diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 18, 2022

Somewhat extraordinarily Kate Bush is number 1 this week with Running Up That Hill.
She was last at number 1 in March 1978 with Wuthering Heights.

Her two number 1s are separated by a gap of 44 years, a new chart record.
And they're also separated by six miles across southeast London...

Kate Bush grew up in East Wickham, which lies just to the north of Welling in Bexley. The family home was one of the oldest buildings in the area, a former farmhouse called East Wickham Farm, now perched on the brink between open land and plain suburbia. It must have been quite the place to live, a medieval-hearted two-storey house surrounded by barns and stables but still only a minute's walk from the postbox and the corner shop. Kate's parents were in medicine - he a GP, she a nurse - with two elder brothers John and Paddy completing the family line-up. It's a little easier to become a competent musician when your dad keeps an organ in the barn and there are no near neighbours to disturb during violin practice. This is the best photo I was able to take of the farmhouse, in that you can see one of the two chimneystacks peeping above the trees.

The rest of this end of Wickham Street looks like a run of very ordinary postwar housing - several mundane semis, a few flats, some maisonettes. What's astonishing is how little the Bush family home stands out, despite its proximity to the street, having been sequentially surrounded by a cloud of protective tree cover. What would have been the front gate has become another panel in the slatted fence, now with no evidence of any path beyond, and the entrance for vehicles is sealed by two featureless black gates. Alongside is a house name written on a wooden sign but it's incredibly faded, and beyond that a row of outbuildings for motley storage, a few vehicles and a skip.

Whichever owner attempted to conceal the house has done an extraordinarily successful job, ensuring it's really not somewhere to bother to make a pilgrimage to. But you can get beyond the front gate if you have a particular interest in the sharp side of metalwork because the current inhabitant of East Wickham Farm is Kate's nephew Owen Bush, a self-described 'bladesmith'. He runs a wide variety of courses at his forge devoted to the making of patternwelded swords, kitchen knives and axes - not cheap, but if you'e already stroking your long straggly beard they may be for you.

What I went to see instead was Kate's secondary school, St Joseph's Convent Grammar.

This was a good walk away in West Heath on the Woolwich Road, just up the hill from Abbey Wood if you're looking for an excuse to do some purple sightseeing. It was run by nuns - thankfully the more forward-thinking kind - with teaching spread across a Victorian building and a modern annexe. Kate was a successful student who performed in school plays, wrote poetry for the school magazine and left with 10 'O' Levels including obviously Music. A few years later it became a technology college and it is of course now flats, with the Victorian building still intact so someone may well be living in the room where Kate first read Emily Brontë or learned the first few digits of pi.

Wuthering Heights: 44 Wickham Road, Brockley

Kate's parents weren't short of money and helped their children by buying a big house for them to live in, six miles to the west in Brockley. Kate took the middle flat and her brothers settled in above and below. I'm fascinated by the similarity in the street names - the family home being in Wickham Street and this being Wickham Road - and wonder whether it was a coincidence or a deliberate move. Kate was only 18 when she wrote Wuthering Heights in this very flat, apparently in a few hours on the evening on 5th March 1977, and a year later it became the UK's first ever number 1 by a female artist with a self-penned song.

Number 44 now comprises six flats, one of which is apparently up for sale at present although I haven't been able to find details. The front path is a broad line of bright red tiles leading to a not inconsequential set of steps, and Kate's former windowsill has gained two very colourful flowerboxes. What particularly struck me was the house immediately across the street, a Gothic pile with a belfry-like tower which would have formed the majority of the view from Kate's window. I'm not saying that it informed her output but it certainly wouldn't have been a hindrance.

Running Up That Hill: East Wickham Farm, Welling

Six years later Kate had moved back into the family farmhouse in Welling. Her fourth album hadn't shifted big numbers, being deemed too experimental, so she installed a 48-track studio in a barn and then set about writing a collection of songs that would eventually turn out to be the Hounds of Love. The first track to be penned was Running Up that Hill, sometime in the summer of 1983, although originally it was called A Deal With God and Kate had to be persuaded to give it a less controversial title before it was released. That took two years because this was the start of Kate prioritising perfection over speed, and the single eventually reached a peak of number 3 in September 1985.

I wondered if there was a better view of the farmhouse from East Wickham Open Space, the last swathe of former farmland that hadn't been suburbaned over. These days it's a lovely expanse of grass with plenty of contours, a snake of woodland down the centre and much unkempt meadow in the corners. I followed a tentative path through the high grass and nettles to the closest edge, only to find a sheer green fence blocking my way to some scrappy paddocks beyond. Alas this wasn't quite the farmhouse, this was George Mead Memorial Stables, a riding school for kids with a focus on community pleasure rather than snooty excellence. You can see it more clearly from Lodge Hill although you still can't see the old Bush place which remains entirely engulfed by trees.

And so it is that a song composed in a Bexley suburb just before I went to university is somehow the number 1 record four decades later. It is indeed the longest time taken for a single to reach number 1 on the Official UK Singles Chart as well as the longest ever gap between number 1 singles. What's more at 63 years 11 months Kate is now the oldest female artist ever to score a number 1 single, overturning Cher's previous record of a mere 52, and all because a Netflix drama set in the 1980s placed Running Up That Hill centre stage.

I like the fact I still haven't seen where it was written, it helps keep the magic alive somehow. It doesn't hurt me.

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