Conversations With Kate Bush

Len Brown pays tribute to an artist whose relationship with fame has always been an uneasy one.
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Like most men of a certain age, my affection for Kate Bush goes back to the very beginning of her career.  Against the dark background of punk and economic decline in 1978, I was astonished by her teenage debut on Top of the Pops performing ‘Wuthering Heights’.  Her voice, her gothic appearance and her attitude all seemed completely out of step with the downbeat mood of the time, as if she’d arrived from another more exotic and erotic planet.

I never saw her perform live in 1979 - her Tour of Life ended tragically with the accidental death of her 21 year old lighting director Bill Duffield – but I was fortunate to be in the audience when she appeared at Amnesty International’s Secret Policeman’s Third Ball in 1987.

I’d already had a brief encounter with her in late 1982 when a friend was working on a video for one of her less successful songs, ‘There Goes A Tenner’ from her eccentric collection ‘The Dreaming’.  By the time I joined the NME in late 1984, some critics had already written her off as a beautiful thing of the past along with the New Romantics.  So there was genuine surprise and universal admiration when ‘Running Up The Hill’ and her wonderful summer 1985 album ‘Hounds Of Love’ appeared out of the blue.    (I’m afraid I was guilty of headlining the positive NME review “Crufts Original”!)

Through my love of World (and particularly Bulgarian) music I first met up with Kate in late October 1988.   She was recording with three Balkan grannies, Trio Bulgarka, and I was invited down to a church studio in Islington to hear them perform together.   It was a really moving experience, listening to her amazing other-worldly vocals in harmony with Yanka Rupkina, Stoyanka Boneva and Eva Georgieva.   Also, my interview with Kate revealed the artistic struggles she faced whenever she entered the studio to create a new album.

"I find it very difficult, nothing comes easy to me. I don't know if I'm a perfectionist, although people say that about me. I just find it harder each time to write songs…Making an album for me is very much a psychological process; it's very painful and it gets more painful each time. I think it's hard for people to understand because it seems so silly, an album's such a trivial thing really.... Every time I kid myself that an album will take six weeks, but once I get in there and get halfway through it's too big for me. I think, 'My God, what am I doing in the middle of this?'"

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We met again in a London hotel a year later as her sixth studio album, the James Joyce Ulysses-influenced ‘The Sensual World’ was released in October 1989.    As before, she stressed the importance of living a normal, non-celebrity life in order to be creative, to be herself.

"I've been almost me for the last couple of years but, in the last two weeks, I've been aware of people treating me as what seems to be a very famous person. It's totally surreal, going into an isolated way or working, three of four years at a time, then coming out and having everyone look at you as if they know you.  It's healthier for me not to indulge in being a famous person. It's ridiculous, there's absolutely no reason why I should be at all, other than that I make records."

Three years between the release of ‘The Dreaming’ and ‘Hounds Of Love’, four more until ‘The Sensual World’ arrived, then another four before ‘The Red Shoes’ in 1993.  But the next painful psychological process would last 12 years, leading up to the release of ‘Aerial’ in 2005.

Before ‘Aerial’ was released I hadn’t been in contact with Kate for almost a decade.  But, working on music documentaries for the BBC and ITV, I’d tried to tempt her to appear on camera and talk for the first time about her brilliant career.    Naturally, I wanted to call the programme ‘This Woman’s Work’.

This would never happen – she’d doesn’t jump through the obvious music industry hoops - but, strangely, just before ‘Aerial’ was released, she phoned me up one morning and thanked me for my ongoing interest in her life and her work.   We talked briefly about our own lives – we’d both lost our mothers and become parents in the intervening years – and she spoke about her return to the studio again.    It sounded, in a wonderfully self-deprecating, selfless and childlike way, as if she was completely surprised that anyone outside her own world could still be remotely interested in Kate Bush.

"I find it extraordinary that people should want to write about me when I do so little. I just pop out and do an album and go away again."

So, as Before The Dawn begins, and Kate Bush takes the stage again for the first time in 35 years, I sincerely hope the gods are good to her and that everything goes according to plan.   Please let the critics judge her on her performances, her art and above all her music rather than simply on superficial things such as looks and costumes.    She’s a really good woman and a great artist.

As she once told me, "I don't really see myself as a performer and that's hard for me – when I have to come out and expose myself and be the saleswoman of the hour.”