Tuesday, 12 January 2021
#1,559: As mentioned in my tribute to my mother last year, my first experience of the music of ELO was listening to a cover of "10538 Overture" on budget label Music For Pleasure's "Hot Hits XIII" (#MFP50041) back in 1972 as a five year old. Back then there were a core of house bands who were essentially studio session musicians hired by labels such as Hallmark, Pickwick, Stereo Gold Award and the aforementioned MFP to recreate the hit singles of the time. Major high street shops such as Woolworths and British Home Stores had racks full of these albums (including the well known "Top of the Pops" series) and they were a familiar sight to many in the Seventies.
Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra were at their commercial peak in 1979 as they basked in the afterglow of "Out Of The Blue" (#UAR100/#JETDP400), their first UK #1 album "Discovery" (#JETLX500) and a run of seven Top 10 singles including "Mr. Blue Sky" (#UP36342/#SJET104) and "Don't Bring Me Down" (#JET153). Many of ELO's hits were copied and could be found in these budget compilations and perhaps the ultimate acknowledgement of success was having a whole album dedicated to a specific artiste. And so it was in 1979 when Chevron Records, another budget label, put out "Wild West Hero" (#CHVL146) by Hits Machine Unlimited (who are identified in the excellent 1996 ELO & related discography "Unexpected Messages" as Jack Livingston Orchestra & Singers).
Looking back, I didn't add "Wild West Hero" to my collection at the time (but did later thanx to eBay) as it wasn't an official ELO release and, admittedly, by then I was a little snobby when it came to these kind of records! Yours Truly KJS gave it a play whilst writing this elobf article and in all honesty, the twelve trax actually don't sound that bad. In some ways you could argue that albums like "Wild West Hero" are a prototype or precursor to the rise of the tribute bands who arrived on the scene some twenty years later and remains an interesting part of the ELO story.
Related elobf articles
*** Until next "Time" in the elobf universe ... KJS ... 12-Jan-2021 ***
Saturday, 9 January 2021
#1,558: Being as we're now settling into 2021, Yours Truly KJS and elobeatlesforever (elobf) thought that it would be a good idea to remind friends and followers of the multiple ways to keep in touch and find KJS/elobf via our usual email address and/or this selection of five social media platforms (facebook, twitter, Gab, Parler and YouTube) thus:
*** Until next "Time" in the elobf universe ... KJS ... 09-Jan-2021 ***
Tuesday, 5 January 2021
#1,557: Another Christmas has come and gone and with it the regular festive popularity both of Wizzard's "I Wish It Could be Christmas Every Day" and Slade's "Merry Xmas Everyone". Whilst it's well documented that Slade deservedly topped the Christmas 1973 chart and Wizzard had to be content with #4 following the late release of IWICBCED due to a contractual dispute between the outgoing Harvest (#HAR5079) and incoming Warner Bros. (#K16336) labels, many folks aren't aware that both songs remained in the UK Singles Top 10 well into January 1974 with Roy Wood's solo single "Forever" (#HAR5078) also crashing the proverbial party in peaking at #8 in the same month.
Back in 2017 elobeatlesforever (elobf) published this article wherein we looked at the relative chart positions of Slade and Wizzard since 1973. Yours Truly KJS noted - following the inclusion of streams and digital sales in the chart from 2007 onward - that Wizzard charted higher than Slade on 10 out of 11 occasions. The trend has continued since with Wizzard peaking at #12 and Slade at #18 most recently in 2020 meaning that "I Wish It Could be Christmas Every Day" has finished above and "Merry Xmas Everyone" for the last eleven years. It's also noteworthy that in the above elobf tabulation, the roles were largely reversed before the digital era.
