Under The Ivy: The Life & Music of Kate Bush

"The best music biography in perhaps the past decade" - Irish Times

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Uncut review, January 2011

Vintage Rock
also reviews the book here

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Mojo review, December 2010

Also, the current issue of Classic Rock magazine comes with a free book which includes an extract from the 'Tour Of Life' chapter in 'Under the Ivy'.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

FT, 14/08/10

‘Under The Ivy’ has been reviewed in the Financial Times as part of a long, discursive essay on “druids and dreamers” by their pop critic Ludovic Hunter-Tilney. It examines five recently published books that - to varying degrees - engage with artists who make or made quintessentially English music, those in search of some pre-industrial age Arcadia. It’s interesting stuff, and you can read it here.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Irish Times review, 06/08/10

“The best music biography in perhaps the past decade”.

Read the full review here

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The National, 11/08/10

There’s a nice combination of Kate Bush career profile, interview (with me) and review of 'Under the Ivy' over at The National, the quality English language broadsheet for the UAE. You can read it here.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Classic Prog Rock review, July 2010

And a review from the Live From Mars e-zine here

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Jim Moray

I interviewed the excellent English folk singer Jim Moray for the Uncut feature on Hounds Of Love, but sadly his thoughts fell victim to the word count. I’ve been feeling vaguely guilty about it ever since. Moray’s song ‘Longing For Lucy’ echoes the ‘Let me be weak / Let me sleep’ line from ‘And Dream Of Sheep’, and here he explains why:

"It took many, many years for anybody to pick up on the reference to ‘And Dream Of Sheep’ in ‘Longing For Lucy’. Maybe I’m talking myself into a lawsuit here, but that second half of the Hounds Of Love references so much other stuff as well, I don’t feel out of order to be borrowing one line. The line was very deliberately placed there for a specific reason. It’s about a real person, she was the one who got me into Hounds Of Love.

I first heard it in a Halls of Residence student party, it was 'Jig Of Life', of all tracks. The idea was, ‘You’re into folk music, have you heard this?’ Just incredible. I listened to the album all the way through from start to finish, and I thought it was just mind-blowing. I had The Red Shoes, it came out just when I was getting into pop music, and I was aware of people like Tori Amos, PJ Harvey and Bjork, who all name-checked her, and I was a huge Peter Gabriel fan through my dad’s records; I loved 'Games Without Frontiers'. So I was aware it was something I would like but I hadn’t found an entry in.

Ever since, Hounds Of Love has been my late night, walking home, can’t get to sleep record. I listen to it from start to finish on headphones and disappear into it. It’s such a complete piece of work, and it spans both listening experiences: it’s got some great singles you can pick out, or you can embrace the whole thing.

It stands up to repeated listening remarkably well, and I’m still trying to figure out as a producer and musician how you do that. I’ve still got no idea how to make something be that solid and tangible, that doesn’t change depending what angle you look at it. That’s really hard. It's a record with so many disparate parts where everything fits. I’ve read since that she wishes she’d brought in male singers to sing the male parts but I love the fact that she uses a really primitive pitch shifter to do all the vocals herself. And the idea of using the Medici Quartet as this marching, rhythmic thing.... Genius! The record was obviously written from the rhythms up, which is a great way to write pop music, but it’s still got that arty thing, too. Really it’s a mystery to me. I wish I knew how to do it!"

Newstalk Interview

Click here, scroll down to Tom Dunne and click again, then select Tuesday, June 15, Part 3 and head for the 43:00 mark. Also, some blog reviews of Under the Ivy here, here, here, here and here

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Friday, 14 May 2010

Guardian, 14/05/10

On this day, 31 years ago, Kate Bush played her last full concert. More here

Monday, 10 May 2010

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Friday, 7 May 2010

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


A long, adapted extract from Under The Ivy is the cover story in this month’s Uncut. The 12-page feature concerns the circumstances surrounding the making of Bush’s 1985 classic album, Hounds of Love. It's quite significantly different from the chapter as it appears in the book, so it's well worth picking up.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Coming: May 4, 2010

Under The Ivy is published today.

