By: Dave Cooper
My initial infatuation with Kate Bush never went away – it just changed. After the amazing success of ‘Wuthering Heights’, another single was inevitable, and sure enough ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ was another triumph. It didn’t conquer the UK singles chart in quite the same way that ‘Wuthering Heights’ had, but it reached the top ten, proving that this new arrival was no one-hit wonder. Kate Bush had been a captivating novelty; now she was a bona fide phenomenon. She seemed to be on TV every day for weeks: kids’ shows, interviews, the promotional clips for her two singles… and when she wasn’t on TV (or the radio, for that matter), everyone seemed to be talking about her.
It was small wonder, in more ways than one. Five year old me contentedly dragged his mother back to the record store to buy another single from the “Angel Lady”. I confess, at the time I thought it was very pretty, but although I still loved it, ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ didn’t have the instant melodic impact of ‘Wuthering Heights’ to my young ears, although I instantly adored the B-side, the Lindsay Kemp-inspired ‘Moving’, which was rather closer to the ghostly but hummable feel of Kate’s debut single. The thing was, this waifish 20 year old’s songs went a lot deeper than your typical chart fare.
‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ is a perfect example. A swooningly beautiful song of love and longing, it tells of a young woman’s relationship with that most attractive of men, the eternal child. He’s a dream fantasy, an ideal, that she turns to in an escape from the real world (“I realise he’s there / When I turn off the light and turn over”). Whilst she idolises him, there’s an awareness that he is an unrealistic ideal, and that her experiences in the real world will lead to him no longer featuring in her dreams (“Oh, I’m so worried about my love / They say, ‘No, no, it won’t last forever.'”). A passionate yet unconventional relationship, then; something Kate would return to several times in the course of her career. It manages to be both a mature theme, an examination of love that understands the unrealistic expectations levelled at people by those that love them, just as it concerns a fantasy figure – a more adult edition of the imaginary friend familiar to children. The song has one foot in each domain: adult themes with an innocent, childlike quality. A hopeless but ardent declaration of love, the keen sense of loss that it may all end at any time, and a lullaby for the hopeless romantic. The song demonstrates a keen understanding of adult emotions and the tragedy of having to forsake your dreams. Kate wrote it when she was only thirteen.
It was clear, then, to those who had a greater appreciation of the lyrical content than my five year old mind had, that there was more going on here than pretty tunes and a pretty girl in a leotard. There were tunes, but there was also substance. I found ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ pretty at the time, but as I grew older, I found more and more to admire about a song that said so much in such a simple way, without trying to provide a resolution. It didn’t judge, it merely was. In the fullness of time, of course, I came to understand in much the same way, that ‘Wuthering Heights’ wasn’t just a love story: it was about the power of love, the transformative nature of a love so powerful that it gave the dead Cathy the power to break the laws of nature so she could be with the man she loved. OK, so she drove him insane in the process, but I suppose it was the thought that counts.
Whilst Kate’s success with her first two singles and her debut album, The Kick Inside, meant that she remained a constant figure in the media, there followed a slight lull in her activity, as she retreated to record her second album, Lionheart, which was to continue to captivate her growing legion of fans and win her new ones. At this stage, however, my relationship with albums was practically non-existent. I loved Kate’s singles, but although I’m sure she must have spoken about her debut album during many of those early interviews, the idea that more Kate Bush songs existed which I had not yet heard had not impinged on my consciousness at all. Needless to say, this state of affairs was not to last.
I vaguely knew what an album was. I recognised that among my mum’s record collection – and the sizeable stack of big band recordings that my grandparents favoured – there were records of different sizes. I didn’t differentiate between them as “singles” and “albums”: they were all just “records” to me. At an abstract level, I realised that the larger records took longer to finish, before the automated arm of the Argosy record player lifted and returned to its grey plastic roost, and my mum had to get up and flip the record. It was a source of great pride when I was shown in late 1979 how to do this myself (“As long as you’re careful, duck.”), putting the record on the spindle, gently prodding it downwards, and activating the switch which set the speed, started the record turning and moved the stylus across and finally down onto the vinyl.
Back in the summer of ’78, however, I was still new to all of this. When I fancied some time in Kate’s company, I would dig out the singles of ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ and spin each of them a couple of times – and that would be enough. After all, it really hadn’t occurred to me that there was something I was missing.
