As Kate Bush is ready to do her first live performances in London since 1979 starting August 26, here’s an interview I did with author Graeme Thomson on his book about the singer from a few years ago.
Originally published in Spinner, May 31, 2011
There is no question that Kate Bush is an artist who can be best described as an original. She hasn’t toured consistently since 1979 and prior to 2011, she’s recorded only three albums in the last 22 years.
After nearly six years since her last record, ‘Aerial,’ the 52-year-old Bush recently returned with her new work, ‘Director’s Cut,’ which is out now and nearly toppled Adele from the top of the UK charts. It’s a collection of reworked songs from two of her previous albums, 1989’s ‘The Sensual World’ and 1993’s ‘The Red Shoes.’
The new record comes on the heels of a recent unauthorized biography, ‘Under the Ivy: The Life and Music of Kate Bush,’ by British writer Graeme Thomson, who has covered Bush for the UK paper the Guardian. “It’s fascinating to hear someone who hasn’t played her songs live since 1979,” he tells Spinner of the new record, “and has very little history of revisiting her back catalog in any way to put her songs in new context, sometimes quite radically.”
Thomson believes Bush’s decision to revisit these songs for ‘Director’s Cut’ was due to her unhappiness with the dated and cluttered aspects of those two albums. “She has frequently stuck up for the songs on those two records, which have — in particular ‘The Red Shoes’ — not always been viewed positively,” he says. “Clearly she felt strongly enough that she could improve them, and I think by and large she has succeeded. It may also be that she felt she couldn’t fully focus on new material until this issue had been resolved.”
The book, which features interviews with Bush’s acquaintances and former associates, was written because there was no previous biography that really went beyond the basic perceptions of her life and work. “Despite the obvious problems of writing about someone who guards her privacy fiercely, the prospect of doing something fresh — and, I felt, necessary and long overdue — was exciting to me,” he says.
‘Under the Ivy’ tells the stories of her songs and ambitious self-produced albums, including ‘The Dreaming’ and ‘Hounds of Love,’ and reveals that Bush has led a fairly normal life. “It’s almost as if she can only be free to really access the parameters of her imagination and emotions from a very stable place,” says Thomson. “That, unfortunately, has caused much confusion in terms of the way she is publicly perceived.”
As for Bush’s lack of touring, Thomson doesn’t think she will ever perform in public again. “She never completely closes the door on the possibility in interviews,” he says, “but I would be most surprised if she did it again –- albeit very pleasantly!”
Thomson agrees that what makes Bush unique is a combination of things such as her artistry, sense of control and flair for theatrics. “She is one of those rare artists who comes at her music from a completely unique and individual angle,” he says. “She is sui generis. I love the way she sneaks a lot of pretty unconventional things into her music without any kind of contrivance, or making a big deal about it. It’s also great that she has no fear of making herself seem silly or outlandish in pursuit of her music. That kind of blindness to convention is a real strength.”
Today’s female artists — from Madonna to Lady Gaga — certainly carry Bush’s influence to some degree. “Not just in terms of the obvious stuff — image, sound, voice etc.,” says Thomson, “but in terms of helping women being taken seriously as producers and genuinely self-sufficient artists who should have complete control over all aspects of their careers. Never mind Tori Amos and Florence Welch; everyone from Tricky to John Lydon has been inspired by her mix of eccentricity, control, vocal power and visual inventiveness. Above all, perhaps, her fearlessness.”