Sunday, 26 December 2010

Elisabeth Beresford - A Lady Who Changed My Life

Elisabeth Beresford, - writer, broadcaster and creator of the Wombles, died on Christmas Eve, aged 84.

With apologies to both my wives (mainly the current one!) who have each shaped my life in their own way – it can’t be denied that Elisabeth changed my life dramatically and irrevocably when in the late sixties, long before I knew her - she dreamed up the Wombles while walking on Wimbledon Common with her children Marcus and Kate. One of the kids mis-pronounced “Wimbledon Common and called it “Wombledon Common”. When they got back home, Liza (as we always called her) made a list of Wombles characters based on members of her family. In her mind, they didn’t yet have pointy noses and grey fur. That would come later, when the great stop-frame animator, Ivor Wood – he of Magic Roundabout and subsequently Paddington and Postman Pat fame, would design the “look” of them for the first BBC TV series) They were just…Wombles. They lived underground and came up at times when they were unlikely too be spotted by humans, and would convert all the old rubbish left behind by us, into useful items to use in their daily life.

The first book “The Wombles” that appeared caused quite a ripple of interest and was featured on the TV programme Jackanory. After that the BBC commissioned a series of 5 minutes Wombles episodes which were aimed at a pre-school audience but which had the good fortune to be narrated by Bernard Cribbins and also to be broadcast just before the six o’clock news, - a peak crossover spot when the whole family would be watching. Ivor Wood had redesigned them from the book illustrations, in which they were really nothing more than Teddy Bears, - so that now they had the familiar pointy noses and hats and scarves to distinguish between the characters of Bungo, Orinoco, Wellington, Tobermory, Great Uncle Bulgaria, Madame Cholet and Tomsk. Ivor had correctly worked out that seven characters were plenty for a pre-school audience to get to know.

I was brought in to write the music. I was asked by Ivor Wood , and producer Grahame Clutterbuck Managing Director of FilmFair Ltd, the producers, , if I could come up with a signature tune. I suggested that a song might be better, because I could sprinkle it with Womble names and make it sound intriguing. So I came up with “The Wombling Song” (thus becoming the inventor of the word “Wombling” as a verb, which did not exist in the first book). The company liked it, and offered me a fee. I said I would prefer to have the character rights for promotional entertainment and recording purposes instead. They thought that was fair enough, as they were worth nothing to them. So I made a record, which I then had great difficulty selling to a record company. It’s a long story, which I’ve written about on many occasions, but it led to my forming the Wombles pop group and having so many hits that we became the biggest selling singles group of 1975 according to Music Week Magazine, with me as Orinoco, the lead singer, and all of us wearing costumes made by my mother.

Even though the Wombles took up only two years of my 42 year career to date, even to this day I am still referred to as “The Man Behind The Wombles” a fact which I would imagine must have irritated Liza as much or more than it irritated me (although she never showed it).. I guess I was the man in front of the Wombles, being the singer and songwriter.

There was quite a lot of contact and discussion between Liza’s company “Wombles Ltd” and myself in those first days of Wombles’ success. The combined force of the books, the TV show and the pop group had launched the Wombles into a special place in people’s hearts and they had become a national phenomenon.

I did not always agree with decisions made by Wombles Ltd. It wasn’t Liza herself, but the two businessmen who ran Wombles Ltd together with Liza’s husband Max Robertson with whom I often crossed swords. I pulled my hair out with frustration when, at the height of the Wombles pop group’s success, they mounted NINE Christmas stage shows – of very poor quality – all over the UK. Because I was “The Womble Man:” I was deeply embarrassed to think that people would blame me for the shows, - and they did. They were horrible, scruffy shows, badly directed and produced on a shoestring budget. More importantly, they destroyed , in people’s minds the idea of the pop group being unique. There were nine Orinocos, Nine Wellingtons, Nine Uncle Bulgarias . Good grief!

To us (although probably ONLY to us) it seemed like having nine John Lennons and Nine Paul McCartneys. The specialness of “a pop group” had gone. Consequently, on the day the story of the shows hit the press (and it was front page stuff), we began to lose the race for “Christmas Number One” with “Wombling Merry Christmas”. Our daily sales figures halved, and the record which was heading steadily for number two “Lonely This Christmas” by the group Mud – overtook us and snatched the number one spot. That was when I lost interest in being a Womble for any more of my life. I was A CHARACTER in a band called The Wombles. I was “their” lead singer! Would I ever escape that? Probably not.

So I stopped doing it. And the Wombles disappeared from TV screens and the spin-off merchandising activity ground to a halt.

Through all of these ups and downs, Elisabeth and I had nothing but good conversations. She moved to Alderney, and when the children were grown up, she was divorced from her rather domineering husband, Max, and lived on the island until the end of her life. She always called me “Dear Heart” in the way characters in an Agatha Christie novel might. But I am absolutely sure it was nothing special; I’m sure everyone was “Dear Heart” to Liza, - rather like some people call everyone “Darling”. But she herself was a darling. She would write to me occasionally. She lost a lot of money – as did her husband – in the “Lloyds Name” scenario, and lived for many years in relative poverty.

I visited her once on Alderney, with her son, Marcus – who had been about thirteen when the Wombles had happened, in the seventies. He was by then grown up and had his wife and his own young son, Charlie, with him. Charlie’s Grandmother, Liza, was her usual charming, maternal self and we had a very pleasant couple of days thinking about the impending remake of some Wombles material, this time by ITV.

Recently, I’ve been talking to the even more grown up Marcus and Kate – the two children who had been walking on the Common with Liza on that fateful day, - the day that changed their lives, their mother’s life, and mine. We’ve been talking about the possibility of a Wombles revival. None of us was particularly enamoured by the quality of a remake by a Canadian company about twenty years ago, and we have been talking about making something special. Something Liza would be proud of. Liza has been ill for some time, but aware of our discussions. I know Marcus would particularly have liked his Mum to have seen the new, high quality incarnation of the Wombles, and to have shared in the fun.

Alas, that is not, now, to be. But I do think Marcus and Kate will have kept Elisabeth up to date with our progress, and now, all the more, I feel a duty to help to bring about a new awakening for the Wombles – in memory of the very special woman who created them.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Postman Batt breaks silence on silence.

So I’m sitting there fielding a few tweets and someone asks me the old question about whether it was digital or analogue silence that I stole from John Cage in 2002. Well, that’s an old line I used at the time, that my silence was better than his because it was digital. But it made me think, “enough’s enough, I’m going to spill the beans on how this old story came about”, so I “confessed” that it had all been a “scam".

Actually, it was a TEENY bit scamesque but not totally. It came about from a real situation.

What happened was that I had been mastering the album “Classical Graffiti” by The Planets group which I produced and managed. Classic FM radio had told me they couldn’t play tracks with electric guitars on them, but apart from that, they loved it and would have made it album of the week. So I went into the studio and did a set of “classical” mixes of the tracks, with Ben, the guitarist using his classical, gut-strung guitar. They sounded good that way, and we didn’t feel it was an artistic compromise. But I didn’t want the “shape” of the album to include these repeated tracks, so I put a minute of silence in between the main album and the handful of more classical sounding mixes, to distinguish them from the rest of the album.

While I was mastering them, I thought it might be fun to give the silence a name, at the same time as having a dig at John Cage, who famously wrote a silent piece called 4’33”, - which was literally that length of just silence. I called my track “A One Minute Silence” and credited the writers (Mike Batt/Clint Cage) on the label copy that I supplied to EMI Classics. Why “Clint” Cage? Because I didn’t want to be accused of misusing John Cage’s name, even though I thought it highly unlikely, and – in the unlikely and almost unimagineable case of a copyright challenge, I would be safe. The Performing Right Society and the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) allow a writer or composer to have two registered pseudonyms, so I became, and still am, Clint Cage. Clint and Mike had co-written a silent piece called “A One Minute Silence”.

The album was released and went straight to number one in the UK Classical charts and stayed there for three solid months. Some time during those delightful months I had a letter from the MCPS informing me that they would be upholding a claim from John Cage’s Publisher,- Peter’s Edition – for half of the royalties on “my” silence. My secretary brought the letter to me one lovely sunny day when I was having lunch on the terrace of my house, with my mother. I exploded with laughter. I couldn’t believe anyone would take a bit of silence seriously. My mother (bless ‘er, still with a great sense of humour, aged 85, said “Which bit of his 4’33” silence do they claim you pinched?”. That night, I couldn’t get into bed for roaring with laughter. I was convulsed, it was just so delightful. Of course I did eventually get into bed but you know what I mean. I couldn’t for a while, then I did, after the laughter died down. Don’t ask stupid questions, and sit up straight.

I wrote back to the MCPS telling them that they’d got it wrong. My co-writer was not, and was not CLAIMED to be, John Cage, but a certain Clint Cage – in other words myself. I could prove that I had registered the pseudonym at the time of writing the “piece”, as I still had the letter to PRS, and I also had a copy of my label copy notification to EMI. The situation had been made a little more complicated by the fact that – on receipt of my label copy sheet showing “(Mike Batt/Clint Cage)” as the composers, some bright spark at EMI had shortened it to (Batt/Cage) – giving the impression that I was masquerading as the great man.

Eventually, I got to speak to the MD of Peter’s Edition, Nicholas Riddle, and he told me that they did indeed have a case, and that it was based on my use of Cage’s name. I said that I was sure we would sort it out in a gentlemanly way, - perhaps by them giving in and admitting I was right. But they didn’t. There was a certain amount of humour in our conversation. I thought he seemed a nice bloke and said to him that whatever happened, any reportage of the incident would raise awareness of the EXISTENCE of copyright – which cannot be taken for granted. He agreed.

I challenged him to a public duel. We would meet at Baden Powell House on the Cromwell Road, and The Planets could play my piece of silence and he could bring a musician or band to demonstrate/perform the Cage piece. We invited the world’s press, expecting perhaps someone from the Big Issue and a couple of sex-crazed Planets fans, but in fact the World’s Press DID turn up, and Nicholas and I found ourselves in heavyweight press conference situation. After the two performances – during which the Planets swayed about, doing nothing, but looking great, and a young clarinetist “played” 4’33” by, er, doing nothing for 4’33”. Nicholas and I engaged in a robust debate and took questions. We both gave at least 3 TV interviews. It was featured on the National TV news that evening, It made a big piece in the Telegraph and many other papers the following day, and then got picked up as a story, internationally. I was interviewed by several American news radio stations. The story even made it to Time Magazine and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Job done, or so we thought. We all had a bit of a titter, but not in public, - but, horror of horrors – Peter’s Edition DID NOT drop their case.

After a while, I thought of a way of spinning the story and having a bit more fun with it – and bringing closure to the situation in a dignified way for the Cage Estate/Peter’s Edition. I called Nicholas and made a proposal. I told him there was no way on Earth he could win, but that I had an idea. I would make a donation of an “undisclosed sum” (actually 1,000 pounds) – to the John Cage Trust, so long as Nicholas received it on the steps of the High Court in London in front of The World’s Press, - giving the impression that we were settling out of court to avoid a costly battle, but NOT ACTUALLY SAYING THAT. This was pure scam, pure publicity stunt on my part, and I’m not sorry! Nobody got hurt, - and the fact that copyright exists and can be protected - and has a value, - was once again being demonstrated.

We met on the steps of the High Court a few days later, and everyone from Reuters to Whippet Trainers’ Monthly turned up. Nicholas and I gave our respective TV, radio, press and TV interviews as the Planets stood around looking sexy. Someone from Reuters was pushing Nicholas to disclose the “undisclosed sum”. Was it four figures? Nicholas shook his head. Was it five figures? He said “No Comment”. Was it SIX figures, perhaps?. Nicholas caught the eye of my assistant, She caught my eye. I nodded to her. She nodded to him. He nodded to them. Three naughty nods, it was, but harmless fun.

The next day, the headlines read “Batt pays 110K for Stealing Silence” and stuff like that. There were pictures with me and the scantily clad girls from the Planets – I wonder why the boy members of the band were cropped out!

The story went around the world again and has passed into recent legend. Oxford University held a debate about it, even asking me to attend and speak, but I was unable to make the date. Professors of law and students of copyright have variously argued about it. Friends sympathized with me at the injustice. I winked and told them not to worry – all was not what it seemed. Rivals and enemies (do I have any?) – well if I do, they hugged themselves at my foolishness and pointed out that all would have gone my way, had I not been so stupid as to credit Cage as the writer.

That’s it. So all these years I’ve kept silent about that silence. I’ve allowed people to think I was a bit silly to let EMI credit John Cage as the writer. “Cage” is only a surname. If Peter’s Edition represented a young songwriter called Angus McCartney would they be challenging every Lennon/McCartney song on the grounds that it carried the same surname as that of their composer?

Hee hee. Silence is Golden.

And now, a REAL breach of copyright, for which I apologise in advance to the authors of the correspondence I shall now quote – from the site, linked:

and declare that I will gladly take down the following letters to which they OWN THE COPYRIGHT, should they ask, - even though by having been posted on another site I presume they are now in the Public Domain. Wikileaks, eat your heart out.

Lots of Love,

Mike Batt

PS: “A ONE Minute Silence” is available on iTiunes for 99p

Lewis Hyde/Nicholas Riddle Exchange

Dear Nicholas Riddle,
I have your name from Laura Kuhn at the John Cage Trust. I wrote to Laura a while back because, in a book I am writing about "cultural commons" vs. proprietary work, I think I may use the story of Mike Batt listing a minute of silence under the "Batt/Cage" credit--and the Peters Edition suit that followed.
I know about this from various news reports, such as the one I paste below (see Cassingham essay.)
Cage was/is an important figure for me (he appears in a chapter of my book, TRICKSTER MAKES THIS WORLD), and mostly I am amused by the philosophical implications of this tiff. (For example: much copyright law is based on the idea of the work reflecting the author's personality; Cage, of course, went to some lengths to remove personality from the work.)
I rather assume that there is more to this story than what's reported in the papers. Is there? What might you tell me?
All best wishes,
Lewis Hyde

From: Nicholas Riddle
Sent: 10 July 2008
To: Lewis Hyde
Subject: John Cage & Mike Batt – a query

Dear Lewis (if I may),
Very many thanks for your message - Laura had mentioned that you would be writing. I'm certainly very happy to answer your questions as far as I can, the only proviso being that we did make a confidentiality agreement over some details, and so some specifics have to remain private to the people and organizations involved. However, I suspect that much can be deduced from more general statements.
The first thing to say is that the press went considerably beyond the facts that they were given and in some cases did not entirely understand the import of what they were being told. It might also be worth knowing that only a couple of journalists turned up for the "final round" on the steps of the High Court, and their impressions of what was happening then traveled around the world and became the holy writ of the story - in spite of the fact that they had not entirely accurately grasped the matter. In particular, neither Mike Batt, nor I, nor any member of the Peters team or the Cage Trust, has ever quoted any figure to the press in connection with the settlement.
Perhaps it would be helpful to use the text you forwarded as a basis for a brief commentary:
British musician Mike Batt produced the album Classical Graffiti for the rock group The Planets. The album had two distinct styles on it, so Batt decided to put a minute's break between the two sections.

"I thought for my own amusement it would be funny to call it something, so I called it A Minute's Silence and credited it as track 13, and put my name as Batt/Cage, as a tongue-in-cheek dig at the John Cage piece," Batt said.
So far so good, but it might also be important to know that his record company forwarded the label copy to MCPS, which was handling the mechanical royalties for these CDs. They then identified Cage’s 4’33” as the work in question and started to pay out pro rata royalties to us as Cage’s publisher. It was some time before this turned into a late June news story in one of the broadsheet papers. After some discussion between the parties, we agreed to a run-off between the Batt piece (performed by The Planets) and the Cage piece, performed at the clarinet by our London firm’s Head of New Music, Marc Dooley – a real virtuoso on the instrument when a work actually calls for notes to be played, by the way. A great deal of press turned up for this at Baden Powell House in London, with television coverage and many slightly stereotypical journalists who had not the faintest idea what we were talking about, but wrote quite entertaining – if also misleading – stories about it.
The Cage piece he refers to is a 1952 "composition" called 4'33", a "famous" bit of "music" -- 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence -- by American avant-garde composer John Cage, who died in 1992. Cage was granted a copyright for 4'33". Batt's acknowledging it, even in a cheeky way, was a big mistake: Peters Edition, Cage's music publisher, sued Batt for copyright infringement on behalf of the John Cage Trust, asking for a quarter of the royalties from Batt's album.

That's right: the lawsuit claimed Batt stole his silence from Cage. "As my mother said, 'Which bit of his four minutes and 33 seconds are they claiming you stole?'," Batt said at the time. None of it, he insisted. "I certainly wasn't quoting his silence. I claim my silence is original silence." Perhaps in the world of lawsuits, such a claim makes some sort of logical sense.
Of course, the claim was nothing to do with stealing silence from Cage. The issue was entirely that Batt identified this silence as having Cage authorship, leading to a presumption that he was quoting in some sense from 4’33”, and was so successful in doing so that the collecting society started to pay out mechanical royalties for it. There were really only two options here: either, the track really was intended as a quotation from 4’33” or some other unidentified Cage work, in which case mechanical royalties were due; or, he was misappropriating Cage’s name in the context of a musical work, and that also would not do. He, after all, was the one who claimed it was Cage in the first place. Was he passing off something else as being by Cage, or was the work actually Cage? Since performances of 4’33” could be said in some sense to be self-identified as such, it was really his call.

When the infringement claim came to light, few thought it could possibly prevail. Duncan Lamont, a British lawyer specializing in the music industry, was one expert who rolled his eyes over the squabble. "Is [Cage's composition] a work? Has it been written down, is it a literary, artistic or dramatic work? The argument will be there is no work because there are no notes." If there is "no work", there could be no infringement and the case would fail.

Well yes, it has been written down – in three versions, as a matter of fact. There is another point here: what makes a performance of 4’33”? Partly it must be the announcement of the performance, the attendance of the audience, the intention of performer and his/her/their adherence to the instructions in the score; but one could argue that it is also the apparatus around it – the concert hall and its traditional accoutrements, and perhaps also the payment of performing or other royalties that attends the performance of any work of music. Well, that’s one of the more theoretical issues in the story. In fact, the question Duncan Lamont put is only partly related to the issue. If there was no performance of an artistic work here, then Batt is still open to question for having used Cage’s name as he did.

Batt, too, was feisty. "Has the world gone mad? I'm prepared to do time rather than pay out," he told the press. "We are talking as much as 100,000 pounds (US$155,000)" in royalties. Besides, he said, "mine is a much better silent piece. I have been able to say in one minute what Cage could only say in four minutes and 33 seconds."
If a 1 minute piece on a 76 minute CD could, on a pro rata basis, generate £100,000 royalties, just imagine what the overall royalty rate would have to be – or alternatively, how many copies one would have to sell to reach these figures…
But just a few months later, Batt was done -- he settled out of court for an undisclosed six-figure sum, or pretty much what he was afraid he would have to pay if the suit succeeded. He handed over a check on the steps of the High Court in London, saying he was "making this gesture of a payment to the John Cage Trust in recognition of my own personal respect for John Cage and in recognition of his brave and sometimes outrageous approach to artistic experimentation in music."

See my comments above on what I can and cannot say. However, the events described above did indeed take place. Actually, here’s something nobody knows: the cheque he handed me on the steps of the High Court turned out actually to say “Pay the Bearer: An Undisclosed Sum” – which was very funny at the time, and perhaps just showed that he did not want the details discovered by accident if one of us were to drop the cheque. However, he followed it up, good as his word, with a real cheque shortly thereafter.

A spokesman for Peters Edition, Cage's publisher, called the payment a "donation" which was accepted "in good spirit." He said the company had been ready to go to court to defend the copyright they controlled.
Well, not quite. We carefully said that we would willingly go to court to defend the reputation, works, and legitimate interests of our composer – a distinction that was lost on the reporter.
Donation, or extortion payment? You be the judge, but be warned: now that you know of this case, you really can't afford to be silent about it.
Well, obviously it was not the latter. Mike Batt really did make a donation, and he did so as his proposed solution to the issue, which we accepted.
Although we didn’t actually talk about this in arriving at the settlement, my personal take on this is that it is important to remember that Mike Batt is also a composer and that a significant part of his income is from royalties earned on his existing works. The same applies to CDs of his music or the music of the bands he creates and promotes. He is heavily invested himself in the concept of intellectual property and its value. And rightly so, in my view. Artistic creativity is one of the things that truly differentiates us from the animal kingdom (as well as opposable thumbs), and is one of the most distinctively human characteristics. It has always seemed to me that the current generation has its sense of values completely screwed up: artistic creativity is one of the most valuable things on the planet, worthy of more protection and appreciation than most of the things on which we place emphasis and consider valuable. The people who think that artistic creativity of all or any kinds should somehow be valued like the air we breathe, or the water we need to live, simply don’t understand what kind of human gold dust they are dismissing as so much air and water. It’s the crown jewels of the human race. Of course, it should be made available to all, but the creators should be protected and valued for what they say about what it means to be really human.
Hope this has been of some help. If there’s anything else you would like to know (apart from the things I cannot go into, obviously), please do not hesitate to get in touch.

With best wishes,
Nicholas Riddle

From: Lewis Hyde
Sent: Between 10 July and 23 July 2008
To: Nicholas Riddle
Subject: John Cage & Mike Batt – a query

Thanks so much for the helpful background on the Mike Batt dust up. I had suspected that the issue had more to do with attribution than with infringement.
I end up with one set of questions about the case, which I'll preface with a few somewhat philosophical reflections.
First of all, I agree with you about the value of intellectual property although, as I am deep into a book about this, I feel there are many nuances to be teased out. One of those nuances appears in what follows; beyond that I'll simply say that I think the 1710 Statute of Anne was a wise and just law, combining authors' rights with a term limit such that created work eventually feeds the public domain. Much of the puzzle in IP policy is to figure out how to balance public and private rights such that both are preserved.
As for the Batt business and the nuance it raises, I would now frame the conflict as a moral rights issue, where such rights include the right of attribution, the right to prevent false attribution, and the right of integrity. As I understand it, the concept of moral rights comes out of a tradition (beginning with Kant) asserting a connection between an author and his or her creation. Moral rights protect the personal and reputational, rather than purely monetary, value of a work to its creator.
We don't really have this tradition here in the United States--with one exception, and that rather recent: the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 speaks to both attribution and integrity. That law says that these rights "are considered personal to the author and cannot therefore be bought, sold or transferred"; moreover, they end with the death of the artist.
A chapter in my book, TRICKSTER MAKES THIS WORLD, is devoted to the creative uses of chance and, of course, contains considerable reflection on Cage's practice. At one point I contrast Picasso and Cage:
"Picasso ... was quite happy to work with accident as a tool of revelation ('From errors one gets to know the personality!'), but Cage was not ('Personality is a flimsy thing on which to build an art.'), for Cage was after [Jacques] Monod's 'absolute newness' of pure chance. He was not out to discover any hidden self, nor did he think chance operations would reveal any hidden, already-existing divine reality, as ancient diviners thought. 'Composition is like writing a letter to a stranger,' he once said. 'I don't hear things in my head, nor do I have inspiration ....'"
Elsewhere I contrast Cage and Jackson Pollock:
"Pollock's working assumption was that the wildness of his paintings expressed his deep, primitive, and feeling self, and Cage would argue, I think, that no matter how 'deep' the self is, it's still the self. 'Automatic art... has never interested me, because it is a way of falling back, resting on one's memories and feelings subconsciously, is it not? And I have done my utmost to free people from that.' Cage much preferred the incidental drawings that are scattered throughout Thoreau's JOURNALS: 'The thing that is beautiful about the Thoreau drawings is that they're completely lacking in self-expression.'"
You write that artists help us know "what it means to be really human." I agree. In Cage's case, what he wanted us to know is that the impermanence of personality is a gateway to perception.
I am aware that there are complexities here, that Cage for example used chance in composition but then cared very much that his pieces be performed as composed, not submitted to further chance.
That said, and to come back to the Mike Batt affair, what interests me is the seeming disconnect between Cage's Buddhist practice that sought to suspend self-making and personality, and the philosophy behind moral rights which assumes, as some European law asserts, that the work contains "the imprint of the author's personality." Though not working from the same tradition, U.S. Copyright law has sometimes touched on "personality" in a related way. A key Supreme Court case from 1903, for example, concerned whether or not there could be a copyright in something as mundane as printed posters for circus acts. In affirming that there could be, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that "an artist who draws from life ... makes a work that is the personal reaction of an individual upon nature. Personality always contains something unique. It expresses its singularity even in handwriting, and a very modest grade of art has in it something irreducible which is one man's alone."
Such is the set of ideas out of which I'm musing on the Mike Batt story, with one addition, I suppose, and that is Cage's sense of humor wherein there is a strong link between happiness and being open to happenstance. For it seems to me that this tale begins with a joke on Batt's part, and that once the mechanical royalties appear, the joke continues--the "run-off" between the two pieces seems entirely in the right spirit.
But then things seem to have gotten serious, I presume because of the background moral rights issue (as you say of Batt, "he was misappropriateing Cage's name"). All of which leads me to my questions:
You write that Batt's donation was "his proposed solution to the issue." What had Peters Edition ask for, such that a solution was required? Was a legal action ever brought or suggested? If so, what was the point of law? If not, what issue needed to be solved? If the issue is "reputation" and misappropriation, and if Batt--himself a composer--understood that, why not a simple apology and change in the credit line? Why a donation? From the outside, at least, the donation has the look of an out-of-court settlement.
I really appreciate your having taken the time to reply to my original e-mail.

All best wishes,

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Short Blog - Purely re current matters

Hey Everyone,

I thought as my last blog was LONG, therefore hard to stick around for ((being 2,600 words from my autobiography-in-progress) - I'd do a SHORT, original, purely bloggy one. Well, today I've been escaping from my lovely bluely-dressed wife who has been doing a girls' dinner at Batt Battlements in Farnham, (Blue Belles, don't ask!) - - and so I am looking after LONDON, - quite a brief, but nothing has gone wrong so far and Boris seems to be behaving himself.

Heard from one's 19 yr old daughter (studying bass guitar at Berklee in Boston) who is living it up in our New York apartment with her boyfriennd, so it was an understandably short letter.

Had lunch on Thursday with Jeremy Hunt (Culture Secretary) and Andrew Feldman (Conservative Party Chairman) and others at Milllbank Tory HQ this week. What nice chaps, - which I knew already as they are sort of mates - and how wonderfully they will run the country IF THEY HELP THE MUSIC INDUSTRY BY MAKING IT NOT FREE TO APPEAL AGAINST ANY ACTION VIA ISP"S RELATING TO ILLEGAL DOWNLOADING UNDER THE DEA (Digital Economy Act) - and of course look after the social services while still making the essential cuts (!!!) . This one facet of the DEA act could make it totally unworkable, because every copyright thief would automatically appeal, without fear of cost implications! Loss of jobs in Music Industry is the cost - so vote me in as a notional Union rep! Jeremy and Ed please take note!

Back to happy friendly, unpolitical life. Had lunch with Katie 3 days ago. She's good. Getting better and looking forward to her tour in March 2011 onwards.

That's it - I told you it would be short (as the Bishop said to the actress).



Monday, 27 September 2010

Confessions of a young musical arranger

THE LAZIEST BLOG YOU'LL READ FOR A WHILE - just an extract pulled from my yet-unpublished autobiography, - explaining the pain and hardship of being a BLUFFER. Are we all bluffers? Or just the lucky ones? Now read on...

One day, as I was riding on a bus in Southampton, I read an ad in Melody Maker. It said “LIBERTY WANTS TALENT”. It had been placed by a talent scout/A&R manager called Ray Williams who had just started working for Liberty Records, - quite a successful US label starting up in this country. It was unusual to see a record company advertising for talent. I replied and got an appointment with Ray. I went to see him at the smart, Mayfair offices of Liberty. He was the epitome of “swinging London” as it was called then. Twenty-three years old, he wore a sharp, dead-cool suit with flared trousers, blue shirt, kipper tie, and had the looks of a slightly more handsome version of Robert Redford. I played him my best song “Mr Poem” which includes the line “Hello, they say, your fame has made you gay”. Ray thought that he has found the next bisexual or gay pop star. I didn’t even know what he word “gay” meant. He asked me what the line meant and I said it just meant that the guy is happy and bright. Ray suggested there and then that I should sign to Liberty’s music publishing company as a songwriter. He wanted me to meet Alan Keen, the head of publishing, who had just joined them after being Programme Controller at the legendary pirate radio station, Radio London. The government had recently legislated against pirate radio and when many of the pirate disc jockeys had joined Radio One, Alan had got the job as Managing Director of Metric Music, Liberty’s publishing company. He was an advertising man, a salesman at heart, - used to sell advertising space for Titbits magazine when he was younger. Now he was a forward-thinking, alert music executive with a great sense of humour and a love of jazz, particularly Blossom Dearie and Bill Evans.

So I was ushered into Alan’s plush office the next day. Alan and I got on ridiculously well, and he signed me to an exclusive contract with Metric Music, Liberty’s company. I was just so pleased to be signed that I agreed to all the terms. Luckily, because the law is on the side of the young creator rather than the big exploiter, - I was able to walk out of this contract one year later because it afforded me such terrible terms that it was unenforceable. No advance money, - just a royalty percentage - and the copyrights to all my songs exclusively to remain with the publisher until seventy years after my death! Now that’s what I call an unfair contract! But great, because I was able to walk out of it. Meanwhile, back in 1968 I’m jumping up and down with glee because SOMEONE has shown an interest in me.

The weird thing about the first day I met Ray is that I didn’t find out until months later that the two guys sitting in reception with me, waiting to see Ray, were Reg Dwight (soon to become Elton John) and Bernie Taupin (soon to become the hugely famous lyricist of Elton’s songs). Elton and Bernie had not met until that day. In his attic office with red chairs with raffia seats, Ray teamed them up on the day he met me and brought me into the company as a writer. He didn’t sign Elton to Liberty; maybe he had an agenda to take Elton somewhere else. But he did act as the catalyst for one of the most formidable songwriting teams ever to work together, - the team that would soon write “Your Song”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Candle In The Wind”. Ray Williams eventually left Liberty, to manage Elton, - signing him to Beatles’ publisher Dick James’ record company DJM, - and in leaving, made a job vacant at Liberty Records, which eventually would be offered to me.

Having signed to Liberty as a songwriter I was obviously keen on developing my writing, but I was also keen on getting a record deal as an artist. Because he paid me no money as a writer, Alan Keen – head of publishing for Liberty - offered me work writing out “lead sheets” or “top lines” for songs in the Liberty catalogue. A songwriter would deliver a song to the company on tape, but for copyright reasons and in order to have simple sheet music to offer producers who might be interested in recording the song, they needed the tune, lyrics and chords to be worked out and written down. I did it for one pound, ten shillings (1.50p) a song. So if I did 10 songs a week I made 15 pounds a week, which was almost enough to live on in 1968. I wanted to be the best topline writer in London, so I spend extra time making sure I got the tunes down accurately, and then spent ages writing them out with a music stave pen, adding the titles with Letraset (the only way to get a printed-looking title in those pre-computer days) and sometimes even illustrating them with little thumbnail pictures along the top.

One day I was in Alan’s office and John Gilbert came in. John was the son of film director Lewis Gilbert, and was then managing the hottest band in town – Family. Featuring Roger Chapman on vocals this was the band that everyone, including the Beatles, - rated as the nearest thing to the next Beatles. They were the talk of the rock social scene (not that I was part of that scene, being too young and totally unknown). They had agreed to sign to Liberty, and I had written out their top lines. The demos had just blown me away. Fantastic songs, brilliantly recorded. We played them loudly in the office and declared them to me more exciting than drugs, - not that I knew the first thing about drugs, but it felt like being blown into a different world, listening to these superb, weird, creative records.

John, seeing that I had done the leadsheets, asked if I arranged strings. Being passionate about arranging, - never having done a string arrangement for a record in my life, I said yes. John hired me on the spot, to write the string and brass arrangements for Family’s debut album “Music In A Dolls House”, - to be recorded at a session at Olympic Studios in Barnes, the following week. The deal was that I would get five pounds per arrangement, plus a credit. The next day, Roger Chapman, John Whitney and the rest of the band came in and we met in Alan Keen’s office where there was an upright piano. We talked through the material. They had specific ideas about which songs needed strings and brass, where the climaxes should begin and peak, and where they just wanted “something”. The song that interested me the most was one called “The Chase”. It was already fantastic without strings or brass, - a song with a kind of hunting rhythm, about the thrill of the chase to get the girl. With Roger’s rasping, almost angry vocal, it was a thrilling track. I thought it would be good with a couple of French horns imitating hunting horns, and a string section chugging along to add excitement. There was another song called “Old Songs, New Songs”. It was another of those which had blown me away when I’d heard it in the office, weeks earlier, and written its topline. I couldn’t see how it could be improved. The band said they wanted a jazzy brass section to build slowly through the track, but before the track started I should add four big major chords as a kind of fanfare to start it off. At the end of the meeting, the band left, and Alan Keen came over to me. “Ooh dear, they smelled a bit, didn’t they?” said Alan. He was right, but they actually smelled of oil of patchouli. Everyone wore it in those days, at least everyone who was part of the hippie culture, the rock ‘n’ roll end of the business, or designers, King’s Road boutique owners, cool people. It smelled a bit like you’d slept in your clothes for a week and/or had been chain-smoking joints. Family probably slept in their clothes, smoked joints AND wore oil of patchouli.

At that time I was living on other people’s floors. One of the floors I sometimes slept on was a flat in Carlton Hill, St John’s Wood, where a group of recently-ex Cambridge students lived. I can’t remember where I met them, but I was impressed that one of them had been on University Challenge. Anyway, I remember doing the Family string and brass arrangements while lying on the floor of someone else’s bedroom, because as a temporary visitor to the flat I didn’t actually have a bedroom of my own. I used textbooks to tell me how high and how low the instruments went (the ‘compass’ of the instrument). Then, back at home at my parents’ house in Winchester I checked them on my free grand piano, which was still there in my downstairs “bedroom” blocking the way in, unless you got down on hands and knees and crawled under it.

On the way to the session at the famous Olympic studios in Barnes, (southwest London) I bought a baton so that I could conduct the orchestra. I was quite nervous, having had only a week to do five arrangements, and no idea that it would end up a disaster, a triumph or anything in between.

As I entered the huge studio, the strings were tuning up. I was taken into the control room to meet the album’s producer, Dave Mason, the star of Traffic – the band who had recently made one of my favourite albums, “Mr Fantasy” containing the brilliant hit, “Hole In My Shoe” – brilliant even though it featured that annoying young girl speaking over the music, saying “We climbed on the back of a giant albatross…”
There were various members of the group around, - a few girlfriends, people rolling joints. Quite a community. I felt like a schoolboy in contrast to all these cool people smelling of oil of patchouli and looking beautiful, which all of them did, particularly the women. Luckily, I had with me, as my protection against feeling completely inferior, - but mainly for moral support and a bit of telepathic love through the glass window of the control room, my indescribably attractive girlfriend, Michelle, of whom more in a few paragraphs’ time.

I made my way to the studio floor and stepped onto the podium. Big studios like this usually have quite an elaborate conductor’s podium with a hook for your headphones, a phone to the control room, and sometimes a small table behind you for your scores. I tried to look nonchalant, as if I did this often, but I’m sure the musicians had me sussed from the start. We started with a song called “Mellowing Grey” which just needed strings (we would overdub the brass separately as soon as we’d recorded the strings). I raised my baton at the fateful moment and brought it down crisply to bring the strings in at the right place, as the rhythm track played in our headphones. To my surprise it sounded great. Strings, even if you make errors of judgement, have a way of sounding good. They find their own balance. Obviously they sound better if you arrange them brilliantly, but as long as the notes you write fit the chords of the song, you can’t really make a complete bollocks of it.

Encouraged by how well the first three tracks had gone, with the strings, - including “The Chase” with which I was very pleased - we then moved on to the brass. The string players went home and the brass section came into the room. I was a little awestruck by the fact that the section was led by the great jazz legend, Tubby Hayes, on tenor sax. I gave out the parts; two trumpets, two tenor saxes, a baritone sax, a tenor trombone and a bass trombone. The first song to be recorded was “Old Songs, New Songs”, - the one that the band wanted to have four big chords at the beginning. The backing track had clicks over which the brass chords were to be recorded before the entry of he band’s rhythm section. As these clicks clicked in my headphones, I brought my baton down again, and the most horrendous noise I have ever heard came blasting from the brass section. It was avant-garde, to say the least. I stopped the band. I just wanted the floor to develop a huge hole right under the conductor’s podium and suck me out of sight. I imagined all those cool people in the control room laughing or rolling their eyes in disbelief. I had forgotten to transpose the Bb instruments in the brass section (trumpets and tenor saxes play a D when they mean a C), with the result that it sounded like a complete and utter cacophony. Just as I thought I was going to be sacked, Dave Mason came bounding towards me and started shaking my hand – even though it was shaking all by itself already anyway.

“Brilliant, man!” He exclaimed. Totally fucking original. How old are you? Eighteen? Fucking hell, this is great. Let’s record the rest of it”

The brass section and I knew that it wasn’t quite that simple. Where my ineptly arranged brass chords had sounded avant-garde on their own without accompaniment, - as soon as the rhythm section came in, the game would be up. The odd, discordant tonality wouldn’t match the backing track, and I would be exposed as an incompetent teenager rather than the brilliant new bohemian genius that I had been for about four minutes. It was Tubby Hayes and the brass section that came to my rescue. Realising (as you would) that this was my first gig, and taking pity on me, the brass section transposed the erratic parts by ear, so that they sounded right. So when the sound of Family came crashing into our headphones, playing the phenomenal rhythm, with harmonica riff grinding away throughout, - my beautiful brass section sailed on through the track, building, building, soloing and sounding like stars, with me pumping my shop-new baton up and down, like an expert. The cool people in the control room, - including the snooty chicks – all thought it was brilliant. I have never been more grateful to a group of musicians in my life. They really did save me from looking like a complete twat. This was a real lesson, - to be prepared, to be careful, not to be afraid of making an idiot of myself - but most of all, - if I want to make discordant noises like Bartok or Stravinsky, - not to be afraid to do so.

To this day, you can still put on the Music In A Doll’s House CD and turn to “Old Songs, New Songs” and hear my set of four inadvertent major ninth chords at the beginning, - the four chords that taught me to be brave, take chances and not to care what people think, and in hindsight those chords sound very tame and normal.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Twitter makes me a lazy blogger

I have come to the conclusion that Tweeting makes you lazy as a blogger. At least in my case it does. I think, “Oh I just Tweeted” so I think that’s all that’s needed. On top of that, I’ve been so busy lately that a proper longish blog has been hard to get around to. Please excuse the fact that the sentence before this ended with a preposition, something I’m not proud of. So how far back can I reasonably go without boring the crap out of you, but still spilling the beans on life at Batt Battlements and beyond to an extent that will quench your thirst for the detailed machinations of my life, dreams, hopes, favourite colour, recipes for fish pie and more?

Ok, so we shot Katie’s video (“A Happy Place”) in Berlin. That was a laugh. I’d long had this idea that the Radio Berlin headquarters’ lifts (called Paternoster lifts, after the catholic Hail Mary-type beads) – would be a good location for a video. They have no doors, and continuously go up on the left and down on the right, like a fairground ride. You just step onto the next one that comes along. Very dangerous actually, and it’s illegal to build them these days. So I went out a few days ahead of the shoot, to do a recce, and to recruit a crew. The lifts pass through 4 floors so I wanted a camera on each floor, to catch Katie and other characters moving around in the lifts in real time. We used these fantastic newish cameras called “Reds” which behave like film cameras but are really HD video cameras. They have a narrow depth of field, and if you want a “film” look you use Prime lenses. Really great cameras. Anyway, our night shoot was, shall we say, interesting. It was the most hurried and stressful shoot I’ve ever directed – we only had 5 hours of shooting overnight, due to miscommunications with the art department and lots of things going wrong from start to finish. We were blessed by many really talented people, - from Christian Valle, our Brazilian/UK choreographer, to Quin Jessop, our UK Director Of Photography(operating camera one) and a crew of very good German camera operators and focus pullers. The dancers (auditioned in Berlin 3 days before the shoot) were absolutely terrific. The result is a weird video that I admit is not everybody’s cup of tea, but a lot of people love it,- and I’m fine with that.

It’s certainly unusual. I think some people have objected to Katie looking so “Extreme, - and one guy (I hate this kind of ignorant comment) said “money-grabbing Dramatico have made Katie do this” – or words to that effect. Everything about Katie’s slight shift in musical and visual emphasis has been led by her, with me and others advising from the sidelines. She is as, or more deserving of the credit (and blame) for what she is doing than anyone else in the team, including William Orbit and Guy Chambers. It’s always hard for an artist to make artistic progress without upsetting a few people. In this case, most of her fans have remained loyal, and a whole “flood” of new ones has appeared including critics and TV/radio producers who never “got” her before. Anyway, nobody died, so if you don’t like it, - I’m sorry, and you’ll get over it! Maybe the next album will be her singing the great American songbook with the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra. (Or maybe not!).

The album shot straight into the number one slot of the European chart Billboard figures) on the week of release, - which means she had a lot of high chart positions around Europe, like number 4 in UK, number one in several continental countries. We are very proud of her. (Again!)

About the same time – in fact exactly on the day of “The House” being released,- I had my concert at the Cadogan Hall. It was a huge thrill, - and I’m definitely going to do more shows like that. (in fact I did a similar thing in Stuttgart last week, which I’ll come to in a minute). Cadogan not a big hall, about a thousand people, - but a beautiful place - and we had a big orchestra (“The Secret Symphony Orchesta” my new, 55 piece session/concert orchestra available for weddings, bah mitzvahs, highly paid corporate events, etc) and Florence Rawlings as chief backing vocalist and star of two songs. We had Kruky (Michael Kruk) from The Planets on drums and Jono (Hill) from The Planets as leader of the orchestra (first violin). I conducted, sang and played the Joanna. Sarah Blasko lent me her guitarist, Ben, who was a great addition – a perfect combination with Louis Ricardi on lead guitar and Matt round on Bass. We made a lot of noise. I always enjoy doing “The Ride To Agadir”, which goes well because with Florence “leading” the BV’s and me, Louis and Ben, we had a pretty good vocal harmony block. We’ve recorded it for TV etc but won’t have time to edit it for ages. Just filmed it for posterity really, so when I’m an old man (in a few months’ time) I can look back and kid myself I was famous once.

This year I was Artistic Director of the Stuttgart Open jazz festival, - and we did a big concert called “Starry, Starry Night” - which was originally going to star Katie Melua, Jessye Norman, Curtis Stigers, Til Bronner, the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra and moi. I found it very difficult to communicate with Jessye Norman about the repertoire she wanted or didn’t want to sing, in the weeks leading up to the gig. Quite honestly, I found it impossible; it was spoiling the whole gig for me. By pure coincidence however, she developed an eye infection on the day I left for Stuttgart and she pulled out. Although I was sorry to hear about the eye infection which I hope is now better, it was like a weight being lifted from my shoulders. I immediately rang my old (young) friend, Soprano Anna Maria Kaufmann, and although she was busy on the Saturday and the Monday, doing concerts, she very kindly agreed to step in for rehearsals on the Friday and the show on Sunday. I didn’t have time to worry about someone dropping out, I had a prime time gala TV concert to put on for five thousand people (at the Porche arena) . It was a joy to have Anna Maria, who is helpful, pretty and a beautiful singer.

We had loads of orchestral rehearsal time but not much with the actual “stars” who mostly arrived the usual 24 hrs ahead of the concert, so the last rehearsal on the Sunday afternoon was a big panic. I had done a special arrangements of “All You Need Is Love” for the orchestra and ensemble – as a finale, plus one of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) which we had to abandon because we never got around to rehearsing it properly. You can’t rehearse a three hour concert in two hours! But “All You Need Is Love” turned out to be a huge hit with the audience.

Anyway – it was a triumph. We are now huge fans of Curtis Stigers – whose combination of a great voice and a fantastic attitude – not to mention being a brilliant sax player – give him a star quality that added so much to our concert. He’s on at Ronnie Scott’s in a week or so and my wife and I are going down to catch his set and be fans.

Another great addition to the concert was trumpet maestro Till Bronner, - one of the best jazz talents to come out of Germany in the last ten years. He’s another impressive character who made a kind of pair with Curtis as our two cool jazz dudes. They already knew each other, so that helped. Katie had to arrive from Montreux on the afternoon of the show so we had minimal rehearsal time with her; but she was a pro, as usual, and pulled it off with aplomb. So many people were full of high praise for Anna Maria Kaufmann. I’ve recorded her before and would love to do so again some day. The 90 minute TV show goes out nationally – as I said as a prime time Gala, on ARD I think, but I don’t know the date yet.

So now I’m here in Mallorca with my family, staying with another family who are great friends and have a really lovely villa. I can see out across mountains and sea. Yesterday we went to a beautiful tapas place in a courtyard. I don’t take a lot of holidays but that just makes a week away all the more enjoyable. Katie is currently enjoying a week off, with her family, after a round of summer gigs, and my concert last Sunday.

So that’s the latest. Not funny or clever, just true. Hope you enjoyed reading it.

More soon.

Peace and love


Saturday, 22 May 2010

The Big Rocks

I can't claim credit for this story, I just thought it was worth passing on to those who haven't seen it. It's one of those things people send round on e mail. I got it ages ago but just found it again. I think it's quite good.

Here it is...

The busier you are, the more important it is to stop and read this story. One day, an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will never forget.

As he stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers, he said,
"Okay, time for a quiz."
He then pulled out a one-gallon, 'wide-mouth' mason jar and set it on the table in front of him.
Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one by one, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is this jar full?"
Everyone in the class said,"Yes."
Then he said,"Really?"
He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel.
Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar, causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the space between the big rocks.

Then he asked the group once more. "Is this jar full?"
By this time the class was on to him. "Probably not," one of them answered.
"Good!" he replied.
He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand.
He started dumping the sand in the jar and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel.

Once more he asked the question. "Is this jar full?"
"No!" the class shouted.
Once again, he said, "Good!".
Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim.

Then the expert in time-management looked at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"
One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it."

No", the speaker replied, "That's not the point.
The truth this illustration teaches us is this:

If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all.
What are the big rocks in your life?
Your children.
Your spouse.
Your loved ones.
Your friendships.
Your education.
Your dreams.
A worthy cause.
Teaching or mentoring others.
Doing things that you love.
Time for yourself. Your health.
Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first, or you'll never get them in at all."
If you sweat the little stuff (i.e. gravel, the sand) then you'll fill your life with little things you will never have the real quality
time you need to spend on the big, important stuff (the big rocks).

So, tonight, or in the morning, when you are reflecting on this short story, ask yourself this question:
What are the "big rocks" in my life?
Then put those in your jar first.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Rant about Politics and stuff

I suppose I ought to write a bloody nother blog again. It’s a bit like going for a run around the park, you drag yourself out of bed and get on with it and when you get into a pace it’s quite fun, and then when you get home you’re glad you did it. I’m not even over the road into the park yet in blog terms but maybe I’ll get into my stride.

OK so the Man In The Golden Tie “won” the first Prime Ministerial debate, but for one main reason. He – and he alone, looked down the barrel of Camera One all the time he gave his answers. None of the others looked into the camera once – except in their opening and closing pitches.

Job done. At the moment I want Cameron to win, not least because I can’t stand another 5 years of a further-empowered Brown. Bloody hell, does ANYBODY? A hung parliament is a potential disaster. We should give Dave a go. If he fucks it up we can vote Gordon back in in five years’ time (!). I’ll be dead or at least badly ill by then. The fact is, Governments get arrogant after 13 years in office. Let’s let a new lot in and then kick them out after their 13 years of becoming tired and arrogant. The “Vote For Change” motto is quite good – except I suggested to party treasurers they should have their own badges made saying “Notes Or Change”. (Geddit?)

Hey, I’m over the first bit of park, starting to run round the Serpentine. A few Canadian Geese jump out of my way as I head towards the swimming changing rooms where lunatics swim every morning, wearing BATHING CAPS. Surely if you are hard enough to swim in the icy waters of the Serpentine you don’t need a woossy bathing cap? Dear me, what are you, vegetarians?

Anyway so tomorrow we have the launch party (not the actual release) of Katie Melua’s fourth studio album (although I would say this wouldn’t I?) it’s a CRACKER!!! People from all over the world have been unable to come because ICELAND who have crap supermarkets, crap banks and crap volcanoes have decided to let one of theirs off just before our party. Bastards. Volcanic ash we don’t need. Can’t people keep their volcanic ash to themselves? Or does this signal the fact that the World is just one big place and we should pool our resources, - like volcanic fall-out, - have a World Government (headed by, er…) and share our volcanic ash and our cash and our territorial boundaries. Muslems would be free to kill anyone they want for violating their religion if they are – (or especially if they aren’t) OF their religion, and Catholic priests could be as lovely as they like to choirboys. Labour and Tories wouldn’t exist. Only Lib Dems would. Yellow would be the only colour of government – let’s face it, it’s the colour of sun, wheat, butter, bananas, guaranteed anti-cholesterol margerine, puss, er – oh, I said puss, sorry, I meant piss, oh no sorry, I meant beautiful Chinese girls waving banners and singing songs about working together. And those lovely little ducks for the bath that you get in hotel rooms - at least, in the ones I go to, not no-homo B+B's. Canyou imagine:
“You’re homos are you?”.
“Well, sort of”.
“OK well we have strict rules here, no fags, so piss off. Unless you are a LibDems, in which case, just don’t tell anyone, but I’d be obliged if you sit at separate tables at breakfast, and make sure you eat the sausages in a sensible, no-nonsense sort of way.”

Fucking hell.

The World’s gone mad. Actually it’s BEEN mad since Coelacanths turned into humans , some time just before the first World War. So it’s ALL OUR FAULT. We shoot each other, pillage, win by-elections against each other, spit in customers’ food, burgle each other’s houses. (I’ve often wondered what a burglar would think if he got home from a night’s burglaring to discover someone had broken in and stolen his video and fucked his wife) – anyway moving on, or MAYBE NOT.

Maybe that’s far enough for one night.

In blog/jog terms I’m already passing the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens and on the final straight. It may have been bollocks bit at least it’s been MY bollocks.

“And now the end is near…”

Katie album coming out on May 24th. Phew, New suit, one would hope. New trainers.

Eric Pickles said at the special Conservative screening of the live debate this week that he bought his shirts at Marks and Sparks, unlike Brown and Mandelson, who clearly shop at Turnbull and Asser. I proudly claim that everything I wear EVERY DAY is from Marks. Suit, shirts, socks, -er, undies, - just my shoes come from the finest shoemakers in the land. That’s fair – I’m a reasonably famous songwriter. We are supposed to have posh shoes. Aren't we? Can I get a socio-economic popularity steer here?

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Osteopath From Hell

We were shooting the video for Katie’s new song “The Flood” at Elstree Studios a couple of days ago, and I had a bad chest pain that I thought might have been, but probably wasn’t, a heart attack. The pain had started the day before and I’ve had that same pain years earlier and it had all been radiating from a vertebra about heart-level, between my shoulder blades. Since I broke my C2 and nearly died, six or seven years ago, I don’t like going to osteopaths, - it just isn’t something I like to do, understandably.

Anyway, this pain was SO bad, and I was working on the video (I wasn’t directing this time; Kevin Godley was) – but I said to my assistant that I really thought I ought to see an osteopath to get me through the day! It was bloody painful. Anyway, it turned out that just across the road was an osteopathy place, so she was able to make an appointment for me, well-timed, right during our crew’s lunch break. Perfect. Except they DIDN’T tell her that they were a “College Of Osteopathy” and that I would be a guinea pig. In other words a student would ”crack” my back, observed by others. Not mentioned.

So off I go to the place, at lunch time. As I walk in, I notice it says “College Of Osteopathy” but just think, that’s fine, some of the best hospitals are “teaching hospitals”. A young bloke in a white jacket, dressed up like a doctor, comes out and invites me into a room, saying “I’ll be treating you today”, and informs me there will be some observers. I’m in so much pain I don’t mind about observers. Key information missing was “…and I myself am a student, as in not a qualified Osteopath”.

So I sit there for 45 minutes answering a huge load of questions, - really detailed medical questions. There’s one girl “observing” from the other side of the room, so I still think this guy is the osteopath and she is the student. He asks me way more info than you usually get asked in situations like this. Can I shit normally? (I normally can), whether my Mother and Father are alive (yes and no). Just to be clear, it’s not that they are both sometimes alive and sometimes not; my Dad has died and my mother hasn't.

After the 45 minutes the guy tells me that of course (of course!) a student will treat me, as in crack my back. At this point I’m thinking “Hang on, nobody told me or my assistant about this! So I say, “Look, nobody told me about this: I broke my neck a few years ago – as you know because I told you half an hour ago in huge detail, - and I’m a bit nervous about being here at ALL. A student cracking my back is out of the question I’m afraid. I’ve already spent an hour now, getting here and being here, and nobody mentioned this. What’s more, I’m in agony and I have to get back to the studio to get this video made”

He goes off, and five minutes later comes out and explains that this can’t happen. This is a college and a student ALWAYS does it.

Another, older bloke, not wearing a doctor’s outfit (presumably the owner or principal of the college; maybe the Headmaster) walks in and starts arguing with me, saying I should have known a student would do it because it says “College of Osteopathy” on the door.

I said “Are YOU a qualified Osteopath” He says, ”Yes, I’m highly qualified”

I say, “Well, could you please make an exception and treat my back for me because I’m trying make a video over the road and I have to go soon, - and I paid your receptionist on the way in?”

He says “I could, but I’m not going to”.

I say, “You mean you’re a qualified osteopath, and you’re going to let me walk out of here in agony when you could help me?”

He says, “Yes”.

I say, “I’m leaving; don’t worry I’ve already paid. He says “You can have your money back” but I’m already half way out of the door. “I haven’t got time” I call, as I close the door quietly behind me. Should've slammed it, really.

So I spent the whole day in pain, with restricted movement and chest pains that could have actually been a heart problem if the osteopathy had been given the chance to illiminate the idea of it being anything more than a skeletal problem

What a bunch of turkeys! And if any of you are reading this and thinking of suing me, for defamation, just try it. You behaved unprofessionally by not warning me either on the phone or in person that I was to be a guinea pig for a student, and you wasted my time on a day when I could ill afford for it to be wasted, and had a floor full of artists and crew across the road, waiting for me to get back and work with them. Thanks for nothing. If you don’t destroy my intimate medical notes it’ll be me suing you.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

If Music Be The Food Of Love...

A poem WHAT I wrote. You might find it amusing (or might not).

If music be the food of love,
and lyrics be the wine,
Whose songs are dodgy bread and plonk?
And whose, a feast divine?

Whose songs are caviar combined
With vodka served on ice?
And whose are bits of bacon rind
With Chateau Notseau Nice?

Like chefs, our efforts never cease
But still the song we sing
Is sometimes Ivy or Caprice,
And sometimes Burger King!

Mike Batt
© Dramatico

If Music Be The Food Of Love...

A Blast From The Past

I was looking through some old blogs on the archive on my website: when I came across two paragraphs of subsequent blogs from 2002. Thought you might like to share them. (Or not).

Sunday20th October, 2002

I've signed a new artist this week, too, and I'm not telling you anything about her, him or them. I'll tell you next time, but he she or they are or is going to be huge. Just remember where you heard it first. Remember that I told you somebody was going to be huge but didn't say who. At least I gave you half the information, and that's got to be better than nothing. I have already made a short promotional film, carried out a photo session and recorded seven songs, and I'm very excited about him, them or her.

And in my following blog:

Sunday 8th December 2002

I can now reveal to the World that my new signing to Dramatico is KATE MELUA. There's no real reason to tell you this at this stage, but I promised in my last letter to tell you when I next wrote, so I'm keeping my promise - that's the sort of guy I am. Katie is from Georgia, near Russia, she's 18 years old, and she's a singer and songwriter. We're going to make an album together, starting in February. It will be bluesy, classy, and cool. (We hope).

If you want to see the original blog – in context with other things jhappening then, just go to the link, above.



Saturday, 23 January 2010

Runter vom Sofa

Runter vom Sofa
That’s what she said
Runter vom Sofa
I wished I was dead
Runter vom Sofa
A dream, no more than that,
I had a dream that I was her cat
(Runter vom Sofa, Runter vom Sofa)

(it means "get off the sofa")

A short poem by,

Inspired by RuntervomSofa - the actual user name of a Tweeter @runtervomsofa

The Way We Bankers Think

Bankers seem to be making headlines these days. Two of my closest friends are seriously senior bankers _and very wealthy. Lovely people. Other bankers I know are rank and file and all stages in between. They are a mixed lot, like people generally. I've met some real shits, too. One was a bloke who was "supervising" a loan my company had taken in order to buy copyrights - some years ago, before Dramatico records took off. We so much hated his style of supervision that I just went and got a huge advance from my publisher and paid them off. That got him off my back and frankly if I never see him again it will be too soon. The guy used to say I had "over-borrowed" even though he got his interest payments on the button every month. Later when his own bank nearly went under - last year - and was hugely bailed out by, well - us, as taxpayers, I wrote him a note reminding him of our history and telling him I thought his bank had "over-borrowed". It was one of those letters we all write but don't actually send, A Cathartic experience, I think they call it. So I didn't press "send". I did enjoy writing it though.

I remember my first banker was a man called Skinner. I was 20 and Head Of A&R at Liberty/United Artists Records. He was Senior Manager at Midland Bank (Now HSBC) - Old Bond Street branch, near where I worked. He said he's happily lend me 700 quid to buy a van or something "useful" for my business (erm, I wasn't IN the delivery business!) - but wouldn't lend me the identical amount to but a beach buggy (more appropriate I thought, to my job, and incidentally better for "pulling"). I changed banks immediately. You do meet some tossers, don't you?

The song lyrics below were written to be sung by The Banker in my adaptation of Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting Of The Snark". THe Bellman is recruiting crew, and when asked if he'll join up, the Banker responds with this song. It's based on the idea that bankers often like to be the last into any deal, and - to protect their risk - the first to receive payments when and if the project is a success. Last in, first out.


I'd love to come along if I could
But I must behave as a banker should
The last aboard I must surely be
But if we sink in a stormy sea
The first to the lifeboats will be ME
It's the way we bankers think!

(There are also verses for the barrister and the broker)

By the way, we are doing two performances in London - of the costumed concert version of "Snark" - in late November. It's only a small concert Hall so keep your eyes open for the announcement. I'm not allowed to announce it properly yet. In the meantime I'm doing a solo concert at the Cadogan Hall on May 24th . I think this is the link: so maybe see you there? I expect I'll do a few Snark songs.

Good luck to Barrack Obama in his stand against Wall Street excesses, by the way. Let's get real! There's greed and there's Greed.



Thursday, 7 January 2010

Snow Business Like Snow Business

“Well here we are Don’t Be So Ridiculous Valley…” These words ring in my ears today not only because I put the rough demo vocal onto my orchestral track yesterday – for the “Opening Scene” of Ergo – The Chronicles Of Don’t Be So Ridiculous Valley, but also because Batt Battlements DOES look out onto a vast valley and it’s covered in 12” of snow at the moment, honest!

It’s like a beautiful Christmas Card, - but of course impossible for any of my stalwart colleagues to get in to the studio today.

Looks like this is a good day to do my “normal” blog. I usually tend to use the POSTMAN BATT blogsite for random, odd thoughts and little essays on stuff. Seems it’s turning into the place where my regular blogs first appear before being distributed to Myspace and my main site. BTW, you can hear the results of yesterday’s labours at It’s (clearly) the opening song of the movie! Ergo the Slug looks out from his bedroom window, in his house in the Slug Quarter of the little town he lives in, to see the Don’t Be So Ridiculous Valley Marching Band parading down the High Street. This forms a basis for the opening credit sequence. We are now at an exciting stage in the production. We’ve been working on the artwork for two years, and have all the characters designed, and most of the locations drawn and painted ready for CG building. We also have Ergo and his (he wishes) girlfriend, Little Else, - built as proper virtual characters, and have some initial animation tests on them. Now we just need 50 million quid. But we are working on that, and it’s looking good. I’d really like to make this the first real Pixar-quality blockbuster CG feature to come out of Europe and be made IN Europe by European animators, although we are also looking at Canada as a production possibility. Watch this space (and other spaces). We do have a website for it but I’d rather wait a bit longer before unleashing it – only a few more days. The idea is – as things develop, you can check out the characters being built, the scenes, the script being developed from its current fairly advanced draft, stuff like that.. Meanwhile, in that spirit, you can already hear the opening titles with non-final vocals!

Other exciting things are happening. (There are boring things happening too, but I thought you’d prefer to hear about the exciting ones).

Katie Melua’s fourth studio album is nearly finished. She has been working with William Orbit as producer, and I have kept very much in the background, as Executive producer, and of course as her manager. Oh, and I wrote the string and horns arrangements, which we recorded last Saturday at AIR stidios in Hampstead, played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Yours Truly. Lots of fun. Hope you like the album. It represents a big step for Katie, and she’s spent a long time getting into the right head-space for it. She’s written or co-written most of the tracks. I’ve only written half of one song, and even that may not make the album out of the 18 songs they’ve recorded. I won’t give TOO much of the game away, but suffice to say, there are some killer songs on it and it will be out in May. I hope it will appeal to a whole new audience at the same time as being welcomed by her existing fans.

Before the snow snew, - a couple of days ago, we had our first day back in he office at Dramatico, and have been making plans for what will be a hugely busy year for us. We have lots of plans centred around the wonderful Gurrumul – Australia’s phenomenal indigenous singer/songwriter who is currently top of the World Music charts in many countries. We are getting ready to release his album in the States, so lots of liaison with our New York office, and a trip over there quite soon. We have also recently signed Sarah Blasco (from Australia), and are really looking forward to getting her album, “As Day Follows Night” out in Europe (inc UK) on May 5th following the single “We Won’t Run” on April 5th.

Meanwhile, we are bracing ourselves for the physical CD release of Florence Rawlings’ album “A Fool In Love”. Her single “Love Can Be Battlefield” is playlisted on Radio 2, and both it and the album are out in the UK on January 18th. My God, this is becoming like a Chairman’s Report at an Annual General Meeting. Maybe I should write a poem or smething. To lighten it up. Before I do, - I’ll just add that I’m doing a solo concert myself at London’s Cadogan Hall in May (date to be confirmed) and a weekend of “Hunting Of The Snark” Concerts in late November, probably also at Cadogan Hall. Really looking forward to that . The Snark concerts will be costumed concerts of the full musical, and I’ll be auditioning for actor/singers to play the characters.

The Mike Batt Music Cube is “properly” released in February, - containing 16 discs, two of which are Snark . One is the first audio recording we did back in 1983, containing only the first 40 minutes of embryonic Snarkness, and the second disc is the DVD of the TV concert we shot at the Royal Albert Hall in 1987, with all the star cast.

This year – in September, I plan to record the FULL LENGTH Snark, just as it was in the West End production. It’s never been recorded before. Meanwhile, the Snark double disc set and all the other doubles in the archive series will be coming out on DRAMATICO at intervals over the next six months.

So you can see it’s going to be a massive year of activity for us. Oh (Doh!) *slaps forehead with palm of hand * I forgot to mention I’m also going to be the Artistic Director of the Stutttgart Jazz Open festival in July (silly name of course because if it were CLOSED nobody would be able to get in) – and conducting a couple more concerts with the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra.

I think I’ll go and have a little lie down, now. Tired but happy.