It’s Katemas time, and there’s no need to be afraid as a shy but excessively talented former child prodigy from Kent becomes the latest celebrity sexagenarian. To celebrate, I’ve temporarily adopted the mindset of one of Kate Bush’s legions of obsessive fans in order to unearth a fascinating treasure trove of trivia about this most mysterious and monumentally gifted musical artist.
From Bexley to Bowie, Big Boi to Bond, here are sixty diamond facts about the most brilliantly idiosyncratic icon of our times.
1. Catherine “Kate” Bush was born 30 July 1958 in Bexleyheath, Kent (now part of the London Borough of Bexley) and came from an artistic background. Her mum Hannah Daly was an accomplished traditional Irish dancer and her English medical doctor father Robert Bush played piano.
2. Her family’s musical influence inspired Bush to teach herself the piano at the age of 11. She also played the organ in a barn behind the family’s farmhouse in East Wickham and studied the violin. She soon began writing her own tunes and eventually added lyrics to them.
3. She was raised as a Roman Catholic with her older brothers, John and Paddy. Paddy worked as a musical instrument maker and John was a poet and photographer. Both siblings were involved in the local folk music scene.
4. Brother John was a karateka at Goldsmiths College karate club and Kate also trained there, becoming known by her nickname Ee-ee because of her squeaky sounding kiai—the loud verbalisation preceding a martial arts attacking manoeuvre. One of the instructors, Dave Hazard, later noted in his autobiography that her dance moves seemed to owe something to karate.
5. In the mid 1970s, Bush attended St Joseph’s Convent Grammar School in South East London, a Catholic girls’ school (later part of St Mary’s and St Joseph’s School, Sidcup), in Woolwich Road, Abbey Wood. During this time her family produced a demo tape with over 50 of her compositions, which was turned down by record labels.
6. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd received the demo from Ricky Hopper, a mutual friend of Gilmour and the Bush family. Impressed with what he heard, Gilmour helped the sixteen-year-old Bush get a more professional-sounding demo tape recorded that would be more saleable to the record labels. The tape was produced by Gilmour’s friend Andrew Powell, who would go on to produce Bush’s first two albums, and The Beatles‘ sound engineer Geoff Emerick. The Sex Pistols weren’t the only act signed by EMI in 1976 that would affect music history. The tape impressed Gilmour’s colleague, record company executive Terry Slater who signed her on the spot.
7. The British record industry was reaching a point of stagnation. Hoary old progressive rock was popular and visually oriented rock performers were growing in popularity, thus record labels looking for the next big thing were considering more experimental acts. The female fronted Blondie, Pretenders and Siouxsie and the Banshees were soon snapped up.
8. A still teenaged Bush was put on retainer for two years by Bob Mercer, managing director of EMI group-repertoire division. According to Mercer he felt Bush’s material was good enough to be released but felt that if the album failed it would be demoralising and if it was successful Bush was too young to handle it.
9. For those first two years of her contract, Bush spent more time on school work than preparing for the limelight. She left school after doing her mock A-levels and having gained ten GCE O-Level qualifications.
10. In a 2005 interview to mark the release of the Aerial album, Bush told Mark Radcliffe on BBC Radio 2 she believed EMI signed her before she was ready to make an album so that no other record company could make her a deal.
11. After the contract signing, EMI forwarded her a sizeable £3,000 advance which she used to study mime training with Adam Darius and enrol in interpretive dance classes taught by the legendary Lindsay Kemp, David Bowie’s one-time mentor. Money well spent indeed. She would write the song Moving on 1978’s The Kick Inside as a tribute to Kemp, who turned 80 earlier this year.
12. Bush also wrote and made demos of close to a staggering 200 songs, a few of which today can be found on bootleg recordings and are known as the Phoenix Recordings.
13. In 1977, Paddy Bush formed a band with his friends Brian Bath (guitar), Vic King (drums) and Del Palmer (bass), who would go on to become Kate’s long-standing engineer, boyfriend and muse. Kate was recruited as vocalist, and they adopt the title of the KT Bush Band. Starting with a residency at Lewisham’s Rose Of Lee and then in pubs and clubs in and around London and the Home Counties, during spring and summer the band performed a varying set consisting mostly of rock ’n’ roll and soul standards (Beatles’ Come Together, Satisfaction and Honky Tonk Women by the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Ike & Tina Turner’s Nutbush City Limits, etc.), although latterly Kate incorporated Saxophone Song, Them Heavy People and James And The Cold Gun from her own repertoire.
