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The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: Kate Bush in the Realm of the Senses

In 1989, Kate Bush stepped back into the pop spotlight after four years of rumour and conjecture. In this excerpt from an NME interview in October 1989, Len Brown talked to the reclusive genius about, among other things, The Sensual World - a magnificent album Bush is now updating in a "Director's Cut" version--Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages

We meet in a rather sensual room in a sumptuous West London hotel. It's an appropriate place to interview Kate Bush. The walls are stacked with paintings of nudes - pink boobs, vermillion nips, plenty of Botticelli cheeks - of cockfights and banquets, of mankind indulging in animal passions. Orange juice and nuts are consumed voraciously throughout discussions.

Four years from Hounds Of Love, 12 months since we last met in the company of three Bulgarian grannies called Trio Bulgarka, Kate's changed little physically. Still petite, naturally older, her hair's still long and henna'd and the nervous laugh is as infectious as ever.

Musically she's been gone a long time. Sure there've been collaborations (Gabriel's 'Don't Give Up'), charitable outings (Amnesty, Comic Relief, Ferry Aid) and The Whole Story compilation, but The Sensual World is her first fresh substantial work since the 'Experiment IV' single in late '86. Reasonable people were beginning to wonder whether, at last, she'd lost it completely and thrown in the towel.

What's always been remarkable about Kate Bush has been the ability to withdraw from the music world, escape from the machine, and return months or years later with something rejuvenating, original, set apart from chart-fodder disposable pop. Like Bowie in the '70s, Bush in the '80s has been one of the true oddities, exceptions to the rules. Always out of step, always unique.

And always, as The Sensual World implies, provocative. Bells ring as you enter her 'Sensual World', bells of celebration, of sensual joy. "The communication of music is very much like making love," she once said, so it's entirely appropriate that she should derive her title track from James Joyce's Ulysses and, in particular, Molly Bloom's thoughts on sex, sensuality and oysters at 2/6 per dozen.

"Because I couldn't get permission to use a piece of Joyce it gradually turned into the songs about Molly Bloom the character stepping out of the book, into the real world and the impressions of sensuality," says Kate, softly, almost childlike. "Rather than being in this two dimensional world, she's free, let loose to touch things, feel the ground under her feet, the sunsets, just how incredibly sensual a world it is.

"I originally heard the piece read by Siobhan McKenna years ago and I thought 'My God! This is extraordinary, what a piece of writing!' it's a very unusual train of thought, very attractive. First I got the "mmh yes" and that made me think of Molly Bloom's speech, and we had this piece of music in the studio already so it came together really quickly. Then, because I couldn't get permission to use Joyce, it took another year changing it to what it is now. Typical innit!"

The result is extraordinarily sensual mouth music, far removed from the cod-pieced crassness that usually passes from physical love songs: "And at first with the charm around him, mmh yes/he loosened it so if it slipped between my breasts/He'd rescue it, mmh yes".

"In the original piece it's just 'Yes!" - a very interesting way of leading you in, it pulls you into the piece by the continual acceptance of all these sensual things. 'Ooh wonderful!' I was thinking I'd never write anything as obviously sensual as the original piece but when I had to rewrite the words I was trapped.

"How could you recreate that mood without going into that level of sensuality? So there I was writing stuff that months before I'd said I'd never write," she laughs. "I have to think of it in terms of pastiche and not that it's me so much."

Having begun her career on The Kick Inside singing lines like, "Oh I need it oh oh feel it feel it my love" and "feeling of sticky love inside", and then gone on in Lionheart to write a lyric like "the more I think of sex the better it gets", her reluctance to get too sensual, too fruity a decade later may seem a little strange.

But as Bush has increasingly gained control over the presentation of her music and her image during this period, stepping back from early marketing attempts to titillate (God, how they worked!) these reservations are understandable.

She claims The Sensual World contains the most "positive female energy" in her work to date and compositions like 'This Woman's Work' tend to enforce that idea.

"I think it's to do with me coming to terms with myself on different levels. In some ways, like on Hounds of Love, it was important for me to get across the sense of power in the songs that I'd associated with male energy and music. But I didn't feel that this time and I was very much wanting to express myself as a woman in my music rather than as a woman wanting to sound as powerful as a man.

"And definitely 'The Sensual World', the track, was very much a female track for me. I felt it was a really new expression, feeling good about being a woman musically."

But isn't it odd that this feminist or feminine perspective should have been inspired by a man, Joyce?

"Yes, in some ways but it's also the idea of Molly escaping from the author, out into the real world, being this real human rather than the character, stepping out of the page into the sensual world."

So is this concept of sensuality the most important thing to you at the moment, is it one of the life forces?

"Yes, it's about contact with humans, it could all come down to the sensual level. Touch? Yes, even if it's not physical touch, reaching out and touching people by moving them. I think it's a very striking part of this planet, the fact there is so much for us to enjoy. The whole of nature is really designed for everything to have a good time doing what they should be doing...

"Fancy being a bee, leading an incredible existence, all these flowers designed just for you, flying into the runway, incredible colours, some trip..."

Mmh, buzz.

Many bumbles have breathed their last since Kate Bush first arrived on our screens, flouncing about in dry ice and funeral shroud, oddly crowing 'Wuthering Heights'; obviously different and apart from any musical movement before or since. But whereas the all-conquering, universally acclaimed Hounds Of Love affair at least slotted into the-then pop world, The Sensual World is clearly even more out of step with the current piss poor post-SAW [Stock Aitken Waterman] scene.

Probably because it's got a slightly ethnic feel, founded on Kate's use of Irish and Bulgarian musics and musicians in the creative process. Perhaps because she's been free from pop for so long. Maybe because she's crossed the threshold of 30?

"God! Yes, I'm sure it's all tied in with it," she laughs. "I think it's a very important time from 28 to 32-ish, where there's some kind of turning point. Someone said in your teens you get the physical puberty and between 28 and 32 mental puberty. Let's face it, you've got to start growing up when you're 30, it does make you feel differently, I feel very positive having gone through the last couple of years."


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