Known for her ethereal vocals, expressive dancing and poetic lyrics, the evergreen Kate Bush is being discovered by a new generation. It comes nearly half a century since she began writing chart hits as a teenager, after Netflix used her song Running Up That Hill in its award-winning 1980s sci-fi drama, Stranger Things.
It’s believed that the 63-year-old is currently making £250,000 a week from airplay of the track, which has gone to No 1 around the world, but it is just the latest chapter in what has been an extraordinary, and curiously secretive, life.
And it is in stark contrast to the relative obscurity enjoyed by her former partner, bassist and studio engineer Derek ‘Del’ Palmer, the man credited with programming the drum track that makes Running Up That Hill so distinctive. Palmer has played several one-off gigs with Cloudbusting, a Kate Bush tribute band, who are playing tonight at a remote pub in the Pennines.
For her part, in a rare interview last week, Bush told Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour it was ‘very special’ to be finding new audiences. But then, in the mad world of Kate Bush, Stranger Things have happened…
Known for her ethereal vocals, expressive dancing and poetic lyrics, the evergreen Kate Bush (above, in 1975) is being discovered by a new generation
MAKE A DEAL WITH GOD… OR ANOTHER DEITY
She grew up in an eccentric, art-loving family where New Year parties involved getting stoned and listening to 17th Century recorder music at their 400-year-old Kent farmhouse.
Her father Robert and brother Paddy also introduced her to Eastern spirituality. She was fascinated by George Gurdjieff, a Russian philosopher who believed humans lived a ‘waking sleep’ but could reach full potential via the ‘Fourth Way’ – a combination of yoga, renouncing worldly possessions and living in monk-like isolation.
Gurdjieff, Jesus and whirling dervishes – a Turkish form of ‘active meditation’ – are all name-checked in her 1978 hit, Them Heavy People.
Stranger still is the inspiration for her 1985 single Cloudbusting – a Sigmund Freud-trained Austrian psychiatrist called Wilhelm Reich. He created a ‘cloudbusting’ device in a bid to capture the physical energy (‘orgone’) released during human orgasms, which he wanted to harness to make rain.
The song – which was accompanied with an atmospheric video featuring actor Donald Sutherland – opens with the line: ‘I still dream of Orgonon.’
Pictured, the cloudbusting contraption in the video for her 1985 hit of the same name. The inspiration for the single was a Sigmund Freud-trained Austrian psychiatrist called Wilhelm Reich. He created a ‘cloudbusting’ device in a bid to capture the physical energy (‘orgone’) released during human orgasms, which he wanted to harness to make rain
GOT THE BREAK-UP BLUES OVER RED SHOES
Kate’s long-term collaborator, Del Palmer, was playing in a 1970s pub band with her brother when they became the KT Bush Band to give the then teenage (and already prodigiously talented) Kate live singing experience.
They were in a relationship until the early 1990s, when they argued over her album, The Red Shoes, but he still collaborates with her as a sound engineer.
Kate’s song You’re The One, expressing heartache at leaving a lover, is about their break-up.
Del remains her greatest cheerleader in interviews, recently saying ‘nobody else comes close’.
She’s now married to guitarist Danny McIntosh.
VERDICT ON FIRST LIVE SHOW? SOFA, SO GOOD
Kate’s first live performance was at the London School of Furniture in 1976, shortly after being signed to EMI. It was her brother Paddy’s final-year show.
One onlooker said that she danced to classical music ‘wearing some woollen-type suit with a big trumpet thing coming out of her head’.
THE CHART-TOPPER IS A HIT AT NUMBER TEN
Despite her at-times esoteric repertoire – including songs about being a firework, dancing with Hitler, and one in which she sings the first 150 digits of Pi – Kate has a wide fan base.
But perhaps her most unlikely devotee is Boris Johnson. When asked to choose his five greatest female influences, he overlooked the Queen and Margaret Thatcher to include the singer who ‘wrote what is surely one of the world’s greatest ever pop songs’, namely Wuthering Heights.
