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Mike Batt

Mike Batt was born in Southampton on 6 February 1949. As a teenager, he played piano and organ in several school bands and sang in a duo called That Lady’s Twins.

He also played the organ in a strip club and wrote advertising jingles for Smarties and Guinness.

Moving to London in 1967 he offered his original compositions to a number of record labels, and by 1968, at the age of 19, he was made A&R Manager at Liberty Records where he produced The Groundhogs‘ debut album, Scratching The Surface and Hand Me Down My Old Walking Stick by 12-string guitar American blues renegade Big Joe Williams, and became the keyboard player in avant-psychedelics Hapshash and The Coloured Coat.

In 1970 he formed his own company (Batt Songs Ltd), invented The Mike Batt Orchestra and began releasing the Portrait Of . . . series of cover-version records (eg: Portrait Of The Rolling Stones), featuring songs by Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, and The Rolling Stones performed by The Mike Batt Orchestra.

A legend was born in 1973 when Batt was commissioned to write the theme tune to the children’s television show The Wombles.

Over the next 18 months he proved a veritable one-man hit factory, churning out The Wombling Song, Remember You’re A Womble, Banana Rock, Minuetto Allegretto, Super Womble, Let’s Womble To The Party Tonight, Keep On Wombling, Wombling In The Rain, Superwombling, and I Wish It Could Be A Wombling Merry Christmas Every Day (with Roy Wood).

1975 finally saw Batt leave Wimbledon Common to perform his new solo single, Summertime City, on Top Of The Pops  – in an afro, scarf and union jack platform heels. The single reached #4.

Production duties for Steeleye Span‘s All Around My Hat, Elkie Brooks’ Lilac Wine and The Kursaal Flyers‘ Golden Mile album took up most of 1976, and in 77 Batt released Schizophonia – an Arabian classical-rock solo album, inspired by Moroccan freedom fighters under Mohammed V, featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and Chris Spedding on guitar.

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The following year he wrote and produced the film score to Elmo Williams’ Arabic folklore endeavour, Caravans, in conjunction with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, picking up an Ivor Novello Award along the way.

The close of the decade found him producing Bright Eyes, sung by Art Garfunkel for the Watership Down  (1978) soundtrack. It went to #1 in the UK for six weeks, sold 11 million copies worldwide, and won Mike Batt his second Ivor Novello Award.

He celebrated by releasing the Tarot Suite album by Mike Batt & Friends. “Friends” in this instance included Colin Blunstone, Rory Gallagher, Roger Chapman and the London Symphony Orchestra . . .

In 1980 Mike bought a 1931-built 20 metre yacht called Braemer, restored it and then spent two and a half years sailing around the world with his (first) wife Wendy and their two daughters, Samantha and Robin, taking in the West Indies, Caracas, Venezuela, the Panama Canal, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Los Angeles.

He interrupted his jaunt briefly to travel to Holland and produce Barbara Dickson’s All For A Song album and Six Days In Berlin for the Berlin Opera Orchestra, before returning to the boat and writing a musical called Zero Zero.

Over the next ten years Batt was responsible for writing (or co-writing) a plethora of successful songs, including A Winter’s Tale (David Essex), Please Don’t Fall In Love (Cliff Richard), Soldier Song and If The Lights Go Out (The Hollies), Sometimes When I’m Dreaming (Art Garfunkel), and Dragon Dance (the musical accompaniment for British World Championship figure skaters Barber and Slaton).

He also wrote and produced the concept album The Hunting Of The Snark, based on the nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll and featuring the London Symphony Orchestra, Roger Daltrey, Art Garfunkel, Julian Lennon, Cliff Richard, Captain Sensible, Deniece Williams, Stephane Grappelli and George Harrison.

In 1994 he received a Royal commission to write music for the inauguration of the Channel Tunnel, and two years later composed a piece for the Queen’s 50th wedding anniversary. It was performed by the massed bands of the Scots, Welsh, Irish, Coldstream and Grenadier Guards, together with 100 pipers.

The Royal connection continued when, in 2000, Mike performed with The Wombles at the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday party.

Since then he has continued to compose, arrange, conduct, and produce at a prolific rate, as well as discovering and producing Katie Melua.

In 2002 Mike released a rock & roll classical album called Classical Graffiti with his new group, The Planets. The album contained a track of silence, called A Minute’s Silence and credited to Batt/Cage. A dispute with John Cage’s publishers erupted over plagiarism of the 1952 Cage work 4′ 33″ and debate ensued over who owned the copyright on silence.

Mike attempted to “prove” his silence was radically different by staging performances of both works at Baden Powell House in Central London, but the dispute was resolved via an out-of-court “six-figure sum” donation by Mike to the John Cage Trust in a gesture of respect.