Don't be dismayed by those annoying and rather misleading 'Usually dispatched...' notices on Amazon. Pre-order demand has been very high but the title will be back in stock within the blink of an eye, and will also be in book shops this week.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Beginnings - The KT Bush Band: An Extract

Through the late winter of 1976-77 and into spring the group rehearsed regularly at Wickham Farm, working up a 20-song set. It was so cold in the barn that sometimes they would decamp to the front room, putting the drums on the hearth rug and playing with acoustic guitars. Because there was a piano in the room they started rehearsing more of Bush’s original material, and the band of older, seasoned semi-pros was given a direct insight into her astonishing gifts.

“Kate used to write a lot each week and come up with these ideas and bounce them off you,” says drummer Vic King. “I don’t know how many songs she had for the first album that weren’t used. [I remember] some strange song about ‘tick tock the clock…’ She had a unique style of writing and composing music. Books, stories, films she loved The Red Shoes – it was that world of art and portraying characters, detectives with trilby hats and old raincoats, old Forties and Fifties films. It became something to write about. From our point of view, it was just chords and rhythms and beats.”

King was the oldest of the male trio, socially set slightly apart (he was dubbed ‘Nosmo King’ for his aversion to cigarettes), and he became the band’s de facto organiser: buying the equipment, organising rehearsals, picking up, dropping off. He often collected Bush from her dance classes in his Hillman Imp and brought her to rehearsals and later gigs. Brian Bath was the musical dynamo, a gifted player and songwriter who had won a deal with Essex Music, one of those vastly talented musicians always just a whisker away from seizing their big chance. Many years previously he had taught his old school friend Del Palmer the rudiments of 12-bar blues on the bass, and Palmer had progressed from there. A plain speaking extrovert with a lively sense of humour, Del “was naturally rhythmic, he won dancing competitions,” laughs Bath. “He used to do Mick Jagger impersonations. Del was obviously up for it. He’s just really solid, you know there’s a bass player there when Del’s playing, he’s got such a heavy anchor point. A tremendous player, he can really hold it down.”

They worked hard on their music, fortified by Hannah Bush’s legendary hospitality, breaking off for games of football and as much tea and cake as they could reasonably consume; they rehearsed, according to Bath, “for ages”. In common with most fledgling bands, they argued most vociferously over what to call themselves. Bush wanted to give the band “some strange name”, and when King came up with the KT Bush Band she shrieked, ‘Ooh no, that’s terrible!’ But that’s what they became. Her opposition may have been simple diversionary tactics. There was a certain reluctance on her part to leave the age-old sanctuary of the barn and surrender herself to live performance, but finally Bath used his contacts to organise a residency at the Rose Of Lee, a popular local pub [now called Dirty South] at 162 Lee High Road in Lewisham beginning in April 1977.

“I went down and said we were getting a new band together, we’ve got a fabulous-looking girl singer, we’d got a really strong band,” says Bath. “I said, ‘The first week you’ll get a handful of people, but by the fourth week you won’t be able to get them in the door’. And sure enough, it was exactly as I predicted.” Around 20 people turned up to watch the first Tuesday night gig, split into two 45-minutes sets, for which the band were paid the princely sum of £27. “I was so scared, I really was,” Bush later recalled of her live debut.

“The first time was a little bit daunting [for her], but it got to be great fun,” agrees King. “The following week you couldn’t move and then the week after that you couldn’t get in. It was just heaving. It was great!”

The KT Bush Band very quickly became a success on its own terms, and their nights at the Rose Of Lee were highly anticipated by both the crowd and the rest of the band, if not always by Bush. “She was very nervous,” says King. “Sometimes you had to push her on there, but once she was on she was fine. Singing in these smoke-filled rooms… wasn’t really her scene, she didn’t really frequent pubs. I don’t think it was 100 per cent enjoyable, but she wanted to do it because she had to learn stage presence and projecting and playing in front of a band of musicians.”

There was no shortage of material, but only the songs that most obviously leant themselves to the standard band format – and the ones that stood the most chance of being easily digested by a pub crowd – made it into the set. The strange beauty of ‘Them Heavy People’, ‘James And The Cold Gun’ and ‘The Saxophone Song’ insinuated themselves into the cracks between Marvin Gaye, the Stones and an attempt to turn ‘Nutbush City Limits’ into ‘Kate Bush City Limits’, which, says King, “didn’t quite work”.

