Born c. 1959 in Great Britain; daughter of a surgeon; single; one child, Bertie. Education: Attended school in Kent, England. Addresses: Record company--EMI America, c/o CEMA, 1750 N. Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90028. Website--Kate Bush Official Website: http://www.katebush.com.
Much like her British compatriot, Peter Gabriel, to whom she is often compared and with whom she has collaborated on several occasions, Kate Bush is a cult pop-star in the truest sense of the term. With each successive album, her followers become more convincingly hooked, and a handful of new devotees join the growing ranks of her audience. Dark, mysterious, and otherworldly, her highly theatrical musical arrangements are as disturbing as they are beautiful. "In one or two of the American reviews of The Dreaming, " writes Peter Swales in Musician, referring to Bush's 1982 LP, "[her] music was described as schizophrenic--and it seems to me that, in a manner of speaking, [it] does represent a virtual compendium of psychopathology, alternately hysterical, melancholic, psychotic, paranoid, obsessional, and so on." It is an assessment that Bush is not altogether uncomfortable with. "I think that is the most fascinating thing to write about," she told Swales, "the way people distort their attitudes."
But at the heart of this intense, exploratory music is a woman who is very much in control of her art and her life. Since her impressive debut at the age of nineteen with the album The Kick Inside, Bush has shown a maturity far beyond her years, especially in maintaining a firm guard over her private life. "I try very hard to keep privacy in my life," she told Rolling Stone. "I don't see what my private life has got to do with my music. Although obviously there's a lot of me in my music. It's my music I feel I want to give to the world, and not myself."
Elaborate Stage Performances
This distancing of herself from her music may be the most fascinating aspect of Bush's stage performances, which are highly contrived, visual presentations of the stories her songs are telling. Trained in classical dance and mime, Bush is, on stage and in her elaborate videos, more like an opera diva than a pop star. Her costumes and makeup are masks that Bush hides behind as she enters the world of her music. "I don't want to be up there on the stage being me, " she told Swales. "I don't think I'm that interesting. What I want to do is to be the person that's in the song. If I can be the character in the song, then suddenly there's all this strength and energy in me which I wouldn't normally have."
In recent years, Bush has abandoned live performing, however. It is a policy she adheres to despite the objections of her record company, fans, and the music press. "I go straight from an album into making videos, and it's a total involvement for me," Bush told Sheila Rogers of Rolling Stone. "By the time the video and promotion are done for an album, I'm absolutely exhausted; there's nothing left of me.... What matters to me now is spending as much time in the studio as I can, trying to make a good album."
In the studio is where Kate Bush the artist feels most at home; there, she is able to retreat from the circus-like media attention that surrounded her when she burst onto the British music scene in the late 1970s. The first single from The Kick Inside, the fiery "Wuthering Heights," went to number one on the British charts, and Bush was soon overwhelmed by the strange way in which her public persona was manipulated. One sophomoric British tabloid even went so far as to cast Bush in the role of a cute pinup girl. "It became one big promotional public exercise," she told Rolling Stone's Rogers. "I had no control over the situation.... It was exactly not what I wanted." It was not until she acquired her own studio and put up walls around her private life that Bush found her stride again.
But Bush had not entered the music world as a total innocent. Raised in a highly musical family, she was blessed from the outset of her career with a tightly knit support center that helped pave her way to success. Though her father was a surgeon, he also played piano, and Bush's mother was an accomplished Irish dancer. But it was her two brothers, Paddy and John, who probably had the most to do with shaping Bush's musical tastes and bringing her songs to the attention of producers. The brothers, both accomplished musicians and lovers of traditional English and Irish music, gave to their younger sister an appreciation of storytelling in music, as well as exposure to a wide variety of traditional instruments, such as the mandolin, bouzouki, and Celtic harp.
It was Paddy who first introduced Bush to her longtime companion, bassist and engineer Del Palmer. "I'd heard about Kate," Palmer told Musician, "but I'd had this impression that she was older, more mature. At our first rehearsal I felt an emotional involvement right from the word go ... Her songs all started off in a familiar way, but then suddenly they'd leap somewhere completely different and you'd think, 'How could you think of going there?' It was a phenomenon completely different from what anyone else was doing. I've never had any desire to work with anyone else since." Around that time a friend played a couple of Bush's songs for Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, who was impressed to the point that he paid to have three of the songs professionally recorded. The demos led to a recording contract with EMI. "He gave me a pathway through," Bush said of Gilmour in Rolling Stone. The two worked together again in 1989, when Gilmour appeared on Bush's album The Sensual World.
A Polarizing Debut
Released in 1978, Bush's debut album The Kick Inside, polarized critics and listeners. Her amazing vocal range was compared unfavorably to "mating Patti Smith with a Hoover vacuum cleaner" by Rolling Stone Record Guide critic Dave Marsh. Others, however, were enchanted by her voice, which took such feminine topics as menstruation, adolescent sexual and romantic yearnings, and the Emily Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights to nearly mystical heights. Two songs and accompanying videos, "The Man with the Child in His Eyes" and "Wuthering Heights" became huge hits in the United Kingdom, despite her record company's insistence on releasing the song "James and the Cold Gun" as the inaugural single. The nineteen-year-old stuck to her guns, however, and fought for "Wuthering Heights." She told Mojo magazine writer Phil Sutcliffe: "I had a tremendous sense of conviction about it.... How could it possibly be anything other than 'Wuthering Heights'?... This is how it is!" Bob Mercer, the executive confronted by Bush, recalled to Sutcliffe: "She burst into tears. I couldn't deal with that. I said, 'Frankly, I don't think there are any hits on the album, so I'll put "Wuthering Heights' out, it will hit a wall and then you'll understand what I'm talking about.'" Mercer wound up eating his words, and rewarded Bush with an expensive Steinway piano as an apology.
