It’s a funny thing but one would never connect the soundtrack or title song from the movie FOOTLOOSE with composer Mike Batt not getting the assignment to score the movie WATERSHIP DOWN. However it was a chance remark from a record producer at CBS at the time to filmmaker Martin Rosen that dashed Batt,s hopes to write the symphonic score for the animated feature. Dan Loggins Brother of singer Kenny who provided the vocals on the FOOTLOOSE title song was present at the demo sessions which Batt had arranged with Rosen to demonstrate his ideas for the musical score, this was no ordinary demo the composer had in fact hired the LSO at his own expense to perform sections of his score for the movie. Rosen was apparently smitten with the music and happy with Batt until Loggins decided to relate to the filmmaker that “If you don’t like this music we have plenty of other composers available” (why would you do this) especially as you really know nothing about the art of film music. This chance remark cost Batt the assignment, yes ok he was given three songs to pen for the film but just one of those was kept in, the other two being discarded. But it is probably BRIGHT EYES as performed by Art Garfunkel that is one of the most if not the most enduring memory of the movie. The song which reached number one in the UK charts and sold ten million copies world wide I suppose established Batt even more than ever as a renowned lyricist and composer, but even this part of his work on the movie was removed several times and only re-instated just before the films premiere. Batt was disappointed at not scoring WATERSHIP DOWN so much so that he never used any of the music he had written for any other project, until thirty years later he was offered WATERSHIP DOWN the TV SERIES, this was his chance to resurrect his ideas and themes from the 1970,s and utilise them with new works to enhance this latest incarnation of the story by author Richard Adams. Batt has for this recording arranged many of the scores principal themes into a 45 minute suite. The music here is basically what the composer would have written for the original movie, it opens with The Overture WATERSHIP DOWN – THE BEGINNING, which a delightfully essentially English sounding piece for full orchestra (The Royal Philharmonic), it is proud, slightly ominous and brings forth a rousing, lush and moving arrangement of BRIGHT EYES for strings and brass both of which are underlined and supported by percussion. This is a gracious and suitably anthem like opening to the suite, which also contains solo performances on trumpet and sets the ambience and mood for the remainder of the suite perfectly.
Track number two is said to be one of the composers favourite themes from his score, ON WATERSHIP DOWN, was the first piece of music he wrote for the original movie, so it holds a particularly special place in his heart, he states in the notes that the music plays as the rabbits first arrive on WATERSHIP DOWN but it is also in a way heralding his music returning to the story. This is again a dramatic and fervently rousing and robust piece, written primarily for strings, brass and percussion with support from woods etc. It begins with a very easy going theme almost laid back and relaxed, but again very English sounding which conjures up images of greenery and hedgerows with wildlife in abundance and the unmistakable English countryside acting as a backdrop, there is however to this piece a kind of apprehensive atmosphere which the composer introduces via woodwind and brass with strings acting as support, the mood soon alters and the composition reverts to a proud and lavish sounding piece that would not be out of place in any Shakespearian drama. In many ways the style which the composer has employed within the score is not dissimilar to that of vintage composers, Malcolm Arnold and William Walton, it is full of emotion and overflowing with pronounced thematic material and is the material on which the remainder of the score is built upon. Track number three, MILITARY THEME AND DEVELOPMENT, is another highlight from the work again I found myself thinking of the likes of Walton, Bliss and even Patrick Doyle it has a thundering and strident persona, led by swirling and fearsome strings that are pushed forward and enhanced by brass and thundering percussive elements, but even though it is essentially an action led piece there is still melody present. Track number four is a brief but effective BAROQUE TUNE, short lived but indeed memorable. Track five is FRITH’S BLESSING, which was written especially for the TV SERIES, and is a story of how the rabbits were given the gift of a flashing white tail, powerful legs and speed voiced by Gary Martin. Track number six FANTASIA ON A FLYING THEME is gracious and simple, haunting and delightful, strings, harp, woodwind and subtle brass flourishes combine to create a highly emotive and affecting piece. Track number seven I think is possibly my own personal favourite cue from the suite, the composer creating an atmosphere that is Christmas through and through, WINTER ON WATERSHIP DOWN is a magnificently robust and uplifting composition, filled with happiness and jollity in some ways it reminded me of the style of the style of James Horner, horns and bells underlined by strings and contained shades of AN AMERICAN TAIL.
