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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #1 - Dawning

I have been fascinated by Kate Bush since I first saw her perform Wuthering Heights as a seven-year old. At thirteen, with the money earned at my first summer job, I began buying her albums and singles and fell completely under her spell. For over three decades, Kate has been an intrinsic part of my life. Her music affects me like no other, it speaks to my soul, ignites my imagination and excites my emotions. Quite simply, I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without this woman's work.

Through the decades the one element that left a slight pang of sadness was the thought that I would never get to see her perform her music live on stage. I was too young to have gone to her tour in 1979, but I bought the video of that show and played it endlessly. In some ways that made the absence harder, as Kate was electric on stage, in every part an equal to the artist she is on record.

Occasionally there would be stirrings that she might perform again, even one time when I heard it from her own lips. But each time it came to naught. It would become a regular topic of conversation with Amanda, my bestie and fellow Kate adorer: how amazing it would be, but how it might also cause us to expire from the stress of it all.

When the announcement finally came, just five short months ago, it felt unreal. Each day I had to check the news to make sure it was not another of the "Kate's doing a tour" dreams that sporadically troubled my sleep. And it was as stressful as we'd feared. That week between the announcement and the tickets going on sale was not good for my blood pressure. And the actual buying of the tickets... well, let's just say I'm glad nobody could see me shake.

Tonight, Kate Bush begins her 22-date residency at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London. I wish her well with all my heart. I will be there in seven days' time, alongside Amanda, and we will be pinching each other. The dream is finally coming true.

These last 50 days, sharing Kate's extraordinary career with you through my own personal experience, has been a labour of love. Thank you for coming along for the ride and for the many comments and compliments that have made it all worthwhile. I'll be back in October, when the dust has settled, to share my thoughts on Before The Dawn.

Until then, here's a little something to cherish from the last time Kate played live...

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Monday, August 25, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #2 - Queen

When I was a child (running in the night), things like record sales, chart positions and awards mattered to me. I always wanted Kate Bush to sell more, climb higher and win accolades and was disappointed when other, less deserving acts beat her. I remember my best friend at high school, Ben, was a Madonna fan, and we would race to see whether Hounds Of Love or Like A Virgin was number one that week in the album charts. We argued over who was more talented, I listed Kate's many musical abilities, Ben pointed out Madonna played the cowbell.

As an adult, somewhere in my forties, I have learned to appreciate what matters most is not what the rest of the world thinks about something, it's what it says to me and how it moves my own heart that counts. Of course it's lovely when the artist you love is appreciated by the wider world, so it was a pleasure to see Kate recognised in three significant, if very different ways during 2012 and 2013.

In April 2013, Kate was at Windsor Castle to be awarded Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, or CBE for short, from Her Majesty the Queen. Kate later posted this "thank you" on her website:

I feel incredibly thrilled to receive this honour which I share with my family, friends and fellow musicians and everyone who has been such an important part of it all.
Now I've got something really special to put on top of the Christmas tree.
The 'everyone' in the quote above of course includes all of you.  Thank you so very much for all your fantastic support and encouragement.  I feel extremely privileged to still have an audience.  It's you that have made my work, which would otherwise have just been creative projects, into a success.
Many, many thanks to the best fans ever,
Kate  x

It was not the first time Kate had met the monarch. At a Royal Academy of Music event in 2002 Kate had asked the Queen to autograph her programme for her son, not realising that Her Majesty does not do such things. As Kate later said: 

“I would do anything for Bertie, including making an a***hole of myself in front of a whole roomful of people and the Queen.” 

On this occasion, there were no such lapses of etiquette. The smile on Kate's face says it all.

A year earlier, Kate beat the current critical darling, PJ Harvey, and multi-million selling Adele to win Best Pop Award for 50 Words For Snow at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards. Kate made another rare public appearance to collect the award:

The third honour was potentially the most exciting. It was rumoured that Kate was going to be performing live! Yes, the Closing Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games was to be A Symphony Of British Music, and was set to feature some of the most legendary names in British popular music. Naturally those legends included Kate, and the rumours reached fever pitch when it was reported that she was shooting a new video for Running Up That Hill featuring Jude Law! This photo was apparently a leak from the set:

I had deserted London for L.A. the year before, but managed to tap in to the live streaming of the event. Just as well, as the US broadcaster decided to cut Kate from their delayed prime-time presentation! As predicted, the opening bars of Running Up That Hill began and the commentators seemed to think it was really happening to ya... 

I swear I watched the whole thing expecting she would appear, even to the bitter end I thought she might jump out of that pyramid, like a stripper out of a birthday cake. Oh well, I guess that confirmed the fact that she was never going to play live again. At least we got a lovely remix of R.U.T.H. It even reached number 6 on the UK charts!

What a lovely, triumphant year that had been for Kate. Now we all just had to wait and see what she'd do next...

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #3 - Misty

If I had to choose just one song from Kate Bush's repertoire to illustrate why she is such a special artist, then I would select a song from 50 Words For Snow that carries all the hallmarks of her genius.

Misty is the tale of a woman who builds a snowman, only to find him come to life. Naturally she falls in love and they have a romantic encounter. There are so many remarkable things about this song, which runs to well over thirteen minutes. The legendary jazz drummer Steve Gadd's playing is extraordinary here, intertwining with Kate's piano, managing to sound both free-flowing and deliberate at the same moment. The song has no chorus, but repeating themes that grow in significance each time we hear them.

Kate delivers one of her greatest vocal performances, fully demonstrating that despite its drop in register, her voice has lost none of its power to interpret and emote. Every syllable is perfectly formed, yet there is a roughness to her voice, the touches of time, which just adds to its beauty.

The main reason though that I would choose this track to represent Kate, is it shows her abilities as a storyteller. As a writer, it can take me hundreds of words to achieve what Kate manages in a few dozen lines of verse. While naturally a great deal of attention is given to Kate's melodies, her lyrics are equally important and equally individual. She has honed her skills over the years, realising that the fewer words you need to convey a feeling, the more power it holds.

Here Kate makes us believe that snow can live and breathe, that it can hold us in its arms, drive us to love and to the edge of despair at its loss. It's a fantastical premise, but it never once feels silly or flippant in her hands. From the magic realism of the blood from a cut hand bringing the snowman to life, to the woman's searing grief at the loss of her Misty, it is the birth of a modern fairytale.

Kate commissioned a series of short animation segments for three of the tracks from 50 Words For Snow, the most elaborate of which was Mistraldespair, this gorgeous stop-motion piece made for Misty.

So after the excitement of getting two albums in one year, we all wondered what would happen next. Kate said she already had ideas for another album, that sounded promising. One thing was certain, she wasn't planning any live shows, as she told The Word magazine in their December 2011 issue:

"I guess I haven't ruled it out, because I did enjoy it, but I have no intention of doing anything live because it wouldn't work with how my life is at the moment. Never say never, but I've got no plans."

Well that seemed pretty clear and definitive...

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #4 - Snowing

"Well, I knew I wanted to do a wintry record... then it just honed in on this loose theme of snow and everything started falling into place... For me it's so atmospheric - so evocative of so many things."

Completing the revision of her earlier work on Director's Cut clearly provided the catharsis Kate Bush had hoped for. She immediately began work on a brand new album, a collection of songs that shared a theme: snow. Astonishing everyone, probably including herself, she managed to get it ready for the winter of 2011, meaning she made good on her jest of delivering two albums in a single year. It was like 1978 all over again!

50 Words For Snow is, like the snowflakes it evokes, hard to pin down. It is a work of popular music, but it is not "pop". Kate has taken the freedom of jazz and created her own genre, allowing her unique creativity to follow each tangent and flash of inspiration. With no major corporate label to limit her freedom, she can choose to deliver an album of seven tracks that together provide over an hour of music. There are no longer any rules, there is no formular: it is art as pure as the driven snow.

She did attempt to release a "single", but Wild Man, a tender tale of a Yeti sighting set in the heart of Asia, was never going to make sense to the iTunes generation. It once again shows Kate's ability to conjure a distant culture by carefully and sensitively entwining their musical heritage into her own.

Unusually for a Kate album, there are other voices leading songs. Her son Bertie provides a haunting descant on Snowflake, falling from a cloud into the welcoming arms of his mother. Kate realises a personal ambition when she gets to duet with her hero, Elton John, on the time-travelling love story, Snowed In At Wheeler Street. Stephen Fry plays Prof. Joseph Yupik on the title track, a linguist challenged by Kate to name those fifty words for snow.

The classically trained voices of Stefan Roberts and Michael Wood create a perfect counterpoint to Kate on Lake Tahoe, a ghost story about a woman who drowns while searching for her lost dog.

The closing track on the album, Among Angels, is really a cheat, as Kate freely admitted it was written a few years before and has nothing to do with snow. However, I think it is the perfect ending, as it evokes shimmering summer, bringing us out of the cold, dark winter, into the light. From its false start to its abrupt ending, it has quickly become a cherished favourite of mine.

50 Words For Snow may have been one of the fastest albums Kate has ever made, but it in no way feels like a rush job. It is the work of a maestro, an artist in total control of their craft. Even in the 80 degree heat of an L.A. "winter", I can put the album on and feel the icy wind and the touch of a snowflake on my cheek.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #5 - Directing

"Sometimes stepping back one step can allow you to take two forward, and in a funny way that's what's happened."

Kate Bush decided to give herself a "do-over" and re-record a number of songs from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes to create a new album, Director's Cut. Perhaps we have Bertie to thank for Kate opening up to her past, surely he must have wanted to see and hear his mother's work?

Whatever the trigger was, I believe this project may have been pivotal in Kate's subsequent decision to return to the live stage after 35 years. Previously, she had quickly dismissed her past material, like most artists only hearing what she considered its flaws. Now she realised that she could reclaim her work and revise it, allowing it to live again in the present. In particular there are two tracks on Director's Cut that lead me to believe that while we may know the songs Kate chooses to perform in Before The Dawn, it might take us a while to recognise some of them.

The original This Woman's Work was a fairly traditional Kate composition; piano-centred, with subtle orchestration and a perfect pop length of 3' 35''. The director's cut added three minutes, lost the piano and the strings and replaced them with delicate, barely there electronica. This is a remake, not a re-edit. While obviously still about the same subject matter, it evokes a totally different mood and emotional response to the original. It is reflective and soulful, a meditation rather than the dramatic underscoring of the original. It is a clear symbol of how Kate has evolved as an artist, but it is also a beacon showing that her past, present and future are part of a continuum.

Moments Of Pleasure was also a traditional Kate song in its original form. To Kate this is a celebratory song about the joy that loving other human beings brings into our lives, while recognising that this opens us up to equally great hurt. This director's cut does not at first appear to be quite as radical. The piano is still there at the centre of things, though now it is softer, pauses and plays at tangents. Kate chooses not to sing the line "just being alive can really hurt", replacing it with a choral hum from an ethereal choir. It is a deconstruction of the original, respectful of its heritage, but brave enough to jettison everything but the core elements of the song that are needed to convey its meaning.

It's possible that Kate may have decided to similarly reimagine other songs from her past for her live concerts. If Director's Cut proves anything, it is that she is more than comfortable with the artist she has become, separate from trends, image, expectations. If Kate decides to revisit her older material in the shows, I expect she will want it to reflect who she is now, not try and recapture an echo of her past. Am I the only one excited by that prospect? Given the warm reception given to Director's Cut, I imagine I'm not...

If you would like to know my thoughts on the rest of Director's Cut, then read my earlier blog where I compare each track with its forebear: Unfinished Business.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #6 - Understanding

Aerial, Kate Bush's first album in twelve years, had firmly reestablished her as a force in music. It sold well over a million copies and was almost universally critically acclaimed. Fans wondered what was next. We knew Kate would disappear for a while to recharge her batteries, but for how long? In her Mojo interview from the December 2005 issue, when asked when the next album might appear, she answered:

"Yeah, I thought I'd do two next year... Two in one year. That would really surprise them, wouldn't it?"

Of course we all laughed, while secretly thinking "you did it in 1978...". In the end Kate would disappear for five and a half years. Then on 11 March 2011 the announcement was made that a new album was about to be released . Well, I say "new". The press release stated:

On “Directors Cut” Kate revisits a selection of tracks from her albums “The Sensual World” and “The Red Shoes”, a process that presents a fascinating portrait of an artist in a constant state of evolution. She has re-recorded some elements whilst keeping the best musical performances of each song – making it something of a director’s cut but in sound, not vision.

For an artist that had to be forced to release a greatest hits compilation and who has stated that she never listens to her old work, this came as a total surprise. The press release went on to say that Kate was currently working on new material, though no release date had been set. This all took a while to sink in. Fans did not know how to react. Of course it was amazing to have Kate back again, but re-recording songs that many of us held sacred? I, for one, trusted that Kate must have a purpose in doing this, a need to resolve a period of frustration and disappointment in her career, before feeling free to move forward. I believe American therapists call this "closure".

Before the album appeared, as always there was a single released. Deeper Understanding originally appeared on The Sensual World in 1989 and told the story of a lonely individual who found love from a computer program. This was pre-Internet, pre-Facebook, and when only around 15% of homes had a computer. Spooky! Heard today the song changes from speculative fiction (thank you Norn) to social commentary.

Ironically, when Kate first recorded the song she couldn't quite achieve the computer voice she wanted, as the technology wasn't there. That annoyance made it a prime candidate for a director's cut. This time the computer was played by Kate's son, Bertie. The song was also 50% longer, fitting Kate's new style of letting the music breathe. It was a remarkable transformation and fully justified the premise of the album. This was clearly the vision she had intended for the song, finally realised.

Kate also returned to directing film with this project, recruiting Robbie Coltrane, Noel Fielding and Frances Barber to appear in a video for the song.

I was fully persuaded that Kate was right to breathe new life into these old songs. I couldn't wait to hear what she'd done with the others...

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #7 - Masterpiece

"I suppose really, it's very much to do with the idea of birdsong... I like the idea of these things that are different languages from use of words... I think what I find interesting about it too, is the way that they mark the day. Like, for instance, the dawn chorus - they seem to be very strongly connected with light... 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."

When Kate Bush released Aerial in November 2005, her first album in twelve years, I took the week off work. I was outside HMV at 9am that Monday morning, I think I bought four or five copies. One to play, one to keep sealed, one for the car, one for my partner, one just in case. The joy of holding in my hands the physical object was so intense, knowing that it contained such riches within. I got home, put the kettle on, unplugged the phone, drew the curtains and popped in disc one (it was a double album; twice the pleasure). I had heard a lot of those tracks already thanks to radio previews, but of course they were only just beginning to take root in my soul. I composed myself and, after a suitable period of reflection (i.e. about thirty seconds) I put in disc two...

Mummy... Daddy... the day is full of birds...

A bird speaks, a child listens, trying to understand. A summer afternoon, playing, listening, serenading.

We're gonna be laughing about this

The light, here, on this day, unique. Here for a moment, then lost forever. Traces of memories, other vistas, other lands. What a lovely afternoon.

Lines like these have got to be an architect's dream

The act of creation, so tenuous, so fleeting. Accidental genius. A flick of the wrist, magic. Capturing the light. Always changing.

So all the colours run

Rain. The paint runs, the colours merge. See what they have become.

Every sleepy light must say goodbye to the day before it dies...

The light is beginning to fade. Crimson. Red. Rust. Shadows grow longer. That blackbird, is it singing, or conjuring? This light is leaving, but this is only the start of its journey, out into the stars. But for us, it is a goodbye.

This is where the shadows come to play 'twixt the day and night

The day slips away, the night arrives. But not quite yet. There is a moment when both coexist, where there is endless possibility, where the balance of light and dark is acknowledged and embraced.

We stand in the Atlantic and we become panoramic

But the night isn't about darkness; it's about light. Celestial. Ancient. Distant. Sweeping. Just reach up and touch it. This day's light is on its journey to greet the stars. And now another breaks on the horizon. A sea of honey. A sky of honey. And all the dreamers are waking.

