CSFTD #43: Kate Bush – The Man with the Child in his Eyes

There are other classic Kate Bush songs that come to mind before this one; Wuthering Heights, The Hounds of Love and Running up that Hill clearly counting amongst them, along with her ‘Don’t Give Up’ duet with Peter Gabriel (which isn’t a CSFTD only because Gabriel has featured twice already).

But they say that your favourite songs are often determined by your circumstances and The Man with the Child in his Eyes seemed never to be off the jukebox in every pub and restaurant I went in during my first working spell in London in the late 1970s, which was a sort of magical time for me. I fell in love with both the song and Kate Bush. It is one of the most soothing songs that have ever been written and a perennial go-to when I’m really angry or frustrated about something.

She wrote the short (less than three-minute) song when she was 13 (some say between 12 and 14 so I’ll take the average) and it was recorded in 1975 when she was 16. Released as her second single on the EMI label in 1978 it was also the fifth track on The Kick Inside, her debut album. It was also her second single to chart in the UK (#6) in mid-1978 (after Wuthering Heights) and at the end of that year, it was released in the US where it peaked at #85 in the Billboard Chart. Bush has only ever made one appearance on Saturday Night Live in the US, and it was singing this song. Surprisingly, its highest chart ranking anywhere was #3, in Ireland.

Because it was recorded under the guidance of joint producer Dave Gilmour (Pink Floyd) it was long thought that it was about him. But in 2010, her first boyfriend, Steve Blacknell, revealed that “he was the subject” as he put the handwritten lyrics, in pink felt-tip pen, up at auction for £10,000.  Blacknell had met her while working as a toilet cleaner in a hospital but had aspirations to enter the music business, which he did, as an assistant with Decca Records, subsequently progressing to be a TV journalist and music lecturer and is probably best known for being the person who interviewed Phil Collins as he flew on Concorde between the two Live Aid concerts at Wembley and in Philadelphia in 1985.

Although the twosome had plotted their musical destinies jointly, their relationship sort of ‘wuthered’ on the vine, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Actually, Mr Blackwell’s version of events doesn’t really tally with Kate Bush’s own take on it; that it is a story about a relationship developed between a young girl and an older man and how, as she put it, most of the men she knew were “just little boys inside”. As Gilmour has 13 years on her, that would seem to point to him as being ‘the Man.’

Kate Bush’s career was, of course, stellar until she became a virtual recluse for 12 years prior to releasing her eighth album, Aerial in 2005, followed by Directors Cut – mainly an analogue re-working of old songs – in 2011 and then 50 Words for Snow in 2012. Between August and October 2014 she played a 22-night residency titled Before the Dawn at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, featuring mainly songs from Hounds of Love and Aerial. Her son, Albert McIntosh (aka Bertie), performed in the show as a backing vocalist and actor, and was also credited as a ‘creative advisor.’

As far as can be ascertained by the writer (who wasn’t there) The Man with the Child in his Eyes never featured in any of those performances, along with other material from her first four albums, which were ignored. The attendant publicity from the shows helped her achieve the distinction of having eight albums in the UK Official Albums Chart; the first female performer to do so.

There have been no further albums or live performances since. The length of time she takes between them has raised questions in the past – though she denies she is a ‘perfectionist.’ As for the lack of live performances, several theories have been put forward about that, including a morbid fear of flying.

Peculiarly, she hasn’t figured highly in the awards league. Despite being nominated 13 times for a Brit Award, she only won once (Best Female Artist, 1987) and while nominated for three Grammy Awards she didn’t land one. However, she did receive the prestigious Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music in 2002 (having previously received the Novello Award for ‘Outstanding British Lyric’ for this song in 1979) and was made a CBE in 2013. Other statistics have her as the first British solo female artist to top the UK album charts and the first female artist ever to enter the album chart at number one.

Perhaps more significant is the vast number, range and diversity of artists who have claimed Bush as an influence on their work. While many have been mentioned in TMB posts I have lost count of them.

The single version of The Man with the Child in his eyes is different from the album one in that it includes the words ‘he’s here’ (x 6) at the beginning. I thought it might be a good idea to show a live performance for a change and this one is from an unspecified TV Christmas Special from 1979. At first I thought it might be a Top of the Pops performance in which case she would probably have been asked to lip sync to a pre-recorded live take but the final little vocal flourish from 2:47 kicks that theory into touch.

The fact that she is a trained dancer is often forgotten. The little-seated shimmies she does in this video are just so. Somewhere on YouTube is a recording of a Top of the Pops 2 session in which the DJ Steve Wright described (only on TV, not in the video) her physical performance of Hounds of Love dressed in, believe it or not, a beige business suit as one of the most erotic things he’s ever seen.

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