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Kate Bush 

As much a reluctant star today as she was in her formative child prodigy days in the mid-70s, the talented singer-songwriter/pianist/dancer KATE BUSH has lost none of her lyrical mysticism and prowess. A sensual and sophisticated lady with a high-pitched larynx that could strip paint, her enigmatic and independent approach to the fickle music industry, has produced a raft of hit singles (complete with kooky videos) and several top-selling albums.
Born Catherine Bush, 30th July 1958, Bexleyheath in Kent, she took up the piano, perfecting her craft in an unused barn at the back of her parents’ house, while at the tender age of 15. Discovered by a family acquaintance, Ricky Hopper, she was encouraged to send a demo tape to PINK FLOYD musician, DAVID GILMOUR, who was impressed enough to recommended her to his bosses at E.M.I.; she was handed a development contract and a tidy advance for one so young; in the meantime, she formed her own K.T. Bush combo with brother Paddy and future boyfriend Del Palmer. Nurtured carefully as she was guided through lessons on dance, mime and theatre, armed with a stockpile of over 100 songs, as well as getting the best results from her unique vocal, 1977 was the year that she was booked into the Abbey Road studios.
Things couldn’t have got off to a better start, when, in early ’78, her classic Emily Bronte-inspired `Wuthering Heights’ warbled its way to the top of the UK charts. The single announced the arrival of a distinctively original talent, a swooping, soaring epic of a track which fully exhibited BUSH’s stunning four-octave vocal range. Her accompanying parent debut album, THE KICK INSIDE {*8} followed the piercing platter into the Top 3 almost immediately; the singer’s ambitious, idiosyncratic brand of art-rock set to probing, intelligent and often fantastical lyrics. A second hit, the melodious ballad `The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ (written when she only 12), also reached Top 10 status, while the romantically and austere album itself boasted cathartic introspections in `Them Heavy People’, `Moving’, `Oh To Be In Love’, the quirky `Kite’ and a song apparently about a sexual experience, `Feel It’.
With just about the same backing from brother Paddy (mandolin, etc.), the aforementioned Del (bass), Brian Bath and Ian Bairnson (guitars), Stuart Elliott (drums), Duncan Mackay (keyboards), the hastily-recorded Top 10 follow-up album, LIONHEART (1978) {*6} took a bit of a pounding from several critics – and America just didn’t get her. Okay, this set of songs were probably from her next-best batch, and her childhood played a big part in songs such as `In Search Of Peter Pan’ (interpolating a piece of “Wish Upon A Star”), `Kashka From Baghdad’ and `Oh England My Lionheart’ would testify. And while `Wow’ climbed to the higher regions of the chart, the self-indulgent `Hammer Horror’, er… sucked.
KATE BUSH subsequently undertook her first and only tour, the experience proving so trying that she’d later keep her promotional work to a minimum. This freed her up to concentrate on lavish videos, characterised by her inspired eccentricity and imaginative choreography; she’d appear live again only once at the perennial “Secret Policeman’s Third Ball”, in 1987.
Fuelled by the Top 5 success of the sassy `Babooshka’, a third set NEVER FOR EVER (1980) {*6} became her first chart-topping album, the record spawning further hits in `Army Dreamers’ and the bizarre `Breathing’ (about childbirth during a nuclear war). The latter track’s overtly experimental nature (check out `Blow Away’, `Egypt’ and `The Wedding List’) was carried over into her next album, THE DREAMING (1982) {*7}.
Her first self-produced effort, the record’s intricate inaccessibility and conceptual weirdness tested even her most devoted fans. Very much in the mould of FLEETWOOD MAC’s “Tusk” (complete with poignant percussion), `Sat In Your Lap’ saw her search her soul for angst, while the immediate fall-out from Top 40 exiles, `The Dreaming’ and the poor `There Goes A Tenner’ (featuring animal effects-man Percy Edwards) – plus didgeridoo from Rolf Harris – found her in edgy, daydreaming role-play. Although her “mad album” made the UK Top 3, the record sold relatively poorly abroad and Kate retreated to her newly built, hi-tech home studio to create as near as she could get to a perfect album.
BUSH eventually emerged in summer ‘85 with the hypnotic grace of `Running Up That Hill’, its foghorn-like synth refrain and mature, sensual vocals taking the English chanteuse back into the Top 5 for the first time in five years and even giving her a rare US hit. Spawned from her most revered album to date, HOUNDS OF LOVE (1985) {*8}, was raved over by a wide cross section of critics; BUSH at her creative peak on a record which saw the singer rein in her more wayward tendencies and achieve a perfect balance of melody, drama and mystery. The set spawned a further two Top 20 hits in `Cloudbusting’ (actor Donald Sutherland appeared as her father in the promo video) and the title track, while `The Big Sky’ kept the cosmic concept in upbeat motion. Released to coincide with “The Whole Story” best-off compilation, 1986’s exclusive `Experiment IV’ (flipped with a “new vocal” version of `Wuthering Heights’) came on the back of a major hit duet, `Don’t Give Up’, with her hero PETER GABRIEL.
After this critical and commercial rebirth of sorts, BUSH returned in 1989 with THE SENSUAL WORLD {*8}, a markedly more reflective affair, its title track inspired by the Molly Bloom character in James Joyce’s classic novel, Ulysses. The record narrowly missed the No.1 spot and consolidated Kate’s position as the elder stateswoman (having only just turned 30) of fiercely original femme-pop. Bolstered by ALAN STIVELL, DONAL LUNNY and the Trio Bulgarka, a couple of other songs introduced a folk element into the mix, although Messrs MICHAEL NYMAN, Nigel Kennedy, MICK KARN and her old patron, DAVID GILMOUR (on `Love And Anger’ and `Rocket’s Tail’), maintained her earthy, cathartic approach; the truly beautiful `This Woman’s Work’ hit would later find its purpose for charity TV ads.
A fan of ELTON JOHN’s since his dalliance with glam-rock, BUSH would cover two of his best-known ditties as a double-A single; `Rocket Man’ and `Candle In The Wind’, giving her a Top 30 single toward the fall of ’91. She’s since covered the odd track or two for B-sides: `I’m Still Waiting’ (DIANA ROSS) and more recently, `Sexual Healing’ (MARVIN GAYE).
Though her cinematically-inspired follow-up album, THE RED SHOES (1993) {*7} received a mixed critical reception, the singer remained a towering influence on the time’s more erm… wayward songstresses – step forward TORI AMOS. Bolstered by a stellar cast of stars (JEFF BECK and ERIC CLAPTON performed on guitar), the emotionally-charged Kate was at her best on hits `Rubberband Girl’, the title track, and `Moments Of Pleasure’. The PRINCE-backed `Why Should I Love You?’ and `You’re The One’ (with GARY BROOKER on Hammond organ), were again soul-searching, and given that the set finally broke Kate into the US Top 30, it was a pity that `Eat The Music’ didn’t produce similar results.
But for a collaborative UK Top 30 single, `The Man I Love’, with legendary harmonica-man Larry Adler, she declined almost every invitation to get back on track, leaving it to a raft of followers and rivals, including AMOS, PJ HARVEY and (Alison) GOLDFRAPP, to keep her style of sensuous music alive. Kate wed guitarist Danny McIntosh and subsequently concentrated on domesticity, while raising their son, Albert.
In 2005, a young retro-punk outfit, The FUTUREHEADS, took the UK charts by storm with their re-vamped version of `Hounds Of Love’ – the timing was impeccable. Kate’s recent work-rate may have made DONALD FAGEN look like NEIL YOUNG, but her open-ended schedules certainly created anticipation: when AERIAL {*7} finally arrived in late 2005, the press – not least Mojo who awarded it “instant classic” status – hailed the album as a pop landmark, a flawed double-set in the great British tradition of flawed double sets. Split roughly into meditations on inner and outer worlds, it even came with prog-ish (small “p”) theme titles for each disc: “A Sea Of Honey” and “A Sky Of Honey” respectively.
Lead track/single `King Of The Mountain’ was classic BUSH, but still one of the most unlikely Top 5 hits (the album itself went Top 3), a synth-percolating, back-loaded ELVIS reverie projecting the rocker’s AWOL spirit into snowy, Citizen Kane-referencing seclusion. Now a mother on the cusp of 50, her take on domesticity was never going to be humdrum: `Bertie’ serenaded her son medieval style; `Mrs. Bartolozzi’ re-imagined the minutia of clothes washing as sensuous rite. “A Sea Of Honey” was even riper with possibility, invoking Wordsworth-ian communion and pastoral flight against digitised birdsong and acoustic jazz.
Some six years later, albeit with more than a nod to her previous works, “The Sensual World” and “The Red Shoes” (containing as they did selective re-recording, re-mixes and restructured versions), DIRECTOR’S CUT (2011) {*6} brought about a return to the UK Top 3. The jury was out, if indeed fans thought the record was a much-touted “new” set, as it was issued for her EMI-backed imprint, Fish People. This “proper” comeback would come to fruition half a year later with the Top 5 50 WORDS FOR SNOW (2011) {*8}, an arty, minimalist that verged on chamber-pop. Featuring the IQ compere and acting nobility, Stephen Fry (in his narrative quest to source 50 words from all over the globe), Sir ELTON JOHN (in a duet of Snowed In At Wheeler Street’), plus DANNY THOMPSON on effective bass and Steve Gadd on jazz drums, the results are stark but worthy attempts to integrate Kate as a bona fide avant-garde artist – in much they same way as SCOTT WALKER did so many moons ago. Epic songs split two sections for the accompanying double-vinyl, a deep Kate (even in vox!) produces something akin to JONI MITCHELL incorporating a MICHAEL NYMAN/JOHN CALE cinematic score. Although one might be shocked by her transition into wintry, lifecycle musings, one will find reward and warmth in every track, among them `Snowflake’, `Lake Tahoe’ and `Wild Man’.
On the back of `Running Up That Hill’ making its Top 10 re-appearance via its London Olympics closing ceremony promotion, Kate was subsequently awarded a CBE in the 2013 New Years Honours list.
The following year, Kate announced she would be playing a series of concerts, 22 in all, and all at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. Needless to say, after 35 years away from the live scene, tickets were sold out in around 15 minutes.
Turned into a 3xCD (or 4xLP) set recorded on two nights (August-October 2014), BEFORE THE DAWN {*8} was officially launched into the Top 5 late in 2016. The mother of all gigs depicted in 3 elaborate Acts, her theatrical production and vision transcended extremely well for audio; and with her brothers Paddy and John Carder, guitarist David Rhodes, and seasoned percussionists Omar Hakim and Mino Cinelu at the helm (not forgetting 16-year-old son Albert McIntosh), several of her lesser-known works from `Aerial’ and `50 Words For Snow’ (plus hits from `Hounds Of Love’) were truly inspirational.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/BG-GRD // rev-up MCS Jan2013-Nov2016

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