‘An old strain of English magic had returned’: stars on why they fell in love with Kate Bush

As a new generation continues to discover her via Running Up That Hill, musicians including Sharon Van Etten and Brian Molko reveal how the singer changed their lives

Sharon Van Etten: ‘I hadn’t heard a melody that complex before’

Sharon Van Etten.
Sharon Van Etten. Photograph: Michael Schmelling

I was a late bloomer when it came to hearing Kate’s music. As a teenager I had moved to Tennessee and tried to do college but ended up coming back home to my parents with my tail between my legs. The first adult friend I made after moving back was a painter’s assistant named Alison, and she played me Wuthering Heights on a car ride through New Jersey. I hadn’t heard a melody that complex and in that high range before – or a song as exploratory in production and arrangement. The music Kate Bush makes is pretty genre-defying. Hearing her talk about Emily Brontë’s novel was something I’d never heard before, either; inserting herself into a story that wasn’t her own. I had never listened to music in such a literary way.

As a singer, the thing that has directly affected me is her circular style of melodies; one comes into the other and they never exactly repeat in the same way. I don’t think it’s ever very strict verse-chorus. The wrong person could make what she does sound really cheesy. In isolation the ideas might not make sense, whereas she can push it to this other place: her choices are really beautiful and massive and dramatic. It feels very much like cinema to me.

Brian Molko, Placebo: ‘I could leave the drudgery of my everyday life’

Brian Molko.
Brian Molko. Photograph: PR/PR IMAGE

My first exposure to Kate Bush was the video for Babooshka when I was a preteen. I’d never seen anything like it: who is this person from outer space, singing an incredibly strange song? I was completely captivated by this beautiful woman who had such charisma and seemed so unique. Then I discovered that my older brother had [album] The Kick Inside, so I was introduced to The Man With the Child in His Eyes and Wuthering Heights. Then [in 1985] Hounds of Love came out and blew my mind completely.

It was the first time I’d heard a record that had such sonic unity to it: there was a story being told from beginning to end, especially on the dreamier, more psychedelic side two. My insomnia started when I was very young so instead of sleeping I’d be listening to Hounds of Love: “Let me sleep and dream of sheep.”

Kate created her own emotional universe. I’m nostalgic for that period in music because I think we’re given too much information today, so there’s less capacity for us to create those personal universes through somebody else’s work. There needs to be enough ambiguity there for it to become very personal to each listener. Kate’s music meant I could leave the drudgery of my everyday life and my family situation and escape into my imagination – that’s still what I look for today in music.

I loved almost all of Running Up That Hill but there were a couple of things which bothered me. One was the snare sound: really 80s and quite generic. Then as I got more and more into the lyrics and they touched me further, it occurred to me that the tempo of the song was a little bit fast for the gravitas of the lyrics to really land. We were already in the habit of covering our favourite songs from the 80s, so I suggested that we do Running Up That Hill but that we slow the tempo down as much as we could without it becoming a dirge, and obviously we wanted to keep it electronic with sounds from the early 2000s. I met Kate once at a party: it was a record company do and there was an orderly queue to speak to her. When I got to the front the first thing she said to me was: “I like your cover of my song.” That was enough. I’m very, very pleased that it got Kate’s endorsement.

Rae Morris: ‘Her music has a to-the-moon-and-back scale’

Rae Morris.
Rae Morris. Photograph: Reuben Bastienne-Lewis

When I was about 14, my dad sat me down at a desktop PC and played me the video for Cloudbusting on YouTube. It was the first music video I’d seen that had a narrative and a famous actor, Donald Sutherland – it was like a movie. I wasn’t making music yet, but it definitely sparked something in my brain, like: “Oh wow, a female creator has had the vision for this.” Soon after, I went to HMV, bought a couple of records and slowly pieced together a history of her music. I felt as if I was catching up: I’ve always felt a deep jealousy that I wasn’t listening to the radio when Wuthering Heights first came out.

Her music is all about combining small details with spiritual, otherworldly, wider cinemascape stuff: a really grand, imaginative to-the-moon-and-back scale, but also the sound of the blood running through your veins. As a teenager I felt like her voice was my inner voice. I also love that she is an aspirational goddess and at the same time a family woman who lives on a farm; it’s a perfect balance of being out of reach but also warm. As a mother , she has been a big inspiration in the sense that you can have a child and still record and tour when it suits you. I love that she has never played the game in that way – she’s rewritten the rules.

