The first of the long gaps between releases mentioned at the end of Part 1 of If You Were There’s brief history of Kate Bush’s career came immediately prior to the release of this, her tenth single. The thirteen-month wait for The Dreaming was same duration as the pause between her fourth and fifth singles referred to in the previous article, but her public profile was high in that period due to the Tour Of Life, its attendant EP, and a guest appearance on Peter Gabriel’s hit song Games Without Frontiers in early 1980, which helped to plug the gap between her own singles. In the year prior to The Dreaming, there were no releases at all and she had been absent from the charts.
But to pick up the story where we left off last time: her third album Never For Ever, released in September 1980, was a resounding success. She became the first woman to have a chart topping album of new material in Britain. (The following month, Barbra Streisand would become the second; both she and Connie Francis had previously had #1 albums, but with compilations of archive material.) What was all the more remarkable about Bush’s achievement was that the album actually entered the chart at #1, and she had written it and co-produced it herself. The diversity of reference points and influences was as wide as ever: her writing was inspired by people, places, music and film. There was Egypt, celebrating the titular country; The Infant Kiss, inspired by the disturbing 1961 film ‘The Innocents’; Blow Away, an exploration of an imagined showbusiness afterlife which name-checked a number of deceased entertainers; and Delius, a tribute to the composer, which she talked about on Russell Harty’s BBC chat show in the presence of Delius’s amanuensis Eric Fenby, himself mentioned in the song’s lyrics. Bush was experimenting confidently with her writing and her vocals – perhaps most affectingly on the brief, lyric-free interlude at the centre of side 2 of the album, Night Scented Stock – and importantly, she had discovered the Fairlight, a digital sampling synthesizer that had a significant impact on her composing. The tool was introduced to her by Peter Gabriel on whose third album she had appeared and from which the single Games Without Frontiers had been taken.
1980 finished with the release of standalone Christmas single December Will Be Magic Again, which she had written a year earlier. Then, the periods of silence she would become famed for started. Her focus was album number four, which she had already started working on. Seeing Stevie Wonder in concert at Wembley in September 1980 had inspired the writing of the extraordinary Sat In Your Lap, more on which later; she had recorded an initial demo within days of attending the concert. More demos were made the following month and then in early 1981, she took some weeks off to recover from the prolonged period of promotion for Never For Ever. Recording for the album proper started in May and it would take a year of effort to get the recordings sounded the way she wanted them: this time she was producing on her own, and the sessions took place in five different studios, initially at the Townhouse, then to Abbey Road in June, Windmill Lane in Dublin in July, back to London at Odyssey from August to December, and finally Advision from January to May 1982. During this period, she made occasional appearances on television and gave a press interview here and there, so she could not be described as ‘reclusive’. She was rumoured to be writing a book about her life and work, and it was true that she had talked to publishers Sidgwick & Jackson. The idea of Kate setting the record straight might have come from the publication of the bizarre Kate Bush: Princess of Suburbia, the first of a number of unauthorized books about her. Smash Hits described this as a “very thin and appallingly designed book,” featuring “half-baked theorizing and Sun-style rumour-mongering … nobody should be surprised if [Bush] decides to take some kind of legal action against the authors…”. Allegedly, Bush and her family did indeed take action and author Fred Vermorel (who later wrote another book about her) claimed he was simply spoofing tabloid journalism; it wasn’t supposed to be taken as a scholarly work.
During the year of the fourth album’s gestation, Bush’s only release was the percussion heavy, vocally acrobatic Sat In Your Lap at the end of June 1981, her first for just over six months and her last for over a year. Dramatic, theatrical, with no discernible chorus and lyrics on the theme of education and learning, it maintained her reputation for the unusual and challenging, and did well, reaching #11. Its abrupt and startling climax was one of the most thrilling endings to a pop song in the 80s. But while the critical reception to this single was favourable, the reaction to her next was mixed. Smash Hits’s response to The Dreaming was uncharacteristically uncharitable: “The oddball single to end all oddball singles. Slow, spare, distinctly tribal and very bizarre. Sample lyric (one of the clearer ones): “Dangle devils in a bottle and push them from the pull of the Bush”. Shepherd’s Bush? Steve Bush? [Smash Hits’s designer and later editor] Kate herself? No dear, the Australian Bush. Oh, silly me. Strictly for aborigines.” New Musical Express praised her experimentation: “Kate… has zoomed into the stratosphere with the first piece of ‘Aboriginal’ pop since Rolf Harris’s Sun Arise (Alice Cooper made it too Detroit to count). Apparently Rolf actually appears on this single! The Dreaming is the most unusual record of the week, full of environmental drones and atavistic thumps, with Kate singing in some kind of accent, presumably supposed to be aboriginal, that I’ve never heard before. Bold and good.”
Over at Melody Maker, a detailed review concluded with an open verdict: “Last week they did a ‘blind date’ and played this on Roundtable1 without telling anyone who it was. I burst out laughing when the guy from Bucks Fizz said he thought it was Kate Bush – and passed out when they said he was right. The Roundtable panel slagged it mercilessly. It’s the weirdest damn record I’ve ever heard (this week anyway), a clanking chain-gang rhythm, tribal, primitive and relentless, and then in comes Kate’s fearsome twisted voice diving and swooping in different accents. ‘Bang goes another kanga on the bonnet of the van.’ To be honest it put the fear of God into me. Who can conjecture what was on her mind when she wrote it? – it could be a soundtrack for ‘The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith”, a protest song for aborigines, or any race driven from their own land by ‘civilization’. Maybe she just wanted to do a tortured update of Sun Arise. Among the nightmarish array of hoots and howls that explode around Kate in the jungle, Percy Edwards and Rolf Harris contribute their odd vocal acrobatics to the sounds of the animal kingdom. And the B-side is basically a dub version of the same disquieting episode. I’m not entirely sure, but I think Roundtable were wrong.”
Crucially though, radio show presenters and producers didn’t think Roundtable were wrong, and The Dreaming received little airplay. It was a brave choice for a single from someone promoted as a mainstream artist. Whether it was Bush’s decision to release it immediately prior to her next album, with EMI again trusting her instincts on what was the right song to go with, or whether it was EMI’s choice, it didn’t pay off: the single climbed no higher than #48. Although fans’ loyalty to Bush would become very evident in the future, at this time and over the next few months it seemed her audience might have abandoned her during her lengthy period out of the charts.
1 ‘Roundtable’ was a review show on BBC Radio 1, launched in October 1970 which ran with occasional breaks for fifteen years. DJs (and later on, performers) offered their comments on the latest singles releases; Bush was a guest herself in August 1979. It was replaced by a similar show called ‘Singled Out’ in 1986.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Jul. 26
Kate BUSH The Dreaming (EMI EMI5296)
TRACIE I Can’t Leave You Alone (Respond SBS1)