Bush started putting into practice some of the techniques she had learned first through Lindsay Kemp, and now Adam Darius, Robin Kovac and her teachers at the Dance Centre. ‘James And The Cold Gun’ in particular became a showpiece. “Rob [Bradley] got a dry ice machine from somewhere,” says Bath. “We used that on stage for ‘James And The Cold Gun’ and it looked great. We had a bit of a show going, Kate did a costume change, she’d put on a bloomin’ western cowgirl dress for the second set! The theatrical thing was starting to get there. She wasn’t shy on stage. She would move around, she didn’t stand there like a prop. She was pretty dynamic, she used to live it all.”

As the band’s circle grew wider, they began amassing more equipment, bigger PA system, and signed a contract with Len Fletcher’s South Eastern Entertainment Agency to play nightclubs at £60 a show. “Once they came to see us they were just ringing up all the time,” says King. “We did build up a following, especially in the London scene. It was great driving around and seeing our posters on the hoardings.” At Tiffanys in Harlow they played a Sunday afternoon cabaret spot in a restaurant where fake palm trees gazed back at them forlornly and faded photographs of distant beaches adorned the walls. They were asked back but declined. If they were playing places like the Target in Greenford, west London, on the way home they would park King’s Hillman Imp and Bath’s Morris 1000 van and stop off at Mike’s Diner, an all-night cafe in New Burlington Street, off Regent Street. Over 4 a.m. omelettes and cups of tea and strong coffee, they would dissect the night’s gig and discuss plans for the next day: Shall we meet tomorrow at the farm? Does Kate have any new songs?

© Graeme Thomson, 2010

Friday, 30 April 2010

Morris Pert

I was very sad to hear news of the death of Morris Pert this week, at the age of 62. I interviewed Morris for the book and we kept in touch on the phone, and he struck me at all times as a warm, gentle and perceptive man - not to mention a hugely gifted musician. I'm sure he'll be missed by many.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Aerial: An extract

Towards the end of 2000 Bush had made sufficient progress to begin inviting outside musicians into the studio to add parts to the songs; Peter Erskine was one of the first. Primarily a jazz drummer who had also played with John Martyn and Joni Mitchell, Bush had spotted him on a BBC documentary about English composer Mark Anthony Turnage. Typically, she picked up the phone and made direct contact, and shortly afterwards Erskine was flown to England.

“There was a bit of secrecy attached to everything, in terms of where the drums would be delivered – there was a protocol that they wanted observed,” he says. “The cases should be labelled in a specific manner so it would not be apparent to anyone handling those along the way where they were going or what the project was. They had a car service that would pick me up [from my hotel] and drop me off a specific spot and then I’d get through the security gates, but there was nothing disproportionate. They’re all very well-balanced, an incredible amount of normality. That security apparatus is to maintain some normalcy.”

Erskine was there for three days and played, by his estimation, on seven or eight tracks, although he only appears on three: ‘An Architect’s Dream’, ‘Prologue’ and ‘Nocturn.’ It was a leisurely process – “they just work at a different pace” – which encouraged experimentation, a very much more organic process than Bush’s most recent albums. Erskine even recalls that at first he, bass player John Giblin and Bush performed together as a kind of ad hoc jazz trio. “Kate was playing piano,” he says. “Like, ‘here’s a new song I’m working on…’”

Later, he added his contributions to previously recorded backing tracks. On ‘King Of The Mountain’ he “came up a wacky idea. I put on a beat like the Weather Report track, ‘Nubian Sundance’, this double tempo, free-syncopated, aggressive drumbeat. It’s not the easiest thing to play, and then I added a half-time Ringo-style beat as a counter point. When Del mixed it I said it sounded like [US drummer and member of Presley’s TCB Band] Ron Tutt with Elvis, and she gave me a startled look: ‘Of course, that’s what the song is about - Elvis!’” Erskine hadn’t picked up on the lyrics nor Bush’s idiosyncratic Elvis impersonation. “I had no idea,” he laughs. “Her tune conveyed this subliminally to me! I’m sure at some point they realised that the drum part I put on was an absolute mess, but the nice thing was that they indulged the idea.”