Mike Scott, the Waterboys: ‘We had got an old soul back’

Mike Scott.
Mike Scott. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

When Kate had her first hit with Wuthering Heights I felt as if we – the British public – had got an old soul back. It wasn’t just the resonance of the story, with Cathy returning at Heathcliff’s window; it was Kate, that voice, that character. It was like an old strain of English magic had returned in her persona, and so it has been. All the promise of that first “return” has come true and she has delivered on it.

Jenny Hval: ‘She’s reporting from the war zone of human experience’

Jenny Hval.
Jenny Hval. Photograph: Jenny Berger Myhre

I remember watching her videos – Hounds of Love, Cloudbusting and Running Up That Hill. I was only five at the time but they made me feel a lot. They were so evocative, the relationship between the child and father in Cloudbusting always made me cry. I went on to write my master’s thesis on two Kate Bush albums, The Sensual World and The Dreaming. I also looked at her rewriting of Joyce in the song The Sensual World, which I think is, poetically, one of the most successful lyrical projects in pop music.

Working so intensely with her music made me gain enormous respect for her work. I feel as if she is completely unique in her ability to research other people’s stories and retell them. So many of her songs are directly about a book, a film, or an image. And instead of the familiar “if I could turn back time” nostalgic pop music storyteller, the emotional density of those stories is always completely intact, through her voice, production twists and magnificent melodic themes. It’s as if she is a reporter, reporting from the war zone of human experience.

Hayden Thorpe, Wild Beasts: ‘Pioneering, experimental, harmonically bizarre’

Hayden Thorpe.
Hayden Thorpe. Photograph: Broomberg & Chanarin

When I began performing in my late teens and early 20s, people said I sounded like a male Kate Bush. At the time I was quite offended by people saying I sounded a) like a woman, and b) like an artist I’d not heard of. But from there I decided to listen to her. I started at day one – The Kick Inside, Wuthering Heights era – and came to realise that what she created in that time was a form of expression unto itself. It has almost become a subgenre, that form of hyperbolic expression – so singular and so uniquely English. It is as if it’s from English mythology: Maid Marian, good against evil, the woods. I think the thing she maybe isn’t given enough credit for is the sonic mastery of her records: they are pioneering, at times experimental and at times harmonically bizarre, but it just always seems to work. The Morning Fog, the last song on Hounds of Love, is a kind of symphony-in-micro – it takes you on this really compelling journey and transports you.

Peaches: ‘I grew up with her in real time’

Peaches. Photograph: Daria Marchik

When I was about 13, my friend Julia Rosenberg came over with The Kick Inside – it was 1979, a year after it came out. I’m the youngest of three, and at the time my brother was listening to everything from Yes to the Ramones, my sister was into Earth, Wind & Fire and Genesis, and my parents were into musicals and Barbra Streisand. So when I got this Kate Bush album I was like: this is my music.

I became obsessed with that album and then got into her story: how she waited three years before she performed so she could learn how to dance and all this stuff. Then we got a VCR player and I videotaped the film of The Tour of Life – this very dramatic live music performance [at Hammersmith Odeon]. It was the only thing I had on VCR and I loved it so much. Nobody does the shit she did: miming walking in wind, doing these flowy dances and then at the end she waves goodbye to everybody for two minutes while jumping up and down.

I grew up with her in real time. When I turned 16, The Dreaming came out. The record company kept telling her to find producers and she said fuck y’all, and built her own studio and produced the whole album herself; she had such a fiery, independent nature. It’s super weird and not very commercial but so incredible. Then when Hounds of Love came out I was like: oh my God, this is it! This is everything she does encompassed in one thing, and in this new pop style that can be relatable, Americans and Canadians are finally going to get it. Running Up That Hill’s drumbeat is undeniable. It’s timeless, it’s not any genre.

Her performative prowess had such an influence on me: how independent she was and how generous she was with her performance: she really goes for it with scenarios and theatrics. And she is so committed, you’re like: I’m in.

Barry Hyde, the Futureheads: ‘There is still a lot of mystery in it’

The Futureheads.
The Futureheads. Photograph: Paul Alexander Knox

The first time I saw Kate Bush was in the video for Babooshka: I must have been about five. We had a compilation called The Whole Story – a collection of her videos up to the mid-80s – and we used to watch it regularly as a family. When I was older, I started listening to her albums. I particularly loved The Dreaming, which has this bizarre, drumless piece on it with didgeridoo about Aboriginal Australians that she released as a single – she had no fear at all. Her music is entirely idiosyncratic. Every song is a different world with its own voice – she’s like an actor in how she uses her voice.