All of the birds are laughing, come on let's all join in

Light is noisy. Disruptive. The birds are talking about it. What language is that? I want to understand. Perhaps if I climb up on the roof they'll tell me. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

A Sky Of Honey is simply Kate's masterpiece. Song-suite, concept piece, call it what you will, it is 42 minutes of utter genius. Kate was unhappy about splitting it into tracks when the album was first released and she is right. This has to be consumed whole: each movement builds on the other, interweaved, deliciously complex and layered. This is music for the ages. In decades to come people will talk about this in the same breath as a Mozart symphony. It defines what it is possible to create through song at this point in our history.

After that first playback I just sat stunned, my ears crying in gratitude for what they'd been given. Thank goodness I'd booked the whole week off work. Cup of tea, then back to disc one...

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #8 - Glorious

"I used to really like the double albums I bought of artists that I loved. It wasn't in a way so directly connected with you spending money on an object. It was somehow more of an artistic statement... What is quite nice for me doing the two discs, is it allows me to play with the semi-classical style which I like - space and acoustic music - but also the band-based stuff with lots of drums."

You have to hand it to Kate Bush. If you're going to leave a twelve-year gap between album releases, then returning with a double album set that clocks in at over 80 minutes is a good way of compensating for your absence. Like Hounds Of Love before it, Aerial is one part traditional album of individual songs, one part a thematic song suite. They were respectively subtitled A Sea Of Honey and A Sky Of Honey.

Kicking off the album was the hit single King Of The Mountain, which we learnt had actually been recorded sometime in the mid-1990s. When heard in the context of the album that makes sense, as it seems closer to Kate's work on The Red Shoes than what we soon found was an altogether different approach to songwriting she had explored on the more recent tracks.

On π, Kate experimented with singing numbers rather than words, telling the story of a man obsessed with calculating that mathematical constant. The music is gloriously cyclical and shimmery, providing a perfect setting for the calculation that she takes to well over 100 decimal places. Kate somehow imbues the numbers with real feeling, ensuring the track never feels like a gimmick. It is a rare example of art and science combining to create something unique and special.

If any fans were still questioning why Kate had been away so long, then the next track would surely silence even the most cynical voice. Bertie is simply the most beautiful outpouring of love from a mother to her child. Of course this is Kate Bush, so the song is written in the Renaissance style, with suitably period instruments. Glorious.

I remember having a conversation with someone about Mrs. Bartolozzi. It went along the lines of:

HIM: I can't get into the new material. Take that one about washing machines, who wants to listen to a song about laundry?

ME: That song isn't about laundry. Madonna has a new disco album out, you might want to try that.

I guess some people's minds can't escape the literal. Only Kate could find poetry, drama and mystery in the spin cycle.

I'm not entirely sure whether How To Be Invisible is fictional, or whether Kate truly has learnt the spell that allows you to vanish. Someday I plan to gather the ingredients she suggests and find out. If anyone does know the secret, it would be her.

Sometimes you hear something on a Kate Bush track and you just know that nobody else on the planet would do that. Joanni is incredibly atmospheric, conjuring battlefields, cannons, smoke and war, with Joan of Arc standing resolute amongst it all. Towards the end, the song melds into what I can only describe as a Muppet chorus. It is completely barking. It is completely brilliant. Only Kate.

The final track on A Sea Of Honey is, in my view, one of the most startling and brilliant compositions in all of popular music. A Coral Room begins like a classic Kate piano ballad, but it is an evolutionary step in her songwriting. Kate takes a simple remembrance of her mother and creates a tapestry of emotions, images, memories, questions and notions in both words and melody. It is like she is mainlining emotion. Halfway through listening to this song for the first time, from nowhere I just burst into tears; an instinctual response, not an intellectual one. If Kate had delivered just this one song after twelve years, it would have been enough.

So, as usual, Kate had treated us to a very diverse range of subjects and styles on the first half of Aerial. There was a marked difference in sound and song structure compared to her previous albums. There was more space, more time taken, the songs are allowed to breathe and develop without the pressure of being "radio friendly". It was clear Kate had not stood still as an artist or tried to recapture how things were before. This time it felt like she was finally making an album for herself, with no compromises. And the best was yet to come...

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Monday, August 18, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #9 - Happy

“I have been genuinely touched by the sense of anticipation I've felt from people. I feel really privileged that people have been waiting.”

Good things come to those who wait. Never has that proverb felt truer than on 31 August 2005 when, after twelve long years, EMI announced that Kate Bush would be releasing a new album. More than that, it was going to be a double album! It was called Aerial and we only had to wait another two and a bit months till we got our hands on it. There was also a single, King Of The Mountain, which would be out in late October. Those two months dragged by so slowly...

In the event we got to hear the single much sooner than that. It's world premiere was on Ken Bruce's morning show on BBC Radio 2, Wednesday 21 September. I was meant to be at work, but there was no way on earth I was missing the chance to hear the first new Kate Bush song in over a a decade. I had a "meeting" I told my boss. I didn't tell him the meeting was in my living room with Radio 2...

I've tried before to describe the feeling of of hearing a new Kate Bush song for the first time. This time the anticipation was even more intense, given the long, long wait. Every sense on high alert, every nerve ending tingling. Your heart beats faster, you have to control your breathing. It is like waiting for the most amazing surprise gift, with all the anxieties that go along with that. What is it? Will you like it? Did they keep the receipt? Ok, maybe not exactly like that. It's impossible to explain unless there's an artist you love that much, when hearing their latest material will forever alter the soundtrack to your life.

Suddenly the song was announced in Ken's soothing brogue and the first notes appeared. The opening was wonderfully eerie, spooky even. Then Kate started singing... or actually mumbling. Ok, that's odd. Then a kicking drum beat takes us into the chorus. Elvis! Oh, ok, the song's about Elvis and she's impersonating his singing style. Brilliant. Would never have guessed that one in a million years. Rosebud! Hmm, a Citizen Kane reference... another exquisite Bushian mystery to unravel...

