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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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