Originally, I wanted the Futureheads to cover a different Kate Bush song called The Big Sky, but it didn’t quite work. On tour soon after, we were listening to Hounds of Love in the van and the bass player in the band we were touring with said it would make a really good cover. As soon as we came home from the tour I put it on and realised there weren’t really any chords in the song – it’s just a power chord all the way through. I also realised my voice is not in the same range as Kate Bush’s, so I transposed it to a different key. I thought it could do with a little intro, so I said to [vocalist and guitarist] Ross, why don’t you try singing “Oh-oh-oh-oh?” On her version she’s doing a dog bark, but we thought that was a step too far. It was a stone-cold smash – NME voted it song of the year, it was a Top 10 single – and Kate Bush eventually contacted us. We were recording our second album in a farmhouse in the Yorkshire Dales and our manager said she was going to ring; we were terrified to answer the phone because it would be like speaking to a god or the Queen. She ended up ringing when we weren’t there and left a message thanking us for covering Hounds of Love and giving us well wishes for the festive season. She was just so lovely.

Even after covering one of her songs, I find that when I listen to her music there is still a lot of mystery in it for me; often, I really don’t know what she’s doing. That’s not something that happens very often any more because I’m a music lecturer now, so I listen to music in a very analytical way. Hers is an incredible art: so unpredictable, deeply beautiful and at times very silly.

Russell Mael, Sparks: ‘She establishes her own world – and stays true to it’

Russell Mael (left).
Russell Mael (left). Photograph: Anna Webber/Focus Features

The first 10 things on my list of 2,178 things I love about Kate Bush:



Not fitting in.

Musically challenging, yet not proclaiming that you are musically challenging.

Not being part of a movement. Creating your own movement.

Not part of a past musical model.

Establishing your own world. Staying true to that world.

Not writing material that sounds like you are desperate for a hit. But having hits nonetheless.

Establishing your own voice. Literally and figuratively.

Having integrity. At any cost.


As told to Rachel Aroesti

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The 100 greatest BBC music performances – ranked!
As the Beeb celebrates its centenary, we take a look at its most memorable pop moments, from the birth of grime to the first sightings of Bob Dylan and Bob Marley, plus TOTP goes Madchester and countless classic Peel sessions

Guardian music

06, Oct, 2022 @12:12 PM

Article image
Why are women so marginalised by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? | Courtney Love
Barely 8% of its inductees are female. The canon-making doesn’t just reek of sexist gatekeeping, but also purposeful ignorance and hostility

Courtney Love

17, Mar, 2023 @8:00 AM

Article image
Devin Hoff: Voices from the Empty Moor review – stellar lineup for the twists of Anne Briggs
The experimentally minded bassist and star guests including Sharon Van Etten and Julia Holter create these unusual reimaginings, though the vocals don’t always suit Briggs’s songs

Jude Rogers

26, Nov, 2021 @8:30 AM

Article image
‘We sent Kate Bush a thank you letter’: how Utah Saints made Something Good
‘Hardware in 1992 was very basic. We had to pitch-bend Kate’s vocal it to keep it in time, which is why it goes “oo-oo-aye”’

George Bass

01, Aug, 2022 @12:52 PM

Article image
Sharon Van Etten: ‘I don’t share 99% of my music: sometimes it’s too dark’
The singer-songwriter answers your questions, including the live performers she’s learned the most from, her favourite grape varieties, and whether her mum is still concerned for her wellbeing

As told to Rachel Aroesti

13, May, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
'You could call the show Love Will Tear Us Apart': Russell T Davies on the music of It's a Sin
The series creator and director Peter Hoar on the uncoolest anthems of the 80s, being given the nod by Kate Bush and how a soundtrack can make or break a story

Alim Kheraj

18, Feb, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
Various artists: Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono review – tribute to brilliance of rock icon’s music
Death Cab for Cutie, David Byrne and the Flaming Lips are among artists reworking Ono’s strange sound and outsider songs into something more palatable

Rachel Aroesti

18, Feb, 2022 @8:30 AM

Article image
‘We have a hostility to being boring’: Sparks, still flying in their 70s
Their Adam Driver musical sent Cannes into raptures and Edgar Wright has made an all-star documentary about them. The Mael brothers explain why they’ll always be hopelessly in love with pop

Daniel Dylan Wray

16, Jul, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
The 50 best albums of 2019: the full list
Our pick of the year’s finest albums brings American dreaming, teenage dynamism, heartbreak, barbed rap, impetuous indie and beautiful soundscapes

20, Dec, 2019 @9:41 AM

Article image
The 50 best albums of 2022
In an unprecedented year of change in music, albums of all genres confounded expectations – from vulnerable rap to pop with gravitas. Listen your way to our No 1 album of the year

Safi Bugel, Shaad D'Souza and Laura Snapes

23, Dec, 2022 @9:59 AM