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It’s Art, Darling: Kate Bush, Duckie & Loyalty In The Wilderness Years
Mark Wood , November 22nd, 2018 08:04

Fame and favour are fickle, but some artists are forever in your heart and your record box, even if they have made an album with Lenny Henry. Here Mark Wood, aka The Blonde One of Duckie resident DJs The Readers Wifes, explains how a love for Kate Bush is what launched their two decades of dancefloor drama and mayhem

It’s difficult to appreciate this now that she’s (rightly) canonised, but back in the mid 90s Kate Bush was a bit of an anachronism. So many people were saying she was past it. Her most recent album, 1993’s The Red Shoes, had been her most conventional yet, with contributions from an old guard that included Jeff Beck, Procul Harum’s Gary Brooker and, er, Lenny Henry. To the faithful fans it was still good – parts of it were really good – but even a collaboration with Prince on the (slightly disappointing) ‘Why Should I Love You’ couldn’t dispel the sense of apathy towards Kate across Cool Britannia London. We had Björk now, and you didn’t get Eric Clapton all over her albums.

Around this time, my best mate and I were offered the chance of a four-week DJ residency at Duckie, a new gay alternative cabaret night in Vauxhall. We didn’t much fancy the idea of standing up for five hours for fifteen quid, and Vauxhall was a terrifying place back then, especially after dark. But we accepted, and truthfully the chance to hear Kate Bush over a big PA was the reason we agreed to do it. On that first night, along with some scratchy Tighten Up and K-Tel LPs and two horrible £1 wigs from somewhere up in Kilburn, we packed our Kate 7” singles next to a claw hammer and a screwdriver. (Self-defence: we reasoned that if the homophobic fucks who hung about Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens with baseball bats didn’t have a go, there was still a risk of violence from a south London clubbing crowd coming up on their Saturday night suddenly confronted by gothic melodrama, violins and tinkling pianos.

We needn’t have worried. Bolstered by several lager-and-blacks and by the fact that so far our wonky mismatched tunes seemed to be going down okay – nobody had come up and demanded to know when we were going to play Dannii Minogue – we filled the place with dry ice and dropped ‘Wuthering Heights’ at midnight, directly after ‘Oh Bondage! Up Yours!’. Pandemonium ensued; glasses were abandoned, smashed underfoot, as the Vauxhall Tavern stage was stormed by an army of competitive interpretative dancers. New mates were hoisted onto shoulders and when the song finished the cheering went on for two minutes. After the riot, everybody was drenched in lager and tears.

And that’s how Duckie got its reputation as a Kate-friendly destination. The initial four-week residency at the Tavern kept getting extended – we’re still there 23 years on, Jesus wept. While we don’t play Kate anything like every single week, we do still drop a ‘Hounds Of Love’ or ‘Sat In Your Lap’ or ‘Baboushka’ when the time feels right. ‘Hammer Horror’ every Halloween and ‘December Will Be Magic’ at Christmas. Kate still just feels like one of the essential components of a night that was originally only ever set up for outsiders with no place else to go.

Towards the end of the 90s a new regular appeared in the crowd from nowhere. He was this tiny androgynous sprite we named Wee Lee who always arrived in these fantastically impractical junk shop outfits, a vision in nylon and polyester. Always absolutely in command of his surroundings and with incredible self-belief, he’d get up on the stage at around 1am and signal that he was ready for his close-up. That was our cue to play ‘Wow’ or ‘Cloudbusting’, and we’d trace his extraordinary dance improvisations with the follow spot. This was no mere drag act or lip sync – with wild staring eyes, dramatic contortions and limbs flung every which way, Wee Lee was a one-off genius absolutely inhabiting the music of another one-off genius. With frequency he’d go down much better than that night’s official, paid act.

Lee stopped coming a few years ago. He just disappeared one day, in a puff of dry ice, no doubt moved away, back home to Blackpool maybe, or perhaps he got a serious boyfriend or married, even. Such is nightlife. But something about him epitomises the enduring appeal of Kate’s music to obstinate outsiders and stubborn freaks. At Duckie we brought both out of the bedsit and into clubland.

When in 2005 EMI announced the release of ‘King Of The Mountain’, Kate’s first new single in a decade, Sky News came down and filmed inside the club, asking punters why this was, well, “the news”. We didn’t prepare because we didn’t seriously believe they’d turn up, and nobody cares what DJs think anyway. Pretty refreshed by the time the reporter stuck his mic into my face and making about as much sense as a Shaun Ryder lyric, I rambled on along the lines of “You can’t sit on the fence with Kate Bush, you’re in or you’re out… It’s art, darling.” To my horror, they used this clip when the news story ran a couple of days later. Virtually the last words in the last bulletin were my slurred, “It’s art, darling.” But I suppose that’s exactly what it is, isn’t it?

Kate Bush’s back catalogue – including The Kick Inside, Lionheart, The Dreaming, Hounds Of Love, The Sensual World and The Red Shoes – has been remastered and is being reissued this month on vinyl and CD