14. She began recording her first album in August 1977, although two of the tracks (The Man With the Child in His Eyes and The Saxophone Song) had been recorded at George Martin’s Air Studios in London’s Oxford Street during the summer of 1975 with Gilmour as producer, Andrew Powell as arranger, Geoff Emerick as engineer. Humming, the third track from those sessions is said to be under consideration for release some 43 years later.
15. Against the advice of everyone at her record label, Bush, then just 20, insisted that Wuthering Heights had to be her debut single. That wasn’t a bad idea now, was it, EMI?
16. Uncannily, Kate shares the same birthday as novelist Emily Brontë, the author of Wuthering Heights who was born 200 years ago today. Catherine, as she legally is, also has the same given name as the book’s female protagonist. Seems spookily fated.
17. When her wonderfully warbly song of the same name knocked ABBA‘s Take A Chance On Me off the pop summit in February 1978, Kate Bush became the first female to top the charts in her homeland with a self composed song. Her 1980 album Never For Ever made her the first British solo female artist to top the UK album charts, and the first female artist ever to enter the album chart at Number One. Given that all this was attained when reaching the summit of the charts was the musical equivalent of climbing Everest, that’s a pretty phenomenal achievement.
18. Including promotional singles she has since released a total of forty-five 45s across the world, including twenty-five that made the British Top Forty, including the Top 10 hits The Man With The Child in His Eyes, Babooshka and King of the Mountain, as well as the live On Stage EP. Making that deal with God, Running Up That Hill was even a hit on more than one occasion, including the 1985 original and in a specially remixed version with newly recorded vocals for the London 2012 Olympics.
19. In June 1978, in one of her very first interviews with the music press, Kate told Melody Maker magazine she hoped being female has nothing to do with her success and that she was being judged primarily as an artist. Even as a teenager, she had incredibly strong views on the matter:
“When I’m at the piano writing a song, I like to think I’m a man, not physically but in the areas that they explore. Rock’n’roll and punk, you know, they’re both really male music, and I’m not sure that I understand them yet, but I’m really trying. Every female you see at the piano is either Lynsey DePaul, Carole King…that lot. And it’s a very female style. That sort of stuff is sweet and lyrical, but it doesn’t push it on you, and most male music really lays it on you. It’s like an interrogation. It really puts you against the wall, and that’s what I’d like to do. I’d like my music to intrude. It’s got to. I think that anything you do that you believe in, you should club people over the head with it! Not many females succeed with that. Patti Smith does, but that’s because she takes a male attitude. It’s hard to explain. I’d just rather be a male songwriter than a female. What it is, basically, is that all the songwriters I admire and listen to are male.”
20. Being a gifted pianist, Bush’s childhood musical hero was Elton John, although she was also a faithful follower of David Bowie (“I wish I could write constructions like his,” she admitted in 1978) and attended The Dame’s legendary final Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars “farewell” show at Hammersmith Odeon, a venue she would return to in her own right in 1979 and 2014. But Kate was probably most influenced musically by Bryan Ferry, during his salad days with Roxy Music and Brian Eno. “It was the moods of the songs. They had a very strong effect on me, because that had such atmospheres.”
21. After Bowie’s death in that horrific holocaust of 2016, Bush recalled that she had burst into tears when he announced his infamous “retirement” that night in July 1973. She also penned a tribute, writing: “He was intelligent, imaginative, brave, charismatic, cool, sexy and truly inspirational both visually and musically.” A few weeks later she similarly paid tribute to Prince, writing: “He was the most inventive and extraordinary live act I’ve seen.” I second that emotion.
22. Just as Bowie and Bond very nearly happened, Bush and Bond was a possibility in 1979. Eon, producers of the long-running spy film franchise, were intrigued by Kate’s song James And The Cold Gun and offered Kate the opportunity to sing the theme tune to Roger Moore’s fourth 007 film, Moonraker. When things didn’t work out with Johnny Mathis either, Bond regular Shirley Bassey belted one out for it at the eleventh hour.
23. In 1980, she appeared on an episode of Delia Smith’s Cookery Course series, further expounding on her love of vegetables: “You can even cook them in Marmite,” she offered brightly. “I really do think there’s a lot in vegetables.” One of Kate’s featured dishes is a Waldorf Salad, which had recently had a starring role in an episode of Fawlty Towers. “I notice you’ve left the skins on the apples and I like that,” says Delia. “Yes, there’s so much natural goodness in the skins,” notes Kate, sagely. Watch Kate’s homely appearance here, and enjoy her spectacular spectacle-print shirt.
