Kate Bush returns to the stage next week, at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, for her first live shows in 35 years! To mark the occasion, here’s a fascinating piece from the Uncut archives (January 2012, Take 176), in which musicians, engineers and producers who have helped Bush craft her remarkable oeuvre let us in on her secrets of the studio. “There were no rules or barriers, it was just pure creativity…” Interviews: Graeme Thomson
THE KICK INSIDE
Recorded when Bush is just 18, this astonishingly accomplished, powerfully feminine record features musicians from Pilot and Cockney Rebel. Feeling her way in the studio, the songs – including the No 1 single “Wuthering Heights” – are already masterful.
Andrew Powell (producer): “The selection process was difficult. I’ve still got about 100 songs on cassettes, some of which I still wish she’d done. ‘Wow’ was on that list, which tells you the quality of what we kept off. ‘Wuthering Heights’ was only written a few days before we went into the studio. Kate came around, sat down at my piano and played it. I said, ‘Um, yeah, I think we should use that!’ It hit me straight away as really extraordinary.”
Ian Bairnson (guitar): “She had an endless supply of songs. She’d sit at the piano and say, ‘Might do this, might not.’ There was no formula, they were all truly original. So was she. She’d sing the lead vocal with one voice and do backing vocals as a completely different character. You’d think, ‘There’s a whole cast of people in there.’”
Powell: “Everyone realised that this was no ordinary singer-songwriter. It was a fantastically creative atmosphere. We cut three tracks in the first day. We started off with ‘Moving’ and it was done in two hours.”
David Paton (bass): “I remember us discussing the album: ‘It’s so different, what will people think?’ We thought it was great, but it was a shock when it did so well, so quickly.”
NEVER FOR EVER
Left unsatisfied by her second album Lionheart, Bush breaks from Powell, retains Jon Kelly as co-producer, and dives into the endless sonic possibilities of the Fairlight digital sampler.
Jon Kelly: “I remember her saying, ‘Now we have control of what we do.’ I went to her flat in Brockley just after Christmas  and she played me ‘Babooshka’. I thought it was a single straight away. It had the rising chorus and that little piano motif from the very beginning. It had all the ingredients.”
John Walters (Fairlight): “On ‘Babooshka’ we created a huge mess in Abbey Road’s Studio 2 – smashing glasses, sampling them and saving the noises as files in the Fairlight. Kate understood the implications of digital sampling that the Fairlight kicked into play, and grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
Bairnson: “At one point I think she was confused. It’s that thing about having too much choice. Synths, Fairlight, she had all these tools to play with and in some ways it was too much.”
Max Middleton (organ): “She wasn’t into dissecting music, she wanted it to come together naturally. She’d play the song, we’d watch her, and that was it. She sang ‘Violin’ like she was performing onstage. It was 200 per cent effort every time. I was constantly impressed.”
Kelly: “There were fabulous sessions in Abbey Road. We played for days under no pressure, just for the joy of it. It was such a creative time.”
After a stuttering start with Hugh Padgham, Bush painstakingly pieces together her fourth album, working alongside a series of engineers. The results may be defiantly odd – donkey impersonations and Rolf Harris’ didgeridoo are just two of many eccentricities – but this multi-layered, polyrhythmic and wildly experimental album remains a landmark work.
Paul Hardiman (engineer): “She wanted to produce herself, to move on from possibly some rather safe studio sounds and just experiment. She had been building up to this, but EMI were very reluctant for her to have total control after what had been a successful run of albums.”
Nick Launay (engineer): “I don’t remember anybody from EMI coming down. They were kept at arm’s length. There was basically her, the musicians she chose, and an engineer. On a technical level, making that record had no rules, we could try everything that came to mind. We were both in the same place: ‘I wonder what this does?’ It was an approach of plugging things in, seeing what it did, and working out how you use that to manipulate the instrument you’re playing. The sound on ‘The Dreaming’, this metallic sound, very dreamy and surreal, is actually a guitar and a piano going into a harmoniser – the note goes up and up and up in octaves until it’s so high you can’t hear it. We used that on quite a few songs.”
