Florence Rawlings sings the studio version of Love Can Be A Battlefield
An enthusiastic crowd packed Cadogan Hall last night for Mike Batt’s trip through four decades of hit making and film score composition. A Songwriter’s Tale pushed all the right buttons – music from Watership Down (including “Bright Eyes”), Caravan and The Wombles (the wave of nostalgia which rippled through the audience as it recognised the opening oom-pahs of “The Wombling Song” injected another shot of warmth into an already very hot evening), “A Winter’s Tale” and a Simon Bates-narrated segment from his ill-fated musical The Hunting of the Snark.
It all served as a great reminder of Batt’s significant contribution to British pop music. Not just through the novelty value of The Wombles who dominated the 1970s when the children’s television show brought Elizabeth Beresford’s books to life, but also through his skills as a lyricist and composer, forging hits for a host of great singers (and having a few of his own) and writing some truly beautiful scores, some of which were revisited last night in the sumptuous playing of his self-styled Secret Symphony Orchestra. And his encore – “The Closest Thing to Crazy” – was a reminder that the hits keep on coming, together with his shrewd eye for talent. The song was of course a huge success for Katie Melua, who sat discreetly in the gallery, paying tribute to the man who has been such an important influence on her career.
With the best will in the world, Batt is not the greatest singer himself – there always seems to be too much else going on that requires his attention. Last night those particular honours surely went to another of his protégées, Florence Rawlings, who supplied assured and classy backing vocals as Batt worked his way through the hits, but came into her own with a solo number in each set. Her soulful, slightly smoky timbre brought a new resonance to “Caravan Song”, Batt’s epic journey of a ballad, which provided such a memorable moment in Barbara Dickson’s chart career. And in the second, “Love Can Be a Battlefield” – one of those metaphorical explorations of the dubious spoils of profound emotion at which he excels – was a taste of Rawlings’ current album, A Fool in Love.
Rawlings is only 21, yet here were two lessons in how to deliver songs that carry considerable emotional clout with restraint and dramatic conviction, and without resorting to the exaggerated hand-wringing and gurning that defined the finalists on Saturday night’s hunt for Dorothy, BBC1’s Over the Rainbow. Here was a genuine, modest talent, offered simply and without artifice to an audience that as well as Melua, included another fine singer, Mari Wilson: ample evidence that Batt really knows how to pick them.