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Before Kate Bush: the band she left behind

No famous band or artist makes it to the top without leaving a few bitter gatekeepers in their wake. For The Beatles, it was drummer Pete Best, dismissed from the group in 1962, immediately prior to the Abbey Road recording session that brought the band to fame. American rock band Nirvana offer another cutting example, forcing guitarist Jason Everman out of the group after he had a fight with a drunk fan who jumped on stage during a show in 1989.

It’s a curse of fame, you could say, that no matter how much you might want to, it’s impossible to take everyone with you. And Kate Bush was no exception.

The KT Bush Band at East Wickham Farm, 1977

Many don’t realise that Kate did not simply materialise as a solo artist in 1978, but was in fact ‘discovered’ by Pink Floyd manager David Gilmour in 1973, when Kate was only fifteen. Fascinated by her raw talent and already unique musical style, Gilmour facilitated the early demos that led to Kate being signed by EMI Records in July 1976. However, it would be another two years before the world was introduced to the Kate we know today.

So what happened during those years? The answer, or one of them anyway, is The KT Bush Band.

The KT Bush Band was formed in 1977, and besides Kate, comprised three other musicians: Vic King on drums, Del Palmer on Bass and Brian Bath on guitar. There’s no denying that Kate’s personal development was always the sole purpose of the band – her first, nervous attempts to perform in front of an audience – though there was an unspoken understanding between them that the original band members would play a part in whatever came after.

“It was a phenomenon because it was so completely different from what anyone else was doing. I knew I just had to get involved in some way because this was going to be mega.” – Del Palmer

After a few months rehearsing in a barn at the bottom of the Bush family garden, the group began to tour. Between the months of April and June 1977, The KT Bush Band covered 20 venues in and around London, with a mixed setlist of covers such as ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, ‘Come Together’ and Tracks Of My Tears’, along with a few early versions of Kate’s own songs, including ‘James And The Cold Gun’, ‘Saxophone Song’ and ‘Them Heavy People’.

It’s clear from interviews with the old band members, that they all believed very strongly in Kate’s talent and her future. And for the year they spent together, they made every effort to help her reach her potential.

Rare photo of The KT Bush Band performing, 1977

Vic, the oldest member of the band, established himself as the band organiser – setting up the venues and often collecting Kate from dance classes to chaperone her to the gigs. Brian, an old friend of Kate’s brother Paddy, a seasoned session performer, became her sounding board as well as her voice of reason when an idea got out of hand. And Palmer – well, Palmer became a romantic partner.

But alas, The KT Bush Band was never meant to last. And when EMI came to see Kate perform at one of the band’s gigs, they quickly decided the time had come to make her break. The band was finished. The recording studio was calling.

“Being her band [on the first album] was mentioned, but then they started getting session guys in. Bye, bye band.”Vic King

There’s little doubt in my mind that Kate would have preferred to have her band on the recording of her first album, and would have fought for them as best she could. But in the end, EMI’s decision was to bring in session musicians, replacing Vic, Brian and Del overnight.

And that wasn’t all. If being cut from the band was bad enough, EMI added salt to the wound by demanding the male trio hand over any evidence in the form of photos, posters and recordings of The KT Bush Band that they had accumulated over the past months, all-but erasing them from history.

“Everything had to be confiscated– ‘ or else’, I think the phrase was. They were all confiscated and disappeared. I was told at the time that nothing else could be put out, they didn’t want anything ruining her impact.”Vic King

EMI’s motives, while obviously in the best interest of Kate’s future career, unsurprisingly, did not land well with the band. They felt used and misled. Bruised by what must have felt like a very personal attack on both their abilities as musicians and supporters of Kate as an artist. This was particularly true for Vic, who had perhaps given the most of himself to the venture.

Rare recording of the KT Bush band performing ‘Come Together’ by The Beatles, March 1977

Vic was still feeling bitter by the time The Kick Inside (Feb, 1978) was released. Bitter enough to turn Kate down when she invited him back for the Tour of Life, promoting her second album, Lionheart (Nov 1978).

“I said I was doing something else. I was annoyed about being kicked out of the band. There was the abrupt ending not being involved on the first album, and then suddenly you get a phone call. Looking back I probably should have said yes, but the pride said no. If Kate had rung up to explain the situation it may have been different.” Vic King

But though the end was abrupt and Vic, Del and Brian never did become named, or even permanent members associated with Kate, there’s little question about significance of The KT Bush band in the making of Kate Bush. From the insight and support provided in rehearsals, to the kinship and comradery surrounding each performance, The KT Bush Band helped deliver Kate, an introverted teenager writing songs in her bedroom, to the stage. And how I’d have loved to have seen Kate perform in any one of those darkened pubs!

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