Hardiman: “Working on the album was hours of crippling tedium with bursts of extreme excitement. At times Kate was just exhausted. It was hard work, but hugely rewarding.”
Launay: “Very often she’d come to do the take and each time she’d play the song slightly differently. It wouldn’t be a case of the musicians getting annoyed, it would be a case of people laughing, rolling on the floor, saying to her, ‘No, no, when you get to that bit you’re doing something different…’ I did a lot of editing together of different takes and it got very confusing at times. I don’t think she had any realisation of how complex songs like ‘The Dreaming’ were. To her they were very simple.”
Brian Bath (guitar): “At one point they got everyone – kids, engineers, about 50 of us – just going ‘Waaaah!’ On ‘Pull Out The Pin’, I got this ridiculous diminished guitar lick which just went all over the place, like a Jimmy Bryant thing. Kate loved it!”
Hardiman: “EMI were probably confused by the results. It sold OK, but more importantly it registered in the US and set up the recording and production of Hounds Of Love.”
HOUNDS OF LOVE
Recorded at her new studio in the barn of her parents’ farm in Welling, Kent, it’s a peerless fusion of the commercial and creative. Side one is packed with hits, including “Cloudbusting” and “The Big Sky”, while the second hosts the darkly conceptual “Seventh Wave” suite.
Paul Hardiman: “When I first heard ‘Running Up That Hill’ it was obvious that Kate had finally found a groove. It wasn’t a demo, we carried on working from Kate’s original 24-track start. The whole album has an overall harder edge. We all felt it was already on its way to becoming a major album.”
Youth (bass): “It was fantastic. At 11am her mum would come in with cakes and tea, then we’d work ’til late afternoon. Every musician would come down and play their parts separately, which gives it a slightly futuristic atmosphere. On ‘Big Sky’ she let me do what I liked, then she chopped it up and arranged it in the Fairlight. She’s after the currency of ideas reflected in the music, rather than academic virtuosity.”
Charlie Morgan (drums): “The whole ‘Seventh Wave’ concept was outrageous – the second half of ‘Jig Of Life’ is an entire 24-track of me playing different drums: lambeg, bodhran, you name it. I came back thinking, ‘What have I done today?’ There were no rules or barriers, it was just pure creativity. And then her Dad would come in and say, ‘I’ll go and get a take-out. What do you fancy, some Indian or a Chinese?’ Amazing.”
THE SENSUAL WORLD
Bush’s sixth album is a stately, autumnal slow-burner which largely lives up to its title. Among the many highlights are three tracks Bush recorded with Bulgarian folk singers Trio Bulgarka. It peaked at No 2 in the UK album chart.
Joe Boyd: “Kate rang me and said she wanted to have Bulgarian harmonies on her new album. I told her that the best way to accomplish that would be to go to Sofia, so we went over and spent two days in a schoolroom with the Trio, her beatbox and a tape of the tracks. The ethnographer would suggest a folk melody that might work with a line of Kate’s song, the arranger would come up with a harmony for it, and Kate would say yes or no. After working out the arrangements they all flew to London. Kate is a perfectionist, and those sessions were long and hard.”
Borimina Nedeva (musician/translator): “I don’t think Kate completely understood what she was taking on when she started, but she’s not afraid to try new things. In the end, most of the experimenting was done in the studio in London. On ‘Rocket’s Tail’, Yanka [Rupkina, the Trio’s senior vocalist] came up with this solo at the end which was completely wild, out of the blue. She was absolutely improvising, which is very unusual, and Kate thought it was wonderful. Kate and Trio really bonded. They were so emotionally on the same wavelength there wasn’t much need for words. Most of the time they would just communicate in sign language. Or hugs.”
THE RED SHOES
A soundtrack to tough times: the death of her mother and the end of her long-term relationship with engineer Del Palmer results in a patchy, overlong and oddly grounded record.
Haydn Bendall (engineer): “It was a very difficult time and I was aware of that more than anything. I didn’t realise ’til later it had such an impact on the music. It was a weird, fractious time, and nothing really seemed to gel.”
