NO STRANGER THING IN WIND BACK WEDNESDAY THAN KATE BUSH




So now a new generation or two is discovering the splendour, the wonder, the brilliance of Kate Bush, thanks to one of her songs saving another life. This time Running Up That Hill, in season four of Stranger Things - but really, who hasn't been saved at one point or other by Ms Bush?


This can only be a good thing. A great thing actually.


(Max, not succumbing to Vecna's curse, thanks to Kate Bush.)


As was the opportunity to speak with Ms Bush one day in 2011, when the phone rang and it wasn’t an operator but oh-my-god-it’s-really-her-be-professional-remember-to-breath on the other end of the line, asking for me by name. (You bet I’ve kept that recording. I may or may not play it occasionally, sometimes just for that opening bit. I’m not ashamed.)


The occasion was not a live show – we were three years away from that shocking and exciting return to the stage after more than 30 years, which I did get to see and review in London - but a new album, 50 Words For Snow.


"I liked the idea of making an album that had the atmosphere of winter. But it quickly was honed down to just snow and I was really fascinated by how interesting a thing it is to write about,” said Bush to me that day. “What isn't interesting about it? It's a fascinating substance. In some ways it's magical and childlike and in other ways it's so desolate and cold and dark. So temporary but beautiful and interesting stuff.


"As we become this one global culture, in some ways it’s things like the weather and nature that still holds our culture as unique to where we are."



As usual, she was right. But there was more to talk about. So we did.

 

WE ALL KNOW THAT KATE BUSH is some weird recluse, a kind of musical version of a character you'd expect to be played by Helena Bonham Carter in a Tim Burton film.


The woman sings about making love to a snowman. Recreates Molly Bloom’s climactic moment from Ulysses in song. Has her son sing the part of a snowflake. Weird.


Sure, the oddness is hardly new. Remember her 1981 hit Sat In Your Lap? Tribal drums and spooky voices, lyrics about cups that “overfloweth/and tis I that moan and groaneth” and a chorus that seemed poised to hyperventilate. Possibly the oddest pop hit of the ‘80s. And then there was the filmclip with its clowns dancing, rollerskating figures in dunce caps and men in bull’s heads while a wide-eyed Bush dances in a tutu. Nutjob, surely. And that’s when she was a young star.


Decades later no one ever sees her around at fashionable spots or cosying up to one of her many acolytes (from Bjork to Bat for Lashes to Florence and the Machine) at an awards program.


She hasn’t toured since 1980 and you won’t find her in the papers and magazines talking about anything topical. Rumour has it she lives off the grid somewhere in rural England, makes music at home that comes out about once a decade and is as likely to tweet an update as you are to wear a fur bikini and sing about a Russian grandmother.



Yet, as I sit talking to the 53-year-old who this year has released two albums within months of each after making us wait six and 12 years for the previous two, it becomes clear that there is only one problem with what we “know” about Kate Bush: most of it has little connection with the truth.


For a start she is doing interviews. Not many, but they’re long and expansive and while skirting anything revelatory they’re hardly a Dylanesque brick wall of nothingness either. She still is fascinated by dance and film, including directing a stop motion filmclip for her website and becoming a fan of the work of director Duncan (Moon and Source Code) Jones. And there are those two new records, one a reconstruction of songs from two ‘90s albums she wanted to tinker with, the more recent one, 50 Words For Snow, a concept album built around a wintry, snow-bedecked theme.


It may well be that the reclusive Kate Bush is a myth we have created because she just isn't available to us whenever and however we want. She hasn’t played the game so the game has filled in the blanks. A throaty laugh greets this observation.


"I kind of adopted a philosophy a long time ago that I really wanted my work to speak for me. I don't really think of myself as a personality or a celebrity," says Bush. "I'm someone who creates something and it's that that I want to put out into the world."


Nice, sure. Predictable even. Wanting the art to speak for you is a fair aspiration after all. But come on, that's not the way the world has worked for 50 years at least.


"Yeah, what's that got to do with it?" Bush chuckles. And she has a point. After the waves of unexpected success which followed her first hit as a 19-year-old, the warbling and wonderful Wuthering Heights, Bush quickly realised fame wasn’t suiting her at all.


By her third album she was in her early 20s, didn't have a manager, was her own producer and was already dictating to her record company what she would be doing and when they would see it.


"Looking back on it you could say that it was perhaps a little bit unusual but it didn't seem so to me at the time," she says now. "Quite understandably people think that if there's a six-year gap or whatever that it's taken me six years to make the album. It's not really like that at all. It was a very long gap between Red Shoes [released in 1993 in the wake of her mother’s death] and [2005’s] Aerial but that was because there were lots of things happening in my life that were important.


“I wanted to spend time not being in the studio. I moved a couple of times, became a mother, all things that were really important. I'd spent such a long time making albums; I just wanted to not do it for a while.”


The albums had come regularly until the birth of her son, Bertie, in 1998, and while never recapturing the stellar commercial heights, she just kept selling. 50 Words For Snow made the top 5 in the UK this year.


And if there's one thing that will encourage moneymen to ignore or forgive eccentricity, it is relatively trouble-free success. Even if nobody, including Bush, could ever explain just why these songs of frank sexuality and oblique storytelling which sometimes crossed paths with pop music but could never be said to live in the same suburb, did sell.


"I have to say I find it totally astounding that my albums do as well as they do. It's quite extraordinary and it's actually very touching for me for the albums to be received with such warmth,” confesses Bush. “The goal isn't to have a huge commercial success. So again, it astounds me that they do as well as they do."



It is more astounding when you think that her conceptual albums arrive in a time when music is everywhere and in everything but is simultaneously being reduced to just another sound in a sonically busy existence - something for quick, single bite consumption. Her albums require complete immersion in another world, into a suite of songs that need be heard in full. But are we still capable of doing it?


"I don't know,” she admits. “I think everything you've said is so true. What's been happening for some time is that music is being seriously devalued and become to a certain extent disposable. I think it's almost a law of nature that there are only certain things that hit an emotive space and that's what was always special for me about music: it made me feel something."


She remembers fondly the excitement of buying an album when she was young and being prepared to "go on an extraordinary journey with that artist [where] even the tactile element was important and in a way your devotion was shown by the number of scars it had on it."


A sensual experience in other words. Appropriately too as a Kate Bush album has always been in equal measure about sense as much as intellect. But one thing she has never precluded is the fanciful. Sometimes the scenarios she creates are on paper whimsical or possibly silly and rather than hide them or excuse them, she revels in them. Having Stephen Fry reading both real and imagined words for snow for example. Or chasing the yeti in another song. It’s the kind of thing so easily mocked as she well knows.



"It did occur to me when I was writing [that] some of it was in a lot of ways bizarre and some of the ideas were very silly,” Bush says. “But I felt what was happening with say Misty [about a snowman lover coming through the window for a night of ultimately fatal, melting passion), which is on the face of it a silly idea, was something that was not actually silly but was dark and quite interesting.


“If you are interested enough to have a listen hopefully you will enter that world and enjoy it. That is what is so great about art: it is a personal relationship between the person who chooses to engage with the album and the music.”


Misty’s entwining of the erotic and the dark is a common combination in the songs of Kate Bush, it’s what made her dangerous as a young woman in a pop music environment where female sexuality was meant to be packaged and constrained. As Bjork wrote some years ago, "To me, Kate Bush will always represent the age of exploring your sexuality, when you change from a girl to a woman.”


But sensuality in its many forms has underpinned the work of an artist whose music often is best understood first of all by feeling rather than thinking.


"It's fascinating, isn't it?” says the never really reclusive Bush. “You have to come back to personal engagement.”