The first part of the Kate Bush story concerns the nurturing of a raw talent, an emerging artist taking creative control of her career, and a list of initial achievements few saw coming. As always with such success stories, luck plays a part: Bush was blessed with a supportive family, contacts who arranged help from established industry professionals, and an unusual amount of patience and trust from her record company. But when the awards started to come in, the credit was ultimately due to her alone.
Bush was encouraged in music at home and at school from a young age. She began writing in her early teens, and demo tapes were sent to record companies in 1972, largely in hope of a publishing deal. All were rejected. A tape did however reach Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd and he took an interest. The following year, he invited Bush to record some of her songs at his home studio. (A track from these sessions, Passing Through Air, was released commercially following a clean-up of the sound in 1980, with a note on the sleeve to say that it was “Recorded in 1973 on a sunny afternoon at Dave’s”.) As there was still no interest, in June 1975 Gilmour put up the money to record three songs professionally at AIR studios in London, including later hit The Man With The Child In His Eyes. Gilmour had a copy of the tape of these songs the following month when he was in the studio recording his own record, the Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here. When the general manager of EMI’s pop division visited one day, Gilmour played him Bush’s tracks. On the strength of this, negotiations between EMI and Bush and her family began.
These took a year to finalize, but eventually deals on publishing and recording were agreed. The protracted length of time it took for Bush to sign on the dotted line showed that from the outset, she was managing to avoid the mistakes a great many others looking to break into the music industry made. She waited until the best offer possible was on the table before committing, while other newcomers grabbed whatever terms were available and regretted it further down the line. The risk during the negotiations was that EMI would walk away, but Bush was fortunate in that her career was beginning in a time when record companies would wait if they thought the artist was worth it. EMI’s restraint was further demonstrated by their allowing Bush’s talent to mature before pressing ahead with an album. She was given time to write more material and develop her performance style, helped in April 1977 by becoming the lead singer in her brother Paddy’s band (named The KT Bush Band in her honour). While this outfit generally performed cover versions, at some gigs there was the opportunity to try out Bush’s own songs, such as James And The Cold Gun, which EMI wanted as her first single.
The choice of debut single was an early example of Bush standing her ground where other artists might have capitulated with the wishes of managers and record company executives. She wanted Wuthering Heights, a song she had written based on the Emily Bronte novel, to be her first release. A highly unconventional song with a highly unconventional performance, it was completely out of step with the singles market of the autumn of 1977, which is when EMI planned to launch her career. Such was her determination that this was the right track to begin with though, they allowed it and prepared the promotional campaign, working towards a release date of 4 November. Promotional copies of the single had been pressed and sent to radio stations when Bush then raised an objection to the photograph chosen for the single’s sleeve. The marketing collateral was scrapped and replaced with the image Bush preferred, but this meant delaying the single’s release until January 1978, EMI unwilling to launch a new artist in the already busy lead-up to Christmas. As it turned out, this worked in her favour: some radio stations were playing their promo copies for weeks in advance of its eventual appearance in the shops, by which time audiences had become familiar with this unusual tune. It went to #1.
She didn’t always get her way. Her debut album, The Kick Inside, was produced by Andrew Powell (who had been present at the 1975 sessions at AIR Studios) who selected the musicians who performed on it. Bush was not able to use The KT Bush Band and was herself limited to vocals and a little piano playing. On second album Lionheart Bush was credited as “assisting” Powell with the production, but as she was unable to have the control she wanted the sessions were tense. EMI put pressure on her too: the delivery timescales for Lionheart were tighter than she would have liked (both albums were released in the same year), and when she recorded the song December Will Be Magic Again at the beginning of November 1979 for release as a Christmas single, EMI rejected it with concerns that it wasn’t sufficiently commercial. (She performed the song on a special show for the BBC, called ‘Kate’, broadcast between Christmas and New Year.) In fairness, it was rather late in the year to be submitting new material for immediate issue, as EMI’s release schedule for the rest of the year was already fixed. It did mean, though, that there was an unfortunate gap of over a year between Bush’s fourth and fifth singles (the former from Lionheart, the latter a taster from her forthcoming third album), punctuated only by the release of an EP of live songs in September 1979.
The songs on the EP were recorded at shows on Bush’s Tour Of Life in the spring of 1979, which remains the only tour of her career. The shows were theatrical: there was song, of course, but also storytelling in the form of dance and mime, and extravagant – for a music gig – sets and costume. The touring experience apparently exhausted her and among the opportunities she turned down following it was one to record the theme to that year’s Bond movie, ‘Moonraker’. Instead, after a short rest, she worked with Jon Kelly, the engineer on her two albums, on preparing the recordings made of the London dates of the tour for release. The lead track on the EP was Them Heavy People, which had appeared on The Kick Inside: EMI had wanted this to be the follow-up to Wuthering Heights while Bush had insisted, and got her way, on The Man With The Child In His Eyes. It proved both the artist and the record company could pick the right songs as both made the Top 10.
Her chart placings and record sales weren’t her only achievements. In the two years from the release of Wuthering Heights, she received a great many awards. She took the silver award at the 7th Tokyo Music festival in June 1978 for her performance of Moving, the opening number on The Kick Inside and her debut single in Japan, where Wuthering Heights was relegated to the B-side. In November, the latter song was named Best Single of 1978 at the prestigious Edison Awards in Holland (one of the oldest music awards ceremonies in the world). Back in the UK, in the same month Melody Maker named her Best Female Vocalist (and would do so again in 1979) and Brightest Hope of 1978; she was Best New Artist of 1978 in Record Mirror’s year-end polls too when those were revealed in the New Year. At the Capital Radio Annual Awards in March 1979 she was Best British Newcomer and the Best British Female Vocalist of 1978 (winning the latter award again the following year). She was nominated in three categories at May’s Ivor Novello Awards: Wuthering Heights lost out to Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street in Best Song Musically And Lyrically and Best Pop Song, but The Man With The Child In His Eyes won for Outstanding British Lyric – not bad for a song written when she was 13. And the awards kept coming in 1980 – in addition to the repeat Melody Maker and Capital Radio awards for Best Female Vocalist she won equivalent awards in New Musical Express, Record Mirror and Sounds. Music Week also named her Top Female Albums Artist at their awards gala, and she won Best Female Singer of 1979 at the British Rock & Pop Awards in March.
In the meantime, Bush worked on her third album, for which this time she took credit as co-producer (with Jon Kelly). “It means I have more control over my album, which is going to make it more rounded, more complete, more me, I hope,” she said. 1 She also mentioned that although “there’s no specific theme… [the songs] are saying a lot about freedom, which is very important to me.” An example of the greater freedom she allowed herself with this album was the timescale she worked to: still tight, but more comfortable. Her debut album had been recorded in a couple of months from August 1977, and its follow-up over ten weeks in the summer of 1978. For her third, she spent three months at AIR Studios in the late summer of 1979 and well over four months from the beginning of 1980 at Abbey Road. Originally due for release in early 1980, its release was put back to June as the recording sessions ran on. When Bush was still working almost around the clock to finish the record in May, its release was pushed back again to allow her time for a holiday. To prevent another long gap between releases, the track Babooshka was issued as her sixth single, another preview from the album and another Top 10 hit. But before long, extended breaks with no new material from Bush were to become a regular feature of her career.
1 Pearson, Deanne. “The Me Inside”, Smash Hits, EMAP, 15-28 May 1980.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Jun. 27
Kate BUSH Babooshka (EMI EMI5085)
DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS (Kevin Rowland) There There My Dear (Parlophone R6038)
JOHNNY HATES JAZZ (Clark Datchler) Don’t Say It’s Love (Virgin VS1081)