Ethereal ingénue Kate Bush’s aviation-themed video for “The Big Sky” was a Night Flight fave

By on July 28, 2017

Today, we thought we’d help celebrate Kate Bush’s upcoming birthday this weekend — the ethereal ingénue was born Catherine Bush on July 30, 1958, in Bexleyheath, Kent, now part of Greater London, England — by reminding you of this exceptional episode of Night Flight’s “Most Requested Videos,” which originally aired on June 14, 1986.

You can now find this popular episode streaming along with other original ’80s-era episodes of “Night Flight” over at Night Flight Plus — we’ll tell you how you can become a subcriber and an exclusive member of our Night Flight club a bit further down.

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Our faithful TV viewers were occasionally encouraged to mail in postcards and letters to our New York HQ, telling us which videos by their favorite artists and bands they wanted to see on an episode “Night Flight,” and in the fall of 1986, one of the videos they wanted to see was Kate Bush’s video for “The Big Sky.”

In her introduction to the clip, Pat Prescott says, “England’s Kate Bush is a major star in her native country, and one of America’s major cult figures,” which we suppose was a fairly not-too-subtle way of describing her relative lack of U.S. success at the time.

1985’s Hounds of Love, though, would give Kate Bush her first U.S. hit singles, and the album would end up charting in the Top Forty of Billboard magazine’s album charts as well, although it would top the same charts at #1 in the UK.

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“The Big Sky” was the fourth and final single from Kate Bush’s fifth album, Hounds of Love,, and was released on April 28, 1986, just a few months before it appeared in our “Most Requested Videos” segment.

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The underlying idea behind “The Big Sky” was based on the fact that as a young girl, Kate Bush would spend hours watching clouds moving across the sky, looking for shapes that resembled animals and, well, other shapes, and she’d watch the clouds moving in the sky until they changed shapes into something else.

In the Kate Bush Club newsletter (Issue 18, 1985), she talked a little bit about what the song was about:

“Someone sitting looking at the sky, watching the clouds change. I used to do this a lot as a child, just watching the clouds go into different shapes. I think we forget these pleasures as adults. We don’t get as much time to enjoy those kinds of things, or think about them; we feel silly about what we used to do naturally. The song is also suggesting the coming of the next flood – how perhaps the ‘fools on the hills’ will be the wise ones.”

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“The Big Sky” underwent at least three dramatically different changes, between the first demo version until the final mastered track which ultimately ended up on Hounds of Love.

The final track featured Killing Joke bassist Youth, and a big drum sound that was very much of its time in the mid-80s.

Kate’s caterwauling vocals at the riotous end of “The Big Sky” is also said to have been inspired by Yoko Ono’s screechy vocals.

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Bush:

“… The structure of this song changed quite a lot. I wanted to steam along, and with the help of musicians such as Alan Murphy on guitar and Youth on bass, we accomplished quite a rock-and-roll feel for the track. Although this song did undergo two different drafts and the aforementioned players changed their arrangements dramatically, this is unusual in the case of most of the songs.”

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Here’s what Kate Bush told UK radio presenter Tony Myatt — who from the early to mid-’80s hosted a popular request show for the BBC World Service, called “The Tony Myatt Request Show” — in November of ’85:

“‘The Big Sky’ gave me terrible trouble, really, just as a song. I mean, you definitely do have relationships with some songs, and we had a lot of trouble getting on together and it was just one of those songs that kept changing – at one point every week – and, um…It was just a matter of trying to pin it down. Because it’s not often that I’ve written a song like that: when you come up with something that can literally take you to so many different tangents, so many different forms of the same song, that you just end up not knowing where you are with it. And, um…I just had to pin it down eventually, and that was a very strange beast.”

Read more below about Kate Bush’s “The Big Sky” and Hounds of Love a bit further down.

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In August of 1985 — a little more than a year before we aired our “Most Requested Videos” episode — the UK’s New Musical Express ran a “Where Are They Now?”-type feature about Kate Bush, because the golden girl of English pop had pretty much disappeared after the release of her 1982 album The Dreaming.

The album — recorded at London’s Townhouse Studios — had utilized a lot of new technology, such as the Fairlight synthesiser, and overall was more experimental than her previous, commercially-successful output, but it had produced just one UK Top Twenty single (“Sat In Your Lap”) and it also had alienated even some of her most fervent fans.

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NME would describe The Dreaming as “a demanding slab of sonic experimentation which peered bravely into the avant-garde and lyrically took up such non-Top 40 topics like The Shining, Vietnam and the plight of the Aboriginal community in Australia.”

