Last week's shock announcement that English singer-songwriter Kate Bush is to perform live later in the year for the first time since 1979 stirred Twitter and other social networks into a veritable frenzy. The collective gasps of surprise quickly gave way to an outpouring of love followed by the first signs of mild panic as fans realised that getting a hold of tickets for the upcoming concerts is going to be a monumental task. What is it about this fifty five year old London born singer that inspires such devotion? And is all the fuss and fevered anticipation of her return really merited?
First off, I have a confession to make - I wouldn't consider myself a devotee. In fact, I don't own a single Kate Bush album. For me, she has always been the kind of singer to be admired and respected, rather than loved. Admitting that, has on more than one occasion, led to complete and utter incredulity - how could you not adore the iconic Kate Bush?
First the good stuff - at the tender age of nineteen, she became the first woman to reach number one in the UK charts with a self composed song; 'Wuthering Heights' and the accompanying album, The Kick Inside, were massive hits and announced Bush as one of the most idiosyncratic new voices in pop.
It is impossible to underestimate how difficult it must have been for a young female singer to make that breakthrough in the male dominated music industry of the seventies. Women, with very few exceptions, occupied a minor role in the pop landscape of that era; Kate Bush broke the mould in many respects.
She hit her creative peak with a trio of albums in the eighties - The Dreaming (1982), Hounds of Love (1985) and the Sensual World (1989) are the records that saw her graduate from the role of kooky songstress to serious artiste, incorporating interpretive dance and complex themes into her work.
Hounds of Love still stands as her crowning achievement to this day - it delivered arguably her most celebrated song in the excellent 'Running Up That Hill' and became a highly successful, extremely trendy coffee table album in the process.
Following the release of The Red Shoes in 1993, Bush took an extended hiatus from the music industry and lived a comparatively reclusive existence in Devon, rarely appearing in public until the release of her eighth album, Aerial in 2005. That record, and the two subsequent album releases, were more experimental, low key efforts - even her most ardent admirers would find it difficult to make a case that these albums represent her at her very best.
So given all that, what's not to love? Well, despite all the acclaim and the devotion of her loyal fans, if you ask the average music lover to name three Kate Bush songs you will probably get 'Running Up That Hill', 'Wuthering Heights' and then a bit of head scratching, as they desperately try to come up with another title. At a push maybe, just maybe, a handful will recall her collaboration with Peter Gabriel 'Don't Give Up' but after that it will be a struggle.
For such an iconic and celebrated songwriter, one could argue there is a deficit of truly memorable, classic songs. Songs that become part of the public consciousness, that are destined to be played for generations to come.
Also, can someone who hasn't played live in 35 years and released very little of note in 20 years justifiably claim to be one of the greats? Granted, Bush herself makes no such claims, but judging by the reaction to the announcement of her return, there is no question that she is considered by a large body of the music fraternity to be one of the most important artists of the modern era.
To a great degree, the cult of Kate Bush has its foundations in what she hasn't done, rather than what she has. The reclusive image, the lengthy gaps between albums and the experimental and conceptual nature of some of her recordings all add a certain gravitas, a mystique that has seen her reputation grow, even when she has been absent from the music scene for long periods.
Whether you are a Kate Bush disciple, on the fence or an avid hater (surprisingly, an internet trawl reveals they do exist) there can be little doubt that she is one of the most unique and interesting songwriters to have emerged from this side of the Atlantic in the last four decades. The upcoming live shows will bring to an end years of speculation and will hopefully deliver the kind of memorable spectacle that her passionate fans deserve.
Words by Paul Page