Kate Bush is the primal scream of the female subconscious mind. As a female artist, she broke incredible ground and opened the flood gates for female empowerment within the predominately male-dominated music industry. She was the first female artist to achieve a number one self-written hit single with her debut ‘Wuthering Heights’, and was also the first female artist to break into the UK Albums chart at number one. She did all of this at an incredibly young age.
As a young artist, she exhibited exceptional talent that was ahead of her time and remains a consummate artist to this day. Her songwriting is heavily inspired by literary influences and took time amid her music career to finish her degree in English literature.
Bush is one of those rare integral artists who are able to make ripples in the commercial mainstream while remaining mostly independent. Starting with her record, The Dreaming, she worked as the sole producer for her records, at times employing the help of others.
Her style of music has always been experimental, avant-garde, with a hint of progressive rock-pop. Bush’s debut record, The Kick Inside, came out in 1978 amidst post-punk and new wave, and while Bush did fit in in regards to certain aspects of aesthetics (goth and glam), Bush matched Bowie in regards to theatrics and the maximised production of her concerts, which made her stand out as an anomaly.
Her 1979 Tour of Life, saw Bush incorporate dance, magic, and cabaret. One of the many connections Bush has to Bowie is that they shared the same mime teacher; some of her antics included singing from an egg (Lady Gaga is not the first). Her quirkiness and exuberance are some of her most career-defining traits.
By her fourth record, the aforementioned The Dreaming, she withdrew from public life and focused all her attention on studio production. As a young artist, she was truly a savant, in the sense that she could do anything and do it exceptionally well, once she focused her attention on it.
It is no surprise, then, when a member of Pink Floyd heard a couple of demos from the 15-year-old Kate Bush and made it his temporary goal to bring her creative fire to the public’s attention.
We delved into questions surrounding how Kate Bush was first discovered and then propelled to instantaneous and uncharted success.
How was Kate Bush discovered?
The old music industry adage, ‘it’s who you know’, is very true – there is a reason for why people say that.
“She was the sister of a friend of mine’s friend. My friend came to me and said, ‘listen, my friend has a little sister who’s very groovy – have a listen’,” the famed guitarist and composer, David Gilmour of the seminal experimental rock band, Pink Floyd said – indeed, it was, in fact, Gilmour who helped get her signed to EMI.
In his own words, Gilmour has described the story in the past. Gilmour was given a tape of demos of the young songwriter, from a mutual friend whose sister was the one and only Kate Bush. Of course, at the time, she was only 15-16 years old. While it was clear that Bush possessed a unique sensibility and creative mind, it was Gilmour who picked up on this, and more than that, he knew what it took to capture her sound.
“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.'”
Gilmour was busy at the time working on Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, but he was no less determined to help her. Gilmour worked with Bush to get 3-4 solid songs of hers down to get mastered with a producer that Gilmour chose. He added: “So I just spent some time listening to the tapes and doing some demo tapes with her, picked out songs and sent her into a studio, made three masters, which I then took to EMI studios and said, ‘do you want this?’ And they said, yes, we’ll have it, please.'”
“I was kind of busy at the time doing other things, I didn’t really have the time to get deeply involved with it.”
While Gilmour struck gold with discovering Bush, things wouldn’t exactly go off without a hitch with EMI.
Was Kate Bush too young to release her debut record?
The rumour, as Gilmour put it to rest sometime later, was in fact, false. While Gilmour pretty much set everything up perfectly; he paid for the recording time; he picked the three right songs from Bush’s 40 songs at the time; he found a producer and an arranger to help her record – all EMI had to do was step in, take over for Gilmour, and hit it home.
Well, unfortunately, the money-go-round mechanism of the recording industry and the red tape that this entails, didn’t allow for a smooth process. Gilmour commented on this, saying, “And they took two of those tracks which were those demos for her first album which were recorded a few years before. And what they were doing was, they were looking for different producers, they didn’t want to use the guy that I originally used, for some reason.”
Gilmour continued to say, “I think the delay was because of them thinking she didn’t have enough good songs and the producer’s just not getting the right thing out of her because they were putting her with the wrong people.”
It got to the point where EMI nearly gave up on the ordeal. “Eventually, a guy from EMI came to me and said, ‘C’mon David, it’s alright, but admit it, you sold us a dud here.’
Gilmour wasn’t about to back down or give up. He replied to EMI, saying: “I said ‘give me a fucking break, this girl’s really talented.’ And they said, ‘well, we just can’t get anything right.’ So I said, ‘why didn’t you go back to the guy that I put her with originally?’
Adding, “It’s plain and silly, but they wasted two years pissing around with the wrong producers and claimed they were waiting for her to mature, that’s all bullshit.”
How old was Kate Bush when she was discovered?
Kate Bush was only 16-years-old when she was discovered by David Gilmour, in 1974. If her debut record came out in 1978, what happened during this period and why did it take so long?
One of the things that happened was a rumour was created: That Bush was too young at the time and EMI were waiting for her to ‘mature’ before releasing her first record.
Why was Kate Bush discovered?
It wasn’t a regular thing for Gilmour to do; he didn’t exactly go around discovering people. When he heard Kate Bush, however, it was a different story. He was taken by her voice, her lyrics and her ability.
“I was intrigued by this strange voice,” Gilmour said to the BBC. “I went to her house, met her parents down in Kent. And she played me, gosh, it must have been 40 or 50 songs on tape. And I thought, I should try and do something.”
When that life-changing moment did come and the opportunity presented itself for Gilmour to show EMI executives Bush’s demos, they were instantly sold on it. Gilmour added: “It’s absolutely beautiful, isn’t it? That’s her singing at the age of 16, and having written those extraordinary lyrics.”
Beyond Bush’s talent capturing Gilmour’s ear, there may have been another reason for why Gilmour felt inclined to help Kate Bush. It may have been a subtle gesture of a blow against the empire.
“Alot of the people on the A&R side of it, are people who would have preferred to be singing and playing the guitar themselves and weren’t quite good enough to do that.”
He said before adding: “The way she sounded when she was plunking away at the piano, it took a better than an average ear of an A&R man’s ear to spot the talent in it.”
Gilmour knew that, while Bush’s talent was exceptional, that because of her early musical presentation, she could have slipped through the cracks earlier on, and therefore fought very hard to get her through the red tape.
Did Gilmour discover anyone else?
“Every time you get involved with that kind of thing, you’ll get hundreds of copies of second rate versions of the same thing coming through to you,” Gilmour said about the time after he discovered Kate Bush.
He was soon inundated with thousands of copies of demos from Kate Bush wannabees. It is doubtful that he ever wanted to go through the trouble of doing something like that again.
Listen to Kate Bush’s debut single, ‘Wuthering Heights’: