November 1973… Princess Anne married Mark Phillips, the miners went on strike and The Wombling Song was released by Mike Batt. By February 1974, the single had reached No. 1 and stayed at the top for four weeks.
“The Wombles pop group came along completely by accident,” says Mike Batt, aka Orinoco, whose idea it was to turn the popular creatures into a band. “I was asked to write the music for a new children’s show and decided it would be more fun to write a song introducing the characters. Shortly after releasing The Womble Song, I got a call from Top of the Pops, asking if the Wombles could appear on the show.
“I rang three friends who played bass, drums and guitar and asked them to join the band, and my family rallied round to help my mum make the costumes! She had a superb theatrical streak and used to make us fabulous dressing-up outfits when we were kids. The costumes were ingenious. They were just made from bits and pieces that my mum found around the house, including painted ping-pong balls for noses.”
Mike (71), refused the fee he was offered for the music, asking instead for the rights to the songs. It was a canny move. During the Seventies, The Wombles produced eight hit singles and four gold albums.
“So, there I was at 22, having all this success with The Wombles,” he recalls.
“I couldn’t knock it because they were my first hits and I was becoming financially secure after lots of struggling. But I was constantly seen as a Womble, not a musician!”
By 1979, Mike’s career took a different path when he wrote Bright Eyes, the soundtrack to the film Watership Down, sung by Art Garfunkel. It became the best-selling single of 1979 and topped the UK charts for weeks. “For me, the success of Bright Eyes was a turning point,” he explains. “Bright Eyes finally made me look like a serious musician.”
Mike went on to pen songs for the likes of David Essex and Alvin Stardust.
Today Mike, who lives (appropriately enough!) in Wimbledon with his actress wife Julianne White, continues to write, record, produce and perform music – although the pandemic saw him having to cancel 2020 gigs in the UK and Germany which he hopes to reschedule for next year. He released an album, Mike Batt: The Penultimate Collection, 36 classic Mike Batt tracks earlier this year and has plans to work with Justin Hayward of Moody Blues fame in the near future.
He has also turned his hand to writing fiction and has penned a funny novel, The Chronicles of Don’t Be So Ridiculous Valley, complete with self-drawn illustrations. Until recently Mike, who is a talented artist, was also sketching Womble illustrations but couldn’t keep up with demand. “What I need is another lifetime to get done all the projects I want to do,” he says.
He was appointed Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order (LVO) in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to the Royal Household.
So does he ever get back into his Wombling costume?
“Yes,’ he laughs. “The last time was at Glastonbury in 2011 and it was the most fun! You can’t look out of that costume and not see smiling faces, it’s just great.”
Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this page, we never allow this to influence product selections.
Two CD collection from the British singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, record producer,