“In the 1970s, women were expected to look good and sing, not innovate creatively”
Q: So Kate Bush is making a comeback after 35 years. Her last concert was in 1979. She’s making her return at Hammersmith Apollo. She’s doing 22 nights and every seat was sold in 15-minutes. This promises to be the biggest musical event of the year. Agree?
A: No doubt about it. At 56, Kate Bush has lost none of her mystique. Quite the opposite in fact: her 35 years as a relative recluse have deepened her enigma, made her more thrillingly mysterious than ever.
Q: Well, for people of your generation maybe. She surely can’t appeal to younger people, can she?
A: I’m not so sure. I think she’s a woman for all time. You’ve got to remember, when Kate emerged there were plenty of women singers, but, with the exception of the American Laurie Anderson, there was no female equivalent of, say, David Bowie, John Cale, Bob Dylan or Lennon and McCartney, who experimented with music, dance and other art forms. Kate was the first woman to innovate with music and dance and, in her unique way, mixed and meshed genres. So, I’d say she has a timeless quality.
Q: Why was it so unusual for a woman to be a genuine innovator?
A: In the 1970s, women were expected to look good and sing. Don’t get me wrong: the likes of Donna Summer, Diana Ross and Cher were tremendous. Over here, women such as Siouxsie Sue, Elkie Brooks and others were producing original material, but Kate Bush (pictured above in the 1970s) seemed to come out of nowhere. There were no obvious influences on her work. Apparently, she taught herself how to play a piano and started composing her own songs, then learned dance from Lindsay Kemp, who also taught Bowie. So when “Wuthering Heights” came out, no one knew what to make of it. Think about the very concept of writing a song based on a Brontë classic then performing it as she did. Now, we see women who seem bursting with creative energy and refuse to stick to traditional boundaries. Think of PJ Harvey, St Vincent, Joan as Police Woman (picture below), Bat for Lashes, for example. In the 1970s, there were no female artists ready to challenge like these; and even if they were, they would not stand much chance of commercial success. Kate was a real one-off in this sense. After her, the music industry started to take women as creative artists more seriously.
Q: So why did she just disappear?
A: I’m not sure I can answer that. She has never explicitly said. Celebrity culture was probably a daunting prospect: she never liked engaging with the media much, so she may have foreseen what was coming in the 1980s when women like Madonna appeared and were prepared to get in bed with the media, so to speak. She was also upset when two of her close friends died with Aids. And if you take a look at her concerts on YouTube, you’ll get some idea of how her act was an entire performance rather than a series of songs. So maybe it required too much commitment. The irony is that, during her period away, interest has remained and, as I said earlier, grown in her absence. That’s why tickets for her concerts are reputed to be going at £5,000 a pop.
Q: You’re a fan then?
A: I think you can admire someone and acknowledge their impact without necessarily liking their output. I thought her early work was stunningly original and the 1985 album Hounds of Love was brilliant, but I wouldn’t say I was a devoted fan. But she was the first woman to break the mould and I think you have to accept that she was one of the most influential musical figures of the twentieth century and beyond. I think you could properly call her revolutionary.
Kate Bush’s 1979 concert: