All four original Wombles albums are re-released on 20 June by Dramatico, along with the Wombling Free film soundtrack.
The band’s original LPs were released from 1973 to 1975 by CBS Records, with the soundtrack following in 1978. They’ve been out of print for decades and have never been released in full on CD until now.
The Wombles Collection, a compilation CD released in November 2000, contained 32 of the 43 original album tracks, but many of the missing songs were from the first album, which introduced the Wombles characters. When I interviewed Mike Batt at the time, he explained why he didn’t include those early tracks:
“Wombling Songs was made before The Wombles were famous, and they gave us a very low budget. I didn’t really feel I’d quite got into the swing of it. There are some good tracks on it, I’m not trashing them, it’s just because of the production – because I didn’t have the budget. I felt we really got into the style on our second album, which was Remember You’re A Womble.”
The Wombles are often derided as children’s music or a novelty glam act, based on their biggest chart hits Remember You’re A Womble (No 3) and Wombling Merry Christmas (No 2). Many people don’t realise how varied and adventurous their albums were, with a wide range of musical styles giving the young Mike Batt an opportunity to develop his skills as a songwriter and producer. In a recent interview with The Independent On Sunday, he said:
“Well, if I was going to get any fun out of the whole enterprise, I was going to make records as ambitious as The Beatles. I have rock-star friends who used to say they wished they could do the things I did. They were a prisoner to their genre; I wasn’t.”
The new CDs aren’t exact replicas of the LPs, but the main artwork is used for the front and inside covers. Lyrics are included in the CD booklets, though they’re rather plain – Superwombling loses the fun photos that illustrate each song in the gatefold LP sleeve. Wombling Free includes a new explanatory note from Mike Batt, but there are no sleevenotes for The Wombles’ albums.
Sadly, some of the packaging is let down by a few errors and inconsistencies in the text. Notably, author Elisabeth Beresford’s name is spelled as Elizabeth with a Z in three of the five booklets – though in fact, the first three original LPs also used a Z. Yet it’s been corrected to an S on the Wombling Songs CD, but not the others.
Of course, dedicated Wombles fans would have liked to see some bonus tracks, or ideally a box set with a bonus disc. We’re missing a few non-album tracks: Let’s Womble To The Party Tonight, Rainmaker, I Wish It Could Be A Wombling Merry Christmas Every Day, the rare Wombling USA (only released as a cassette B-side), a couple of dance remixes, singles edits, and German and Italian versions (Die Wombles Sind Im Kommen, Ricorda Siamo Wombles).
But it’s lovely to finally have the complete albums in digital quality and in their original form, especially after their release was postponed last Christmas.
The five CDs are on sale now at all good record shops, including Amazon, Play.com and HMV. They’re also available from download stores including iTunes and Amazon. Mike Batt mentioned on Twitter that they’d be issued on vinyl too, though there’s no further news as yet.
The Wombles play Glastonbury Festival on 26 June.