on 19 July 2009
This double album is one of three produced in the "Mike Batt Archive Series" simultaneously. Unlike the others, both these albums have been easily available on CD in the UK before but have both now been deleted. To my mind, these two albums were almost the pinnacle of Mike Batt's career to date with only his Snark project knocking them off that plateau. (Incidentally, "Songs of Love and War" and "Arabesque", recently also released in this series, are right up there with them!)
It is good to see their timely re-release as the gems within them should be made widely available to as many listeners who appreciate good music as they can.
It should be noted that both thse albums are presented exactly as they were originally on vinyl and then in their original CD releases. There is no "additional material" here except for new and interesting sleeve notes written by Batt himself. If, then, you already have both albums on CD you might want to question if there is any point in buying them again. If you have either one missing, though, then the set is definitely worth buying, especially as the double set is not much more than one might normally pay for a single album. (Incidentally again, Dramatico have decided to price this more expensively than the other two double album releases - perhaps this is because they were the more popular albums originally but that is slightly cynical marketing).
"Schizopohonia" was Mike Batt's first solo album and as a child/youth fan of his "Wombles" music I remember being excited and not disappointed at this release in 1977. I always preferred side 2 of the vinyl album (tracks 6 to 10 on the CD) when I first bought it, not being so keen on the "Arabic" sound that dominated the first half (and which gave me unfounded fears of the album entitled "Arabesque"). The second half was more "accessible" to me, at the time, and I still think that some of Mike's best compositions are found here. "Railway Hotel" has become, justifiably, one of the Mike Batt classics and one of my personal favourites has always been "It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time" which even went on to be re-arranged and recorded to great effect by The Pasadena Roof Orchestra. This track really should be better known to the general public. "The Walls Of The World", from the first side but which feels out of place there, is also a classic and strong Batt song. Apparently "The Ride To Agadir" was a huge hit in Germany. This is the album from which all these songs originated. Along with a non-Batt composition "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and a number of instrumentals including Batt's brilliant arrangement of some Bach, this album is very, very strong and worthy of renewed listening.
And then came "Tarot Suite", the second disc in this double album set. As well as being already someone who appreciated Batt's music, I was also a big fan of "concept albums" just loving Jeff Wayne's "War of the Worlds" and all The Alan Parsons' Project albums to date. A Mike Batt concept album, then, was a big, big treat for me and I was not disappointed once again! I guess it was this album that kept me faithful in my interest in all things Batt from now on. Only "The Hunting of The Snark", as mentioned above, would be a concept album to top this one - and top it well - but that's another story....
It may be of interest that I was speaking to Alan Parsons at around this time and he told me that he had been planning an album based on the concept of Tarot cards at the same time but had been beaten to it by Mike. His, also great, album became "The Turn Of A Friendly Card" and I guess had its emphasis shifted from Tarot cards to standard playing cards.
But back to Batt! This was the first time that Mike had used other voices in one of his albums (including the five great Wombles albums) and extremely well used they were too. Firstly, Roger Chapman; I remember back in the late seventies / early eighties, his was a new voice to me and it immediately registered as very striking. He is featured on two of the best songs on this album, "Imbecile" and "Run Like The Wind" (either or both of which I would have liked to have heard Mike perform on his recent "A Songwriter's Tale" album). Secondly, Colin Blunstone features on the Womblesque (meant not in a derogratory but appreciative way) "Losing Your Way In The Rain" and then Batt himself on the haunting but lovely "Lady Of The Dawn". The rest of the album is instrumental/orchestral. Thes pieces are very varied (I love "Tarota" and the cleverly named "The Night Of The Dead" and "The Dead Of The Night") and although I would have liked maybe one more song, it is, nonetheless, in total a very, very strong album.
(Just one minor quibble - which is the same one as I have expressed in my reviews of the other Mike Batt Archive releases - Dramatico's idea of packaging the CDs so that it looks like you have each separate album, depending on which way up the jewell box is stacked, means that you cannot get a tracklisting without removing and opening the booklet. This is a tad irratating - particularly when listening whilst driving!)
Seriously, gentle reader, if either of these fine albums are missing from your collection you must, that is MUST, buy yourself this double album.
And now I wait with anticipation for the promised releases of "The Hunting Of The Snark" CD wit concert DVD and "Zero Zero" CD with film DVD to continue the excellent Mike Batt Archive Series. Again, thanks Mike Batt and Dramatico for the continuing releases from this series.