Mike Batt: ‘I’m not ashamed of The Wombles’

New CGI Orinoco outside the burrow doorNo interview with Mike Batt is complete without mentioning The Wombles. So while promoting his new album, A Classical Tale, he took the opportunity to give an update on the forthcoming TV series and discuss how he’s rekindled his enjoyment. He estimates that the first 13 episodes will be completed by February or March 2016.

He told Get Surrey: “I’m busy doing an animation company, Dramatico Animation Studio, and making a 52-part series of The Wombles, which will have a song in every episode. I’m hoping everyone will enjoy that. I like to keep myself busy.

“I think my wife thought I was mad! She said, ‘why would you want to go back into The Wombles when you’ve been trying to get away from it?’. I’m not ashamed of The Wombles. I have gone through that feeling of ‘do they really have to describe me as a Womble all the time?’.

“The Wombles took up two years of my life and now I’m starting to think they were really good fun, and I’m very proud of the music I wrote for them. There were about 50 songs, on four albums.”

He told local press including the Herts & Essex Observer and the Western Daily Press: “I was 22 or so and we were having all this success with The Wombles. I couldn’t knock it because it was my first hit and I was becoming financially secure after lots of struggling, but I realised that having been on Blue Peter and Top Of The Pops as a Womble as many times as I had, I was now seen solely as a Womble.

“I almost went into denial about the Wombles. I never got angry with anyone calling me a Womble but it did used to irritate me being seen in that light and not as a musician. I’m now of an age where I can look back and think, ‘what fun’. Even now, when I put my Womble costume on – which I hasten to add is not often! – it’s great.”

He spoke to Songwriting magazine about how he originally got started in the music industry and how he got involved with The Wombles: “It was an opportunity to indulge my rather over-developed sense of humour and have some fun. And it gave me an opportunity to flex my muscles as an arranger. I really enjoyed it because I was very keen on The Beatles when I was growing up, so I could make The Wombles sound a little bit Beatle-y. As a songwriter and a ‘free agent’, I was able to move between different genres and still write serious stuff when I wanted to.”

He added: “I’m working on a Wombles TV series, and each ten-minute episode will feature a Wombles song from the past. There were 50-odd songs so we’re taking them out and making the stories based around the songs. That’s a fun songwriting exercise.”

The Sun newspaper also picked up on the Songwriting interview, making the most of the recycling angle:

In a video interview with Neil Sean, Mike Batt said: “People sometimes say to me, ‘what are you doing The Wombles for?’ I’ve been in denial for the last 40 years about The Wombles, and they’re such great characters. And there were 50 songs, because there were four albums, all of which were gold albums. The record company in those days would ring me up and say ‘Mike, we need an album’. And I’d say ‘okay, when do you need it?’. ‘In six weeks’ time, would that be enough?’ And they didn’t mean they wanted it delivered in six weeks’ time, they wanted it in the shops in six weeks’ time. That’s why I developed this love of working quickly, the thrill of knowing that it’s going to be in the shops.”

On BBC Radio Cambridge, he told Jeremy Sallis: “When people ask me about The Wombles, I don’t cringe, as I used to when I was a bit younger just after The Wombles all happened. I mean it was only two years of my career, and I’ve been doing it for 45 years now. But it was only two years, and I was in denial for a while after that, because it was hard to be taken seriously as a songwriter. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a serious musician just because you have fun in a Womble costume.

“So I spent a few years trying to live it down, and after a while, and certainly more recently, I’ve kind of embraced it. And now I’m actually producing a new TV series, which will be coming out next year, of 52 ten-minutes of Wombles in which there’ll be a song in every episode. So yeah, I’ve completely gone full circle, and I actually like the Wombles purely because of the fun they give me, really.”

Orinoco Womble conducts the BBC Concert OrchestraOn BBC Surrey, he told Allison Ferns: “You should be allowed to have fun and muck about in a Womble costume, without everyone thinking that you are only a clown. I am a serious musician, always have been, and I’ve worked with heavy metal bands, a lot of classical stuff, and films.

“The reason The Wombles came about was purely by accident, when I was doing jingles when I was about 20, honing my skills as an orchestrator and composer. Then my mum made me a Womble costume, and then we were on Top Of The Pops! She was completely used to my mad side, because it comes from her.”

On BBC Radio Wales, he told Lynn Bowles: “Two years and 52 songs – there are 52 Wombles songs. I had a lot of fun, I enjoyed The Wombles, and my mum made all the costumes, it was a family thing. Later on, Steeleye Span rang me up to talk about producing them, and I said ‘just out of interest, why did you choose me?’. And they went, ‘we just love the drum sounds on the Wombles records’. The last time I wore my Womble costume was at Glastonbury – we did a whole hour on the Avalon Stage, and we drew the biggest crowd of the afternoon. It was fantastic. I so much enjoyed the Wombles thing.”

On BBC Radio 2, he told Patrick Kielty: “Well actually, we had a big investor for a million quid drop out of The Wombles last week, so you can step into that if you like! Before everybody puts their fingers down their throat, when I say CGI, it is really good quality CGI. It’s like when you go to the movies and see a Pixar movie. I’m not claiming it’s quite as good as that, because that would cost way, way more than you can ever put on television, but we are aiming for that. It’s a six million quid project, and somebody’s stepped out, so… anyone listening who’s got a million quid, it’s @Mike_Batt on Twitter!”

A Classical Tale was released on 24 July 2015. (You might recognise Dreamstone Overture No. 4, which accompanied Superwomble at Glastonbury.)

Listen to Mike Batt’s radio interviews on BBC iPlayer