Some Americans like their pop musicians to be more accessible, less theatrical, and eccentric—and generally more desperate for the approval of their audience. Kate Bush, thankfully, has never seemed bothered by this need. She could leave the spotlight when she needed to, or leave the music business altogether for a time, and yet remain a creative force to be reckoned with for four decades now. Her legacy has permeated contemporary music since she appeared in 1978, then retired from the stage the following year after her first tour to focus solely on writing, recording, and making short musical films.
Her debut, The Kick Inside, proved that an original new songwriter worth watching had arrived, and she delivered on the promise in ten studio albums and a career she seemed to sum up in the title of “This Woman’s Work,” from 1989’s The Sensual World. It is work she has always done in her own delightfully odd, passionate, eccentrically British, theatrical, and deftly literary way, all qualities that have made her a massive star in the UK and a hero to artists like Tori Amos, Annie Lennox, Grimes, Florence and the Machine, and too many more to name.
Bush’s unusual traits also make her a perfect artist to pay tribute to in an orchestral setting, as Sweden’s Gothenburg Symphony has done in the 2018 concert also titled “This Woman’s Work” and featuring the very-Bush-worthy vocal talents of guest singers Jennie Abrahamson and Malin Dahlström. It’s “a towering tribute,” the Symphony writes, “with hit songs and pure poetry in special arrangements by Martin Schaub.” And it arrived to mark a special moment indeed: the 40th anniversary of the release of Bush’s brilliantly strange debut single “Wuthering Heights.” See the full performance at the top of the post and excerpted songs throughout, including Abrahamson’s cover of “This Woman’s Work,” above.
Appearing in the ghostly guise and ethereally high-pitched voice of Cathy Earnshaw, doomed heroine of Emily Brontë’s novel, Bush captivated millions in two videos that are now absolute classics. She drew on the mime theatrics of her teacher Lindsay Kemp, who previously mentored David Bowie, and gave us the indelible image of a woman possessed by weird imagination, uncanny musical talent, and some frightening dance moves. The images and sounds she created in just those 3 and a half minutes are iconic. Or, putting it a little differently in a short BBC documentary, John Lydon says, “Kate Bush and her grand piano… that’s like John Wayne and his saddle… her shrieks and warbles are beauty beyond belief.”
If you came to Bush later in her career, say during 1985’s huge Hounds of Love, and somehow missed her unbelievable first fine art-rock performances on film, watch both the white and red dress versions first, then watch the Gothenburg Symphony’s glowing, career-spanning tribute to a woman who “laid the groundwork for [a] generation of performers,” as Marc Hirsh writes at NPR. Even though he is an American who does not care for Kate Bush, Hirsh can’t seem to help enumerating the very reasons she is so special to so many, and he features a number of her videos that demonstrate why she’s an artist her fans love “from the very core of their being.”