As Kate Bush's Running up that Hill wows the world (again), there are stranger things than loving Irish music
June 30, 2022
Kate Bush and I do not have that much in common. I have always liked her music but have never seen her live, or met her. She was once interviewed by a Colin who writes about folk music but that was Colin Irwin. What we do share, however, is a passion for Irish music.
Image: Philip Chappell aka squidneyImage
Back when Kate was famous the first time round, I was covering a series of trials in Bristol. It was known as the Operation Julie case, in honour of a policewoman involved in the investigation. The accused had produced and distributed industrial quantities of LSD. They divided into two groups, acidheads and breadheads - the former wanting to turn on the world, the latter intent on making heaps of money.
I found the proceedings fascinating but quite sad; none of those on trial seemed essentially bad people and some were very easy to like. After each day in court, reporters and detectives would mingle in a nearby bar; the cops we met were good company (one, who had gone undercover during the inquiry, liked what he encountered and later resigned and grew his hair long again).
On my way home each evening, I found the Bothy Band absolutely perfect listening. Their elegant but rocking command of Irish traditional music, from mournful laments to pulsating jigs and reels, was mesmerising. I cannot hear them now without remembering those court cases.
Kate Bush, I recently discovered as the world began to enjoy her music half a century later thanks to its use on the TV series Stranger Things, also loved the Bothy Band.
Let us, then, explore the Irish part of Kate Bush's musical DNA before closing, inevitably, with that song. You know, the one that's clocked up 81 million visits at YouTube without being the best thing she ever recorded.
First, the Bothy Band track she told Colin Irwin decades ago that she adored ... Farewell to Erin, introduced in another live recording as the band's favourite reel.
Kate clearly treasures her Irish side. To no surprise at all, she has also recorded the beautiful ballad, Mná na hÉireann (Women of Ireland). In an instalment of Salut! Live's Cover Story series, I wrote this:
Kate Bush deserves credit for her version, recorded in 1996 on Common Ground - Voices of Modern Irish Music, produced by Donal Lunny, a towering figure in the music of the island. That CD is a gem of Irish music with compelling tracks featuring Sharon Shannon, Paul Brady, Maire Brennan, Elvis Costello, Davy Spillane, Sinead O'Connor, Andy Irvine and Christy Moore.
Bush feels the song as keenly as her fellow-Celt [Nolwenn] Leroy and any of its purely Irish singers and this makes us a little, if only a little, more indulgent of her declared affection for Theresa May (I have not checked on whether this has now been withdrawn; I've been present at a wittily engaging May speech, but her relentless pursuit of a hardish Brexit, despite having been nominally pro-Remain, appals me).
In passing, I should add that Kate did later clarify her comments about Theresa May, saying she was talking about her prominence as "a woman in power", not her politics. Phew.
Then there was Jig of Life, from her 1985 Hounds of Love album. The YouTube notes tell us the piece is a medley of traditional tunes collected by Kate/s brother Paddy. "Kate wrote the lyrics for the first part of the song, while the poem in the last part was read and written by her oldest brother John Carder Bush."
And what a delight to come across her version of My Lagan Love, one of my favourite Irish ballads, with new lyrics composed by that same elder brother John. It was the B-side of the 12-inch release of Cloudbursting, which happens to be Kate Bush at - for me - her best.
There'll be more and I would love to hear of your discoveries of Kate's folk and/or Irish interests and influences But what many newcomers to this site really want to hear comes next ...
Thanks for the reminder of the Bothy Band -- I hadn't thought of them in years. Superb. As is Kate Bush's Jig of Life, one I hadn't heard before.
Posted by: Bill Taylor | June 30, 2022 at 04:23 PM
I was confused by Bush's "My Lagan Love" -- I ran across it on Facebook earlier today and couldn't understand the words I was hearing or where they had come from -- now that I know that her brother wrote them I might listen to them again. "Running up that Hill" isn't a style of music I like to listen to (I don't care for anything with prominent drums). I am completely unable to evaluate Bush's voice: I'd like to hear her sing something unaccompanied so that I wasn't distracted by the production.
Posted by: Sharyn Dimmick | July 02, 2022 at 01:31 AM