RURAL ISOLATION AND WITHERING HEIGHTS
A five-bedroom mansion on the clifftop near Kingsbridge in Devon has offered a windswept retreat since Kate bought it for £2.5 million in 2005. She is said to fly to it by helicopter from her main Berkshire home if she fancies an alfresco seaside lunch.
But it’s slowly falling into the sea. Set in 17 acres, a huge landslip left her neighbour’s gate just inches from an 88 ft drop, leaving the singer facing a six-figure bill to reinforce her own property.
In her desire for privacy, she campaigned for a public footpath along the cliff edge to be closed.
A VEGGIE DIET… OF CHOCOLATE AND TEA
A vegetarian since the mid-1970s, when she was asked whether plants had feelings, she replied: ‘I don’t think plants mind being eaten, actually.
‘I think they’d be really sad if no one paid that much attention to them.’
In 1980, appearing in an episode of Delia Smith’s Cookery Course about the benefits of vegetarianism, she told the TV chef that when she gave up meat, ‘I had no idea what I could eat. I used to eat a lot of chocolate, so for the next week I lived off chocolate and tea’.
THE INSTINCTIVE HEALING POWER OF ANGELS
The 1993 song Lily was inspired by her friend and personal ‘healer’, the late Lily Cornford, who, Kate said, believed ‘in the powers of angels and taught me to see them in a different light’.
Cornford used ‘colour healing’ which invited people to ‘observe plants and flowers… and try to reproduce their colour in the mind’s eye’.
The 1993 song Lily was inspired by her friend and personal ‘healer’, the late Lily Cornford, who, Kate said, believed ‘in the powers of angels and taught me to see them in a different light’
This intense hue should then be sent around the body either ‘from your third eye, the space between your eyebrows, or from your heart chakra’.
According to Lily’s Maitreya School and Healing Centre, practitioners develop an instinct for the colour their body ‘needs’, and where to send it.
KATE TURNS TO HARD ROCK FOR HER BRONTE TRIBUTE
Learning that she shared a birthday with the writer Emily Bronte, an 18-year-old Kate penned the rhapsodic Wuthering Heights in tribute to the novel of the same name.
That devotion is now set in stone – literally. In 2018, Kate wrote a poem about the novel and its author, which was inscribed into stone on the Yorkshire Moors near the Brontes’ Haworth parsonage.
IT’S A NAME CHANGER
It might be how the world has always known the track, but for Kate, Running Up That Hill will always have a different name.
She told Woman’s Hour: ‘It was called A Deal With God. The record company were worried it wouldn’t get played on the radio.’ As one of the first releases after her 1982 album, The Dreaming, flopped, Kate needed a hit, and so agreed to the title change to make it more commercially viable.
‘For me, this is still called A Deal With God,’ she added.
The song, originally released in 1985, is about a man and a woman swapping places – but is more about empathy than transgenderism.
THE BEST SINGERS ARE REAL WARBLERS
When lyricist Don Black asked her about her main influences, he expected to hear some of the biggest names in the business. Instead, she said she took her inspiration from ‘the blackbird and the thrush’.
Kate said that she took her inspiration from ‘the blackbird and the thrush’
DIGGING FOR INSPIRATION, OR JUST DIGGING DIRT…
It has been 11 years since her last album was released and Kate was hard at work in lockdown … not composing music but gardening. Also, she admitted ‘binge-watching’ dramas – ‘who wasn’t?’ she wondered. ‘Gardening is my thing now, I think,’ she said.
COMEDY DUET WITH MR BEAN
She once duetted with comedian Rowan Atkinson, playing a lounge bar crooner on a song called Do Bears . . ? for Comic Relief.
‘He’s an utter creep and he drives me around the bend,’ sang Bush. ‘To alleviate the boredom, I sleep with his friends.’
HITTING THE HIGHEST NOTES AT BATHTIME
Appearing on TV’s Swap Shop with Noel Edmonds in 1979, she was asked during a phone-in interview with members of the public what the highest note she could sing was.
‘I don’t really know,’ she said, ‘but it’s probably in the bath.
‘I can sing the highest notes when I’m in the bath.’