24. In the same year, Bush explained her vegetarianism thus: “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.”
25. Not only is Kate a vegetarian but she doesn’t wear fur or leather chaps.
26. She has released ten studio albums, all of which reached the UK Top 10, including the chart-toppers Never for Ever (1980) and Hounds of Love (1985). Kate was the first British solo female artist to top the album charts and the first female artist ever to enter the album chart at number-one, as well as the first (and to date, only) female artist to have top five albums in the UK charts in five successive decades.
27. During the course of her career, Bush has been nominated 13 times for British Phonographic Industry (Brits) accolades, and in 1987 she won a Brit Award for Best British Female Artist, presented to her by Ray Davies of The Kinks. She’s also been nominated for three Grammy Awards, and in 2002, was recognised with an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. In the 2013 New Year Honours, Bush was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to music, despite blatantly disregarding royal protocol by asking The Queen for her autograph at a 2005 Buckingham Palace reception. “I made a complete arsehole of myself,” she later recalled.
28. Fans refer to her birthday as ‘Katemas’ – the very best day to put on a KB playlist, bust some theatrical dance moves and the occasional cartwheel.
29. For their emotional 1986 pairing, Don’t Give Up, Peter Gabriel had to get permission from his wife to hug Kate in the Godley & Creme-helmed video, and he later admitted his marriage was in trouble at the time, As Lol Creme recalls in the clip above. PG told Q Magazine, “I thought that five minutes of groping Kate in front of the world was perhaps not the best thing for a dodgy marriage At the time I felt I needed a blessing. Anyway, Jill was great about it.”
30. The uplifting lyrics of Don’t Give Up, had such an impact on his life that Elton John credits it as a song “that saved my life. That record helped me get sober. So she played a big part in my rebirth.” The track was also a favourite of David Bowie, who listened to a lot of Gabriel and Bush during the making of his 1999 long-player Hours… and it showed. The album, which saw Bowie return to classic singer-songwriter mode, even lifts the descending outro of Babooshka on the brooding instrumental Brilliant Adventure.
31. Kate also improved two other Peter Gabriel singles, adding eerie backing vocals to 1980’s Games Without Frontiers and No Self Control, both taken from his third self-titled “Melt” album. Later that year the pair returned to the studio to record a version of Roy Harper’s Another Day and a new song called Ibiza. Neither have been released.
32. Kate has also duetted with Prince, Elton John, Stephen Fry and Rowan Atkinson playing a lounge bar crooner character, 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.”
33. Thirty-three years ago, the NME featured Kate in a stunningly premature ‘Where Are They Now?’ article in August 1985. By the end of the year, her album Hounds Of Love – generally regarded as her masterpiece – had reached Number One in the British album charts. Her purple patch also spawned four hit singles in the shape of Running Up That Hill, Cloudbusting, The Big Sky and the title track. She sang a specially extended version of the latter at the Brit (BPI) Awards, which, whatever you may have just read, took place in 1987…
34. She is a former resident of Eltham, in South East London. Kate was at the Court Road property the night Stephen Lawrence was brutally slain in a racially motivated killing in nearby Well Hall Road, which became one of the highest profile murder cases ever seen in Britain. She subsequently moved to a luxury canalside property in Sulhamstead, Berkshire and in 2004 switched to a cliffside residence near Salcombe in Devon, which was also in the news in 2013 when heavy rains eroded the coastal path that passes by her property.
35. Kate is married to guitarist Dan McIntosh and they have a son, Albert, born 1998, known as Bertie. The news that Bush had become a mother was only made public two years after Bertie’s birth by Peter Gabriel, who let the cat out of the bag during an interview
36. In 2014 Bush staged Before The Dawn, a series of spectacular shows at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. Previous to that, she’d only toured once, way back in 1979, with the so-called Tour Of Life, a twenty-eight-date trek around the UK, Germany, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Paris. It might as well have been called The Only Tour Of Her Life. Depending on which rumours you believe, she’s either a recluse or just doesn’t want to be in the limelight. Either way, aren’t we glad she made that shock comeback? OK, when I say glad I mean absolutely fucking pinch yourself over the moon ecstatic.
37. The cover of Kate’s King Of The Mountain single was drawn by Bertie when he was eight. He also had a significant role in Before The Dawn playing a sort of Van Gogh-meets-Ed Sheeran-at-stage-school singing painter.
