Last month, the exact location of the first incarnation of Kate’s Wuthering Heights video (the “red dress” version) was unearthed by fans – see our news report here. Now, user Kestrel on our site forum has made contact with the cameraman from that day, Mike Miles. We finally learned the date of the famous shoot (Wednesday 26th of October 1977) and received a very detailed report on what happened – which you can read below. Thanks to Kestrel for sharing!
Kate Bush … ‘Wuthering Heights Promo’ … Salisbury Plain… Wednesday 26th October 1977
From around 1976 to 1982 I worked as a freelance Lighting Cameraman, for Nick Abson’s company, ‘Rockflicks’, making pop promo and concert films with Nick . All the productions we made were shot on 16mm film. (no ‘videos’ in those days). From 3rd October to 5th November 1977, I was working with Nick on the first Stiff Records UK tour .. ‘The Live Stiffs Tour’… featuring Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Elvis Costello and The Attractions, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric and Larry Wallis. We were making a Feature length ‘fly on the wall’ film of the tour… ’If It Ain’t Stiff ..It Ain’t Worth a F…’ We travelled around the UK with the band on their coach, driven of course, by Trevor. I won’t elaborate on the antics that we all got up to during the tour, some of which are in the film. Other than to say, that it was the film crew who were thrown out of the infamous Watford Gap ‘Blue Boar’ motorway service station on the M1, for bad behaviour.
During the tour’s progress to the West and Wales we had a free day. To fill the gap, Nick had arranged to shoot a promo while we were travelling to the next Stiff gig. The promo was for an unknown singer called Kate Bush. The track was called ‘Wuthering Heights’. I remember hearing the track for the first time and thinking Kate was a bit squeaky! Because we had to shoot on the way West (the next gig may have been Cardiff, but not sure), Nick had found a grass field with a stand of trees in the middle of Salisbury Plain, which was convenient for continuing our journey after we had finished.
The night before, we stayed in a hotel in Salisbury, where we met Kate Bush and all had dinner together. I also discovered she grew up in Welling, Kent, which was only about 2 miles from where I grew up. It was probably quite daunting for young Kate, her first promo and in a strange hotel surrounded by an admiring bunch of blokes. She sensibly went to bed early and declined our request for her to join us for a drink in the bar.
Early the next morning we met up with a Grips who had driven down from London in an old white van, carrying an Elemack Spyder Dolly and a whole load of curved track. Once we found the location we had to get the van into the field. It was Autumn and had been raining. The entrance was very muddy, the van was very heavy. After a number of attempts to drive into the field, the van became completely stuck in the mud. We couldn’t unload it and carry the dolly to the location, it was too far and weighed half a ton. The only solution was to find a local farmer with a tractor and get the van towed out of the mud and down to the location. About 2 or 3 hours later, we had found a friendly farmer with a tractor. It was a dull grey morning and the field, although covered in grass, appeared as though it had once been ploughed. It was very uneven and also on a slope. We set up the track in a large semi-circle, checked that it was level, which was quite a feat and placed the dolly and camera in position. The sound play-back equipment, for the recording Kate would mime to, was all set up and tested. We were sort of ready to go.
I couldn’t really do much to enhance the look of the film. I did use a soft, light, diffusion filter, but had to be careful because of possible flaring from the sky. I couldn’t put graduated filters on the lens to control the sky, which was dull, but brighter than everything else, because of the trees and the fairly continuous tracking and camera framing. I didn’t have a light powerful enough to light Kate’s face from a distance and there was no sun to reflect light into her eyes. I did manage to use a hand held reflector for some of the close-ups. We also had a small smoke machine. Unfortunately it was quite windy, so the smoke blew quickly past Kate’s face. While we were assembling all the equipment, Kate had come over to me and said that she had been told that the Cameraman was the person to ask about how she looked! She had lovely long hair and had an artificial flower pinned into it. She asked me if I thought it was a good idea and if it looked all right. At the time it looked pretty good, she also seemed to want to keep it in if she could. I said it looked lovely and should keep it in her hair. Nick couldn’t wait any longer and we went straight into the filming with little rehearsal. We were already running out of time because of the delayed start. We had to get to the Stiff gig later that afternoon.
Once we started filming, Kate soon got into her dance routine and had obviously been working on it for some time. We covered the whole number as many times as possible, tracking back and forth, with occasional stops, filming different frame sizes from very wide to extreme close-up. Kate’s dance moves became pretty energetic. The flower in her hair slowly worked loose and started to flop around a bit. Her hair sometimes became caught up in it. By now it was too late to stop, remove it and start everything all over again. We just didn’t have time. I was feeling bad about my advice regarding the flower. Kate was also becoming tired after all the dancing on a ploughed grassy field. It was getting cold. After numerous takes we had to stop and pack up. Considering the early morning start, the long hold up with the van getting stuck, the difficult terrain for dancing and the dull, cold weather; Kate couldn’t have been more helpful, patient and friendly to everyone. I had got used to her voice and decided I liked it. However I wasn’t so sure if it would be a hit, or if she would become popular. Shows how much I knew. The crew accompanied Kate to Salisbury station and just as she was about to board the train back to London, she gave me a lovely hug and a kiss on the cheek. We were all in love with her by now. We then set off for the rest of the Stiff tour.
Mike Miles Director of Photography
Wow. Finding Nick Abson has certainly lead to some excellent news recently.
Well done Kestrel.