It's me, Kate Bush, I've come home: the woman behind the myth

 

REVOLVER:‘IT’S A dangerous game, idealising the unknown.” This single observation from the author of the best music biography in perhaps the past decade is a rare admission from a writer about their subject. But then, Graeme Thomson did undertake the Herculean task of writing a 346-page study of perhaps the music’s world most ineffable character: Kate Bush.

In these days of rock stars taking to their Twitter and Facebook accounts to provide us with throwaway and banal observations on the hour, and pulling all manner of choreographed press stunts in order to keep the “profile” stoked, there’s something beautifully romantic about how Bush has done a Greta Garbo and refused to engage other than through the medium of her music.

Signed to EMI at the age of 16, she’s released eight albums, managed just one live tour and when she does deign to give interviews – every other blue moon or so – she won’t even say if she’s married or not.

Thomson, who has penned previous books on Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello (who must have seemed like Jedward in terms of giving access compared with Bush) got absolutely no help, encouragement or support from the hermetically sealed Bush family and close associates.

He did, however, plough through old school friends, ex-band members, record-company personnel, people who had worked in the studio with her (charmingly, we learn from one musician that he had to stop playing on one of her albums because he fancied her so much) and others who had even briefly entered into the Bush orbit.

The reason he has come up with such an absorbing, painstakingly researched and downright fascinating book is down to two clear things. Firstly, most unauthorised biographies are slavering encomiums written by fan-club types – this is far from that – and secondly, he very quickly dispenses with all that “enigmatic will-o’-the-wisp” nonsense that is usually written about Bush.

A lot of “enigmatic” music stars are anything but. They – or those around them – carefully construct this image as nothing more than a marketing ploy. To have a long-term and hugely successful career, as Bush has, you have to play hardball in the shark-infested music world – be it labels, publishers, fellow musicians, promoters or management. And there is nothing private or enigmatic about charging people money to see you perform your own compositions in a public setting – with the cameras also rolling for the DVD release.

From Morrissey to Leonard Cohen there is – there has to be – a mountain of ambition and a steely-eyed resolve. Bush, as we learn, is no different. As a teenager she fought tooth and nail with her label to get Wuthering Heightsreleased instead of their choice of first single – they wanted James and the Cold Gun.

This is a woman, we learn, who had a residency in a Lewisham pub in 1977 (most definitely not for the faint-hearted), and who entered into combat with the notoriously protective James Joyce estate (Bush wanted to use Molly Bloom’s soliloquy as the lyrics to her The Sensual Worldsong).

All of which does not portray Bush as a grasping, hard-nosed showbiz player – it merely explodes a few of the self-serving myths about the woman.

And the author goes easy on the “feminist icon” stuff – yes everyone from PJ Harvey to Björk to Lady Gaga can’t speak highly enough of her, but that’s a mere sideshow to the main event here: her wondrous and unique musical output.

You will not necessarily go back to Bush’s music (as you’re compelled to do) after this magnificent read loaded up with all manner of insights and insider information, but you will, after this heavy flirtation with the real Kate Bush, come to appreciate her work that bit more. And if that isn’t the point of music biography, what is?

  •  Under The Ivy: The Life and Music of Kate Bushby Graeme Thomson is published by Omnibus