodern, post-Empire days, but Kate managed to write a fitting paean to our homeland, as much about loss and regret as it is about love and pride.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #45 - Loving

The music scene in the late 1970s in the UK was an interesting jumble. Punk had arrived and succeeded in shocking the establishment with its harsh sounds and anarchic fashions. Disco ruled the dancefloor, the ultimate good-time sound. Matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs fought for chart supremacy with the Smurfs. ABBA and Boney M tussled over the number one spot. And then there was Kate Bush.

It is easy to forget these days, when Kate is rightly acknowledged as an icon, that such a legacy was far from assured at the start of her career. Serious music journalists, while intrigued by Kate, where initially sniffy. First of all, she was a woman, so what did she know about rock? Also, she had committed the deadliest sin of the English: being born into a nice middle-class family.

And yet for all the punk posturing and prog preaching of that era, I contend that the most truly subversive music moment of the 1970s came from Kate. Don't believe me, then read on...

In September 1978, fresh from recording her second album, Lionheart, Kate popped in to have a chat with the genial Michael Aspel on his BBC 1 afternoon children's show, Ask Aspel. Kate seemed relaxed and happy and she and Michael chatted for several happy minutes, answering a range of questions sent in by the young viewers. Then Kate took to the piano to sing a song about two lovers, Kashka From Baghdad, from her new album. Listen carefully to the lyrics.

Just to remind you:
  • It's 1978
  • It's children's television
  • It's the BBC
  • It's a song about gay men
  • It's a song about gay men in a happy relationship
  • It's 1978!!!
And not a complaint was heard and Mary Whitehouse managed to sleep that night, while thousands of impressionable young minds were opened that little bit further.

Not Punk? Pah! No wonder Johnny Rotten bloody loves Kate!

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #46 - Cropping

Say what you like about Kate Bush, but she takes a good photo. I'm not just talking about her obvious physical attributes, which even a devout gay like myself can appreciate, but her spirit, aura, vibe - call it what you will. Over the years Kate has done hundreds of photo shoots from standard headshots to elaborate set pieces with costumes and props. Early in her career Kate was obviously learning on the job, which led to some photographs she may wish had never seen the light of day.... but, thanks to the Internet, they will live forever!

Famously, her launch photo, which appeared on giant posters across London, caused many a head to turn and car to crash... can you guess why?

Needless to say, this image was soon cropped!

Next, two of the planets most intelligent creatures get acquainted.

This one probably has something meaningful to say about the oppression of women in pop music...

Maybe they lost the bottom half of the outfit.

Found it!

It also comes in gold...

Kate liked this outfit so much, she decided to take her crocodile for a walk...

Ok, that's enough. Don't we all have some photos in our past we wish we could wipe from history? Just to prove these are the exceptions rather than the rule, here's one of my favourite early Kate pictures to savour.

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