‘I can sing the highest notes when I’m in the bath,’ Kate said in 1979
It has been 11 years since her last album was released and Kate (above, in 2014) was hard at work in lockdown … not composing music but gardening
CLEANING UP WITH AN ODE TO A WASHING MACHINE
One of her oddest songs, Mrs Bartolozzi, on 2005’s Aerial album, was a reflection about a new washing machine. Lyrics include: ‘Slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy/Get that dirty shirty clean.’
‘Some of my friends thought it was a funny interlude,’ Kate has said. The song is actually about a woman whose husband is missing or dead. Another track, Misty, is sung by a woman to a snowman who arrives in her bedroom for a sexual encounter.
GROWING TALENT WITH A LUCKY BAG OF FERTILISER
When she felt she’d struck gold after composing a song at the piano with a bag of bonemeal fertiliser slung haphazardly on the top, the bag had to stay.
She then recorded her 2011 album, 50 Words For Snow, with the fertiliser in place, having become superstitiously attached to its presence.
GETTING A KICK OUT OF MARTIAL ARTS
Reportedly she learned karate moves as a child – skills that were put to good use in 1991 when it was claimed she reacted to a paparazzo with a sharp kick to his backside. ‘I didn’t think that anyone so small could kick so hard,’ he later noted.
WILD SOUNDS THAT ADD A TOUCH OF ANIMAL MAGIC
Her 1982 album, The Dreaming, required some more unusual sound effects than a synthesiser could supply. So animal impersonator Percy Edwards was hired to provide the sound of sheep, dingoes, Australian magpies – and a kangaroo being run over.
Her 1982 album, The Dreaming, required some more unusual sound effects than a synthesiser could supply. Animal impersonator Percy Edwards was hired to provide the sound of a kangaroo being run over
PLAYING WITH THE BIG BOIS AND A SECRET DUET
He’s a swaggering, gold chain-wearing American rapper whose band Outkast had a global hit, Hey Ya, in 2003. But according to Big Boi – real name Antwan Patton – he is keen to release the duet he recorded with Kate after they went to the pub.
The pair first met backstage at her Before The Dawn concerts in London in 2014. Big Boi later said: ‘We have some wine and we talk.’
It’s not Kate’s first high-profile collaboration – she famously duetted with Peter Gabriel on 1986’s Don’t Give Up, has worked with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Prince, and has covered Elton John hits Rocket Man and Candle In The Wind.
RECLUSIVE? NO, SHE’S RIGHT OUT THERE
She admitted to retreating from public view in the early 1990s after the death of her mother, Hannah, from cancer, and a close friend from AIDS.
But friends have said it’s ‘not true’ that she is a recluse. While there were large gaps between albums, she once told television interviewer Michael Aspel that she ‘wanted to spend more time working than promoting the work’.
Her long-time collaborator Del Palmer has also rejected the suggestion. ‘She was one of the most outgoing people I ever met,’ he told one interviewer.
THE STAR QUALITY THAT RUBBED OFF ON HER SON
Peter Gabriel revealed in 2003 that Kate had a secret five-year-old son, Bertie, with her long-term partner Danny McIntosh.
Now 23, he studied physics at Oxford University where Kate was once spotted dropping him off at the start of term in a battered red Citroen.
He led the Oriel College choir. After appearing with his mother at her 2014 concerts, he hopes to follow in her footsteps by making the stage his career – albeit as an actor.
Peter Gabriel revealed in 2003 that Kate had a secret five-year-old son, Bertie, with her long-term partner Danny McIntosh. Now 23, he studied physics at Oxford University where Kate was once spotted dropping him off at the start of term in a battered red Citroen. (Above, Bertie in 2014)
On a online video-sharing site last year, he was seen with long hair and a bushy red beard, performing monologues from Shakespeare’s Richard II and a play about Mozart by Peter Shaffer.
In an introductory video, he says: ‘I love to act. I love performing. Being on stage just makes me feel alive.’
A profile from a student production of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood says: ‘Aside from drama, his other interests include cats, studying the physics of time and listening to the passage of that time.’
Netflix used Kate’s song Running Up That Hill in its award-winning 1980s sci-fi drama, Stranger Things