A winter wonderland

Kate Bush's first new material in six years mixes yetis, snowmen and made-up wintry words. The reclusive star talks to Andy Gill

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The Independent Online

Listening to her music, with its vivid stories of Middle-Eastern gays, obsessive mathematicians, incestuous siblings, drowning women, computer nerds, tasteless millionaires and, now, hunted yetis and sentient snowflakes, it comes as no surprise to learn that, as a child, Kate Bush had a particularly active imagination.

"It has always been a very big part of me, especially when I was a little girl," she confirms. "I had an incredibly full life with my imagination: I used to have all sorts of trolls and things. I had a wonderful world around my toys and invented people.

"I don't mean I had imaginary friends; I didn't need any imaginary friends, because I had so much other stuff going on. I remember one time I nearly burnt one end of the house down, because my trolls were having this sort of outdoor party, and decided to light a bonfire on the windowsill."

She threw herself deeper into her fantasy life and her love of music, eventually combining them to develop one of the most singular careers in all of pop. Restlessly creative, yet shunning the promotional scaffolding routinely used to hoist product into the marketplace, Kate Bush has managed to find a way of being both instantly recognisable yet oddly indefinable, a paradoxical combination of attributes that has enabled her to extend that career way beyond the confines of most of her peers.

When she first wafted her ethereal way into our lives, back in the late Seventies, punk was transforming the musical landscape. But while those former punks now very much look their age, she and her work have retained their vitality and freshness. Being reclusive has afforded the 53-year old a cloak of invisibility that acts like an elixir of youth.

Few, if any, of her peers from that era would dare take a 12-year sabbatical between albums, as she did following 1993's The Red Shoes, let alone return to as universal a chorus of critical hosannahs as she did with 2005's Aerial. Another six years pass, and suddenly we are treated to not one but two Kate Bush albums in a single year, her recent retrospective exercise Director's Cut now followed by 50 Words for Snow.

"I'd had this idea for some while to do a wintry album," she explains, "and soon after I started writing for it, I homed in to the idea of snow. It just seemed such a fascinating subject that it was easy to think of so many ways of writing about it. It's such extraordinary stuff, isn't it? Even a single snowflake, when you look at it under a microscope, is such an incredibly beautiful thing. And they are all different."

The title track does indeed feature 50 words for snow, the majority of them made up by Bush herself, fantastical coinages like "vanillaswarm" and "icyskidski" intoned with gentle thespian relish by Stephen Fry. Elsewhere on the album, Elton John duets on "Snowed in at Wheeler Street", a tale of two immortal lovers' paths criss-crossing through the ages, from Roman times to the present day; Kate's son Bertie takes the title role of a snowflake yearning for human contact in "Snowflake"; a yeti is tracked across the Himalayas in "Wild Man"; and, in "Misty", a woman and a snowman engage in a love affair.

One of the reasons for Bush's long absence from the public eye was her decision to prioritise the obligations of parenthood. The arrival of her beloved Bertie in 1998 forced her into devising new ways to work, so as to afford her as much time with her son as possible: "I had to learn how to work in a completely different way, in short snatches of time, which was so not how I'd ever worked before," she says.

"I couldn't do it at first. It was an extremely positive thing, because for the person, as well as the person's work, it's good to experience shaking everything up and doing something completely different. I love being a mother; I think it's the best thing I've ever done, and I personally feel that it has had a very positive effect on my work."