Kate Bush has one of the most distinctive voices in pop. Honestly, how many times have you attempted to reach those high notes in ‘Wuthering Heights’ and failed miserably? I’m guessing, like me, you’ve lost count. That’s because Bush is a unique talent, someone who has honed her voice throughout her long career.
It’s in no way a traditional singing voice. No, quite the opposite. Bush’s peculiar intonation, and habit of swinging from register to register, goes against almost everything a professional singing coach will teach you. But, then again, what do they know?
Bush’s voice also contains a myriad of inflexions taken from Anglo-Irish and southern English accents. As a result, her soprano voice trickles with an otherworldly quality, which has led many to describe her music as “surreal”.
But every voice needs time to develop and most artists have to work for their vocal chops. Aside from an early comment about the squeakiness of her Kiai at the karate class she attended, nobody would have expected Bush to sing the way she does. Most singers pick up a style subconsciously. David Bowie, for example, grew up watching Anthony Newley on the television and picked up many of the performer’s vocal eccentricities as a result.
But, for Bush, the process was a more purposeful one. In a recent interview, the singer shared how she developed her distinct phrasing and intonation: “It’s a bit like how you develop a certain style as a pianist: It’s just something that gradually evolves. The more you work, the more a certain type of character evolves,” she explained.
“It was very much a phase that went with when I was working in dance. I wonder if, as I was exploring a technique of dance, I was also sort of exploring a technique with my vocals as well,” Bush added, recalling her work with Lindsey Kemp. After signing to EMI, Bush was given a large advance and used some to enrol in interpretive dance classes taught by Kemp, a former teacher of David Bowie, and mime training with Adam Darius.
Bush’s stunning vocal performances were heightened by her understanding of movement, and in her live shows, she frequently relied on dance to convey emotion to her audiences that was sometimes lost in high notes. This led to her being one of the first artists to use the headset mic, later adopted by Britney Spears.
Speaking about how her invention changed her live performances, Bush said: “I wanted a microphone that I could obviously sing into, but also dance. That meant having both my hands-free so that we could do lifts and different kinds of dance work without being too restricted. It was really so liberating.”
If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that Bush’s music is utterly liberating. The elasticity of her voice seems to defy all boundaries and conveys such a huge amount of joy as a result. What would we do without her?