The Sensual World – Kate Bush
…And how we’d wished to live in the sensual world
You don’t need words–just one kiss, then another.
Stepping out of the page into the sensual world…
June 18th 1997 was my 40th birthday. In a happy turn of events, I was working. Even happier, and this was no co-incidence, I was working with Jenny Jules, who had been my wife since 1992. We were filming a BBCtv drama series about slavery called A Respectable Trade.
Emma, Warren, Ariyon
It starred Warren Clarke, may his soul rest in peace; Emma Fielding, who has since then taken up residence around my childhood holy grounds of Hailsham, and now Kingston nr Lewes; Ariyon Bakare, Clinton Blake, Hugh Quarshie, who would soon be working with me again (funny how that happens); Graham Fox, Richard Briers, Anna Massey, Tanya Moodie and some wonderful children who played, along with Ariyon, Jenny, Tanya and Clinton, the slaves. It was a good show, centred around a love affair between unhappily married Emma and handsome slave Ariyon, and it didn’t pull any punches…
Richard Briers in particular playing a slave trader who wanted a woman (Tanya) “brought up” for sex, so that they could “mix the stock” in one memorable and ugly scene. He knew that his fans would be shocked to see him playing this character, but he was determined to nail his colours to the mast and expose the dark reality of English history. We filmed in Bristol in the Slave Museum complete with manacled cellar; Longleat House, Bath, and Charlestown in Cornwall. The show was an adaptation by Philippa Gregory of her own historical novel and has never been repeated by the BBC, despite auspicious anniversaries coming and going. I can only wonder how on earth it got made in the first place.
see Jenny at the bottom of pic with slave collar
Perhaps because of the darkness of the story and subject matter we were a tight and close company and with a couple of exceptions, notably the director, have remained in touch. We had a bloody laugh actually. I’ll talk about the whole experience in another post, but
on my birthday we had been filming in Charlestown, a small port village south of St Austell in Cornwall that is a perfectly preserved Georgian quayside complete with tall ships. I think we were all in the pub during the early part of the evening when my agent Michael Foster called. Early days of mobile phones I expect. Pretty sure I had an Eriksson. I don’t think Michael wished me Happy Birthday, agents don’t usually do things like that, they have enough to think about, but he did tell me that I’d been offered a role in the new Star Wars film which was to be The Phantom Menace. Episode One. I started to become happy when he pulled me up. “Wait” he said. “The money is shit” he said. “It can’t be” I said, “It’s Star Wars, the most successful franchise in film history.” “I’m sorry ” he said.
“They want you for four weeks,” he said, “at five grand a week, total buy-out. No repeat fees, no royalties, residuals, extras, billing, fruit or flowers.” He didn’t actually say the bit about the fruit and flowers but the offer was clear, stark, final. “Oh and they also said that if you said ‘no’, there were forty people in line behind you for that part, who would in all likelihood be prepared to take even less money.” Of course they would. “Sleep on it” said Michael, dear Michael. “Have a good evening.”
Clinton, Emma, Jenny, Graham, Ariyon in 1997
We did, dear reader. We all retired to our wee cottage on the hill and got drunk and stoned, listening to my wife DJ-ing till the wee small hours. It was my birthday you see. It’s a kind of tradition. The hit song that stayed with us was Kate Bush singing The Sensual World. The sexiest song ever. Jenny loved to play it at houseparties and watch people dance together, occasionally joining in if they were lucky. I was lucky since it was er my birthday, but Ariyon and Clinton were too I believe.
This song has followed Jenny and I around since it came out in 1989, the year when we finally decided that we would…yes…be a couple. Played at home, in car journeys, at parties, on Sony Walkmen and ipods. It opens with church bells like one or two other classic English pop songs I could mention, but which have now evaporated from my mind like so much of my life. Then a light whip of the Fairlight synthesiser and Kate’s “mmmm…yes” takes us into an entirely sexual and original song, comprised of pieces of the world and Kate’s mind. She was playing with the Trio Bulgarka around this time, getting inspiration from more eastern sounds, as she had with “Hello Earth” off Hounds Of Love which uses a Georgian choral hymn. A Macedonian wedding song inspired the music of The Sensual World, with Irish instruments and James Joyce‘s Ulysses inspiring the idea, the moment when heroine Molly Bloom has the final word of the novel and leaps from the page into the sensual world :
“…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. “
The Joyce estate refused permission for Kate to use those words as lyrics for the song, so she wrote her own, referencing Blake’s Jerusalem “And my arrows of desire rewrite the speech” using a mesmerising melody on the Uileann pipes for the hook, played by Davey Spillane. In the video Kate dances through the woods, barefoot.
Later in 2011 a new LP called Director’s Cut was released, on it new versions of much of this LP and 1993’s The Red Shoes, particularly this song, now renamed Flower Of The Mountain recorded with the now-allowed Joyce passage as lyrics, and the same breathy, orgasmic “Yes…” dominating the soundscape.
I think it’s one of the sexiest songs ever recorded. I listened and danced to it as I turned 40. I prayed for wisdom, but little came. I burned for success and yes, it came and slapped me down, hard. I longed for happiness, and when I let go and stopped longing, well then, eventually, it came.
from The Sensual World 1989 :
Nevestinsko Oro, or Macedonian Bride’s Dance :
Flower Of The Mountain, from Director’s Cut (2011)