Kate Bush - Biography
By Michael Keefe
Art rock singer-songwriter Kate Bush is among the most popular and highly regarded UK female solo acts of the past 30 years, staking her own claim in alternative music while inspiring future acts such as Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan and Fiona Apple. She's released eight studio albums and one live LP, the majority to critical acclaim. Discovered as a teenager by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, today she is a mother of one and the godmother of UK female singers. Despite more than a decade between her last two albums, Bush remains very popular, both with fans and other musicians. Her music has sold millions of copies and new acts continue to seek collaborations with Bush and to cover her songs.
Born Catherine Mary Bush on July 30, 1958 in Bexleyheath, England; Kate Bush is the daughter of British physician and amateur pianist Robert and his Irish wife, Hannah. Kate's two older brothers, Paddy and John, are also musicians. The former has appeared on all of his sister's albums, playing an eclectic array of folk instruments from around the world. Growing up in a musical household, it was no surprise when Kate began teaching herself piano at age 11. By the time she was 15, she had recorded a number of demos. Having heard these, a friend of the family, Ricky Hopper, introduced Kate Bush to Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. Gilmour helped get a 16-year-old Bush signed to EMI. Kate spent the next two years improving her vocals and performance skills and then recording her debut LP in 1977.
The Kick Inside (1978 EMI) came out the following February, proceeded by Kate Bush's first single, the Emily Brontë-inspired "Wuthering Heights." The song hit #1 in England (and three other countries) but only reached #108 in America, where her popularity would never be quite as strong as in her native country. Meanwhile, The Kick Inside peaked at #3 in the UK. The album centered largely on Bush's high-register vocals and her piano with rock band accompaniment. Though more straightforward than progressive rock, Bush's music was also artier than most pop/rock of the time. Her literary and intelligently fanciful lyrics were both original and preternatural for a teen songwriter. The LP's second single, the string-heavy "The Man with the Child in His Eyes," went Top 10 in England and scraped into the Billboard Hot 100.
As has been the case with many musicians over the decades, Kate Bush was pushed too quickly into recording a follow-up record. Lionheart (1978 EMI) hit stores in November of that same year. Although her sophomore LP hit the UK Top 10, it hasn't fared as well with critics and fans over the years. For the most part, the songwriting simply isn't as strong, with Bush relying on second-tier songs that she'd written over the years. An exception is the single "Wow," which moves from moody and quiet verses to an exuberant and orchestrated chorus that reflects the song's exclamatory title. The cut was moderately successful in England. This was the first Bush album featuring her longtime bassist, Del Palmer.
Kate Bush spent 1979 on the road and in the studio. Her tour, which was an extravagantly staged financial disaster, would prove to be her first and last series of live dates, aside from the occasional performance for a charity. Still, the shows resulted in Bush's lone concert album, the belatedly released Live at the Hammersmith Odeon (1994 EMI). However, a four-track EP called On Stage (1979 EMI) did surface at the time. Kate Bush's third studio LP, Never for Ever (1980 EMI), proved worth the extra time she took in recording it. Her songwriting had grown tremendously, resulting in a greater variety of material and Bush's biggest chart success yet. The LP went all the way to number one in the UK and brought her worldwide success, reaching the Top 40 in Japan and charting at #7 in Australia. Again, fame in the USA eluded her, but that had nothing to do with the quality of the album. Its three excellent singles – the sly mistaken identity song "Babooshka," the waltz-time "Army Dreamers" and the anti-nuclear cut, "Breathing," – all charted well and made for stellar bookends to a strong record.
Kate Bush's music had been growing more adventurous and her fourth LP, The Dreaming (1982 EMI), was her thorniest full-length yet. Even its singles were odd. "Sat in Your Lap" rides a lurching beat which back guttural, chanted "ooh-oohs” topped off with martial horn blasts. Though not standard radio fare, it's nonetheless a killer cut and hit #11 in the UK. The title track, about Aboriginal Australians, featured didgeridoo, a plodding beat and a host of eerie sounds. Though it didn't fare well on the charts, it's a haunting and effective song. This fairly well describes the whole of the LP. Her growing fan base was happy to follow her muse, taking the LP to #3 in England and edging her onto the US Billboard 200.
The length between Kate Bush LPs was stretching further with each successive album. Her fifth full-length didn't emerge for another three years, but it turned out to be her masterpiece. Throughout 1984, Kate Bush recorded Hounds of Love (1985 EMI) at her newly built home studio and released it in September, 1985. It became her second UK #1 and by far her greatest success in America, reaching #30 on Billboard. Classic lead single "Running up that Hill (A Deal With God)” peaked at #3 in Britain and went as high as #30 in the US, also receiving heavy MTV rotation. Bush charted three more UK singles throughout 1985 and '86: "Cloudbusting," the rapturous "The Big Sky" and the enduringly popular title track. All of those songs come from side one of Hounds of Love. On side two, titled "The Ninth Wave," Bush stretched into more adventurous sonic territories, weaving together a suite of songs about dreams, witch trials and haunting a former lover. The music has a timeless sound all its own, thanks in large part to Bush's masterful use of the Fairlight synthesizer, an expensive and impressive sampling keyboard. With Hounds of Love, Kate Bush's vivid imagination was brought fully to life. Also in 1985, she contributed vocals to the title song for Terry Gilliam's surreal, Orwellian film, Brazil, although the soundtrack wasn't released for another seven years.
