Tidy Bag

Mike Batt performs Wombles songs at Bush Hall concert

Mike Batt and the string quintet

Mike Batt made a long-awaited appearance at London’s Bush Hall on 15 November, and as promised, the set included a handful of Wombles songs.

Coincidentally, the venue was just up the road from Shepherd’s Bush Green, where Mike remembers posing for the cover photo of the Remember You’re A Womble album in 1974.

The concert was originally booked for May 2020, but had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and was eventually rescheduled two years later. (Though a planned tour of Germany was cancelled again, on the advice of the promoter.)

Fans travelled from all around the country for this rare event - and in one case even flew over from Canada (hi Frederick!). They got their money’s worth with a two-part set covering Mike’s long and varied career, from emotional hits to entertaining rarities, interspersed with anecdotes that sometimes lasted longer than the songs they introduced.

Of course for some of us, the highlight was “a bit of a Womble-fest” opening the second half. These days, Mike embraces his early success as ‘the Wombles man’ and happily indulges people’s fond memories.

First, The Wombling Song got everyone smiling and singing along as they settled back in after the interval.

Harmonies were supplied by special guest Paula Masterton, an actor/singer who also performed some of the songs that were written specifically for female vocals. Mike got to know Paula on his Men Who March Away musical where, she said, “I played 12 parts, with 3 different wigs!”

Mike Batt, Paula Masterton and the string quintet

The accompanying string quintet from the Docklands Sinfonia orchestra (which Mike has worked with on several projects and is a patron of) was perfect for Minuetto Allegretto, with Mike mock-conducting the instrumental bits before returning to his piano keyboard to join in. “Mozart wrote the intro, and I wrote the song. Credit where credit’s due.”

For Wombling Merry Christmas, Mike handed out sleigh bells to several lucky audience members (“You’ve got to give them back afterwards, alright?”), with instructions as to how to shake them, only during the chorus, on the beat, in four. ‘No pressure,’ someone called out…

Mike said he’d woken up the previous day with no voice at all after rehearsing for the show; thankfully he was able to sing now, though he still sounded a bit croaky at times. And perhaps he’s becoming more absent-minded with age, as he mixed up the running order, forgot some lyrics and fumbled a few key changes - even restarting a couple of songs to get them right. But it was all part of the fun and just endeared him to the crowd even more.

“At least when I’m talking I don’t forget the words,” he laughed, before promptly forgetting what he was going to say next. The informal atmosphere had an air of ‘An Evening with Mike Batt’, reminiscent of his intimate Facebook Live sessions during the first lockdown.

For the encore there was a rousing singalong to Remember You’re A Womble, with the much-loved Bright Eyes, which Mike wrote for the 1978 Watership Down film, to close the show.

Afterwards, Mike came out to meet people for autographs and photos. He later tweeted: “I had a ball and was delighted to meet so many fans! Now my wife can rightly tell me off for being grumpy and ungrateful when I say I’m not appreciated enough!”

A four-CD box set of the Wombles’ studio albums is released on 25 November

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