Colin Lloyd-Tucker (vocals): “She wasn’t feeling that great, but she wouldn’t give up. When we arrived to do ‘The Red Shoes’, the night before she’d been up doing ‘Rubberband Girl’. It was very raw, with just a guide vocal, and she was still working out lyrics. She had a verse which she kept repeating, and she said, ‘I’m going to write the words later.’ That was unusual – usually the song was complete when she started. Doing backing vocals was tough. We were literally sliding down the walls by the end of the session, every syllable had to be bang in time. She’s a perfectionist, but she also likes a happy accident. On ‘The Red Shoes’ me and Paddy [Bush, Kate’s brother] both went into the same harmony, which was actually the wrong note, and she said, ‘That’s fantastic! Leave it like that.’ She picks up on things like that.”
Following a 12-year hiatus during which she became a mother, Bush returns with this spacious, organic double album. The second disc traces the arc of a summer’s day, each song threaded with birdsong.
Tony Wadsworth (ex-EMI executive): “It was pretty clear that her priority was her family. I thought there was a distinct possibility that I might get fired before anything came!”
Steve Sanger (drums): “On ‘Aerial’ she explained that when this birdsong begins, that’s when I start playing. That was a different day! There was a lot of tea, great food, great fun. It was the most creative thing I’ve done.”
Peter Erskine (drums): “There was a lovely informality to it. The only direction I remember was her always asking me to get out my ‘lovely blue snare drum’, a steel drum from Yamaha. It records terrifically, but she was also quite taken by the appearance. ‘OK Kate, I’ll get that out.’”
Wadsworth: “The first listen was amazing. She was nervous. I went to the studio in her garden, she gave me a tracklisting, said ‘It’s a bit long’, and played the whole thing. I don’t think I’d heard the human voice singing with birds before. I thought, ‘God, she’s still doing things that are incredibly original and yet seem absolutely natural.’”
(Fish People, 2011)
An uncharacteristic backward glance by Bush. Reworking 11 songs from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, she adds new vocals and instrumentation while stripping back much of the clutter.
Steve Gadd (drums): “She didn’t want me to go back and listen to the originals, she wanted me to treat these recordings as new songs. She wanted fresh ears. Very interesting. It was just me, her and the track. ‘Rubberband Girl’ might sound like a bar band in a room, but it’s just me playing along to what was there. At times she encouraged me to really stretch out in a way that felt like we were just jamming, to be really free. I felt great that she finally got what she wanted for these songs.”
Mica Paris (vocals): “I went down to her home in early 2010 and I remember her saying, ‘Don’t tell anyone, Mica. Don’t let anyone know I’m making an album.’ ‘Don’t worry Kate, I won’t!’ When I heard the song she asked me to sing on, ‘Lily’, I looked at her and said, ‘My God, that’s a killer.’ Her vocal was so powerful. It was a long day. She knows exactly what she wants. Often it seems very unusual, then you hear the way she puts it all together and you think, ‘Wow, she was right.’ She’s also very open to suggestion, which is a fantastic trait. A real sharing energy.”
FIFTY WORDS FOR SNOW
(Fish People, 2011)
Bush’s latest album features seven long, slow, winter-themed songs set against a backdrop of swirling snow. The mood is gentle but the imaginative landscape is as vast as ever: yeti, amorous snowmen, Stephen Fry – they’re all here.
Steve Gadd: “There was some space between Director’s Cut and the new album. When I went back, the first project was done and she was beginning the second one, though she might have had some ideas while we were working on the first record. We worked hard and, boy, we got some things done! With Fifty Words… sometimes it was just Kate playing piano and her vocal, and then the two of us together trying to construct a rhythm based on what was there now and what might be there thereafter. I’ve never done another project like it. She’s so unafraid. She’s all about the art of it. We never really talked about the concept, but I was amazed how she put this album together sonically and visually – not just the songs, but the photographs, images, themes. It’s the whole package with her, and amazing to see. And she treated me great! She always wants to make sure you’re comfortable, that you’re not tired or hungry. She took care of me the way she tried to take care of these songs.”