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August 24th, 2019

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Second paragraph of third chapter of Under the Ivy: The Life & Music of Kate Bush, by Graeme Thomson:
When the light falls a certain way an unlikely pub singer comes into focus, embarking on an enforced, somewhat delayed apprenticeship. Fronting the KT Bush Band, she was a characteristically vivid turn as a lounge bar chanteuse, singing the likes of Hall & Oates’ ‘She's Gone’, Steely Dan’s ‘Brooklyn’, Arthur Conley’s ‘Sweet Soul Music and Free’s ‘The Stealer' to a less than select crowd of lager drinkers, corporate low-rollers and sports aficionados. “We played Tottenham Football Club, where they thought she was the stripper,” says the band’s drummer, Vic King. “At a pub in Putney on the day [before] Scotland beat England at Wembley we had dry ice machines that set off the fire alarm. There was a bit of a riot and a panic. It was a really good evening!” He pauses. “But not really her thing, no.”
Second paragraph of third chapter of Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory, by Deborah M. Withers:
Never for Ever is marked by the same fascinations with taboo sexuality of The Kick Inside and Lionheart. For example, ‘The Infant’s Kiss’ is inspired by the 1961 film The Innocents, which dramatises a governesses’ [sic] obsession with the children she looks after, in particular the young boy Miles who is possessed by the spirit of an adult man: ‘There's a man behind those eyes.’ The BFS performs as the governess to tell a tale of spiritual and emotional obsession, ‘I want to smack but I hold back/ I only want to touch’ (NFE) while the simple orchestration and violin riffs convey the tense, creeping horror of the film.
I'm not a huge Kate Bush fan, but my other half is; I got her these two books for Christmas a few years back and have now got around to reading them myself. Thomson's book is a readable artistic biography, taking us through Bush's career up to the time of publication using public sources and interviews with former colleagues (though not Bush herself as far as I can see). Bush is far from a one-shot wonder, but it's clear that her biggest (and quite extraordinary) success was at the very start of her career, with “Wuthering Heights”, “The Man With the Child in his Eyes” and The Kick Inside. It's extraordinary that those first songs were written when she was a teenager, “The Man With the Child in his Eyes” when she was 16.

After that, she was basically rich enough to do what she wanted, without too much pressure to succeed further (and clearly much more careful with her money than, say, Pete Townshend). And what she wanted was generally studio recording rather than the public stage - between 1979 and 2014 there were no Kate Bush live concerts, and few appearances. Few of her later songs are as successful as the early ones, but some are, and I get the sense that for the last forty years she has been more or less throwing artistic ideas at the wall and seeing what would stick.

I was also very interested to note that despite her eclectic performances and style, she is still very much a music industry insider - an outlier rather than a revolutionary. It was David Gilmour of Pink Floyd who spotted her when she was 16 (here's a 2002 bootleg video of her perfoming "Comfortably Numb" with Gilmour). As The Kick Inside and Lionheart came out she was providing backing vocals for Peter Gabriel (who is co-credited with her on the 1979 Kate Bush Christmas Special). The book includes chummy pictures with Midge Ure and Terry Gilliam. I don't want to exaggerate this, of course - she also cultivated the Trio Bulgarka for The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, well outside the British music industry's normal comfort zone.

Anyway, Thomson's books was an enlightening read even for a non-fan.

Withers' book is her PhD thesis, so it's rather less accessible. The performing personality of Kate Bush is described as the "Bushian Feminine Subject", abbreviated to "BFS" throughout the book, which is rather confusing. Where lyrics are quoted, citations are given to the album rather than to the song in which they appear. More fundamentally, I felt that this was a case where a thematic rather than chronological approach might have been more suitable - like Thomson, Withers goes through Bush's career album by album, but this obscures the interesting questions of whether her approach to sexuality, gender identity, orientalism or colonialism has changed over time. My other half confessed that she had not managed to finish the book; it is only 150 pages, but a bit impenetrable.

You can get Under the Ivy: The Life & Music of Kate Bush here, and Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory here.

Under the Ivy was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves, and Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory was the shortest book on my shelves acquired in 2011. Next on those lists are Cycling in Victorian Ireland, by Brian Griffin, and Alina, by Jason Johnson.

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