A Weekly Song: Episode 16 - Kate Bush
You knew I was going to do Kate Bush, right? For Brits of a certain age, she represents something talismanic, something vital in the expression of our deep, earthy Celtic psyche, some quality that’s rooted in our rustic self-image.
Kate Bush is one of the few artists I can think of that absolutely everyone I know who I talk to about music loves unequivocally. Even when they don’t know everything she’s done, what they know, they love… and those that don’t are at least intrigued by her.
She seems largely exempt from the usual rules of criticism, whatever they may be. In my case, I’ll admit to being blinded by the light. I don’t really think there’s such a thing as a bad Kate Bush song, although occasionally she can be a little mawkish. That said, ninety-nine per cent of the time she’s one of the greatest adepts I can think of in terms of creating a world within a song and enticing the listener in to experience that point of view. She is special; her talents are exceptional.
Her commitment to her own creativity, the care with which she writes and constructs her work and presents her craft, her image, – everything – is total. She’s unmistakable, she’s influenced many and yet she remains utterly unique.
So, how do you pick one song from this celestial favourite and trailblazer to whom none can hold a candle?
Well, despite all I’ve said above, there are actually several Kate Bushes. There is Mythical Kate, the one everyone’s passingly familiar with (as described above). She works hand in glove with Macro Kate, who is at one with nature and is the maker of soundscapes that feel like grand opera or folk theatre as performed deep in the enchanted woods after midnight. But there is also Unnamed Kate, a narrator who flits between all that stuff wearing many masks and who examines human nature (including her own) with a forensic eye.
Even if you try, you can’t encapsulate her – either you’re in, or you’re out. I’ll assume, if you’re still reading at this point, that you’re in.
I’ve long wished for Kate Bush to do an album a cappella, or just with piano or minimal guitar accompaniment. Her unadorned voice is an instrument of great expressive beauty. I first heard this track on a 12” single – it was the b-side of Running Up That Hill, itself an epic that had knocked me out. This is the diametric opposite of that metronomic entreaty to the powers-that-be… it’s impressionistic, a few wistful utterances that sketch a picture of a state-of-mind as personified by a place of dark green where there is a white rose.
I’ve read many interpretations of what that might mean (including by Kate Bush herself) – perhaps it’s a character’s internal sense of hope of a secret meeting, or of returning to a place known in childhood to rekindle an old flame. By all accounts, Kate wrote it very quickly, but to my mind it’s an expression of the unnamed narrator, inviting someone to somewhere private, intimate, inside her own thoughts. The suggestive uncertainty of where the song is left is one of the greatest endings to a song I’ve ever heard… I find it incredibly beautiful and it rarely fails to move me.
The song is Under the Ivy and, no lie, it’s one of my favourite pieces of music of all time. I hope you like it.
There is a rather lovely fan-created extended version here.
Here’s an excerpt from British 80s music show The Tube that features the song and a bit of background on it and Hounds of Love, as featured on the official Kate Bush site. The song’s now been remastered and is available on The Other Sides, a collection of b-sides and rarities.