Arriving in September 1982, The Dreaming had sold just 60,000 copies, despite reaching #3 in the UK album charts, and it may have been a simple case of Kate Bush putting out recordings that were just ahead of their time and over the heads of almost everyone who had wanted her to be something that she wasn’t.

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She had been quite prolific up to this point, arriving with 1978’s The Kick Inside, which had sold over a million copies on the back of her #1 debut single, the operatic Wuthering Heights, a remarkable feat considering this was the height of punk and disco.

She then released four albums in the next five years, beginning with the somewhat-rushed sophomore album, Lionheart, and she’d also found time to complete an extensive European tour – 1979’s The Tour Of Life.

This was followed by 1980’s Never For Ever, which made Kate Bush the first British female solo artist ever to have a #1 album in the UK charts, powered by another memorable hit single, “Babooshka.”

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As it turned out, the three-year lapse in new Kate Bush recordings ended just a month later, on September 16, 1985, when she released her fifth studio album, Hounds of Love (sorta seems like an editor at NME could have phoned up someone at her record label in August and found out the new album was due out soon, doesn’t it?)

At the time, the fact that she’d not put out any new recordings in three years spurred lots of innocuous rumors, including that she’d gone mad, had developed an addiction to junk food that had seen her weight balloon to about 280 lbs. (20 stone if you’re English), and/or that she’d retired from the music industry completely.

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What had happened, it turned out, was that Bush had left her home in Eltham, south-east London — about which she it felt like their was “air of doom and gloom” hanging over the city — and, in the spring of 1983, she and longtime musician/engineer boyfriend Derek Peter “Del” Palmer moved into a 17th-century farmhouse in the rural Kent countryside, near Sevenoaks.

Palmer and Bush had a long-term relationship that lasted between the late 1970s and early ’90s.

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For the next several years, Bush had been so focused on writing and recording songs that she simply hadn’t ventured out to London too often and thus it had seemed to many that she simply wasn’t interested in being a pop star anymore (that much may have actually been true, though).

She spent her summers outdoors, in the fresh air of the countryside, and later would say she found inspiration in simple, natural things:

“The stimulus of the countryside is fantastic. I sit at my piano and watch skies moving and trees blowing and that’s far more exciting than buildings and roads and millions of people.”

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Bush and Palmer began recording straight to eight-track studio demos of songs she’d begun to write as early as the late summer and early autumn of ’83.

In an interview that was published in her fanclub newsletter sometime in 1983 she would say:

“I seem to have hit another quiet period. I intend to keep on writing for the first part of the year, so yet again I slip away from the eyeball of the media to my home.”

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She would also make a trip to Dublin, Ireland, which proved to be quite inspiring, both thematically and sonically, and it was in Dublin that Bush penned most of the lyrics, and began to realise a concept for the record, namely weather patterns and water.

Back home in her studio, she began adding folky instruments she’d heard in Ireland, which would then color and inform the album’s bucolic sensibilities.

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Kate Bush (center) and her family

Back home in England, Bush would move back to her family home, to Wickham Farm, a 350-year-old farmhouse in Welling, where she was raised and where her parents still lived at the time.

Behind the family barn — at one point the mouse-riddled barn had been a childhood retreat where she’d played on a dilapidated pump organ that was stored there — was a makeshift eight-track recording studio, where she had demoed many of the recordings that would end up on her Lionheart album.

Bush had the studio — housed behind a high fence — converted into a state-of-the-art, 48-track recording studio, which was completed in the autumn of 1983, and from that point onwards, she would spend nearly all of her time there, working on tracks that would ultimately appear on her next album, each revealing her obsessive, ruthless approach to recording.

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Lyrically, some of the songs were inspired by what could be described as naturalistic images — the sun, rain, wind, clouds, waves, sea, ice and storms — and they were also inspired by books she’d read as well as films she’d seen and loved.

One of the songs, “Cloudbursting,” was inspired by A Book Of Dreams, which had been written in 1973 by Peter Reich about his father, Wilhelm Reich, the Austrian-American psychoanalyst who developed the cloudbuster machine, an eccentric contraption consisting of metal tubes and pipes placed in a large drum of water which Reich claimed could form clouds and create rain, increasing the flow of Orgone, a “primordial cosmic energy.”

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The album’s title track, “Hounds of Love,” meanwhile, would be inspired by British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1950 film Gone To Earth, a Technicolor wonder starring Jennifer Jones as Hazel Woodus, a naïve, passionate Welsh country girl living in the Shropshire countryside with her harp-playing father in the late 1800s.

Kate Bush has said she identified with Hazel’s love for animals, and a particular fondness she had for the foxes hunted down and killed by local squire Jack Reddin (David Farrar), and for one fox in particular, named Foxy.