By the end of the year, however, the idea of the “album” had finally made an impact on me. This was partially due to me spending more time digging through my mum’s record collection and asking about the artists – “Who’s that, mum? What does he/she sound like?” – and partially because I had become hooked on storybook records, designed and produced for children and young teens. A particular favourite that I still remember very fondly was Contour records Stories From Black Beauty. I loved the Adventures Of Black Beauty TV series – as did my mum, which is probably why we never missed an episode – and the record was a welcome fix, as the show had gone off the air in 1974, and we had to rely on infrequent repeat showings. Narrated by actress Judi Bowker (who played the spirited Vicky in the TV series), it was a wonderfully dramatic record that featured the once-heard never-forgotten theme tune and score by Denis King. I sat and listened to it over and over again, initially to my mum’s delight and finally to her despair. Alas, a few years later I put it on one day only to discover that side one had a scratch on it, and I don’t think I’ve heard it from that day to this. I may need to address this.
The Stories From Black Beauty album was to impress a few things on me, though: that I liked a good story, and that records that lasted longer than five minutes before you had to flip them over – albums – were more entertaining and gave more food for thought than singles did. It was this realisation, allied with the release of Lionheart in November 1978, that finally made me ask my long-suffering mother if I – or rather “we”; I had found that collective noun more persuasive numerous times, as in “can we have an ice lolly, mum?” – if we could see if the local record shop had a copy of Kate’s new album.
It was at this point that fate intervened. Albums were more expensive than singles, of course, and my mum was still keen that I paid for treats like this with my own pocket money. This, allied with Kate’s undimmed popularity, meant that Lionheart proved elusive until after Christmas. I learned early on that Woolworths wasn’t always a reliable place to locate records, especially albums: they were often out of stock, and even back then, their stocks of vinyl albums were rather limited. They made most of their music sales from singles. There was an independent record store in town, though, and it was that shop that we ended up going into in January 1979 with the intention to buy a copy of Lionheart. Typically, they didn’t have it. But they did have a Kate Bush card in the rack, and in front of it was a copy of The Kick Inside, Kate’s first album. Instantly smitten with the colourful, striking cover art, I decided I wanted to take that home instead, rather than waiting for a copy of Lionheart. My mum was very understanding, in her tolerant way. “If that’s what you want, duck, we’ll buy that one.” And the deal was done.
I took the record home in a state of high excitement, and I still vividly remember sitting in front of the record player in our lounge that night after our evening meal and letting it all wash over me as my grandparents listened as well (my mum had started to listen, but was out that night – I can’t be sure now if it was for work or for one of her occasional nights out with friends – and had left before my gran flipped the record and played Side 2 for me). I was already familiar with four of the songs thanks to the singles, and the rest of the record, whilst full of interesting new songs, felt very familiar to my young ears thanks to Kate’s unique vocals and writing style. I was hooked all over again and played the record a great deal; so much so that I practically wore it out, although I was very careful with it and never put a scratch or skip into it. Ultimately, I was to buy The Kick Inside four times: that original vinyl record, a cassette, another vinyl version (this time a picture disc), and ultimately on CD. It was only recently that that well-loved original vinyl and the cassette left my care after many years of faithful service.
In 1979, of course, the lyrical content of most of the songs was completely lost on me. There have been a handful of records that I grew up with and discovered new things about as I aged. I always cite The Kick Inside as possibly the most formative of them all. Whilst it wasn’t a storybook in record form like the Black Beauty album, it was nevertheless a book of stories, stories that captured my attention and imagination from the first play, populated by well-formed characters that I could identify with and root for or against like characters in a film. Some things I came to terms with quickly: like Cathy’s relentless pursuit of her love in ‘Wuthering Heights’, or James the cowardly cowboy in ‘James And The Cold Gun’. Others took a while longer: the simple but joyous celebration of love seen in ‘Oh To Be In Love’ was anathema to the six year old boy who treated the girls with whom he shared his classroom with a cautious horror, but became a mood-enhancing shot of purest sunshine when those youthful hormones kicked in; similarly the celebration of pregnancy and a woman’s ability to create life, ‘Room For The Life’, grew in significance when a member of the family fell pregnant around this time. Other songs only really hit home much later, like the sobering, tragic story of incest and suicide that makes up the title track, and the outright erotica of ‘Feel It’. I wonder sometimes if my mum, or my grandparents, ever listened to the words of these songs when I was playing the record back then and thought that, on balance, perhaps it wasn’t the sort of thing that their six-year old should have been listening to. If they did, to their credit, they never did attempt to stop me.