Kate Bush (born Catherine Bush on 30 July 1958 in Bexleyheath, Kent, now part of Greater London) is an English singer-songwriter known for her expressive three-octave voice, idiosyncratic and literary lyrics, and eclectic and meticulous musical and production style. She debuted in 1978 with the surprise hit Wuthering Heights, which was number one in the British music charts for four weeks. She has become one of the most influential female artists of the twentieth century.
Whilst learning the Violin and Piano at St. Joseph’s Convent Grammar, she caught the ear of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour who funded some demos, ultimately leading to a deal with EMI (Pink Floyd’s ultimate record company through the progressive Harvest imprint) when she was sixteen. Over the next two years EMI allowed her - either to allow her to hone her talents or so she wouldn’t be offered a contract by another record company - to finish school without releasing any material. Bush’s first releases were in 1978 when she released the single Wuthering Heights (which went to number 1 in the UK, a first for a female singer/songwriter) followed by the album The Kick Inside.
Even from her earliest works where the piano was a primary instrument, Bush wove together many diverse influences, melding classical music, rock, and a wide range of ethnic and folk sources, to produce a unique amalgam, and this has continued throughout her career. Later recordings have moved farther from this rock base, and the 1982 album The Dreaming experimented heavily with the then-new technology of sampling.
More than one reviewer has used the term “surreal” to describe much of her music, for many of the songs have a melodramatic emotional and musical surrealism that defies easy categorization. It has been observed that even the more joyous pieces are often tinged with traces of melancholy, and even the most sorrowful have elements of a unique vitality struggling against all that would oppress it. The unapologetic use of her voice as an instrument to convey a broad range of emotional intensity and subtlety is one thing that characterizes nearly all that she does.
Kate Bush has tackled sensitive and taboo subjects long before it has become fashionable to do so; Kashka From Baghdad is a song about a gay male couple; Breathing explores the results of nuclear fallout. Her lyrics are often literate and reference a wide array of subject matter, some of which is relatively obscure, such as Wilhelm Reich in Cloudbusting, or G.I. Gurdjieff in Them Heavy People.
The lush arrangements, complex production and intelligent, thoughtful lyrics can sometimes mask the fact that Kate Bush is a peculiarly witty writer and that comedy is not only a big influence on her — she has cited Monty Python, Woody Allen, Fawlty Towers and The Young Ones as particular favourites — but also a significant component of her work. In addition to her British peers, Bush has reportedly cited American musicians Frank Zappa and Devo as musical influences.
As a vocalist, she has also provided backing vocals or duets with Peter Gabriel, Roy Harper, Big Country and others. She is often cited as an influence on later artists, most especially female singers such as Jane Siberry, Happy Rhodes, Tori Amos and many more.
Kate Bush has collected two Ivor Novello awards - in 1979 for Outstanding British Lyric (The Man With The Child In His Eyes) and for Outstanding Contribution To British Music As A Songwriter in 2002. In 1987 she scooped Best British Female Artist at the Brit Awards. In 2001, Kate won Q Magazine’s Classic Songwriter award, revealing an unlikely fan in John Lydon who announced, in his acceptance speech for the Inspirational Artist Award, “I’d like to say hello to Kate Bush, thank you, your music is f****ng brilliant”.
Interestingly one of Kate’s songs (Running Up That Hill, from the 1985 album Hounds Of Love) has been covered by Within Temptation and was also played live by Placebo on a number of dates during their 2006 tour. The Futureheads released a version of Hounds of Love as a single, which did rather well.