"It's a bit like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, you either prefer one or the other! Woody or Noddy. If nothing else, both songs continue to shine a light on what is still considered by many to be the most memorable and enduring of Christmas charts tussles ... ever!" (KJS/elobf)
*** Until next "Time" in the elobf universe ... KJS ... 05-Jan-2021 ***
Saturday, 2 January 2021
#1,556: Hello and welcome to 2021! Perhaps one of the most noticeable nuances in the strange year that was 2020 has to be the absence of any mention of ELO's 50th anniversary. Whereas one can easily discover the birth of The Move (Sunday 23rd January 1966), the same cannot be said of the definitive, formal arrival of the Electric Light Orchestra a la Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan. It would therefore true to say (if you'll excuse the pun) that there is a little "Confusion" when it comes to ELO's actual age and it's a subject of two almost controversial elobeatlesforever (elobf) articles in 2010 (click here and here to read).
Yours Truly 1970
Recorded in July 1970, the general consensus is that the first ELO song was "10538 Overture", a Jeff Lynne song originally intended as a 'B' side for a then future single by The Move. Some fans also identify another Lynne penned track: "What?" (found on the The Move's "Looking On" album and also the flip side to the "When Alice Comes Back From The Farm" UK single) as the definitive ELO launch point. This would, of course, mean that 2020 was indeed their 50th anniversary as the 40th anniversary release of the DVD "Electric Light Orchestra Live - The Early Years" (Eagle Rock Entertainment #EREDV780) suggested.
Yours Truly 1971
For this writer, it is the release of debut album "The Electric Light Orchestra" (Harvest #SHVL797) on Friday 3rd December 1971 that defines phonographically the year in which ELO began. Whereas 1970 is undoubtedly the year ELO was conceived in a recording sense, (P)1971 is undeniably the year that official ELO releases commenced. Indeed, the 1991 EMI 2CD compilation "Early ELO" was subtitled 1971-1973 and the Light Years enhanced reissue in 2001 was cited as a 30th anniversary edition.
Yours Truly 1972
Adding to the mix in this story is the fact that it was actually 1972 when ELO enjoyed their first hit single with the aforementioned "10538 Overture" (Harvest #HAR5053), performed their first live dates and belatedly released their first long player in the US under the title "No Answer" (United Artists #UAS-5573) due to a certain unfortunate secretarial error. It was also interesting to see ELO Part II touring the UK in 1997 under the banner of "Celebrating 25 years of ELO's Greatest Hits" and Face The Music fanzine marking ELO's 25th anniversary in 1992.
Yours Truly 2021
Since then, all manner of CD and DVD compilation releases have generally resorted to ascribing those Early ELO years as 1970-1973 (check out the above montage header) yet, as stated at the outset of this article, here we are in the New Year having seen no mention of a 50th ELO birthday during 2020. For these reasons and the fact that the Jeff Lynne's ELO tour bus remains parked up due to the ongoing plandemic there is now the strongest of cases, commercial speaking, to release new EJLO material or repackage classic ELO discography &/or videography. ELO fans should therefore expect to see a lot more activity from Sony Legacy (and others) this year in formally celebrating and marketing five decades of Birmingham's best. We're wishin' and hopin' that happens lest this ELOpportunity is wasted.
|The Move certainly do have a defined beginning and they'll be celebrating their 55th birthday soon!|
*** Until next "Time" in the elobf universe ... KJS ... 02-Jan-2021 ***
Thursday, 31 December 2020
#1,555: Whilst for many the year 2020 will be remembered as the year of the plandemic, for Yours Truly KJS it will always be a year dominated by the goodbye bade to my mother Beryl Lilian Sinclair, who passed away unexpectedly in the early hours of Sunday 8th March. It was also a year in which elobeatlesforever (elobf) took another six (6) month break (as per 2019) yet over forty elobf articles were still published whilst we were active including a trio of exclusive interviews with music industry legends Mike Stevens, Mike Batt and author James R Turner.
