Album reviews: The Wombles: Wombling Songs, Remember You're A Womble, Keep On Wombling, Superwombling

Taking a long road from a burrow in Wimbledon to Glastonbury festival, Mike Batt's Wombles are back and their reissued albums are worth a listen

• The Wombles: sharing a love of the common people

The Wombles: Wombling Songs ***

Dramatico, 8.99

Remember You're A Womble ****

Dramatico, 8.99

Keep On Wombling ***

Dramatico, 8.99

Superwombling ****

Dramatico, 8.99

MICHAEL Eavis may not be a fan, deeming the booking of The Wombles for this weekend's Glastonbury festival as "a bit of a mistake" but the furry neatness freaks may well have the last laugh at a gathering which embraces the incongruous as much as it loves a party. Elisabeth Beresford's litter-picking cartoon creations-turned-chart sensations deliver on both counts, as these re-issues of their mid-1970s albums confirm.

It has taken their musical director Mike Batt some time to make his own peace with the Wombles musical legacy. Only a few years ago, he described them as a "furry anvil" round his neck. But grumpy farmer Eavis's comments – or more likely the death of Beresford last Christmas – have galvanised his affection for his hirsute group, which featured musicians of the calibre of guitarist Chris Spedding and Tornados drummer Clem Cattini joining Batt inside the costumes in their Top of the Pops heyday, and now he is quite rightly prepared to defend what is, in the main, a very fine catalogue of bubblegum pop music.

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The debut album Wombling Songs is the kids' album. In a manner not dissimilar to a children's TV tie-in album you might get nowadays, its purpose is to introduce The Wombles as characters, with a number of individual theme songs, and to gently push the Womble agenda of health (Exercise Is Good For You (Laziness Is Not)), social responsibility (The Wombling Song) and good advice (The Wombles Warning – to wit, stay away from the nettles when you're picking up litter). But already there are glimpses of pop sophistication – the clarinet figure in the theme tune, the wistful pop of Orinoco's song Dreaming In The Sun – to bathe in.

Speaking of good advice, if you minuetto allegretto, you will live to be old. But don't take my word for it. The second Wombles album Remember You're A Womble is where it starts to get interesting, as Batt commences his tour of the popular music genres of the day. Kicking off with the happy title stomp, he pastiches The Beach Boys on Non-Stop Wombling Summer Party, taps into glam rock on Womble Burrow Boogie and delivers the Gilbert O'Sullivan-style lush ballad Wombling In The Rain.

The Wombles music swiftly became a reflection of the times, for better or worse. The horrible cod-Caribbean Banana Rock would not be suffered now, but there is compensatory pastoral pop whimsy in the form of trainspotter odyssey Wellington Goes To Waterloo and, bolstering the Kinks link, Wimbledon Sunset, a sweetly orchestrated reverie.

This magpie approach – The Wombles were foragers by nature, after all – reached its zenith on the next album Keep On Wombling. Buoyed up by their run of chart success, it was clearly time to break out the difficult third album, a concept piece in which the perennially distracted Orinoco nods off and imagines himself in different situations and locations which allow Batt to dip into a broad range of musical styles.

True, the world probably doesn't need a cheesy pop conflation of Grieg's Hall of the Mountain King and The Wombling Song called Hall Of The Mountain Womble nor the anachronistic oriental cultural exchange of Invitation to the Ping-Pong Ball nor the glorified Pan's People routine The Jungle Is Jumping but here they are regardless, along with the superior spaghetti western-inspired Orinoco Kid, lachrymose country ballad Wipe Those Womble Tears From Your Eyes, cute space odyssey Womble Of The Universe and the adorable Wombling Merry Christmas, a carefree tune for all seasons.

The pick'n'mix pastiche reached critical mass with their swansong, Superwombling, a Frankenstein's monster of a creation encompassing barbershop harmony, bar room blues, reggae, honky tonk and even a bash at a spy movie theme (To Wimbledon With Love), although The Myths And Legends Of King Merton Womble And His Journey To The Centre Of The Earth is sadly not the overblown prog odyssey one might have expected. Beyond this, there was nothing left to scavenge, bar the Wombling Free film soundtrack which gathered together some previously released material.

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One of the most engaging novelty pop franchises – not much competition there, admittedly – was over. Batt went on to write the quintessential rabbits-in-peril weepie Bright Eyes and then trashed his reputation as the nation's finest writer of cartoon theme songs by masterminding the career of Katie Melua.

But these albums are something to cherish, a fine testament to Batt's commercial pop craftsmanship and a document of their time, in that they encapsulate the odd doldrums in which music was drifting around the mid-70s. The Wombles and their easy-listening ilk were the calm before the storm and, joyous though these tunes still sound, when you listen to such polished pastiche, you can appreciate why the punk revolution had to come and wash away our furry friends. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't envy all those Glastonbury revellers come this weekend. Womble on.

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