38. Fans had to endure a twelve-year gap between Kate’s 1993 album The Red Shoes and her next full-length release, Aerial. Twelve long years. Kate’s epic decade-plus silence generated a feverish level of expectancy – it even inspired a novel, John Mendelssohn’s Waiting For Kate Bush, which concerned the inhabitants of a boarding house in which a group of obsessive Kate fans whiled away the time while awaiting their heroine’s return to public view. One of its characters is a Bush obsessive who sent the singer two thousand unanswered e-mails. A Guardian review described it as “bizarre”.
39. Bush’s retreat from the spotlight between ’93 and 2005 was the subject of documentary film, Come Back Kate, which follows die-hard fans and a woman who had never heard of the singer becoming a Kate Bush tribute act.
40. The prolonged absence from the fold often gave rise to a number of rumours in the media concerning Kate’s health or appearance. Though in the past stories of weight gain or mental instability were usually disproved by her periodic reappearance. Perhaps the sweetest of these tales – literally as well as figuratively – was a story about a visit by some EMI executives to Kate’s country retreat. It’s claimed that the singer boldly announced, “Here’s what I’ve been working on,” before producing some cakes from her oven. In a 2005 interview, however, the singer denied this ever happened. “I don’t know where that came from. I thought that was quite funny actually. It presents me as this homely creature, which is all right, isn’t it?”
41. In 2011, Bush told BBC Radio 4 that the amount of time between releases is extremely stressful: “It’s very frustrating the albums take as long as they do … I wish there weren’t such big gaps between them.” In the same interview Bush denied she was a perfectionist in the studio, saying: “I think it’s important that things are flawed … That’s what makes a piece of art interesting sometimes – the bit that’s wrong or the mistake you’ve made that’s led onto an idea you wouldn’t have had otherwise”, and reiterated her prioritisation of her family life.
42. This woman’s work has found favour in some far-flung corners of the music industry, gaining her a whole host of celebrity fans. Lily Allen, Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford from Frankie Goes To Hollywood attended Kate’s comeback shows, as did Lily Allen and Madonna, who also turns 60 next month. Fellow Eighties icons Annie Lennox and Toyah never tire of singing her praises, and Tricky and Sir Bob Geldof swear by her.
43. Her most famous hip-hop fans are Outkast: “Kate Bush’s music opened my mind up,” the dandyish André 3000 once gushed. “She was so bugged-out, man, but I felt her. She’s so fuckin’ dope, so underrated and so off the radar.” Big Boi went further and once spent a month in England “just to find her”. They eventually met during the Before the Dawn shows. “I talked to her and drank some wine and it was just fucking incredible,” he said. Tupac Shakur was also reportedly an admirer.
44. Public Image Limited’s John Lydon is similarly enraptured by the idiosyncratic songstress. “Kate Bush is a true original,” the former Sex Pistol once said. “It’s not nice that she’s been imitated by artists like Torrid Aimless, sorry, Tori Amos.” Ouch! Indeed, Lydon went as far as to write a song for Kate in the form of a little number entitled Bird In Hand. The lyrics concerned the illegal exportation of parrots from South America. “I don’t think she understood it,” he said back in 2007. “I think she thought it was a reference to her, which it certainly wasn’t!”
45. Singles ain’t what they used to be. In November 2016, Bush released a tranquil video for the single And Dream Of Sheep, a stream and download only release which promoted her triple live LP, Before The Dawn. The piano ballad originally featured on The Ninth Wave suite of songs which made up the conceptual second side of Hounds of Love.
46. In 1978, Bush turned down an offer to support Fleetwood Mac on their huge Rumours tour of America.
47. Although EMI treated the young starlet sensitively, they didn’t fail to capitalise on Kate’s good looks during early promotional campaigns. One particularly striking photo featured Bush in a tight pink vest. It’s a fair bet that many teenage boys (and some girls, too), er, ‘enjoyed’ the photo at various points during the late Seventies. At the 2001 Q Awards one male attendee was apparently led to state, “There’s not a man over forty here who can look at Kate Bush in the eye!”
48. “Oohh, I’ve just cum!” Those were the words uttered excitedly by Kate when making a rare public appearance accepting that Q Award for Classic Songwriter.
49. Bush advertised Seiko watches in Japan in 1978 and provided some impossibly gorgeous music for nine commercials for soft drink Fruitopia in 1994.
50. Her most recent studio album was 2011’s winter-themed 50 Words For Snow, so there could be a similarly extended gap before we hear the next one, but the singer’s recent lack of productivity hasn’t affected the depth and reach of her influence in the slightest. You need only listen to recent albums by the likes of Lorde, Bat For Lashes, Fever Ray, St Vincent and Charlotte Hatherley to appreciate Kate’s continuing relevance to contemporary female musicians.