There were sadly no gig reviews or any elobf Gig Guides (perhaps we have seen the last of these) as the Jeff Lynne's ELO "From Out Of Nowhere" UK/EU tour was curtailed alongside planned dates by Roy Wood, Quill and Morganisation. Whereas Jeff Lynne was quiet this year, Roy Wood did twiddle the knobs behind the scenes as Chief Engineer for "A Royal Philharmonic Christmas" (expect more from Roy in 2021) and Bev Bevan launched Quill Connect with Joy Strachan-Brain whilst writing his autobiography. On a personal level, elobf celebrated their 11th birthday in February and a rare solid centre copy of "Telephone Line" (UP36254) was finally captured in October.
elobf Albums of the Year 2020
Six albums from Baby Scream, Morganisation, Rain, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Iain Hornal and Paul McCartney were reviewed as elobf returned to its proverbial roots in 2020 and after much consideration, KJS reckons that Morganisation's excellent "Made In Britain" and Iain Hornal's classy "Fly Away Home" should share our Album of the Year accolade this year. Congrats to both artistes! Perhaps the best way to commemorate this somewhat abridged year is via the above montage and this selection of articles thus ...
Yours Truly KJS would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every visitor, contributor and interviewee to elobeatlesforever (elobf) during 2020 and to also wish you a better if not ELOtastic New Year! Looking ahead, there's much to look forward to, musically speaking, in 2021 so please consider bookmarking elobf and reading more new articles in this new decade!
*** Until next "Time" in the elobf universe ... KJS ... 31-Dec-2020 ***
Sunday, 20 December 2020
#1,554: Much water has passed under the bridge since McCartney II (1980) and McCartney (1970). Paul McCartney has given us many journeys in musical genre, public perception and (of course) a post-Beatles multi-media career festooned with hit singles, legendary albums, memorable tours and - unfortunately- personal tragedy. Coming two years on from Egypt Station and constructed during a time Macca terms as "rockdown", McCartney III (Capitol Records #00602435136592) completes a trilogy of albums featuring Paul's array of multi-instrumental talents and delivers (on the blue vinyl edition reviewed here) a hugely enjoyable eleven song opus from the opening chords of opener Long Tailed Winter Bird all the way through to its epilogue Winter Bird/When Winter Comes.
Yours Truly KJS found McCartney III immediately accessible with McCartney's vocals holding up well as he tackles folk, funk, pop and a little rock with his own imitable, familiar style. Lyrically there is much variety here with the exhortation of Women and Wives balanced with the Beatlesque fun of Lavatory Lil (surely a relative of Lovely Rita?) alongside the double emphases of Deep Down and Deep Deep Feeling. Considering that Paul is 78 years young, this record is absorbingly manic in places yet reflective elsewhere. It's hard to pick faves on such a great LP but the aforementioned Women And Wives (which has a Johnny Cash feel to it) stands out as does Slidin' (as prog as it gets reminding me much of She's So Heavy), Seize The Day (learning the lessons of life) and Deep Down not forgetting the artistry of Long Tailed Winter Bird. In many ways Paul McCartney has quite literally found his way with an album that is likely to please his fervent followers and casual fans alike. Certain to top the end of year charts and deservingly so. ★★★★★
elo beatles forever (elobf) recommends McCartney III by Paul McCartney to those enlightened folks who enjoy the music of Jeff Lynne's ELO, Roy Wood, The Move, The Idle Race, 'Brum Beat', The Beatles and related artistes.
*** Until next "Time" in the elobf universe ... 20-Dec-2020 ***
Wednesday, 16 December 2020
#1,553: Three light years have passed since Iain Hornal's debut album "The Game Begins With The Lights Out" arrived with much critical acclaim and also ended up as elobf Album of the Year. His new album is therefore something to look forward to after what, in his own words, has been "such a challenging year" not only for Iain but the entire music industry. New album "Fly Away Home" arrives officially in early 2021 and again sees the 10cc frontman again teaming up with fellow Jeff Lynne's ELO touring member Jo Webb (who also produced and enjoyed Top 5 success in producing Rick Parfitt's posthumous album "Over And Out" in the meantime) to deliver another hugely enjoyable eleven (11) song set sure to appeal to fans and followers of ELO, 10cc and their musical contemporaries.
