BBC Saturday Nights at the Mill
Tokyo Music Festival
In our last two entries, we touched on Kate Bush’s affinity for dance. “Wuthering Heights” sports a video with choreography every Bush fan in the world has attempted to emulate, and “Kite” has its own aerial hyperdance. “Moving” foregrounds the act of dancing. If Bush had previously treated dance as a companion to her music, “Moving,” as its name implies, canonizes it as an integral part of how her songs work. “[Dancers are] beautiful, they’re so free and they’re just purely stating what they’re feeling and it’s so delightful…” said Bush in 1980. “And I think that’s what dance is about, the enjoyment of that feeling of movement and freedom, it’s like suddenly breaking through a barrier.”
From its opening moments, “Moving” has a sense of weight and motion, commencing with a fifteen-second sample of whale song from environmentalist Roger S. Payne’s LP Songs of the Humpback Whale (“whales say everything about ‘moving’…it weighs a ton and yet it’s so light it floats”). Then Bush’s vocals and piano greet the listener with “moving stranger, does it really matter?/ as long as you’re not afraid to feel.” Bush requests a stranger’s partnership in a no-string-attached arrangement — the ability to dance together is an adequately precious union. Dance a mediator, like a precisely choreographed one-night stand.
Bush has credited multiple instructors in the development of her dancing skills, including jazz-influenced instructor Robin Kovac and American mime Adam Darius. But her most influential teacher is one of the world’s most famous mimes, Lindsay Kemp. Kemp’s legacy is enormous, boasting experience teaching and working with David Bowie, maintaining a status as a gay icon, and his extravagant theatrical performances. One of these stage shows is particularly crucial for Kate Bush. In 1975, she saw Kemp for the first time in a performance in Bloomsbury. Flowers, an adaptation of Jean Genet’s proto-Beat debut novel Our Lady of the Flowers, is an astonishing vision of decadence, material brutality, and bodily liberation. Presenting everything from masturbating prison inmates to literal angels onstage, Flowers is Kemp’s magnum opus, an outrageous exhibition of maximalism and sex. Flowers has command of several aesthetics at once, from ragtime to classical music to Luigi Russoli-an proto-noise music. It’s totally outrageous and works precisely because it has the flourishing courage of its convictions.
Naturally, Kate Bush was utterly compelled by Flowers. Its lack of restraint in aesthetics and public displays of sexuality are visible influences on huge swaths of Bush’s work. She was subsequently instructed by Kemp in his dance classes, and he’s remained an influence on her work. Years later, Bush was still praising Kemp in interviews, and of course she paid her respects upon Kemp’s death last year. It’s easy to feel she never really got over that first performance of Flowers. This display of eroticism, veneration of physical beauty, and dedication to surrealism would remain useful to Bush, staying visible all the way from The Kick Inside to 50 Words for Snow.
“Moving” is explicitly Bush paying her debt to Kemp, applying his lessons to her work in the same way she’s channeled the songwriting of Bowie or Ferry into her music. Bush’s anti-gnosticism in particular is inherited from Kemp, viewing dance as an art form that can be radical, liberating, and innovative. “You give me life/please don’t let me go,” says the hedonistic Bush, “you crush the lily in my soul.”
Aqueous language is salient in “Moving.” From its whale sample onwards, it fixates upon water as a metaphor for dance. “Moving liquid/yes, you are just as water,” Bush realizes about her partner, as if she’s realized he has the face of a genius. She invests greatly in malleability, letting motion transform her — Bush has explained the “moving liquid” lyric by explaining it as “what the Chinese say about being the cup the water turns into” (this also touches on George Gurdijeff’s Fourth Way, in which an essence is governed by the form is takes. We’ll get there soon). For “Moving,” form is as crucial as substance.
Bush’s melody for the song is a tricky thing, as Bush songs often are. Yet the eccentricities are in the details. The track is in D minor, starting with an interesting progression of i-VII-VI-III (D-C-B flat-F), with a digression into chords like E major (a chord raised a 6th above D minor’s ii chord, E diminished) and D major (not found in D minor). The chorus drifts through i-v-iv-III (D-A-G-F), with an A7 and G major thrown in to satisfy Bush’s obligation to out-of-key chord selections, while the post-chorus hits upon the root chord of C sharp and drifts into the A of D harmonic and melodic minor. “Moving” chooses chords conservatively at times but will throw a pebble into the midst of the song at an instant, causing musical ripples.
Like “Wuthering Heights,” “Moving” is a thesis statement: it’s the inaugural track of Kate Bush’s debut album, the opening song of every concert on her only tour, and was released as a single exclusively in Japan, where it hit #1. Clearly Bush considered the track a tone setter, the beginning of the duet of music, sex, camaraderie, and motion that shapes much of her work. Her subsequent music doesn’t always sound like “Moving,” but Bush clung to its sensibilities for a long time.
Recorded July-August 1977 at London AIR Studios. Personnel: Kate Bush — vocals, piano. Stuart Elliott — drums. David Paton — bass. Ian Bairnson — guitar. Duncan Mackay — electric piano. Andrew Powell — production.
February 2, 2019 @ 2:07 am
Fascinating as always (after three entries, I can say that, can’t I?). In particular I was amazed at the reference to Moving reaching number 1 in Japan (where I live). Absolutely impossible to imagine anything like that happening nowadays. I wonder if anyone here still remembers Kate? I suppose some people must — no one I have met, though.
I appreciated the musicological elements as well. As a Radiohead fan, I like the sort of curve balls, or ‘pebbles’ as you dub them. In fact, when I first heard Deck’s Dark, off the last Radiohead album, my first thought was that the piano was a deliberate Kate Bush homage. I’ve not read anyone else expressing this idea, but I do know there’s a connection: Colin Greenwood has shown Kate around the band’s studios, and she has been to see them live.
February 2, 2019 @ 7:51 pm
Ha, thanks It’s been more than three entries if you look at my WordPress. 😛 There’ll be room in the blog for a Radiohead cameo somewhere.
February 4, 2019 @ 7:30 am
Being a Doctor Who geek, I meant three on Eruditorum Press. I’ve now joined the dots and found Dreams of Orgonon on WordPress, though.