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Random Jukebox: Tracey Thorn covers Kate Bush’s Under The Ivy

“When I was asked to be guest editor for the Radio 4 Today programme, I realised immediately that one thing I wanted to do was pay tribute in some way to Kate. I’ve never sung any of her songs before, and I’ve chosen a lesser known one called Under The Ivy, recording it with Ben Watt on piano, and a string arrangement written by Nick Ingman. Her version of the song originally appeared as a B-side to Running Up That Hill, back in the days when every record had a B-side, a place where often a great song could be semi-hidden.

That feeling of concealment is particularly relevant to this lyric, which is all about privacy and intimacy, hiding “away from the party”, meeting someone in a safe and secret place. It could be about a lover of course, but I also think it partly describes Kate Bush as an artist. In contrast to many music stars, she’s lived a proper private life, devoting much of her time and her energies to her family. And even with these amazing Before the Dawn shows, I don’t really feel that she was entering back into the public arena of the music business, more that she briefly invited us into her world, giving us a glimpse of all the things she can do. For that, and for this beautiful song, I thank her and hope I’ve done it justice.” — Tracey Thorn, 2014

In 2014, the ever so lovely Tracy Thorn was over the moon at seeing Kate Bush return to the stage in her show spectacular Before The Dawn, after that famously interminable absence of 35 years. But then again, weren’t we all?

The one-time Everything But The Girl frontwoman was suitably enraptured by the “incredible performance” and “musical highlight of the year” to the extent that she ended up recording her very own Kate cover, a tribute that came about as a result of being guest editor for the BBC’s Today programme later that year. 

And the honour went to Under The Ivy, the fragrant flip side of 1985’s classic single Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) that spent a shock three* weeks at No.1 in the Britain of 2022 having been rediscovered by a multitude of new audiences via the Netflix series Stranger Things.

A short and sweet piano ballad with her long-time partner Ben Watt on piano, the bedsit disco queen conveys a prosaic warmth and dignity, adding new nuance and poignancy to a three decade old song. 

Even though Thorn’s rendering is somewhat similar to the original’s arrangement, she more than holds her own and is able to add a prosaic warmth to this exquisite Kate curio, as well as the embellished lushness of a string section.

Likewise, the persistent ache in Thorn’s voice lends an affecting depth to the proceedings: sounding a little dolorous about the festive season isn’t so bizarre, given how wretched many people feel by 27 December, which was the date she chose to unleash her Kate take on the public.

Evidently, the safety of seclusion can be little more than delusion. 

Steve Pafford

*Technically, RUTH was the most-streamed song in the UK for four solid weeks though due to an ‘accelerated chart ratio’ (ACR) clause weighted against tracks of a certain vintage the tally of its first week on top was halved and the ‘official’ No.1 was allowed to be claimed by Harry Styles. It’s enough to make you crush a watermelon

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