51. In 2016, there was much gnashing of teeth from the internet shouting brigade when Kate told a Canadian news magazine she approved of Theresa May, telling Macleans that, “We have a female prime minister here in the UK. I actually really like her and think she’s wonderful. I think it’s the best thing that’s happened to us in a long time. She’s a very intelligent woman but I don’t see much to fear. I will say it is great to have a woman in charge of the country. She’s very sensible and I think that’s a good thing at this point in time.”
52. Rather than outing herself as a Tory voter, Kate was merely responding as a feminist to being asked if “the fear of women’s power” she cited in 1985’s Waking The Witch (a barely concealed put-down of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, of which Bush was rather less keen on) was stronger than ever, particularly after Hilary Clinton’s defeat to Donald Trump. In the interests of political balance it’s only fair to point out that in 1990, Kate also allowed Waking The Witch to be used in The Comic Strip’s comedy satire of Thatcher’s spiteful dismantling of the Labour Party-dominated Greater London Council in the satirical BBC television film GLC: The Carnage Continues. Future Absolutely Fabulous creator Jennifer Saunders played The Ice Maiden, a thinly veiled parody of Thatch, whilst Kate provided the story’s instrumental score, as well as Ken, its Shaft-inspired theme tune that bigged up the leftish leader of the GLC, socialist MP Ken Livingstone. Sample lyrics: “Ken is the man we all need. Ken is the leader of the GLC. Who’s the man we all need? Ken! Who’s a funky sex machine? Ken!”
53. Most improbable Kate Bush guest appearance: on Spirit Of The Forest, a 1989 Band Aid-style flop of a charity single also featuring Iggy Pop, the Jungle Brothers, the Ramones, Kim Wilde and Fish from Aylesbury prog rockers Marillion.
54. Appearing on 1987’s Ferry Aid, a horrific cover of The Beatles’ classic Let It Be didn’t exactly do her any favours either. Organised by The Sun, produced by Stock Aitken Waterman and featuring Bananarama, Paul McCartney, Visage’s Steve Strange, Erasure’s Andy Bell and Gloria Hunniford, it was left to the likes of brutally honest George Michael to come up with the perfect reason not to appear, telling The Sun’s rival newspaper the Daily Mirror: “I didn’t really want to appear on a record with Ali from EastEnders.”
55. Talking of Erasure, Kate once politely declined a request by the synthpop duo to produce one of their albums. “We got to meet her and everything but she didn’t feel that that was her area,” keyboard wizard Vince Clarke admitted. “It would have been great if she could have done it but that’s just the way it goes.” Vocalist Andy Bell added: “When we went around to her house, I couldn’t believe that she was a real person. She’s always given me goosebumps.” Am I alone in thinking that this doomed collaboration had the potential for electronic meets ethereal amazingness?
56. Kate officially opened Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV channel in 1984, pulling off a ribbon wrapped round a TV in a ceremony in Swindon. In the days before satellite dishes, the Wiltshire town, along with where I was living in Milton Keynes, were the earliest cable-connected places in Britain set up to receive the fledging broadcasts.
57. For an artist famed for her reclusiveness she had a particular penchant for appearing on children’s television in the first part of her career, including performing her paean to a cloistered gay couple Kashka from Baghdad on Ask Aspel in 1978, and even letting letting school-age miscreants try on props from the bonkers Sat In Your Lap video on Razzmatazz in 1981.
58. Bush described The Line, The Cross & The Curve, the 1993 film she directed and starred in with Miranda Richardson and Lindsay Kemp as “a load of bollocks.” And talking of balls…
59. Well, slap my bottom and call me Judy. Rufus Wainwright once suggested that Bush’s large gay following was because “She is so removed from the real world. She is one of the only artists who makes it appear better to be on the outside than on the inside.”
60. Kate Bush is quite possibly the most major performer never to have released a DVD. Though she issued three collections of promo videos in the 1980s, underlining just how attuned she was to the then embryonic medium of promotional film making, the closest Kate’s come to DVD has been allowing EMI to expand one of the VHS releases as The Whole Story ’94, an 18-track visual singles compilation on the short-lived VideoCD format. The heady audio-visual cocktail of Before The Dawn was professionally filmed for release but ultimately only its soundtrack has made it out so far as the singer wasn’t happy with how she looked. So far it’s her most recent release, though word on the street is she’s working on a book. Whatever the future in Bushworld it’s sure to be as brilliantly enigmatic and Kate herself.