The opening music to Kate Bush’s career is in the key of C. One day, sometime in 1970, Kate’s father—a doctor by profession—showed his daughter how to play the C major scale on the piano. This fortuitous happenstance came about because Kate’s brother Paddy desperately wanted someone to accompany him while he practiced his violin. So Kate learned to play the piano. She liked learning to play the piano because it seemed so logical—music was a language that could be easily understood. Kate was twelve. She was writing poetry. Soon she was putting her words together with the music she composed on the keyboard.
Though there have been such elements of good fortune in her life—everything in Kate Bush’s career has been the result of tireless hard work, dedication and discipline.
By 1972, Kate had recorded dozens of songs on a tape recorder. Through a friend of a friend of a friend, one of homemade these tapes was handed to David Gilmour. The Pink Floyd guitarist liked what he heard. His interest piqued, he visited Kate and her family to hear more about this precociously talented teenager. Kate played Gilmour a small selection from some of the fifty-plus songs she had written. It was immediately apparent to Gilmour that Kate Bush was a unique and precious talent.
A demo tape was sent around different record labels. It attracted little interest. Kate then started having second thoughts about a career in music. She considered giving it all up to become a therapist or perhaps a social worker. Instead Gilmour suggested Kate record a new three-track demo. One of the songs on this new demo was “The Man with the Child in his Eyes.”
During the recording of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Gilmour played Kate’s latest demo to one of EMI’s record execs. The effect was immediate. A provisional deal was agreed on the spot—the details of which were worked out with Kate and her family over the following months.
1976, Kate Bush signed a record deal with EMI with a £3,000 advance and £500 for publication rights. She moved to London. She inherited some cash and bought an old piano. Her days were spent at dance classes under the tutelage of the legendary performer/actor/dancer Lindsay Kemp—the man who taught David Bowie mime.
It was the hottest summer on record. Road surfaces were sticky and tar melting in the heat. There was a hose pipe ban. People were told to bathe in only three inches of water. A drought affected large swathes of south-east England. At night Kate stayed up playing the piano, singing and writing new songs. With all the street windows open, her voice carried out into the night. Only one neighbor ever complained.
In March 1977, during a full moon, Kate wrote “Wuthering Heights.” This was eventually chosen (against EMI’s wishes—they wanted “James and the Cold Gun”) to be released as Kate’s first single.
In spring of 1978 “Wuthering Heights” hit number one in the UK singles chart. No one had heard anything like it—it was (quite literally) the shock of the new. When I first heard it—too early on a cold February morning—I hated it, but loved it too (see what I did there?). It was the first time I’d heard anything so indescribable that all I could say to my classmates was “You’ve got hear this record.” There were no words adequate to accurately express the feelings it engendered. There was no obvious hook, no expected pattern of verse, chorus, middle eight, verse, chorus, etc. Yet it was full of those insane longings and intense emotions teenage virgins understood. It became utterly addictive. It seemed as if everyone agreed as Kate Bush was quite suddenly everywhere.
In May 1978, Dutch television broadcaster TROS aired a Kate Bush special featuring six of her songs—quite a feat for a singer who had just released her debut single. Yet, there was this genuine sense about that Kate Bush was this giant in our midst—this singular prodigious talent, this genius—who could only blossom.
But this twenty minute film wasn’t just promoting Kate—the producers had tied the showcase into the launch of a new attraction—the Haunted House—at Efteling theme park in Brabant, Netherlands. Efteling is a theme park based on old European fairy tales and folklore found in the artwork of Anton Pieck.
Kate performed to backing track. But that didn’t matter because she threw herself wholeheartedly into presenting each song as passionately and expressively as possible. That was the seventies, when everyone expressed themselves by any means—be it clothes, music or dance—and never felt too self-conscious about it. Kate’s incredible energy over the two day shoot at the theme park was later described by lighting designer Bert Klos in 2014:
“They were very heady days. There were so many different locations and I wanted to support the actions of Bush as well as possible with light. She was a short woman with a thin voice, but very professional. That woman couldn’t be stopped, she just kept on going. When we wanted to sit down for a while, she already stood up and said: ‘come on guys!’. I can even recall a soundman tripping across his own feet from sleep at 1am!”
The program’s cameraman also recalled working with Kate:
“We didn’t sleep until 3am and at 6.30am we were back around the table with Kate and a cup of tea. We stayed in Hotel De Swaen in Oisterwijk. I got an LP from her, on which she’d written: ‘For dear Henk, the one who is very much alive behind the dead camera.’ Very nice, I liked that. Apparently she felt very much at ease.”
Kate performed the following songs at these locations at Efteling:
‘Moving’ was filmed on the square in front of the castle.
‘Wuthering Heights’ has Kate dancing around inside the main show of the castle. A smoke machine is used for added effect.
‘Them Heavy People’ was filmed on three locations: inside the main show in the attic; at the entrance of the main show with the oriental ghost; and outside before the entrance of the cave which is part of another attraction, the Indian Water Lilies.
‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ was recorded at the side of the lake with the gondolettes.
‘Strange Phenomena’ has Kate walking around in the dark passages of the castle.
‘The Kick Inside’ was filmed on the lake, with Kate lying in a death-barge. At the end of the song, she sails slowly down a placid river, evoking images of Elaine and The Lady of Shalott, classic poetical figures of Arthurian legend.
Earlier today, Friday November 18th, Kate Bush released her single “And Dream of Sheep”—available for download from 11:30 GMT. The song recounts a character lost at sea. Kate performed the lead vocal live whilst filming in a water tank at Pinewood Studios. This track nicely tees up the release of Kate’s live album Before the Dawn on November 25th—details here.