We honour the life and career of the idiosyncratic singer-songwriter and producer whose bold vision has captivated audiences around the world
To fall in love with Kate Bush’s music is to simultaneously fall in love with her brilliant mind. Since fans first encountered the English singer in January 1978 upon the release of her runaway hit debut single, Wuthering Heights (which also, not surprisingly, spurred sales of the Emily Brontë novel), Bush has continually stayed true to her distinctive sound and vision. Never one to settle for complacency where her art is concerned, the pop auteur recently returned to the spotlight in the Autumn of 2016 after a lengthy hiatus with Before the Dawn: a 155-minute, three-disc live album documenting her magnificent 2014 live shows, the first she performed in 35 years since The Tour of Life in 1979. Not that she had been forgotten – as BBC News reported, tickets for the 22 dates at London’s Hammersmith Apollo sold out in a mere 15 minutes. At 58 years old, Bush may have only just begun to skim the surface of her creative potential. In this instalment of AnOther Woman, we examine the artistic trajectory of an undeniable trailblazer in music, fashion, and more.
Bush’s appreciation for dramatic flair where her music was concerned spilled over into her sartorial choices, often to stunning results. Far from existing as separate entities, Bush’s musical and sartorial experimentation were in constant conversation, resulting in the creation of her very own visual universe. Her striking features paired with her pre-Raphaelite curls served as the template to an ever-shifting array of eclectic looks: she never shied away from bold colours (think blood reds and electric blues), extreme silhouettes (she frequently donned kimonos and gender-bending pantsuits), and a healthy dose of pure theatricality. It’s not hard to see why designers – from the late Alexander McQueen to Gucci – have frequently turned to Bush for inspiration over the past few decades, whether by setting their runway shows to her music or by referencing her surreally romantic ethos in their collections.
Bush formed an early passion for music when she took up piano lessons at age 11. After a mere two years of songwriting attempts, family friends informed Dave Gilmour of the band Pink Floyd that the then-16-year-old – given her impressive four-octave range and strange, supernatural interests – was worth a listen. Evidently, he liked what he heard; Gilmour went on to finance the demo tape that ultimately moved EMI to sign Bush. Over the next couple of years, she intensely studied other artistic forms, from dance to mime, in an effort to enhance her musical style. Yet it was the recording of her first album in 1977, followed by the release of her melodically fearless single Wuthering Heights, that would put Bush on the musical map.
So began the official introduction of Bush to the world – which would soon come to know her as one of the most inventive musicians working at the time – with aural influences ranging from Middle Eastern to Celtic music. One need only enter the abyss of her archived videos on YouTube (we recommend starting with her hauntingly choreographed modern dance duet for Running Up That Hill) to understand why she stood out at the time, and still does today, for her sheer innovation and aesthetic control. With the release of The Hounds of Love in 1985, Bush would go on to reach #1 on the U.K. album charts – uprooting Madonna's Like a Virgin from the top position in the process.
As her career took shape, it became clear to Bush that the more control she retained over her image and output, the harder it would be for her work to grow stale or cliché. Indeed, it’s rare to see those words ascribed to any of her work. In between the late 1980s and 90s, for example, Bush experimented with the visuals that would accompany her music, at one point writing, directing, and co-starring in a 50-minute film. The result, The Line, the Cross and the Curve (1993), co-starring Miranda Richardson and choreographed by Lindsay Kemp, essentially served as an extra-long video to accompany her album released that same year, The Red Shoes. Yet it also further established Bush as a predecessor to such artists as Beyoncé, who released her own hour-long movie/album, Lemonade, last Spring.
After a near 35-year hiatus from the stage, Bush made a vivid return to the public eye in 2014 with a series of 22 sold-out concerts performed in London, which culminated last fall with the release of a new live album. Despite her long break from live performances, however, Before the Dawn showcases an artist who has not yet given up on the notion of perpetual evolution. As she told the New York Times last year, “I do want to push. I want to push the people that work with me, and I want to try and push the music somewhere. Each time I start a new album, I want it to be different from what I’ve done before.”
She’s AnOther Woman Because…
While she emerged with a hit song as a teenager, her early success has not stunted Bush from continually challenging and stretching herself in the decades since. Even when the maverick singer released singles that did not disrupt the charts, each song showcased a creative freedom not often found in the pop music mill. Her inventive use of literary-centric and historically rich imagery, experimental production, free-flying vocals, and fully conceptualised music videos, which often serve as short films in their own right, have influenced contemporary powerhouse performers ranging from St. Vincent to Bat for Lashes.
Most important to her ongoing legacy, though, has been Bush’s respect for and trust of her own creative vision above anyone else’s. As she explained in a rare interview with The Independent in November 2016, “The big thing for me, and it has been from quite early on, is to retain creative control over what I’m doing. If you have creative control, it’s personal.” For allowing rapt listeners the opportunity to enter into her magical, self-contained world through her music – while never underplaying the focused work and thought behind it – Bush is an AnOther Woman who we’d happily run up that hill with any day.