Repeated listens that night revealed more layers. In a long telephone conference with Amanda we attempted to decode some of Kate's cryptography. Thankfully, this was Kate's first release in the Internet age, and fans swooped onto online forums to swap theories and interpretations about the song's meaning. Of course the wonderful thing about art is that there are no wrong interpretations. Everyone will respond to a piece in their own way and take their own meaning from it. I quickly understood King Of The Mountain was Kate exploring what it must have been like to have been as famous as Elvis and have to deal with all the weirdness that comes with celebrity and riches on that scale. That she imagined the King living on happily in anonymity says a great deal about how Kate herself views celebrity.

The single charted at number 4, a strong signal that it was not just the fans who had missed Kate. It was a powerful return after such a prolonged absence. Those twelve years melted away the second I heard that voice again. I was a happy man.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #10 - Missing

From the fans' viewpoint, nothing seemed odd about Kate Bush disappearing again after completing the promotional rounds for The Red Shoes. We were pretty settled into a pattern of an album every three or four years and not much word inbetweeen. The first signs that this break might be a little longer than usual came in December 1995 when Kate told us, via the Kate Bush Club (KBC) newsletter, that she was had been "taking time off work this year".

Still, she had found time to record a song for a compilation of traditional Irish music, compiled by Donal Lunny, Common Ground. Kate sang Mná na hÉireann, which translates as "Woman of Ireland", in the original Gaelic and it is magical to hear.

Then more silence. During 1996 Kate recorded some backing vocals for a Prince track, My Computer, and created a 18" bronze sculpture, called Strange Fruit in honour of Billie Holiday, for the War Child charity auction.

Next word came in May 1997, again through the KBC. Kate's message said:

"Just thought I'd let you know I've had a lovely break away from work - I feel energized and I'm just starting to write again (early days yet so please don't hold your breath)... the artist formerly known as Kate Bush is still Kate Bush and is alive and kicking!"

Rumours began to circulate that same year that a new album was nearing completion, even track names like Round In My Mirror and Open Your Sight were mentioned by fans who had cornered Dave Gilmour in a music shop. By late 1998 nothing had appeared and Kate's people would only say there would be something, sometime, but not in the immediate future.

Autumn 1999 brought us the news Kate had completed a track for Disney's movie Dinosaur (see #22 for details of what happened there). The Homeground fanzine, always a cautious and reliable source of information definitively stated that Kate had begun writing and demoing songs for a new album. While this was thrilling news, that still sounded like very early days on a Kate project.

Kate's fans felt her absence more keenly with each passing year; it just felt like something important was missing from our lives. Then in July 2000, after some particularly unpleasant newspaper coverage, we finally heard from Kate again, this time with an explanation that made perfect sense:

"A number of inaccurate comments have been made about me in recent articles which I am taking further. I just want everyone to know I am very happy and proud to have such a beautiful son, Bertie - he is absolutely gorgeous. Far from being secretive, I am just trying to be a good protective mother and give him as normal a childhood as possible whilst preserving his privacy - surely everyone can understand that. I am having great fun being a Mother as well as working on a new album."

It was a surprise to find out Kate had a child, but what wonderful news. Her priorities were absolutely right, of course. An album can wait, you only get one shot at childhood. What was most important was that Kate was happy, now we no longer had to worry about that.

The following year Q magazine honoured Kate with a Classic Songwriter award at their annual event. She also gave her first interview for eight years, where she revealed how low she felt after the last album and, in her view, the failure of The Line, The Cross And The Curve. Thankfully that was all behind her now. At the awards ceremony Kate recevied an ecstatic standing ovation from the celebrity crowd. It was clear her absence had not dimmed her legacy. Her opening line in her acceptance speech is a classic Kate moment:

Kate was further honoured at the 2002 Ivor Novello awards, she was given the PRS Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. Given Kate sees herself foremost as a songwriter, these awards must have felt very special. So we knew Kate was happy, we knew she was back working and we'd seen her out in public again looking radiant. The new album must be right around the corner then...

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #11 - Happening

On a rainy November Saturday in 1993, Amanda and I were back in London on another Kate Bush-related mission. Premiering as part of the 37th London Film Festival was Kate's first ever short film, a modern fairytale called, The Line, The Cross And The Curve.

Kate had decided that instead of a tour, she would put her energies into making a mini-musical structured around songs from The Red Shoes album. Given her growing interest in directing, it was a natural progression for her to attempt a longer piece. Kate managed to pull the whole production together in just a few short months.

The film starred Kate as a dancer, who feels insecure about her talent. One night, while alone in her studio, she is visited by a strange woman, played by Miranda Richardson, who is distraught and desperate to find her way home. She persuades Kate to draw her a line, a cross and a curve, then offers a gift in thanks...

A mysterious man, played by Kate's dance and movement mentor, Lindsay Kemp, assists Kate in finding her way home, by singing back the symbols the stranger has stolen from her.

In the end, Kate is able to win back her path, her heart and her smile from the stranger and make it back to her studio in one piece.

The film's premiere, in the Odeon West End in Leicester Square, was a hugely exciting event. Kate's film was part of a double bill with the Wallace and Gromit adventure The Wrong Trousers, which had the audience in hysterics. Talk about a hard act to follow. Kate attended the event and was seated just a few rows in front of us. It was surreal to say the least! Kate shared a few words with the audience before the film screened.

