The two singers who inspired Kate Bush to become an icon
There is an air that surrounds the work of Kate Bush which, despite being perfumed with the literary worlds she has leapt between, speckled with the ethereal glow of her unwillingness to conform and enlightened by the devotion to her craft, is all together welcoming. It can feel like a singular and unique vision but the truth is that she has always leaned on others to make her music truly memorable.
Whether it was her introduction to the music profession via David Gilmour, or her devotion to Lindsay Kemp, despite appearances, Bush has always relied on the craft of others to inspire her to greatness. A notoriously camera-shy star, while most artists indulge in the ugly game of promotion, Bush has never really found herself in need of it. As such, a list of her favourite singers or most influential artists is undiscoverable if at all existent. We think we’ve found two singers, however, who could rightly call themselves the elusive singer’s most cherished inspirations.
Kate Bush’s journey to stardom began at a very young age. Discovered by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour when she was only 16-years-old, as Gilmour was working on Pink Floyd’s classic album Wish You Were Here, he was given a demo tape consisting of 50 songs of a young Kate Bush’s own composition. “I was intrigued by this strange voice,” Gilmour says in a new interview for 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.
“I think we had the [EMI] record-company people down at Abbey Road in No. 3,” Gilmour adds. “And I said to them, ‘Do you want to hear something I’ve got?’ They said sure, so we found another room and I played them ‘The Man with a Child in his Eyes.’ And they said, ‘Yep, thank you — we’ll have it.’ [Laughs.] It’s absolutely beautiful, isn’t it? That’s her singing at the age of 16, and having written those extraordinary lyrics.”
It was a point of reference that nobody thought possible for a girl of such a young age. But the truth was, as well as having a literary and musical upbringing, Bush had been inspired by one of the most adventurous lyricists the world has ever known — David Bowie.
The Starman can be rightly attributed with inspiring countless artists that followed him on to the stage. As well as his expert performances, which prompted Bush to connect with his movement instructor Kindsay Kemp, Bowie’s songwriting captivated Bush and showed her that songs did not have to follow any real structure if she didn’t want them to. As well as lyrically encouraging Bush to pen her thoughts as wildly as they arrived at her, Bowie’s costuming was also a key piece of inspiration.
“David Bowie had everything,” Bush recalled upon the news of his death in 2016. “He was intelligent, imaginative, brave, charismatic, cool, sexy and truly inspirational both visually and musically. He created such staggeringly brilliant work, yes, but so much of it and it was so good. There are great people who make great work but who else has left a mark like his? No one like him.” Bush was known to have been a fan of Bowie during his heady Ziggy days and so the art of performance ranked as high for her as the songs themselves.
Bush wouldn’t be as prolific a performer as Bowie, in fact, she has only ever toured twice. But the reason she stopped performing is that she felt if she couldn’t maintain the vision she had for the show and her songs then there was no point in doing it at all. It’s the kind of uncompromising artistry that was resolutely taught in the school of Bowie.
Another huge influence on the career of Kate Bush is from another bespangled and glittered genius songwriter from the seventies. While David Bowie was able to show Bush how to follow her creative drive and artistic nuances, one star showed her how to apply it to pop music, that person was Elton John. Bernie Taupin may have been the man behind Elton John’s lyrics, however, the glittering performance from Elton absolutely enraptured a young Bush.
“I couldn’t stop playing it — I loved it so much,” said Bush when speaking to NME about the recently unearthed video of her cover of ‘Rocketman’. “Most artists in the mid-seventies played guitar but Elton played piano and I dreamed of being able to play like him.” Of course, Bush would get the chance to play a little like him and include Elton’s song ‘Rocketman’ as one of the very few covers she has ever produced.
Bush later asked Elton to be a part of her own record, something the star was more than happy to be a part of. “I did a duet with Kate Bush on this track for her last album,” Elton recalled in 2013. “That session with her was hard, because she doesn’t write easy songs. She’s a complex songwriter and this is a weird song, but I love it so much. I’m so proud to be on a Kate Bush record; she’s always marched to the beat of her own drum. She was groundbreaking — a bit like a female equivalent of Freddie Mercury.”
Utterly unique and completely one of a kind, Kate Bush has become a piece of British culture that is resolutely celebrated across the globe. Her style and guile has seen her become one of the most adored singers on the planet and it is down to the values instilled in her during her formative years by two of the greatest showmen to have graced the stage. Simply put, without David Bowie and Elton John we wouldn’t have got Kate Bush.
A rare demo of the song she wrote for David Bowie, ‘Humming’:
Kate Bush’s brilliant cover of Elton John’s ‘Rocketman’: