Mike Batt is an unusual commodity in a rock world full of unusual commodities, and this re-release of his 1984 concept adaptation of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark is a treasure, a complete surprise when I received it the other day and now a jealously guarded item in my huge collection (along with the original vinyl release). Batt's not very well known to the public, but the man is a canny businessman atop being a composer of high achievement—and when you can get me to compliment a businessman, you know something of interest is afoot. Few know or recall that he started his career—after a doleful residence in the Liberty Records front offices—by foregoing a standard payment for theme music to The Wombles TV show, instead taking character rights for the musical production. This netted the clever Mikey eight hit singles and four gold albums, his fortune made and thus the wherewithal to explore work like this. Man, I just love it when artists screw businessman by using ingenious business methods!
From that point on, the gent produced hit after hit while pursuing the conceptual muse, issuing such gems as the Tarot Suite, Zero Zero, and so on. Oddly, The Hunting is the least commented upon of his output but also one of the most unique, following in the too scanty tradition of such efforts as Bob Johnson & Pete Knight's (both of Steeleye Span) 1977 adaptation of Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter. Like Johnson and Knight, Batt was able to attract top names to his work: Roger Daltrey, Art Garfunkel, Sir John Gielgud, John Hurt, Stephane Grapelli, Mel Collins, George Harrison, and so on. In fact, because he's done so much to aid artists in getting to the top slot in the charts, Batt need never hunger for name help, they instead knock down his door.
The Hunting is an orchestral work, light opera if you'd care to glance at it that way, but otherwise populated by rockers who import Batt's admixture of pop, folk, lite jazz, cabaret, and various genres effortlessly. Naturally, the lyrical and sonic narrative are filmic, as such things are supposed to be, substitutes for books and such. The melodies are rich, the poetry both wacky (Carroll) and amusing (Batt) and the hideously cool cover painting by Patrick Woodruffe quite indicative of the classy madeness to be found within. Genre? Good question, but I'd say progrock, the catch-all for anything containing higher intelligence, though I wouldn't argue with any contending that lush-rock, literate uber-pop, or such labels also embody the release. Too bad this isn't done more often.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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