Given the extreme time pressures Kate was under, the finished film is a real achievement. There are plenty of interesting visual ideas and no lack of ambition, though inevitably time and budget pressures limited that somewhat. Miranda and Lindsay are wonderful, as you would expect, and Kate gives a strong, emotional performance, even if she seems more comfortable singing than delivering dialogue.

Of course, the film industry is a tough arena, and critics were largely unimpressed, dismissing it as an extended music video.Kate, always her own harshest critic, took the negative response to heart. Interviewed by Q magazine in 2001, she said:

"I shouldn't have done it... I was so tired. I'm very pleased with four minutes of it, but I'm very disappointed with the rest. I let down people like Miranda Richardson who worked so hard on it. I had the opportunity to do something really interesting and completely blew it.. It dissipated my energy severely and threw me into a state of sever exhaustion. You just get worn down."

Fans, of course, disagree with Kate's brutal assessment. By any objective measure, there is much to enjoy in the film. It is not surprising though, given everything she had been through over the preceding few years, that Kate was emotionally and physically exhausted. What she needed was a good long break...

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Friday, August 15, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #12 - Healing

As if recording The Red Shoes wasn't enough work, Kate Bush also managed to squeeze in two contrasting cover versions for other projects during this period.

The first was another contribution to a tribute album, this time a joint celebration of the composer George Gershwin and the celebrated harmonica player, Larry Adler. The Glory Of Gershwin, featured another stellar line-up, including Elton John, Peter Gabriel, Carly Simon and Sting. The sessions were produced by the legendary Beatles producer, George Martin. Kate chose to perform a true classic, The Man I Love, and again her track was selected to be the first single released to promote the album.

It was refreshing to hear Kate sing a standard. I sometimes think that so much attention is placed on her songwriting and producing, her extraordinary vocal talents are overlooked. Here she proves that she is a world class interpreter of song.

The other track Kate recorded was destined to feature on her friend Davy Spillane's album, A Place Among The Stars. Of all the songs you might expect Kate to cover, Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing is probably not the first track that would spring to mind. Kate gave a suitably sensual performance, again showing the versatility of that voice, while Davy's uilleann pipes add to a completely unique revision of the song.

When Davy's album appeared in stores in August 1994, Kate's track was nowhere to be found. Apparently the record company didn't think the song fitted the album. While you have to admire their artistic integrity, you surely must question their commercial nous. Davy gave Kate the rights to the track and it would be eleven long years before it was officially released.

Although I expect Kate will never do a whole album of cover versions, it is always interesting and surprising when she decides to reimagine songs written by other people. Regardless of the style, age or subject of the original song, they always end up sounding uniquely Kate.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #13 - Red

"My original intention was to make it an album of "songs". No thematic approaches, to try to be more direct with lyrics and the production, to try to be more simple... I think it is obviously a personal album but I also feel it has a sense of humour and a playful quality and that amongst some sad songs, the message is one of the fun and joy of life, of trying to make the most of it, which is always best felt when reminded of life's tragedies."

It would be fair to say that Kate Bush's original plans for her seventh studio album didn't quite work out as she'd intended. In 1990 she'd publicly stated that she wanted to make a more straightforward collection of songs, that could be played live on tour, with both projects happening in late 1991.

Then, as always with the best laid plans, life interrupted. Kate's beloved mother, Hannah, fell ill and would eventually pass away on Valentine's day in 1992. This was an additional painful loss for Kate, who was already grieving for Alan Murphy and Gary Hurst. Kate somehow continued working, and the resulting album bears those traces of grief, but also has flashes of love and happiness.

Naming the album The Red Shoes might give the false impression this was another concept piece. Perhaps a more illustrative title track would be Kate's very adult rumination on life, love and loss; And So Is Love. Instead of histrionics at the end of a relationship, Kate is all restraint, taking a realistic look at how age and experience alters love. That is until she lets out a searing cry of anguish that still makes me gasp when I hear it. Eric Clapton's gorgeous guitar combines perfectly with Kate's voice, adding another layer of emotional resonance to the song. Here is Kate in her last appearance on the classic UK chart show Top Of The Pops.

The Red Shoes has a long list of talented guest artists. Along with Clapton, Jeff Beck, Gary Brooker, Justin Vali and Trio Bulgarka all made an appearance. There was one collaboration in particular that created great anticipation and excitement. On a trip to Wembley Arena to see Prince, ostensibly as a scouting mission for possible tour venues, Kate was handed a note from the purple one, which said he loved her music and would keep on "checking her out" if she continued to "check him out". Kate decided she would do just that and got his agreement to work on a track for the new album. She sent him the rough demo of a track called Why Should I Love You, which at that point sounded like this:

Prince took her request to add some funk to the track a little too literally. He had been asked to add a guitar part, but basically deconstructed the whole thing and sent back a very Princely take on the song. Kate loved parts of what Prince did, but wanted the song to in some way resemble what she'd originally written. She painstakingly remade it, bringing in Lenny Henry to add some surprisingly soulful backing vocals. I remember when I heard the album for the first time being astonished by this collaboration. From the heavenly entry with the Trio Bulgarka through to the riotously brilliant throwdown at the track's climax, this sounded like a number one single to me.

