Ahead of her comeback shows next week, Ed Power assesses Kate Bush's influence
The last time Kate Bush went on tour, she mugged and wriggled like a trainee Lady Gaga. We think of the 'Wuthering Heights' singer as the last word in wallflower quirkiness - revisiting her 1979 Hammersmith Apollo show on YouTube, it's remarkable just how enthusiastically she vamps and preens. It's like watching a flashforward to an onrushing era of stadium songstresses, with their cone-bras and meat skirts.
When Bush, now 56 with a history of intense reclusiveness, returns to the same venue on Tuesday night to begin a historic run of sold-out dates expect a very different performance. The poster advertising her 22 comeback gigs depicts her floating in an ominous sea, a piece of human driftwood.
Whatever sort of production Bush brings to London, fans are assured it will be an evening to tell their grandchildren about. In an age in which it feels we know almost as much about pop stars as about our immediate family, Bush is a rarity: an enigma who fuels our fascination the further she withdraws from the limelight. Her plea this week for attendees to refrain from snapping or filming the concerts attests to the truth of this - artists make these requests every week, yet when Bush does it, it is as if a plot is ripening, a mystery deepening.
Musically, she is of course incredibly influential. One might argue that, as she pirouetted about in the video to 1978's 'Wuthering Heights', this 19-year-old daughter of a Kent doctor and a Waterford Irish dancing champion, was creating a new archetype: that of the esoteric songstress. Yes, Joni Mitchell (very arguably) got there first -however, Bush was so much odder, an interloper from a fantastical realm only faintly connected to our own.
Thus began an onslaught of sloe-eyed pop faeries, with their strangely ululating voices and unconventional piano style. Bjork, Tori Amos, Florence and the Machine, PJ Harvey, Amanda Palmer, Bat For Lashes' Natasha Khan - even squeaky-tonsiled Irish singer Cathy Davey - are, it might be contended, doomed to toil in Bush's shadow. She gave female artists permission to explore their kooky side and yet seemed so strong and womanly with it - a weirdo, yes, but a weirdo in control of her destiny.
She didn't stand still either. If her 1978 debut, The Kick Inside, was poetically shrill, by the mid '80s and records such as Hounds Of Love, she was raising the tempo, whether with the propulsive synths of 'Running Up That Hill' or the heartfelt pop of 'Cloudbusting'.
Then, Bush's influence goes beyond music. By retreating from the public eye in increments, she reminded us of the elusive stars of Old Hollywood. After that one tour in 1979, Bush vowed never to go on the road again, complaining the process objectified her, stripped her dignity.
That isn't to say she immediately disappeared. It is often overlooked that through the '80s she continued to give interviews and appear on television. There's a celebrated clip from the Secret Policeman's Ball of Bush singing 'Running Up That Hill' accompanied by Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour on guitar. In the excerpt, she does not seem shy or reluctant in the least - stomping about the stage, Bush is a veritable dervish, a performer in absolute control of their environment.
Really, it was the birth of her son Bertie in the early '90s that persuaded her that she needed to vanish behind veiled curtains. Having married guitarist Danny McIntosh and had a child, she withdrew to her rural English pile (nobody in the media suspected she had become a mother until, two years on, her friend Peter Gabriel casually blurted the fact during an interview).
Even out of sight, her nfluence lived on. New bands discovered Bush. Rockers Futureheads had a massive hit with a cover of 'Hounds Of Love'; today faddy groups such as Chvrches are upfront about treading in her footsteps.
"What makes Kate Bush special in my eyes is that she is absolutely, unequivocally an individual," says Lauren Mayberry, frontwoman of Glasgow band Chvrches. "She became the first woman to achieve a number one in the UK charts with a self-penned song - no mean feat in the aggressively male-dominated music industry."
Outside of entertainment, she profoundly touched the world of fashion. Granted, viewed today her seventies videos - a riot of leotards, dry ice and bouncing curls - feel very much of their time. Yet, she pioneered a mix and match sensibility, whereby you incorporated touches from across the decades and continents yet somehow ended up looking like nobody but yourself.
You could discern her touch in the charity shop glamour of the '80s new romantic movement, arguably in the tie-dyed DIY aesthetic of grunge. Today, designers such as Karl Lagerfeld clamour to heap praise on performers such as Florence Welch, whose repurposed Edwardian shtick is utterly indebted to Bush. She may be the final word in pop reclusiveness but, if you look closely enough, you will see that Kate Bush never truly went away.