When listening to this gorgeous musical score one cannot wonder if filmmakers actually have any idea about what music should be doing in film, I am confident if this score was utilised within the original movie it could have improved the end result and also embellished better the images on screen. Mike Batt is not just another lyricist or record producer, arranger, he is as he demonstrates on this score a wonderfully talented and gifted composer who sadly was not given the opportunity to fully demonstrate his imaginative and mesmerising approach to film scoring. It is a shame that many talented people in particular those who work or have worked in the film scoring arena have been either neglected or ignored, one only has to imagine what delights they would have produced. Mike Batt’s superb score for WATERSHIP DOWN is one that I know fans will adore, it is also a soundtrack that one will never tire of listening to it is fully symphonic with choral accompaniment and has to it a contemporary sound that is fused with that of the style of vintage British film music making it a unique listening experience, track number eight CHASE ADVENTURE-FROM WATERSHIP DOWN is a highly dramatic and somewhat foreboding piece again the composer turning to strings, brass and percussion to relay a sense of urgency. The final section of the suite is A KIND OF DREAM (track number nine), Batt opening the track with harp and pensive woodwinds, that introduce choir underlined by strings and more woodwind, soon we hear the familiar strains of BRIGHT EYES, but sung by many voices not one, it has to it a heavenly almost triumphant sound, the lyrics still after all these years creating goose-bumps and making the hairs on ones neck and arms stand on end. The mood of the composition alters and becomes more threatening with jagged brass and tragic sounding strings and voices carrying the piece to its conclusion. This is a score/suite that I highly recommended.
I chose to begin my review with WATERSHIP DOWN because it is a score or a suite from the score that I had not heard until I received this compact disc which is part of the MIKE BATT ARCHIVE SERIES on the DRAMATICO LABEL. The other score included in this impressive two disc set is from the movie CARAVANS. Now this is a movie that did not receive a lot of attention at the time of its release but nevertheless was a pretty good adventure yarn. Based on the adventure novel by James A. Mitchener, it starred Anthony Quinn, Michael Sarasin , Jenifer O Neil, Christopher Lee, Barry Sullivan, Joseph Cotton and Behrooz Vosoughi. Directed by James Fargo and produced by Elmo Williams the movie contained stunning photography courtesy of Douglas Slocombe the appearance of the movie was strikingly beautiful as if each frame of film had been painted individually with rich and vibrant colours.
It had been rumoured that John Barry would score the movie, then Maurice Jarre’s name was thrown into the arena along with a few other well known and important composers at the time, Michel Legrand for example. But it was Mike Batt who got the assignment and it was mainly due to someone on the crew having a copy of the composers album SCHIZOPHONIA and it being played during filming to create the correct atmosphere and mood. After much discussion and numerous meetings the investors on the movie who were Iranian agreed to hear Mike’s demo for the soundtrack this comprised of three themes which he had written to key scenes within the picture, the investors loved it and Batt was hired. The score is a mix of sweeping and epic themes and ethnic sounding cues performed on traditional Iranian instruments and percussive elements the composer skilfully and subtly weaving the two genres of music together to create a score that is enthralling, exhilarating and highly emotional. It is a powerful and haunting work that is laden with rich and lavish themes and laced with infectious ethnic sounds and dances, that intertwine and blend seamlessly with the symphonic material creating a potent and memorable collection of themes and also a an accomplished score. Batt also penned a hit song for the movie, CARAVANS performed by Barbara Dickson became a familiar and popular vocal at the time of the films release. However it is the score I am concentrating on here, this is certainly a work that Batt can be proud of, it is a work that not only enhances the movie wonderfully, but it also has a life on its own away from any of the images it was intended to support, the penultimate track on the compact disc for example is an up-tempo and full working of the scores central theme and I defy anyone to say that this is not infectious and haunting and I also defy them to say they do not press the repeat button more than once when they have finished listening to it. CARAVANS is a soundtrack that should be in every soundtrack collection. Again highly recommended…