Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


BATT, Mike

(b 6 February 1950) UK singer, songwriter, arranger, producer, conductor, best known for bringing Wombles to life: the cuddly residents of Wimbledon Common in children's books by Elizabeth Beresford got their own TV series, for which Batt wrote the theme and other tunes. The Wombles had eight UK top 40 hits 1974-5, with session men such as guitarist Chris Spedding sweating in hairy costumes.

Batt's pop credibility rose with album production: Steeleye Span's All Around My Hat; Kursaal Flyers' Golden Mile (both '75). His own solo career was sporadic; 'Summertime City' was a no. 4 UK '75 but he had more success as a songwriter: 'Bright Eyes' for the film Watership Down was a no. 1 UK by Art Garfunkel '79; other hits included 'A Winter's Tale' (David Essex), 'Ballerina' (Steve Harley), 'Run Like The Wind' (Barbara Dickson), 'I Feel Like Buddy Holly' (Alvin Stardust). The Hunting Of The Snark '86 on Starblend was an adaptation of the Lewis Carroll nonsense poem two years in the making, with Julian Lennon, Cliff Richard, Garfunkel, Captain Sensible and Roger Daltrey, including 'Children Of The Sky'. It opened on stage in London October 1991 and closed after seven weeks; the critics loathed it but Batt thought it was an artistic success. He also wrote and produced a crowd-stroker for the German international football team, 'When Flags Fly Together' for the opening of the channel tunnel, as well as a song cycle for German opera singer Anna Marie Kaufmann, and producing for sexy Thai-Chinese violinist Vanessa-Mae.

In 1993 Batt made a recording of Gustav Holst's The Planets with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; four of the seven movements were issued as part of 'Journey To The Stars' in a Marshall Cavendish part-work. The complete performance was finally issued to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first performance of The Planets, in 2018 on the Guild label, and got a respectable review at MusicWeb International. Meanwhile he had also produced Bond, a sexy multi-ethnic classical quartet, and the Planets, a sexy multi-ethnic classical octet. The latter group had nothing to do with Holst, but were conservatory students who played classical tunes to a rock beat, the sort of stuff that topped what was still called the 'classical' chart in the UK. The Planets' Classical Graffiti was released in February 2002 and went straight to number one in that chart and stayed there for three months, with adaptations of Bach, Bizet, Debussy and Ravel as well as originals, all cleverly arranged by Batt, if you like that sort of thing.

But one of the tracks caused some trouble. Batt was sued over 'A One Minute Silence', which consisted of one minute of silence and was credited to Batt/Cage. The publishers of John Cage's estate didn't get the joke; they argued that the credit invoked Cage's famous 4'33" (duhh) and demanded royalties. (See Cage's entry.) M.C.P.S., the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society, informed Batt, he said, 'that my silence was a copyright infringement on Cage's silence.' Furthermore they had already paid out over £400 to Peters Edition, Cage's publishers. But the potential cost concerning one track on a hit album could have added up to real money, so Batt decided to fight. In a development that might have amused Cage (who died in 1992), Batt conducted his one minute of silence, and Nicholas Riddle, managing director of Peters, brought along a clarinet player who performed Cage's 4'33", in a a recital hall in mid-2002, followed by a debate on the legal niceties. Cage's piece was intended for the piano, but it hardly matters, since nobody plays a note; Batt said that 'the clarinetist did a fine job, playing with a kind of theatrical gravity.' We do not know whether he stood stock still or surreptitiously fingered his instrument.

Batt meanwhile has copyrighted hundreds of other silent compositions, including one at four minutes and 32 seconds and one at four minutes and 34 seconds. 'If there's ever a Cage performance where they come in a second shorter or longer, it's mine,' he said.