Wednesday, 4 May 2011
Kate Bush on Front Row
Kate Bush was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 arts programme Front Row today, and inevitably, the first thing you heard was Wuthering Heights, for the casual listener the song with which she will always be associated, rooted in time as defined by Top of the Pops performances. John Wilson went to visit her in her rural home which also houses her studio. From the days in which she recorded in her parents’ farmhouse, work and domestic life appear to have been inseparable for her. Here, she tells Wilson, she is taking time off from work, preparing for her next album. Work takes place in the studio elsewhere in the house. She keeps regular Monday to Friday hours, and joshes that if she didn’t, her records would take even longer to appear. She is evidently well aware of the unusually long periods it takes for her to write and record, and speaks of them with wry, mildly self-deprecatory humour, without being in any way apologetic. Her songs find their form in their own time. She is reluctant to discuss the new LP, obviously not wanting to hold out any promises that she won’t be able to keep, or to put pressure on herself. The rather hastily produced follow up to her debut LP The Kick Inside, Lionheart, probably taught her a few lessons about the requirement to produce according to deadlines. That she has done most of the writing is about as much as she is about to concede; nothing about the content or musical style. She has gone back to working the songs out at the piano, and has found that a bag of bonemeal intended for the garden beds has helped them to develop. Inspiration comes from unexpected sources.It's an object with some symbolic heft, when you come to consider it, the matter of death promoting growth, the cycles of life renewed. A quite suitable focus for contemplation. As ever, there's method in Kate's madness.
She is mostly here to talk about the new album The Director’s Cut, of course, which reworks songs from the Sensual World and Red Shoes albums. Neither albums had the sense of musical and thematic coherence that previous records possessed, and there are a number of weaker moments. The Red Shoes in particular was stylistically warped by the weight of unnecessary collaborations, as if her music was ever likely to benefit from a tediously predictable Eric Clapton guitar solo. If she must collaborate, she should try getting together with the likes of Joanna Newsom, Richard Youngs or Josephine Foster instead. There's always going to be something marvellous on any Kate Bush album, however, and there are some songs which are as good as anything she's ever done. The title track of The Sensual World (with its accompanying video in which she seems to have entered the forest world of Company of Wolves) and Moments of Pleasure from The Red Shoes are two of my favourite of her songs, and seem to be at the heart of her work as a whole; a joyful celebration of the life force and a melancholic reflection on passing time and and its wake of mortality. When pushed, she admits to a ‘long, lingering dissatisfaction’ over most of her work, although she denies that she is a perfectionist, favouring the idea that art thrives through mistakes and imperfections. Ever cautiously self-critical, she says that there were some ‘interesting songs’ in the albums, but that Red Shoes in particular had an ‘edgy’ sound arising from the digital equipment which was the latest thing at the time. She re-recorded the songs in part so that she could return to using analogue equipment and give them a warmer sound which suited them better. All lead vocals and drums and many backing vocals have been redone, she says. She sings in a slightly lower key, as is only natural with the passing of the years. This tends to lead to the songs being slowed down. There is also a lot more space, as she has weeded out various tracks, giving the music a more spare and intimate atmosphere. They are generally more laid back, given time to unfold. This is certainly evident from the long fade out at the end of Deeper Understanding, which amounts to a loose jam. She has also been given permission by the James Joyce estate to use the actual text from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of Ulysses for The Sensual World. Although she modestly says she’s no James Joyce, her adaptation for the original version was a fine piece of writing in itself. It will be interesting to compare them (a short extract played here sounds wonderful).
She doesn’t seem to listen to much music these days, seeing it as a distraction from her own work. Neither does she listen back to her own songs. She admits to having heard Running Up That Hill on the radio a while back and concedes, in her South London/Kentish tones (good to hear she hasn’t lost them) that it was ‘alright’. She reluctantly nominates Aerial as a favourite amongst her albums, but more because it reflects a happy time in her life than for its musical content. All in all, she remains someone who is loathe to comment on her work, perhaps fearing that anything she does say, particularly given the rarity of her public utterances, will prove too prescriptive. She does listen to the odd new album, though. She still likes Elton John, a formative influence on her piano playing (and whose Rocket Man was one of her rare cover versions), and bought a Gorillaz album. Which, as she laughingly asserts, shows that she’s ‘not a complete old fart all the time’. A quote to bear in mind whenever she’s accused of existing on some airy plane beyond the concerns of the everyday world.