"Fly Away Home" not only picks up where "The Game Begins With The Lights Out" left off, it takes the listener on a journey through heartfelt lyrics, homely melodies and a perfect mixture of thoughtful ballads ("How Much It Means", "Let The Dove Fly", "I Can't Tell You" and "Drop This Sing" are truly beautiful) balanced with pure, catchy, anthemic pop (the title track, "The One To Blame", "Try A Little Love", "Everybody Else" and "Welcome To the World" greatly evidence this). Whilst this collection of songs shows that Iain has absorbed much of the polished songwriting craft of his live performances of classic ELO and 10cc tunes, it would be true to say that there is a depth and maturity here with this record alongside the rich range in his vocals. There's also a little Billy Joel hidden here and there and underpinning it all is the high degree of production values, thanx to the complimentary efforts of Jo Webb.
Fave trax are difficult to isolate because this album is so classy as a whole yet I love the nod to "Livin' Thing" within "The One To Blame" if not the personal exhortation of "Welcome To The World" with its wise words to a new life arriving on the earthly scene. The string laden, pensive "Let The Dove Fly" and atmospheric, sheer honesty of "I Can't Tell You" are also to be experienced. "Fly Away Home" is certainly an album not to be missed and an absolute pleasure to run the proverbial rule over! ★★★★★
elo beatles forever (elobf) recommends "Fly Away Home" by Iain Hornal to those enlightened folks who enjoy the music of Jeff Lynne's ELO, Roy Wood, Wizzard, The Move, 10cc, The Idle Race, 'Brum Beat', The Beatles and related artistes.
*** Until next "Time" in the elobf universe ... KJS ... 16-Dec-2020 ***
Thursday, 10 December 2020
#1,552: It would be true to say that elo beatles forever (elobf) has been waiting for James R Turner's new book "Roy Wood: The Move, ELO & Wizzard" (Sonicbond Publishing ISBN 978-1789520088) to arrive for quite some time and the good news is that it will finally be published on Friday 18th December. Yours Truly KJS caught up with the author recently and asked some searching questions about James himself and the development of the book in this latest addition to my exclusive series of interviews for elobf. It was great for this particular fan to interview a fellow fan on familiar subject matter! Here's hoping that you enjoy reading it as much as I did putting it together!
KJS: First things first, James! Tell me about yourself?
JRT: Hi Keith! I'm 43 and live in North Somerset with my fiancée Charlotte, our three cats and two dogs (Dilys the West Highland White Terrier and Freja the Rhodesian Ridgeback) and have been a music fan since my early teens. I've been writing album reviews, interviews, features for various places like the (now sadly defunct) Classic Rock Society, BBC online, Albion Online (exploring English culture), various progressive rock websites over the past 20 years and also for We Are Cult. I'm a fan of cult TV and a huge Doctor Who fan and, whilst I spend a lot of time writing about Prog rock, my tastes are far wider and deeper than that and I have everything from Abba to Zappa (and all points in between!) in my record collection. I also do the social media for the Bad Elephant Music record label and enjoy reading in my spare time!
KJS: Is this your first book?
JRT: It is! I've contributed over the years to anthologies including poetry and short stories, as well as to non-fiction anthologies about Doctor Who, Cult TV & David Bowie but this is the first time that I've ever flown solo.
KJS: What sparked your interest in Roy Wood?
JRT: It started, as with most people, by diving into their parents record collection. The first musical band that I got heavily into was The Beatles, which led me on to Jeff Lynne and ELO, and then through collecting ELO and related albums I discovered Roy Wood, Wizzard and the Move, and of course, like a lot of people, I was astonished by the sound of that debut ELO album which sounded like nothing else I'd ever heard at the time.
KJS: How did you approach writing "Roy Wood: The Move, ELO & Wizzard"?
JRT: I started by putting the albums and singles into chronological order before I even started writing about them, so I had a timeline and structure to work to and, of course, I then listened to the albums in chronological order to get a feel as to how the book was going to develop following how Roy's career developed. As we all know, some of Roy's work is still unavailable on CD and when I was writing it, I was lucky that Esoteric had just finished their remastering of the entire Move back catalogue complete with additional bonus tracks, some of which were covered more in depth than others. At the time of writing Introducing Eddy & The Falcons, Mustard, Main Street, Super Active Wizzo and Starting Up were unavailable (luckily I had copies of Eddy, Mustard & Main St. – the 1999 Edsel editions and Starting Up) and Boulders, Wizzard Brew and On The Road Again were only available in the Original Album Series. As I already had Boulders, Wizzard Brew (the 2005 remaster), Message From The Country and The Electric Light Orchestra, it seemed pointless to pay £14 for the box to get On The Road Again – when I could pick up a copy of the Wounded Bird CD edition for just £6. For the rest of the material, YouTube and various compilation albums helped filled the gaps, as did Discogs again for Super Active Wizzo on vinyl! Luckily, since then Esoteric Records have remastered and reissued Mustard, Eddy & The Falcons and Main Street (with the same track listing as the Edsel editions) so when people read the book, there's more out there for them to get. I hope Esoteric continue and mop up Wizzo, Starting Up & On The Road Again – complete with the singles released during that period. As for the actual writing of the book, I took two weeks off work, and treated the writing as if it were my day job – I would start at nine in the morning, break for lunch and finish at five. I found that the easiest way to approach it and I dealt with it album by album as close to chronologically as possible. Of course some albums had to wait due to waiting for them to be delivered, but overall it was written from start to finish as close to release order as possible.
KJS: We recommended the book to elobf patrons almost two years ago back in December 2018. Why has the book taken so long to arrive?
JRT: It is my first book, and so I have gone from writing pieces no more than 500-2,000 words to putting down a piece of work of around 60,000 words so it did need editing and tidying up by Stephen Lambe at Sonicbond – who has done a great job on it! The manuscript I submitted probably needed tidying up before submission. That, I guess, was naivety on my part – but all the pieces were there, just not necessarily in the right order. In the interim, of course, there have been three reissues of core Woody albums – so I was able to add a few amendments about those, and The Idle Race debut album got a double disc set reissue with the mono album on CD for the first time, so it gave me opportunity and time to revisit that as well. I hope the readers think it was worth the wait!
KJS: What can readers expect to find in the book?
JRT: It's not a biography as such, so don't expect any revelations! However it is, as far as I'm aware, the first book that covers all aspects of Roy's musical releases in one place – including the ELO debut as well – and as so much of Roy's later career is unavailable (which is absolutely criminal to my mind). I hope it shines a light into areas that don't normally get covered. Plus, of course, in the appendix you'll find a complete overview album by album of The Idle Race – which hasn't been done anywhere before. I think The Idle Race are such an important aspect of The Move/ELO story that they had to be included as they demonstrate how Jeff's songwriting influenced the latter day Move and why Roy felt Jeff was the perfect foil for launching the ELO concept.
KJS: Were there any particular difficulties with your research?
JRT: The lack of availability of the latter day albums was frustrating, as trying to get hold of Super Active Wizzo on second hand CD is a nightmare. I did approach Roy through mutual friends to see if he'd like to be interviewed but sadly it didn't happen. It would have been nice to have his perspective. However, I know he's keen on his privacy which I fully respect and hope I've done his work justice.
KJS: Did you uncover any surprises along the way?
JRT: Not too many surprises, although when you look at Roy's lyrics and songs throughout his career, Rain appears as a lyrical theme throughout from Flowers In The Rain, of course, to The Rain Came Down On Everything from Mustard, Way Beyond The Rain from On The Road Again and Raining In The City from Starting Up.
KJS: What are your hopes for "Roy Wood: The Move, ELO & Wizzard"?
JRT: I hope people enjoy the book and that it is received in the way it's intended, as a critical appreciation of the great man.
KJS: Have you any further writing adventures planned?
JRT: I'm still contributing album reviews to several websites and I've had an idea for something totally different but it's only in the genesis stage at the moment so I would say "Watch this space!"
KJS: What are your three fave Woody tunes and why?
JRT: What a question! #1: Feel Too Good (from Looking On) – Looking On is my favourite Move album, I just love the big sounds they get on here, and Feel Too Good has everything (and the kitchen sink). That pounding beat on the drums played by Jeff Lynne, Roy's full-on rock vocals which blend nicely with the soulful sound of PP Arnold and Doris Troy. It's a full-on stomp rocker and leaves you with a great big smile on your face. #2: Way Beyond The Rain (from On The Road Again) is another lush Woody ballad, with some sublime strings that echo his emotive lyrics. His heartfelt performance is fantastic and it astonishes me that more people aren't aware of this song. It's fantastic! #3: Meet Me At The Jailhouse (Wizzard Brew) is again an absolute belter of a Woody number that bounces around so many genres that you lose track and, to me, it just sums up Roy Wood! There are so many brilliant ideas here that show – freed from the constraints of an Electric Light Orchestra – that Roy could write and perform whatever he liked. He did and this was the result.
KJS: How can folks order "Roy Wood: The Move, ELO & Wizzard"?
JRT: It's available from Amazon, WHSmith online and it'll also be available from Burning Shed who are the home of the Sonicbond shop.
Click on the links below for info and/or to order "Roy Wood: The Move, ELO & Wizzard" by James R Turner thus:
elo beatles forever (elobf) recommends "Roy Wood: The Move, ELO & Wizzard" by James R Turner to those enlightened folks who enjoy the music of ELO, Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood, The Move, Wizzard, The Idle Race, 'Brum Beat', The Beatles and related artistes.
Until next "Time" in the ELO [and related] Universe ... KJS ... 10-Dec-2020
Tuesday, 8 December 2020
#1,551: Considering that the project was conceived and executed in October in the most trying of circumstances, "A Royal Philharmonic Christmas" is most assuredly a testament to the talents of not only the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra but also the man responsible for a fair chunk of the production responsibilities: Danny McCormack who - ably assisted by long time musical cohort and Chief Engineer Dr. Roy Wood - has managed to deliver a most enjoyable album with familiar festive classics intertwined with some clever reinterpretations of more recent Christmas anthems from the 70's, 80's and 90's - plus a rather inspired addition.
There's a rich, organic feel to the sound with this album likely due to the fact that the assembled players were positioned two metres apart within the acclaimed acoustic chamber of St. John Smith Square in central London. Of the thirteen (13) tracks on offer, aside from the excellence of Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day", the arrangements for Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" as well as "Stop the Cavalry" and "All I Want For Christmas Is You" also sound at home in their new symphonic surroundings.
For Yours Truly KJS and elobf, the icing on the cake is the inclusion of the relatively unknown "Christmas You, Christmas Me" - an earworm of a tune written for charity by Iain Kerr that's an ideal choice as the album closer. "A Royal Philharmonic Christmas" is an agreeable and relaxing record, easy on the ears and perfect for the time of year. ★★★★★
"A Royal Philharmonic Christmas" by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is now out and be obtained either as a limited edition CD or digital download via these links thus:
elo beatles forever (elobf) recommends "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" and "A Royal Philharmonic Christmas" by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to those enlightened folks who enjoy the music of Roy Wood, Wizzard, Jeff Lynne's ELO, The Move, The Idle Race, 'Brum Beat', The Beatles and related artistes.
*** Until next "Time" in the elobf universe ... KJS ... 08-Dec-2020 ***
Sunday, 6 December 2020
#1,550: Believe it or not it's twenty (20) years since Roy Wood teamed up with Mike Batt to combine their iconic Christmas classics "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" (#4 in 1973) and "Wombling Merry Christmas" (#2 in 1974) to produce "I Wish It Could Be A Wombling Merry Christmas Every Day" hence Yours Truly KJS thought it a good idea to talk with acclaimed singer/songwriter Mike Batt about the history of the project, The Wombles (naturally!), his new career retrospective album and much more in the latest addition to my exclusive series of interviews for elo beatles forever (elobf). Here's hoping that you enjoy reading it!
KJS: Thank you Mike for taking part in this interview with me for elobf! Let's start at the relative beginning. For many people of my generation, The Wombles remain a fond memory of a time when things seemed a little more innocent than they are today. How did your involvement with the musical entity that is The Wombles come about?
MB: I had left my job as a A&R man at Liberty Records because I didn't think it sat well with being an artist on the label (which I was) – and also because I wanted to do freelance arranging and production and learn my craft – arranging, conducting and producing. I had an agent for commercials and she sent me to these people at the production company, Filmfair, who were making The Wombles for the BBC. They asked for a tune but I suggested a song might be a good way to introduce some of the characters. So that’'s how I wrote the first song, "The Wombling Song" – Underground, Overground – and part of my deal with them was that I could take the character rights to promote records and write about the other characters.
KJS: Looking at the Official Chart Archive, The Wombles enjoyed a phenomenal career with eleven Top 40 singles and five Top 30 albums between 1974 and 2000. This must have been tremendously satisfying for you. What was it like being the mastermind behind the mask, so to speak, of such commercial success?
MB: As they were my first hits, it was exhilarating. I was 23 and had been in the business for 5 years, since I was 18, without having a hit, but building a good reputation in the industry. I had vowed that if ever I was lucky enough to have a hit, I would follow it up successfully. So I studied the art of "following up". Coincidentally, instead of all the prog rock and other stuff I did, my first hit was with The Wombles. I followed "The Wombling Song" with "Remember You're A Womble" – and we were off! Of course it was a joyous time because I have an overdeveloped sense of humour but it also presented an obstacle when I wanted my solo albums to be taken seriously afterwards. That happened outside of the UK where I became well known as a serious artist - but in the UK I’ll always be "Mr. Womble". Even now, answering this question!
KJS: For me, "Wombling Merry Christmas" remains one of the festive hits that still gets the foot tapping and brings a smile to the face even now here in 2020. Coming a year after Roy's epic hit with Wizzard, how did you approach writing and producing it?
MB: It was the year after Roy's hit. I loved the pseudo-Phil Spector OTT flavour of Roy's record and there are things in my record that are deliberately inspired by his. The shuffle rhythm for example, and the low saxes – which were in turn echoes of the Phil Spector Christmas album. It was written very quickly, I think they (CBS – now Sony) gave me 6 weeks to write and produce the whole album. I have always worked quickly anyway, but I remember this being particularly adrenaline fuelled!
KJS: You're an acclaimed singer/songwriter/producer/composer/author/director and you've "conducted more orchestras than you can shake a stick at". You've crafted such beautiful songs as "Bright Eyes" for Art Garfunkel and "The Closest Thing To Crazy" for Katie Melua amongst many, many others. Where do you rank your work with The Wombles within your career?
MB: I'm as proud of "Wombling Merry Christmas" as I am of "Bright Eyes". I would have liked to have had more hits as a solo artist (without my Womble head on!) – but the older I get and the more I hear it said by others, the more I believe that The Wombles weren't far away from The Beatles in terms of quality of work. I know that's a big claim, and it's stretching it a bit. But there was only one of me, – and 5 of them, including George Martin!
KJS: Fast forwarding a few years, when did you start considering that "Wombling Merry Christmas" could be combined with "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" into a new song encompassing both identities? Was it your idea or that of Roy or was it a mutually inspired decision?
MB: It just came to me as a suitably silly idea, and I rang Roy and Noddy Holder to see if they'd like to do a three-way mash-up. Noddy wasn't having any of it, but Roy came down to my place and we got on with making it!
KJS: How did you and Roy go about merging the songs together? I'm guessing that you had to make difficult decisions as to which portions were retained and which were set aside. How long did the recording take to complete?
MB: On the first day of the time down at my house in Farnham, we just sat together and butchered the two songs together. "What about keeping this bit of mine, and then going into that bit of yours?". Roy was great to write with. He was quite prepared to jump from one chord to a totally unexpected other chord, against all the rules, which I sort of like anyway, but he was "who cares? If we do it, they’ll believe it".
KJS: What was it like working with Roy in the studio?
MB: Such fun. He brought his own stash of vodka and Red Bull (no drugs!) – to lubricate the sessions! We just "made" the record. We were both very confident producers, and respectful of each other. Just two pals, no inhibitions. I remember him saying "I think it needs some tambourines, – grabbing two tambourines and gaffer-taping newspapers to his legs so he could go in and do a take, smashing the tambourines against his legs. He smashed them so hard I realised why he'd used wads of newspaper! We decided it needed strings so I wrote them overnight and the players came to my house the next morning.
KJS: Had you crossed paths with Dr. Wood before this project?
MB: He was a member of the "Society of Distinguished Songwriters" which still exists but we hardly ever see him at our dinners these days. That's how I first met him. The first time I actually saw him in the flesh was when The Move played Southampton Civic Centre and I was just a teen audience member. (He was young for a band member and I was old for a schoolboy!). They were brilliant!
|CLICK HERE to view the official music video for "I Wish It Could Be A Wombling Merry Christmas Every Day"|
KJS: "I Wish It Could be A Wombling Merry Christmas Every Day" came out just before Christmas 2000. It was Dramatico's first CD single release and reached a respectable #22. Were you happy that it nestled so nicely in the UK Top 30 at the time?
MB: I was happy that it was a hit but the Greatest Hits – that we spent a lot of money advertising – bombed so I lost a LOT of money. It was quite frightening. I nearly had to sell my house. But I've been there a few times in my life. Luckily, I managed to survive via creating my band The Planets, (who went to #1 in the classical charts for 3 months) and then Katie Melua. Never on the ropes for long!
KJS: The music video looked like fun! Did you enjoying filming and participating in it?
MB: It was fun. We did it at the local TA Hall. I got a big green screen background and edited it all together afterwards.
KJS: As someone who considers "I Wish It Could be Christmas Every Day" as perhaps the finest festive song ever constructed, I must admit that I also find "I Wish It Could be A Wombling Merry Christmas Every Day" similarly pleasing to the ear for obvious reasons! Did you intend the string arrangements to add the almost ELOesque feel to the song – quite apt considering Roy's pivotal role in the creation of ELO?
MB: No – I always just write just what I want for strings. ELO never came into the conversation. To be honest I love Jeff Lynne's ELO but I think the string writing is a bit "obvious" (maybe because Roy and Jeff didn't arrange for strings themselves) – and nothing like my own style. #Just saying. He and Roy are still brilliant, and both heroes of mine.
KJS: Here's a tough question: What would be your favourite Beatles, ELO and Roy Wood tunes?
MB: Beatles, – probably things like "Things We Said Today" and "I'll Follow The Sun". But I love 90% of what they did. ELO, – "Wild West Hero" is a favourite. Roy, – so many, but I love the freshness of the early work like "I Can Hear The Grass Grow" and "Fire Brigade".
KJS: Here in Yours Truly 2020, you've just released "Mike Batt: The Penultimate Collection", a 36 track overview of your career. Please tell us about it and how folks can get hold of a copy?
MB: It's a collection of tracks from throughout. My life, a couple of tracks from each of my solo albums, three Wombles tracks, some newly recorded tracks and also hits that were hits in other countries but not here (like "The Ride To Agadir" and "Lady Of The Dawn" which were massive overseas but because of The Wombles, never got played here. There are versions of me singing "Bright Eyes", "A Winter's Tale", "I Feel Like Buddy Holly", "Please Don't Fall In Love", "Nine Million Bicycles" etc. – in other words, the hits! It's available from Amazon and any other stores, and a signed one can be obtained from www.mikebatt.com/shop
KJS: And finally ... what's next for Mike Batt going forward?
MB: I'm involved in a project with a French artist. Top Secret. He's unknown, but we are devising a strategy to launch him with "other media" as well as an album, because relying on record sales and streaming is a mug's game these days! It’s quite exciting work and I think I've written some of my best ever songs for it. I'll be doing some touring next year – here in the UK if restrictions are lifted and definitely in Germany between the 22nd and 27th November.
elo beatles forever (elobf) recommends Mike Batt and "The Penultimate Collection" to those enlightened folks who enjoy the music of Roy Wood, Wizzard, Jeff Lynne's ELO, The Move, The Idle Race, 'Brum Beat', The Beatles and related artistes.
*** Until next "Time" in the elobf universe ... KJS ... 06-Dec-2020 ***