The Red Shoes hinted at the heartache Kate had been through, but also revealed how she was finding solace through her music. The wide-eyed teenager we met on The Kick Inside had grown into a grounded, resolute, yet still exuberant woman. This is an album for grown-ups, who know that life can sometimes be sad, that being alive can really hurt, but know these moments given are a gift from time.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #14 - Bouncing

As a music addict who was also once involved on the retail side, I have always been interested in how an artist chooses to market their work. It is a pretty universal rule that ahead of an album, you release your strongest and/or most radio-friendly track as a single. The hope is that you will have a big hit, which will then translate to interest in the album and, most importantly, more sales. So selecting which song should be an album's cheerleader can be a tricky task. It clearly was for Kate Bush when it came to selecting the first single from The Red Shoes.

When the official release was finally announced, the plan was for Eat The Music to be the first single. In the UK, EMI duly sent out promo copies and began pressing the single.

Then, at the eleventh hour, Kate changed her mind. EMI tried to recall all the copies of Eat The Music it had sent out and halted the presses, but seventeen 7" singles escaped. These precious discs are by far the most desirable Kate collectable. It is on my eternal Christmas list! 

The song itself is a bouncy little number, with Kate using fruit as a metaphor as she explores love, relationships and all the squishiness that implies. Kate's brother, Paddy, had introduced her to Madacasgan music and their national instrument, the valiha, is prominently featured on the track. The rhythms are very unusual to a Western ear and perhaps that's why Kate thought it might be risky as a single. Eat The Music remained, as planned, the first single in the USA and would eventually get released in other territories (but not the UK), including with a scratch and sniff sleeve in Australia!

Kate had been playing the new album to friends and they had been taken with a jolly number that opened the album, called Rubberband Girl.

EMI scrambled to change their promotional plans, which might explain how this curiosity ended up being sent out to radio stations a few weeks before release...

When we finally got to hear the song itself, it had a pretty straightforward (by Kate's standards) band sound. The lyrics were a witty musing on how hard it is to stand by your beliefs, when it's so much easier to bend your will and, well, twang like a rubber band. Kate made a special music video of the song for the US market, which is perhaps the closest we'll ever get to seeing her as a rock chick!

The song peaked at number 12 on the UK charts, a respectable showing. We had now heard three wildly different tracks from the forthcoming album, Kate was clearly in an experimental mood. No change there then...

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #15 - Pleasure

In early 1993 Kate Bush fans were getting twitchy, with rumours circulating that a new album was imminent. Now "imminent" in Kate-land means "anytime in the next five years", but still we began to get excited. It had been four years since The Sensual World, but we'd had a box set and Rocket Man to keep us going in the meantime. Plus we knew Kate albums arrived in the autumn, so no need to panic just yet...

Then in June we got word that Kate was going to be on TV, back to chat with her old pal Michael Aspel on his popular ITV chat show. How odd we thought, as no release dates for a single or the album had yet been set. So on that Sunday night we settled down in front of the telly, both the living room and the bedroom VCRs set to record, just in case, and waited for Kate.

It all seemed too good to be true, as along with Kate the guests were Victoria Wood and Lenny Henry. I had to check several times I was not asleep, dreaming all this. Victoria was on first, then Kate, looking happy and relaxed. Of course Kate was asked all the usual questions, but she handled it well, with a little help from Victoria...

At the end of the show it was time for Kate to sing. It is always a heartstopping moment when I get to hear a new Kate song, but nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to hear...

Moments Of Pleasure is without doubt one of Kate's greatest songs. Musically it is mainly one repeating theme that works on you like an enchantment. The lyrics are reminiscences mixed with remembrances and it holds you on the brink of melancholy before grabbing you back into a warm hug. The song's purpose slowly becomes apparent. It is a homage to those she has loved and lost - Alan Murphy, Gary Hurst, Bill Duffield and, most recently, her mother, Hannah. To say I was a weeping mess by the end of it is an understatement.

So Kate was back once more and, as always, she had brought us something truly special. Now we only had a few short months to wait for the promised album... something about shoes...

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Monday, August 11, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #16 - Rocketing

"When I was asked to be involved in this project and was given the choice of a track it was like being asked 'would you like to fulfill a dream? Would you like to be a Rocket Man?'... yes, I would."

We all have our heroes, you probably can't guess who mine is. For Kate Bush, one of the people she most admires is Elton John. It's not hard to see the attraction. As a young girl banging out songs on the piano she must felt an affinity with Elton, who was one of the few pop stars whose work centred around the keyboard. His flair as a performer must also have attracted Kate's eye.

In 1991, Elton John was celebrating his 25-years of collaboration with his songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin. One of the ways this was marked was a new compilation album of leading recording artists covering songs by the pair, to be called Two Rooms, an allusion to the fact that they always worked apart. Kate was approached to take part and given her choice of track. Her favourite Elton song was Rocket Man, which made that a very simple decision.

Kate has rarely covered songs by other artists, which is not that surprising given she sees herself primarily as a songwriter. She once said that if you're going to cover a song, you should try and make it different to the original. As she began working on her version of Rocket Man, the chords seemed to be pulling her into previously uncharted territory... reggae!

Here is Kate debuting her take on Rocket Man on, where else, Wogan. If you're wondering what the candle on the chair symbolises, it represents guitarist Alan Murphy, who sadly passed away not long after recording his contribution to this track.

Kate's track was chosen to be the lead single to promote Two Rooms and so she also recorded Elton's most famous song to go on the B-side. Here is Kate's haunting version of Candle In The Wind.

So Kate got to fulfill a childhood dream and became a Rocket Man. Who knows, one day she might even get to work with Elton himself...

