I’m not usually one to express uncritical devotion for celebrities – years of working in television cured me of such behaviour. But there are some artists that turn me into a crazy teenage fan. Marc Bolan is one; Morrissey another and then there is Kate Bush. I love everything about Kate Bush.
We’ve been listening to her new album 50 Words for Snow a lot recently and I love it because it just sounds like Kate Bush. It swirls around you, a bit pop, a bit prog rock and takes you away from the mundane world of washing up, tax returns and cleaning poo off the floor (I’m potty training child 2 at the moment and to say it’s a bit messy would be the understatement of the year). It reminds you of the fantasy life you wanted to lead aged 15 – all Pre-Raphaelite curls, velvet cloaks and art for art’s sake. A life where you’d basically be nothing like your parents.
I first became aware of Kate in the late 70s – basically because any female with long or curly hair got called ‘Kate Bush’. My husband’s sister – a similar age to me (and also called Kate) had it too and I’m sure there are many women in their 40s who experienced this. I liked her crazy dancing and out there vocals so quite enjoyed the comparison.
My fascination with Kate really took place when I was about 30 and making a show called “Top Ten Pop Princesses” (don’t blame me for the title). Kate was added to the list because a) she had loads of hits and b) we loved her.
Researching Kate was genuinely a joy. I loved reading about her discovery by prog-God Dave Gilmour who then ordered EMI records to sign his protege aged 16 and develop her as an artist – this included ‘interpretive dance’ lessons from David Bowie’s teacher Lindsay Kemp. Kate was still at school during this period and EMI basically paid her to do her O’Levels! It was ultimately worth it because Kate delivered a series of hit records, all starting with the truly awesome Wuthering Heights when she was just 19.
Can you imagine this nowadays? Yes, obviously there are some great and original acts out there, but the idea of a record company taking a punt on a quirky middle class school girl from the Home Counties and letting her write her own songs and find her own voice is quite frankly unthinkable. Contrast this with the built in obsolescence karaoke machine that is the modern record industry – get someone to go on telly, sing a cover of an old song on a talent show, use the tabloids to hype them, then destroy them – then never mind as their time is up and it’s time to move on to next year’s pop sensation.
Obviously this all boils down to economics. Back in the 70s, the record companies were flush with cash, as album sales were booming and the technology that gives us all free music online was yet to materialize. It was also an era that pre-dates the smash and grab capitalism of the 80s, 90s and beyond; business was there to make money but were things quite as hard-nosed and profit driven as they were to become? It’s hard for me to judge because I was only a child at the time and my understanding of the 1970s is based on hazy memories of kids’ telly and favourite sweets and reading history books – like Dominic Sandbrook’s excellent State of Emergency.
I get cross with Sandbrook when he writes slightly ridiculous articles for The Daily Mail and at times his analysis is a little bland. But for sheer range of detail, his books are brilliant and he is considerably less reactionary than a lot of popular historians – the obnoxious Niall Ferguson springs to mind. His portrait of the 70s is interesting because although it does fall into the trap of painting Britain as an inefficient, over-manned, strike crippled mess that somehow needed a smacked bottom from Mrs Thatcher, he also points out, that for the majority of British people, life really was pretty good. Wages were high and people could afford lots of things – including, obviously Kate Bush records – while society was much less unequal than it is today. Nearly everyone worked and the idea that people who work in the City ‘deserve’ enormous salaries and mega bonuses would have been laughed at. It was a time when even the Tory Prime Minister, Ted Heath, used the expression “unacceptable face of capitalism” to describe the antics of ruthless corporate raider Tiny Rowland. Can you imagine David Cameron doing that? Or Tony Blair, for that matter?
If you think I’m drifting off message here, then maybe I am, but I do think that the slightly less profit driven culture of the 70s is essential to the emergence of a Kate Bush. As is the existence of a middle class where parents encouraged their kids to be weird and arty; Kate’s dad was a doctor but her siblings John and Paddy were musicians and poets. I’d be genuinely scared if my little ones wanted to go down that route – I mean how would they pay back their student loans? Kate is the product of a culture that was dying even by the time I came of age in the late 80s/90s – a world where you didn’t have to pay for a university education, where you could live cheaply and take your time finding your place in the world.
If this all sounds terribly nostalgic, then maybe it is. I genuinely do mourn for a world where people had a bit more space to be themselves. Yes, nowadays, we can all construct the most fantastic identities for ourselves online (like maybe I’m doing right now) but how many of us have the option to develop our creativity without worrying about the next pay cheque? We may have the technology, but do we have the opportunities to use it?
Enough of these doomy ramblings and let’s get back to Kate. Here is one of my favourite Kate clips of all time, where she talks to Delia Smith about being a vegetarian (of course). Enjoy
And here is a rather wonderful documentary about Kate from the late 70s: