Kate Bush: I’d like my music to intrude – not many women succeed with that
In 1978, a 19-year-old Catholic girl from South London reconfigured the rock landscape. Forty years on, her strange phenomenon endures...
It’s three months after the release of Never Mind The Bollocks, and a 19-year-old Catholic girl from a south-east London suburb who shares a birthday with author Emily Brontë is singing about Heathcliff and Cathy as she wafts about on Top Of The Pops, the embodiment of gothic romance, generally giving it plenty of interpretive dance and jazz hands.
Wuthering Heights, her debut single in January 1978, had its release date pushed back because the singer was unhappy with the photograph on the sleeve. Fortunately this means it avoids being smothered by Wings’ all-conquering Christmas singalong Mull Of Kintyre.
Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights also sees off competition from another female singer’s UK chart debut – Denis by Blondie – to reach No.1, displacing ABBA, in March. It stays there for a month. We have let her in at our window. Kate Bush has defied the laws of logic, gravity and punk. And she would continue to do so.
A huge chunk of time later it’s March 2014, and Kate Bush announces an epic 22-night, August-October residency at Hammersmith Apollo in London, the venue of her last gig, 35 years previously. Tickets sell out in 15 minutes, and that autumn she becomes the first female ever to have eight albums in the UK Top 40 simultaneously. Only The Beatles and Elvis have ever topped that tally; Bowie’s death later adds him to the list. The shows are the buzz event of the year, even before they’ve taken place. When they do, she owns every front page, even though she barely plays any of her hits. All this despite a reclusive, off-camera relationship with publicity that could best be described as ‘sparing’.
Kate Bush is now established as both a national treasure and an enduring enigma. In a career in which she has usually done the opposite of the rational thing, she has maintained stellar status as a much-loved musical pioneer, transcending her initial pigeonhole as a kooky hippie girl with a high-pitched voice. An imperishable influence on subsequent female artists, sure, and then some, yet Bush has primarily been significant beyond gender, her art and attitude a nudge to all idiosyncratic creative types who don’t follow formulae. She remains her own entity, and we grant her the awe – and occasionally forgiveness – afforded to the truly unique. She has even survived describing Theresa May as “wonderful”. The rules, and common sense, go out of the window in Kate Bush World. How did she pull this off?