This working process was mirrored throughout the sessions. Musicians would be invited to improvise on a variety of tracks. If it worked, great; if not, no harm done. Someone else would get a shot. Steve Sanger, an old friend of McIntosh’s from his session days, came up from Dorset on several occasions to play drums, bells, shaker and percussion. He added a more conventional pattern to ‘King Of The Mountain’ and Bush also asked him to play along to the rhythm of birdsong on ‘Aerial’, the title track.

The idea had slowly evolved to make Aerial a double album with two distinct sides, a little like Hounds Of Love but on a more ambitious scale (in interviews Bush would refer to it as ‘Great Danes Of Love’ or ‘Irish Wolfhounds Of Love’). The first side would be a collection of seven individual songs, while the second would be a connected, conceptual piece tracing the arc of an entire day through nine interlinked pieces of music, from the afternoon through sunset and night to the following dawn, all soundtracked by the trill of her favourite band: the birds. “It’s almost as if they’re vocalising light,” she said. “And I love the idea that it’s a language we don’t understand.” In Kaluli culture in Papua New Guinea, Bush may or may not have been aware, bird song is believed to be communication from the dead.

“She explained that when this particular birdsong starts that’s when I start playing,” says Sanger. “I did it on an electronic kit, just playing the bass drum. That was a different day! Great food, great fun. It was me and Del the engineer and Kate, and Danny was popping in and out.”

These sessions were punctuated with long periods where very little happened, but when she was working things often coalesced quite quickly, particularly towards the end of the project. Much of the musical decoration for ‘Bertie’, for example, came together in little more than an afternoon. Susanna Pell and Richard Campbell, head-hunted after a performance of St Matthew’s Passion at the Festival Hall, came to the studio to play gamba – a renaissance period viol, and distant cousin of the guitar – alongside classical guitarist Eligio Quinteira.

“My memory was that she had laid down the basic track, I think the day before, which was her vocals and the dulcimer,” says Campbell. “We were overdubbing onto that, playing from the notation that [arranger Bill Dunne] had provided. Eligio did his guitar overdub after we did the gamba track, so he stayed a little bit longer. It was reasonably close to chamber music. We were playing to what we heard through the cans, which gave it a kind of natural freedom.”

‘Bertie’ was a madrigal of devotion to her son, a song that vaulted the barrier between heartfelt and mawkish, though only a churl could fail to be touched by its artless candour and sheer heartbursting expression of love. Just when you thought Bush has exhausted her rapture, she found deeper reserves: “You bring me so much joy,” she sings, “And then you bring me – more joy!” It’s a shamelessly sentimental song, basking in the eternal sunshine of an idealised childhood.

Bush had preserved the atmosphere of familial informality that had permeated Wickham Farm, except now she was the mother figure. Accordionist Chris Hall had been recommended by Joe Boyd after Bush mentioned she wanted the sound of Cajun accordion on ‘How To Be Invisible’. In the end the instrument proved too rich for the song, almost overpowering it, and instead Hall played two-note accordion which – with the aid of advanced sonar equipment – can just about be heard on the final track. “I was there for a couple of hours,” he recalls. “Had a chat, drank some tea and ate pizza, met her family, played with the kid, did some recording and went away. Not [mystical] at all!”

Everyone who worked on the album was struck by all the things people are usually struck by when they first worked with her: her cheerful informality, her genuineness, her distinct lack of ceremony. “I turned up, came in through the gates, parked the car, got the gamba out and walked into the studio,” says Campbell. “Up came this person who said, ‘I’m Kate, I’m making the tea,’ and I confess that I initially thought it was another Kate. And then I suddenly realised: that is Kate Bush.” They ended up trading lines on that perennial middle-class lament: the difficulty of getting a good builder.

There was an endless stream of tea, without which no session could run smoothly. “She was always offering tea,” says Peter Erskine. “The running joke at the session was that Del or John [Giblin] would say, like a British actor’s voice in a movie, ‘Ah, you’re a fine woman, Kate.’ That was the motto, I remember.” Says Susanna Pell, “We arrived and went straight to the studio and within minutes this woman arrived and said, ‘D’you want a cup of tea?’ And that was her. She bumbled off and made a cup of tea. She was just incredibly nice. Very unassuming, she knew what she wanted and had a clear vision but in the nicest possible way. When it was all over she sent us a personal cheque with a very nice note attached, thanking us. It was just a very, very pleasant experience.”

© Graeme Thomson, 2010