The song itself, though, begins with a sample (“It’s in the trees, it’s coming!”) from yet another film, the 1957 British horror film Night of the Demon, directed by Jacques Tourneur.

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Hounds of Love was separated into two halves, the first half (titled “Hounds of Love”) was comprised of propulsive, cutting-edge pop songs, including several songs which went on to become hit singles: “Running Up That Hill, “Hounds of Love,” “Cloudbursting” and “The Big Sky,” whose highest chart positions were in Ireland (#15) and in the UK (#37).

The second half of Hounds of Love, filling out all of the album’s Side Two, was a conceptual opus titled “The Ninth Wave,” a suite of seven songs which tell the story of a drowning woman in terrifying and specific detail.

It was named after Alfred Tennyson’s poem “The Idylls Of The King,” and based on images seen in a surrealist painting called “The Hogsmith Ophelia,” which shows a doll drowning in the sea.

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“Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” — released in advance of the album on August 5, 1985 — had originally been just titled “A Deal with God,” but EMI label reps had concerns about a possible negative reception to the song simply because its contained the word “God” and wouldn’t get airplay in Italy, France or Ireland, so Bush changed the title.

The song — which addresses the misunderstandings and unintentional pain that lovers cause each other — would go on to become her biggest hit since “Wuthering Heights” had been released seven years earlier, charting at #3 in the UK and garnering lots of airplay in the U.S., where she’d previously failed to build enough of a fanbase for EMI to support a major tour.

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A remixed version of “Running Up That Hill” would later reach #6 in the UK twenty-seven years after its intital release, after it was used during the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games.

Hounds of Love would end up charting at #1 on the UK album charts, spending over a year on those charts while becoming Kate Bush’s best-selling album to date, certified double-platinum for selling some 600,000 copies in the UK, and ultimately selling more than a million copies worldwide. In the U.S., it charted in the Top Forty of the Billboard 200 chart (#30).

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Kate Bush would make her first appearance on the BBC’s “Top of the Pops” since 1978, lip-synching her way trhough “Running Up That Hill,” and undertake her first major promotional tour, which involved doing a lot of press interviews and TV appearances, where she spent much of that alotted time talking about where she’d disappeared to for all those years.

She also directed two of the album’s four eclectic videos, including “The Big Sky,” which was filmed on March 19, 1986, at Thorn EMI Studios in Elstree, in the presence of a studio audience comprised of over one hundred of some of her fans, who were invited by a UK Kate Bush fan club fanzine,The Homeground.

Two busses (or coaches, we suppose, if you’re British) brought these fans, who had gathered in Manchester Square, to Elstree studios around 7:30 a.m.

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The Homeground fanzine staff — some of whom were cast as some of the aviators you see in the video, including two men posing as the Wright Brothers — were filmed first, all of them wearing costumes of various types (including a couple of very tall giraffes) and Kate Bush appearing in a really bizarre-looking silver aviator-type flight suit (which looked more like gold in certain lighting), accompanied by helmet and goggles, in addition to several other types of headgear.

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Then, the studio audience of her fans were brought in during the afternoon’s shooting, after lunch, for what amounted to “crowd scenes.” These scenes were filmed repeatedly over a twelve-hour shoot until Kate Bush was satisfied with the way they’d turned out.

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As it turned out, “The Big Sky” and its theme of aviation and flying (and costumed superheroes?) was an interesting choice, considering that Kate Bush had developed a phobia about flying, which was said to have been brought about from the death of Bill Duffield, a 21-year old lighting engineer who was working on her 1979 The Tour Of Life.

At a low-key warm-up concert on April 2, 1979, at Poole Arts Centre in Dorset, while scouring the darkened venue to ensure nothing had been forgotten, Duffield fell twenty feet through an opened panel in the lighting gallery.

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He would die of his injuries a week later, and Bush was shattered, and contemplated cancelling the tour, which went on despite her fears that it could happen again. A fundraising benefit concert to raise money for his family was added to the tour schedule.

The benefit show took place on May 12, 1979, and in addtion to Bush, the concert featured Peter Gabriel and Steve Harley, for whom Duffield had also worked.

In 1987, “The Big Sky” was nominated for Best Female Video at the MTV Video Music Awards.

You may also want to check out our previous post on Kate Bush: Under Review, which provides more of an overview, and fills in a lot of the additional details about her recording career.

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Happy Birthday this weekend to Kate Bush, and if you’re  a fan of her music, please do check out her video for “The Big Sky” in our exceptional 1986 episode of Night Flight’s “Most Requested Videos,” which also features videos by U2, Culture Club, Prince, the Thompson Twins, and Duran Duran, among others. It’s streaming over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.