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #17 - Trivia

There is an unofficial title that I have claimed for me and my friend Amanda - Kate Bush World Trivia Champions. How dare we lay claim to such a boast you cry? Well my friends, let me take you back to a late autumn day in 1990, where over 1200 fans gathered at the Hammersmith Palais for the Kate Bush Convention, organised by Kate's official fan club and the Homeground gang. What a day that was. We had fans doing live performances of Kate back catalogue, both song and dance. There was a special video showing highlights of Kate's career.There were raffles and there was a quiz... but more on that in a bit.

The undisputed highlight of the day though was when Kate herself appeared! She had agreed to do a question and answer session and everyone duly wrote some queries down on bits of paper. Kate sat on stage on a small, comfy-looking sofa. She stayed for about an hour, answering questions on everything from supermarket shopping (it freaks her out, apparently) to her recent foray into acting. She looked happy and relaxed and we all managed to remain relatively calm and upright.

Then came the big announcement... Kate was going back on tour! From her own mouth she told us she was planning some live dates towards the end of 1991. There was also to be a new album around the same time, which would take her back to her roots of writing piano-based songs, easier to play live. Every... jaw... dropped.

The atmosphere was electric, as you can imagine. Then Kate asked us to observe a short period of silence to remember her two friends, Alan Murphy and Gary Hurst, who had sadly died from AIDS-related illnesses. We all knew how much they had contributed to Kate's work and we felt the loss as well. Then, Kate began to sing.

To the tune of My Lagan Love, Kate sang a song of love to her fans. It went like this:

For so many things you give me
It means so much to be with you here
To see your smiling faces
To see you all
Here in this hall
It fills my heart with joy
God bless you all
Goodbye for now
Until we meet again

It was a truly unbelievable event. The thing that made it extra special was the fact that our team, Rebel Freaks Anonymous, won the trivia quiz! We were the only team to get 20/20, even Kate's brother and partner didn't get that many right. Most of the credit goes to Amanda, who went into a strange, almost catatonic state from which she channeled us some very elusive answers. Our prize was a personally signed box set of Kate's complete works. It is my most treasured possession.

Just to prove it was no fluke, Amanda, myself and two new team members repeated the feat at the 1994 convention, although this time we "only" got 17/20. So there you go: we are the undefeated and undisputed Kate Bush World Trivia Champions!

Ah, that 1991 album and tour... how amazing they were... What do you mean it was all a dream!

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #18 - Comic

Kate Bush is a big fan of British comedy, so it is perhaps not surprising that in the early 1990s she became involved with one of the leading groups in the new wave of alternative comedians: The Comic Strip. Kate had asked one of their founding members, Peter Richardson, to direct her video for The Sensual World, realising it would be hard to do it herself when she was in virtually every shot. Kate and Peter hit it off and he asked if she would write the music for an episode of their new series of The Comic Strip Presents...

The episode was called GLC: The Carnage Continues... and was a fictional retelling of the real-life political battle between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Ken Livingstone, the leader of the Greater London Council (GLC), known in the press as "Red Ken". The Comic Strip reimagined this battle of wills as a Hollywood movie, so the comedians played movie stars playing the real-life politicians. For example, Jennifer Saunders played Brigitte Nielsen playing Thatcher, while Robbie Coltrane played Charles Bronson playing Ken.

Kate created a number of incidental music pieces for the episode, as well as a theme song for the hero of the piece, which she titled Ken. It's fair to say it was a departure from her usual style...

Peter also asked Kate if she fancied an acting role in another episode. She said "yes". Kate appeared in the episode Les Dogs, playing a bride who was having an affair with Peter's character.

It is a highly surreal story, with Peter's character recalling the affair as he clings to life after being involved in a car accident. Here are Kate's best bits.

Kate's final contribution to The Comic Strip was another song. She provided the closing theme for a Christmas special called Wild Turkey, where a turkey that's about to become Christmas dinner takes a family hostage. Being a festive episode, Kate wrote a brief, but heartwarming ditty: Home For Christmas.

I'm sure Kate got a kick out of her work with The Comic Strip. She was able to flex her creative muscles in a different way and leave her small mark on the history of British comedy.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

50 Words For Kate: #19 - Trio

One thing is guaranteed about a new Kate Bush album: you will always hear something uniquely wonderful. Kate has always enjoyed experimenting with older or unusual instruments and styles, many of which stem from folk traditions around the world. Kate's brother Paddy was often the source of these discoveries and it was he who introduced Kate to a singing group from Bulgaria, known as Trio Bulgarka.

Kate was incredibly moved by their music, which sounds completely alien to a Western ear. She wondered if she could find a way to include them in her own music. Here's Kate to explain what happened:

Trio Bulgarka would eventually contribute to three songs on The Sensual World. Kate was seeking to create a female energy on the album, and Trio Bulgarka certainly provided something special in that regard. Their sound is indeed shocking to the unfamiliar, it is like nothing I had heard before. Kate found a way to combine them into the songs so that they become more instruments than voices. It is like spirits breaking in from another dimension. I was completely blown away when I first heard those three tracks and still tingle every time those voices appear.

Kate employed the Trio in a different way on each track. First they were the angelic voice of a mysterious computer program that made you fall in love on Deeper Understanding. Then they underlined the pain of unrequited love in Never Be Mine. Their finest moment has to be on Kate's imagining of what it must be like to be a firework. Rocket's Tail just couldn't exist without the Trio Bulgarka. Kate managed to create a song that perfectly blended the West and the East, creating something simply extraordinary. The combination of these women's voices is a jewel in the history of popular music.

Of all Kate's musical collaborations, none has excited me as much as her work with Trio Bulgarka. It opened my mind and ears to a musical inheritance I might otherwise have never discovered.

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