Profile: Kate Bush: Can she pull off the big sway-back?
In the cluttered loft that houses the memory of the average middle-aged bloke, a video flickers dully. It displays a child-woman of ethereal yet sexual allure who sways with beguiling swimming motions as her voice leaps the octaves of her 1978 hit Wuthering Heights.
The news that Kate Bush is planning a comeback after 12 years has lit up the captured moment when she erupted on the music scene as a 19-year-old, tangle-haired gypsy with a dazzling talent and a totally original approach to pop.
So agonisingly have devotees awaited her return that the writer John Mendelssohn penned a novel entitled Waiting for Kate Bush, published last month, featuring a Bush obsessive who has sent her 2,000 unanswered e-mails and is tormented by self-loathing.
Nobody would believe that Bushís long silence was about to end had she not posted these words on a fan clubís website: ìThe album is nearly finished and will be out next year.î In a rare burst of garrulousness she added: ìI hope you will all feel itís been worth the wait.î
Now 46, the elusive Bush spent the interval at her home near Reading making sculptures, planning films and enjoying the company of Bertie, her six-year-old son, and his father, the guitarist Danny McIntosh, who played on Bushís last record The Red Shoes.
A little more light was thrown on her absence by Peter Gabriel, her friend and collaborator on the hit single Donít Give Up, who recently told a Canadian interviewer: ìSheís being a mum and loving it. So musicís gone from being full-time to part-time (and) that slows you down.î
The doctorís daughter from the London suburb of Bexleyheath altered the chemistry of pop in a career that produced nine albums and 13 hit singles, including The Man with the Child in His Eyes, written when she was only 13. Her unique performances combined musical theatre, dance, poetry and rock, crowned with a voice that could scale the upper registers with what has been described as a captivating screech.
Nobody had seen or heard anything quite like her before. One reviewer wrote: ìIt beggars belief . . . a stunningly original stage performance . . . it is devastatingly effective . . . a dazzling testimony to a remarkable talent.î
Her success was all the more notable because she was one of the few women to be taken seriously in the male-dominated world of pop, governed at the time by the aggressive sounds of punk. This 5ft 3in nip-waisted shy sprite not only composed and arranged her songs and produced her stage shows, but she also designed her costumes and was managing director of her management company.
Many female artists have claimed Bush as an inspiration, including Madonna, Bjˆrk, kd lang, PJ Harvey and Katie Melua. OutKast, the US hip-hop duo, want to do a song with her if they can track her down.
Male singers, too, owe a debt to Bush ó perhaps none more so than Sir Cliff Richard. When he first saw her perform Wuthering Heights he was so impressed with her arm- flailing and gyratory motions that he incorporated them into his own static stage act. Like other BrontÎ aficionados, he probably imagined she had a detailed knowledge of the book, but it turned out she had not read it. The song was apparently based on her memory of the last moments of a television film.
In the studio, however, her perfectionism verged on control freakery. Recording the song Wow, she reportedly performed hundreds of vocals over several weeks, despite the producerís insistence that he was perfectly content with the first take.
The experience led her to assume control of producing the album The Dreaming in 1982. Characterised by sound effects and animal cries, the record was not a success. Some blamed Rolf Harrisís contribution on the didgeridoo.
Catherine Bush was born in 1958, when British pop was waiting to be rescued by Elvis Presley. Her father was an English GP who played jazz piano, married to an Irishwoman who had been an accomplished folk dancer in Co Waterford. She was brought up in a comfortable home with two older brothers, John and Paddy. Both were fanatical about folk music and Kate imbibed their records of folk, sea shanties and Irish jigs.
She liked Buddy Holly and Presley, but her main inspiration was traditional music. ìIrish airs, the uillean pipes ó music like that affects me physically,î she said.
She also enjoyed hymns and took violin lessons at convent school, St Josephís at Abbey Wood, near Woolwich. ìWe lived in a farmhouse. I used to play hymns on an old organ in the barn till it was eaten out by mice,î she recalled.
By 11 she was writing poems; at 13 she was mixing music with the words. Her songs were intensely emotional, drawn from personal terrors and nightmares. ìHorrible things fire my imagination,î she admitted. She had a particular fascination for films such as Donít Look Now and The Cruel Sea, with ìwateryî themes.
Through her brothers, she joined a folk group called the KP Bush Band, playing pub gigs in the Lewisham area. When she was 15 she was introduced to Dave Gilmour, the lead guitarist with Pink Floyd, who encouraged young talent. ìAbsolutely terrified and trembling like a leaf, I sat down and played for him.î Gilmour liked her songs and put up some money for her to make three tracks.
The next year she was signed to Floydís record company, EMI, which was at first reluctant to let her record her preferred song, Wuthering Heights, until she felt ready to ìhandle the situationî.
She left school with a stack of O-levels, a recording contract and a windfall legacy from an aunt.
While getting more experience with the folk band, she started dance and mime classes. Emulating David Bowie, she studied with Lindsay Kemp, the mime artist and choreographer, and began to conceive of performing Wuthering Heights as a windblown figure with over-theatrical gestures.
The result was a sensation. On reflection, Bush said she was never too young to be a musician and her only ambition had been to get 10 songs onto a piece of plastic. ìIt couldnít have happened fast enough. School inhibited me. It wasnít until I left school that I found the real strength inside. All the rest was karma. It was meant to be.î
Ironically, the icon of Top of the Pops did not particularly like pop music, citing Chopin, Debussy, Sibelius and Erik Satie as her favourite listening. She also seemed oblivious to the effect her sultry performances had on audiences.
ìI donít deliberately try to be sexy when I perform,î she said. ìI just concentrate on getting as much emotion and feeling into it as I can. I can feel myself switching on in front of an audience. Itís a very physical thing.î
The singleís success helped power her debut album, The Kick Inside, to the top of the charts and her sudden riches enabled her to set up home in south London with her cats Pywackit and Zoodle. In January 1979, accompanied by a troupe of dancers, jugglers and musicians, she set off on a scintillating tour. It was to be her last.
Instead she concentrated on studio work during the following decade and her hit albums included Never for Ever in 1980, the highly acclaimed Hounds of Love in 1985, and The Sensual World in 1989. There followed a four-year break until her collaboration with Eric Clapton on The Red Shoes in 1993, but the album was not well received and she vanished from view.
In recent years she has appeared in public a few times. She sang on stage with Gilmour at the Albert Hall in 2002 and appeared at the Q magazine awards. The industry tried to lure her back with the offer of a Brits lifetime achievement award but she turned it down because she would have had to have performed live.
Now she is ready to face the spotlight again. This, remember, is a female star whose versatility has perhaps never been surpassed, who pioneered the fusion of dance and circus entertainment in pop and conjured a new persona with each song. For fans, the anticipation is palpable.
Profile: Kate Bush: Can she pull off the big sway-back?