In 1986, Bush was nominated for four BRIT awards but she didn't grab a win. She also dueted with likeminded artist Peter Gabriel on the beautiful track, "Don't Give Up," from his So (1986 Geffen) album. That year, Bush also issued a “greatest hits” compilation called The Whole Story (1986 EMI). The album included freshly recorded vocals on "Wuthering Heights" and one new song, "Experiment IV," which went #23 in England at the time that "Don't Give Up" made its climb to #9, marking the first time a British woman had charted two simultaneous Top 40 hits in the UK. The Whole Story was Bush's third #1 LP in England and made #74 in America. A corresponding video compilation was also released, documenting the visual creativity implied in her music. The next year, Bush contributed a live version of "Running Up That Hill" to The Secret Policeman's Third Ball (1987 Atlantic), an Amnesty International benefit record.
Four years after her last album of all new material, Kate Bush issued LP number six, The Sensual World (1989 EMI). Former mentor David Gilmour played guitar throughout the album and the female vocal ensemble, Trio Bulgarka, featured prominently. Bush borrowed the women from the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir who'd recently enjoyed popularity with their achingly lovely album Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (1988 4AD). As befitting the title of The Sensual World, Kate Bush left behind many of her more fanciful themes to focus on earthier lyrics about love and sexuality. The record was another global hit, hitting #3 in her homeland, #43 on the Billboard 200 and going Top 40 in nine other countries. Bush released the smoldering title cut, the heartbreakingly beautiful "This Woman's Work," and the energetic "Love and Anger" as singles, each of which charted fairly well in England. The latter single hit #1 on Billboard's Modern Rock chart and was her biggest commercial triumph in the US.
The next year, Bush released a seven-disc box set of her recordings, This Woman's Work (1990 EMI). The first five CDs contained each of her studio albums while the last two presented all her B-sides and remixes. In 1991, Kate Bush contributed a particularly effective cover of "Rocket Man" to the Elton John tribute album Two Rooms (1991 Polydor). For fans, this all proved an adequate stopgap during yet another four year wait between proper Kate Bush albums. Her seventh LP, The Red Shoes (1993 EMI), was another massive chart success for Bush, reaching #2 in England and #28 in America. Though Rolling Stone gave it four stars out of five, enthusiasm for the album was short-lived by both music listeners and critics. It has been damned in hindsight, receiving only two stars from All Music Guide and earning mostly low marks from fans. With guest spots from Prince, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, the cast of musicians was perhaps overly star-studded. Mostly, though, Bush's material simply wasn't up to snuff. Less imaginative and arranged in a more typical pop/rock fashion, Kate Bush wasn't playing to her strengths.
Despite the minor disappointment of The Red Shoes, none of her fans wished that Bush would take twelve years to record her next album. Nonetheless, that would be the case. She was heard from only periodically during the late '90s and early 2000s. She sang on Prince’s "My Computer," from his Emancipation album. After that, Kate Bush disappeared almost entirely from the public eye. During this time, she married her Red Shoes guitarist, Dan McIntosh. In 1998, she gave birth to their son, Albert ("Bertie"), an event kept secret from the press until the boy was a toddler.
Finally, a dozen years after album number seven, Kate Bush's eighth full-length was released. Aerial (2005 EMI), a double-album, was divided into two separately titled halves, like Hounds of Love. Disc one, titled "A Sea of Honey," offered seven distinct songs, including opening track and sole single "King of the Mountain." Like much of the album, the song most closely resembled the atmospheric rock sound of Sensual World, but with an added emphasis on Brian Eno-esque ambient electronic tones. Aerial offered some variety, though. The ode to her son, "Bertie," had a Renaissance-era flavor, while "Mrs. Bartolozzi" and "Joanni" were arranged for voice and solo piano. Side two of Aerial, titled "A Sky of Honey," was mellow and dreamy, focusing more on mood than on the individual tracks. The album was a critical success and another hit across the globe, going Top 10 in six countries including the UK, and reaching #48 on Billboard. The record earned two her BRIT Award nominations, for Best British Album and Best British Female Solo Artist.
The following year, she contributed the track "Lyra" to the soundtrack for The Golden Compass (2007 New Line), hopefully signaling a new era of increased output from Kate Bush. Now in her fourth decade of music-making, she's as popular as ever with fans and critics, and her musical influence continues to affect a new generation of artists. In 2004, The Doldrums released "For Kate I Wait," dedicated to Bush. The Futureheads took their cover of "Hounds of Love" to #7 on the UK charts in 2005. Also that year, American rockers The Hold Steady referenced "Running Up That Hill" in their song "Hornets! Hornets!" In addition to her continued cool factor with other musicians, Kate Bush has carved out a highly accomplished career. She's released three UK #1 albums and one chart-topping British single, while building a rabid fan base across the world.