Mike Batt – The Hunting of the Snark

January 01, 1970





A mystery in the U.S.,
Mike Batt is a name well known in England from his masterminding of
beloved ‘70s children’s show the Wombles, his production and songwriting work
for other artists and his stature as the official composer of the Conservative
Party. His status in the British music industry in 1985 was such that he was
able to pull in some big names for his musical version of Lewis Carroll’s
beloved nonsense poem The Hunting of the
. The original piece, like most of Carroll’s work, is short on plot
and long on dreamlike imagery and wordplay, and Batt sensibly doesn’t try to
impose a hard storyline on it. (At least not at first – apparently Batt
expanded the original concept into an ill-regarded full-length stage musical
later on.) The songs link thematically, but more by a sense of romantic whimsy
than narrative backbone.


Batt recruits a diverse cast to play the characters. Roger Daltrey,
then working more as an actor than a singer, plays the Barrister, channeling
his rock god persona into a pompous music hall performance on “The Pig Must
Die.” Art Garfunkel portrays the Butcher, the de facto romantic lead, singing prettily but with little emotion on
“The Escapade,” though he nails “As Long As the Moon Can Shine.” Julian Lennon,
three years into his brief stardom, gives voice to the Baker – in context of
“Midnight Smoke” and “The Escapade,” he sounds even less like his father and
more like a singer finding his own sound. Then in between stints with the
Damned, Captain Sensible plays his usual jolly nutjob as the Billiard Marker
with his showcase piece “The Snooker Song” (“I’ll be snookering you tonight”).
Deniece Williams, clearly the only formally trained singer in the bunch, takes
on the Beaver, bringing a sense of dignity to the unfortunate double entendre
“I came as the Beaver upon this escapade,” providing a love interest for the
Butcher and having the most fun with “Dancing Toward Disaster.” In what was
likely considered the biggest coup at the time, Batt pulled in Cliff Richard to
be the Bellman and actors Sir John Gielgud and John Hurt to split the narrative
inserts that bind the songs together. George Harrison contributes a guitar solo
to the opening anthem “Children of the Sky,” which, it should be noted, is sung
by Batt himself.


Mixing rock band and orchestra, Batt’s musical sounds like
an Alan Parson Project album adapted for the Broadway stage, with melodic
flourishes adapted from theater music. For the most part, Batt makes an effort
not to go for easy three-chord pop choruses, mildly challenging the singers
(except Williams, who can apparently sing anything) and the audience, but this
isn’t art song, either. Sort of a watered-down version of Andrew Lloyd Webber,
Batt’s music is just memorable enough to be interesting, but not enough to
induce spontaneous singalongs once the record is over. The Hunting of the Snark is hardly a failure, but it probably works
better as a stage production than an album.


Fortunately, the DVD features a performance at the Royal
Albert Hall, as sort of a dramatic read/concert, rather than a full-blown
musical. Most of the cast reprise their roles, though Justin Hayward replaces
Garfunkel as the Butcher, Billy Connolly subs for Richard as the Bellman,
Gielgud is nowhere to be found and Midge Ure steps in for George Harrison’s
guitar solos. Frankly, the piece works much better in this context – between
the singers’ costumes and emoting and the live orchestra’s power the tunes have
more heft, feeling like more than just trifles. Start with the DVD first, where
the production makes more sense, and the admittedly minor pleasures of The Hunting of the Snark will reveal
themselves. (Note: the U.S. edition does not include the DVD, so look for the import to hear #The Hunting of the Snark# at its best advantage.)


DOWNLOAD: “Children
of the Sky” “Dancing Toward Disaster,” “The Snooker Song” MICHAEL TOLAND


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