Every once in a while, a certain type of musical artist emerges: characterised by a crazily unique persona, often accompanied with distinctly exotic outfits and unwavering commitment to their art, they are often definable only by their name.
Kate Bush is undoubtedly one of these artists, almost inevitably mentioned alongside the likes of David Bowie for her commitment to reinventing herself and her music, in some cases even within the same song. Bush first captured the attention of the British public at age 19 in 1978 with her chart-topping single ‘Wuthering Heights’. This lead to her being the first female artist in England to achieve a Number One with a self-written song. Since then, she has gained a reputation as a musical pioneer for her music videos (such as the short film accompanying the song ‘Cloudbusting’), the narrative personas explored across her discography (e.g. the witch in ‘Waking the Witch ’), and her use of technology in the post-Fairlight era. 25 of her singles have entered the UK Top 40, and she has released 10 studio albums which have all reached the Top 10 album chart. She has only given two tours in her 40-year career, the most recent being in 2014. In 2018, she released a book containing a compilation of her lyrics called How to Be Invisible: Selected Lyrics. The title refers to her increasing absence from the popular music scene after her 1979 tour, in which time she focused on her music publishing company (Kate Bush Music Ltd), enabling her to release albums at her own pace (there were 12 years between her seventh and eighth studio albums!).
You would be forgiven for thinking that Bush, being the unrepeatable musical force that she is, is some sort of musical Immaculate Conception: born from God-knows-where, and free of inherited musical norms with her quirky mix of sounds. While a certain amount of free-spiritedness seems to be required, much of Bush’s music is self-admittedly a rolling-of-the-ball; absorbing and passing on tastes she inherited from her surroundings, especially those of her brothers.
Even on her first album, The Kick Inside, Bush’s musical innovation was apparent, but not unexplained. ‘Them Heavy People’, track number 11, acts as a letter of gratitude for musical and cultural. Lyrics like “They read me Gurdjieff and Jesu” probably sounded slightly less abstract during the hippy culture of the 1970s, but are references to her brothers introducing her to new philosophical approaches to life.
Further influences were inheited from her dance training under Lindsay Kemp; ‘Moving’, the first track of the album, is a tribute to his fluid sensuality which comes across in much of Bush’s choreography. He is an integral force in her videos and stagecraft.
Her exposure to literature, likely also to be a result of inherited familial habits, forms the basis of much of her lyrical work too: without a family-gathering around the TV to watch a BBC Adaptation of Wuthering Heights, we may never have heard the swooping calls of “Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m Cathy.”
It perhaps says something of the depth of Bush’s artistry to point out that so far, these inheritances have all formed part of only one album, and her debut album at that. Anyone aware of Bush’s works outside of ‘Wuthering Heights’, or indeed of any spoofs and parodies, will be indirectly aware of another colour within her music which she inherited from her brother Paddy.
Paddy, an original member of the KT Bush Band (the precursor to her solo career) features on all of Kate’s studio albums until Aerial in 2005. As well as playing an assortment of ‘normal’ instruments, he plays the mandolin, balalaika, sitar, koto, and digeridoo. It is no wonder then, that some of these instruments (and the musical cultures from which they originate) form the backbone of Bush’s musical landscapes. For example, ‘The Dreaming’, sang in an Australian accent, explores the stories of destruction of Aboriginal homelands by white Australians in their quest for Uranium and, naturally, features a digeridoo.
This musical shaping, exploring various cultures from near and far, was an inherited interest, supported and enabled by her family. This allowed for the creation of uniquely geographical pieces of music.
Bush’s artistry, gorgeously unique and shockingly innovative, is nonetheless inherited from various persons in her life. These ‘heavy people’, who shaped her musical individuality also, perhaps bizarrely, make her achievements more impressive. Inheritance enabled, but is not wholly responsible for, her success.