Bush's sophomore effort, Lionheart, sold well, although it is often thought by critics as inferior to The Kick Inside. Following its release, she embarked on her only tour for which she rehearsed for three months of fourteen-hour days with choreographer Antony Van Laast of the London Contemporary Dance Company. The intense workload prompted her to swear off from future tours, including an offer to support Fleetwood Mac on an American tour.
Her third effort, Never for Ever, revealed her newfound fascination with the Fairlight keyboard sampler. She had first encountered the instrument while singing backup on Peter Gabriel's single, "Games without Frontiers." The sampler helped her realize her sonic aspirations with sampled sounds of rifles cocking on "Army Dreamers" and glasses smashing on "Babooshka." Perhaps most notable about Never for Ever was that Bush had begun to feel confident enough to co-produce (with engineer Jon Kelly) for the first time. The album became the first album recorded by a British woman to reach No. 1 in the United Kingdom charts. Her polarizing effect continued unabated as well, as a London Sunday Telegraph poll placed her as both "most liked" and "least liked" woman recording artist.
For 1982's The Dreaming, Bush sat alone in the producer's chair. Songs on the album include a haunting piece told from the point of view of Harry Houdini's wife and a song about the mistreatment of Australian Aborigines. The music was daring and experimental, pushing Bush's voice to unexplored levels and introducing native instruments such as the didgeridoo and Irish pipes. Bush's public, however, was flummoxed by the album and it sold poorly. Down but not out, Bush rebounded in 1985 with the album The Hounds of Love. The release yielded a Top 30 hit single, "Running up that Hill," which was accompanied by an extremely popular video. But Bush is hardly concerned that she is not seen as a superstar in the United States; rather, she is glad for a little anonymity. "It's really nice for me to feel that I'm being seen almost as a new artist by America," she told Rolling Stone. "I like the idea ... of being able to start from a musical base. That's what I've always wanted."
While many critics consider The Hounds of Love Bush's critical apex, she continued to explore different musical forms and ideas on 1989's The Sensual World. The album features guest appearances by the Trio Bulgarka, a vocal group noted for ethereal and otherworldly music. The album also features the single, "This Woman's Work," which was featured in the John Hughes's film, She's Having a Baby and called "her most piercingly beautiful song" by Mojo magazine critic Stuart Williams. The album also features a musical re-imagining of Molly Bloom's reverie from the last chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses. Prior to the release of The Sensual World, she released The Whole Story, which gathered together her most successful singles to date, including a re-recorded version of "Wuthering Heights" and the new song "Experiment IV." The Red Shoes, released in 1993, featured guest appearances by guitarists Eric Clapton, Prince, and Jeff Beck. The album outsold Hounds of Love in the United States, despite critical sniping that Bush may have run out of sonic ideas to flesh out her creative concepts. A short film, The Line, the Cross and the Curve, starring Miranda Richardson, was released featuring several songs from Red Shoes.
Returned After Lengthy Hiatus
After a twelve-year personally imposed hiatus, Bush returned to nearly unanimous acclaim with her double-CD set, Arial. The album appeared in magazine 2005 best-of lists in both the United States and England. Uncut critic Stephen Trousse declared the album "a magnificently quixotic attempt. Aerial is a madly despondent and goofily exuberant grand folly of a record: a reminder of an eccentric recklessness and grand aspiration so much British pop has lost." Divided into two discs of loosely connected concepts, "A Sea of Honey" and "A Sky of Honey," the album features songs about a man obsessively in love with numbers ("Pi"), a song about Elvis Presley ("King of the Mountain"), a song about domestic chores ("Mrs. Bartolozzi"), and a lullaby to her son, "Bertie." Critics were effusive in their praise for the release.
Bush's musical legacy may never rise about that of cult artist, but her influence has been noted by such artists as Rufus Wainwright, Tori Amos, The Futureheads, Dan Hawkins of the Darkness, and Allison Goldfrapp. Her insistence on following her muse rather than commercial trends has resulted in a reputation as a woman possessing a high degree of artistic integrity. Her musical experiments with instruments and musical styles within the framework of popular music--including employing jazz bassist Eberhard Weber on most of her albums as and featuring Bulgarian singers on The Sensual World--has earned her a reputation as one of the most creative innovators of the genre.
by Dave Collins and Bruce Walker
Kate Bush's Career
Studied piano and violin during childhood; performed informally with brothers, Paddy and John, during childhood and early teens; after a family friend played several of Bush's original compositions for Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, c. 1975, Gilmour arranged and paid for a demo record, which led to a recording contract; released first album, The Kick Inside, 1977; professional singer-songwriter, 1977--.
- Selected discography
- The Kick Inside EMI, 1977.
- Lionheart EMI.
- Never For Ever EMI.
- The Dreaming EMI, 1982.
- The Hounds of Love EMI, 1985.
- The Whole Story EMI, 1987.
- The Sensual World Columbia, 1989.
- The Red Shoes Columbia, 1993.
- Aerial Columbia, 2005.
- The Rolling Stone Record Guide, Random House, New York, 1979.
- Classic Rock, December 2005.
- Mojo, February 2003.
- Musician, January 1986.
- People, November 13, 1989.
- Rolling Stone, February 13, 1986; February 8, 1990.
- Stereo Review, January 1986.
- Uncut, December 2005.