It isn’t gentlemanly I know and, believe me, I’d be the last person to say it myself. It’s not who I am. I am above that. But that said we cannot ignore history, the tides of time and so on. And History has left no room for debate. So forgive me, but, I TOLD YOU I WAS RIGHT!
I was right in saying, as I have done to man and/or beast for some time now, that: “The music era I grew up in was the best music era in history. It was better than yours (assuming yours is different) and will never be topped.” Read ‘em, and weep.
Proof of this particular pudding has come obviously with the unprecedented success of Kate Bush. But I see that success as part of an ever bigger truth: that music forged in the 80s, is still a huge influence on today’s hit makers like Taylor Swift, Rodrigo and Kacey Musgraves. A template was established that is still the Go-To sound.
Kate obviously is a unique, utterly original voice that would have succeeded in any era. But she blossomed in the 1980s, and that era left its DNA in her sound. She was an early adaptor to synths and samplers, most notable the most ‘80s sounding machine of them all, the Fairlight.
She was influenced too, I am sure , by what was, in my view, the greatest year in music, 1979. Her Tour of Life took place that year as the world of music around her almost exploded. A year that had simply so much going on.
It was the year punk came good. The new breed like Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Joy Division, The Boomtown Rats, The Jam, Ian Dury, Blondie and The Clash were wrestling control of the airwaves, and most notably Top Of The Pops, from the old music order. Half of 1979’s number ones could be classed as punk or new wave in origin.
Synth bands too, like Gary Numan, Human League and OMD, were coming through. Bowie and Kraftwerk were majestic. Top of the Pops was also seeing new metal bands like Judas Priest, Saxon and Def Leppard, while the success of the film Quadrophenia saw mod influenced bands like The Merton Parkas, Secret Affair and The Jags take to the stage.
The industry was changing too. Indie labels like Rough Trade, Stiff and Factory were charting a course that would see incredible talents like Lene Lovich and Kirsty McColl emerge. Soon, the Mute and 4AD labels were opening their doors, whilst in Scotland, Postcard Records was about to change everything.
And to top it all, Two Tone was releasing music from the Specials, Madness and The Selector!
I travelled to London in June of that tumultuous year. It has been a bumpy boat/ train ride. My best friend, had been wearing a Beatles badge. It said “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” In the era of the Troubles this hadn’t been wise. He wasn’t wearing it now.
Off the train we were greeted by two enormous full-colour posters. One was XTC’s Drums and Wires album, the other The Slits’ Cut album with its risqué enough mud cover. We made our way to the Virgin Megastore to buy both.
The megastore was like nothing we had ever seen. It was vast and everywhere you looked its shelved groaned under the weight of albums from bands like Gang Of Four, Blondie, PIL, Tom Verlaine and The Only Ones. Things that were impossible to get in Ireland were here on picture disk, with free 7-inch singles and promotional 12-inch remixes. It was mind-boggling.
There were more physical vinyl singles sold in 1979 than any year before or since. Thinking back this was unsurprising. It was an explosion of bands, creativity, artwork, ideas, songs and energy. This informed the early ‘80s. These acts, continued, matured, achieved.
It’s easy to see Running up That Hill as the pinnacle of all that. It’s an amazing song, rich in meaning, heavy in emotion, and with a production the Stranger Things producers would struggle to top. But honestly, there is so much from that era that will blow away speakers, cobwebs and lethargy.
I listened to Kate in her interview with the BBC’s Woman’s Hour. In response to be being told of 616 million views on TikTok, she admitted her phone only did texts and phone calls. She remains the quiet artist at the centre of the storm. As it should be.