Kate Bush is somewhat of an anomaly. She began writing songs at 11-years-old and was signed to EMI by the time she was 15. Either she is immensely beyond her years or has some kind of magic power in which she can summon all of life’s creative sources and command them at will. She is, to some degree, a mystical magician.
Bush was discovered by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd after a mutual friend had suggested he listen to her demos. The tape that Gilmour heard was just Bush’s voice and her piano playing, while it was a little rough around the edges, he could instantly hear the potential.
Gilmour arranged for her to go into a recording studio. He recalled the story: “When we started her off, I put her together with an engineer and a producer and an arranger in a top studio, and I chose the songs. She had about 40 or 50 songs and I picked three. And I have a friend of mine who’s an arranger and producer and I gave him the songs and said ‘listen, get this all fixed up, take her in the studio and do these songs as masters, not as demos. I said, ‘I already got demos.’”
Her debut record, The Kick Inside in 1978, introduced the world to Kate Bush’s insanely original imagination which came equipped with a healthy tinge of quirkiness. ‘Wuthering Heights’, her debut single, broke records. It was the first time a female artist achieved a number one self-written song in the charts.
What made her even more fascinating, however, was her live show. Bush’s first and only tour was in 1979, titled ‘Tour of Life’, where she performed her first two records: The Kick Inside and Lionheart. The tour was magnificent in scope and what one would hope for in regards to a visual representation of her music; the theatricality of it gave David Bowie a run for his money.
It featured multiple costume changes, grandiose acting, and unmatched drama. It was essentially a play or opera; Bush ran all over the stage, danced and acted out her songs with a big cast of characters. Part of what made this theatricality possible was EMI’s financial advance, which Bush used to take dancing lessons with Lindsay Kemp, who taught David Bowie as well.
Bush has always been fiercely independent. She has on numerous occasions argued with her record label as to which song she should release as her single. She said, “I don’t think of myself as a musician. As a writer, I suppose. I only ever play the piano to accompany myself singing. I could never sit and read a piece of music. At best, I’m an accompanist. I suppose the worst thing is frustration at your own ability. Not being able to do what you want to do.”
By her fourth record, The Dreaming, released in 1982, Bush had built her own recording studio near her home. This enabled the singer to maintain complete artistic and executive control and it also allowed her to spend more time with her family, which was extremely important for her.
Speaking about this time in 1982, she said: “But of course, by the time I got to the end of what was ‘The Dreaming’ album, it had gone off on a slight tilt, because I’d become so much more involved in the recording process.” This may give us some insight into why she barely ever performed live; her complete devotion to the recording process not only took her away from the stage but also increased the amount of time in between new records starting in 1985.
Her following record, Hounds of Love, proved to be one of her best. The project produced one of her most popular songs, ‘Running Up That Hill’, and cemented her legacy in the annals of music history. Three years had gone by between The Dreaming and Hounds of Love: this prompted many to question why Kate Bush took so long, and rumours about her health started popping up. Was she running out of steam? Was she planning on retiring?
In the end, Kate Bush did retire from live performances after 1979 – only until 2014, when she made a surprise comeback. Her last studio album was in 2011, when she released 50 Words For Snow.
Did Kate Bush retire?
It is unclear if Kate Bush has officially retired or not, although it is doubtful she will ever tour again. However, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Bush does release another record. Her last album came out in 2011, which would give people enough reason to believe that she has retired. However, if one takes a look at her track record, it becomes clear that this is how she operates.
After releasing her 1985 record, Hounds of Love, which came three years after The Dreaming, more time began lapsing in between records. It would take four years until The Sensual World in 1989, while the next album after that, The Red Shoes, came out in 1993. Following this, it would take Bush another 12 years until 2005’s Aerial.
Bush once commented: “It’s very frustrating the albums take as long as they do,” in an interview with Front Row in 2011. “I wish there weren’t such big gaps between them.”
Six years later, in 2011, both Director’s Cut and 50 Words For Snow were released.
So now, ten years have passed since her last record, will she surprise all of us and release another, or she is done? Perhaps some would say it is a safe bet that she has retired, however after 35 years of not touring, she announced a surprise comeback tour back in 2014.
Why does it take Kate Bush so long to release new albums?
Some say that she is a perfectionist. Bush has refuted that time and time again, saying: “I don’t think I am.” Also adding, “People have said this, but I don’t think I really want anything to be perfect. I think it’s important that things are flawed,” she said in an interview with Mojo.
Her 1982 record, The Dreaming, saw Bush take the reigns in the realm of studio production when she built her own studio. “But of course, by the time I got to the end of what was ‘The Dreaming’ album, it had gone off on a slight tilt, because I’d become so much more involved in the recording process.”
Another reason why Bush takes so long is that as a consummate artist, music is not the only medium she operates in, providing another reason as to why it is unlikely that she technically retired.
“And also, every time I finish an album, I go into visual projects, and even if they’re quite short pieces, they’re still a huge amount of work to put together. So I started to veer away from the thing of being a live performing artist, to one of being a recording artist with attached visuals.”
This brings us to our next question…
Has Kate Bush retired from touring?
It took Kate Bush 35 years until she surprised her fans and announced her second only live performance in 2014.
Her 1979 ‘Tour of Life’ took Bush across Europe for 28 dates. Melody Maker at the time called it, “The most magnificent spectacle ever encountered in the world of rock”. In 2014, her 22-date ‘Before the Dawn’, saw Bush take a residency at London’s Hammersmith Odeon.
“It wasn’t designed that way, because I really enjoyed the first set of shows we did in 1979,” Bush explained. “The plan at the time was that I was going to do another two albums’ worth of fresh material, and then do another show.”
As previously mentioned, The Dreaming saw her get more involved in the recording studio; this allowed her to redefine her career and as a result, her identity. It coincided with her love for visual arts; when she completed an album, she then creates its visual counterpart. “So I started to veer away from the thing of being a live performing artist, to one of being a recording artist with attached visuals.”
As is usually the case in the world of celebrities, people begin to ask questions and this, at times, prompts rumours. One of these is that Kate Bush has a fear of flying. Another is that during a warm-up performance for her 1979 tour, the death of her lighting director, Bill Duffield, left her slightly traumatised, forcing her to nearly cancel the entire tour. What is most likely the case, however, is that she is terrified of live performance itself. “I do have the odd dream where I’m on stage and I’ve completely forgotten what I’m meant to be performing – so they are more nightmares than dreams.”
Family life has always been incredibly important for Kate Bush, commenting in an interview after her ‘Tour of Life’: “At the moment my family life is incredibly important to me and it comes first.”
She added, “Then my work fits in around it which is quite easy to do with the recording process but something like doing shows would be incredibly disruptive and I just can’t see that would be something that would work at this stage.”
One thing is clear, as time passes it becomes less and less likely that, at age 62, she may suddenly decide to get up and go on tour. It has been ten years since her last record – the most amount of time she has ever let lapse between albums is 12 – there is still time for her to surprise us. After all, a part of Bush’s brilliance is her mystique, so why ruin it?