Page last updated at 08:55 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Was it a kind of bad dream?

Clockwise, from top left: Mike Batt with The Wombles, Art Garfunkel and animated film Watership Down
Clockwise, from top left: Mike Batt, Art Garfunkel and Watership Down

By Liam Allen
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Art Garfunkel's Bright Eyes, the biggest UK hit of 1979, entered the singles chart for the first time 30 years ago on Tuesday.

Entering the lower reaches of the chart initially, the song, written by British composer Mike Batt for animated rabbit fantasy film Watership Down, eventually reached number one on 14 April.

The song famously features in the darkly psychedelic film when character Hazel escapes death after being shot by a farmer.

Garfunkel, one half of legendary duo Simon and Garfunkel, remembers being sent a demo tape of a "surreal, lovely, dark" song which "knocked me out".

"I knew my own tone of voice has a quasi-religious pop element to it and I knew that I can create goose bumps with this mysterious enquiry into 'what is this life and what is death for all of us?'" the 67-year-old says.

"So it's a wonderfully large, philosophical set of words."

Emotional moment

Those words did not come easily, initially, for Batt, given the brief by Watership Down director Martin Rosen of writing a song about death.

Radio 1 initially refused to play the song because it was "too slow"
It sold 1,155,000 copies
Art Garfunkel was in the UK when the song was number one, filming his movie Bad Timing
According to Mike Batt, the record was selling 60,000 records a day at one stage

"I remember coming home and thinking, 'wow, how do you write a song about death without it seeming ridiculously dark or totally stupid?'

"It was then that I started to think, 'well it's going to be a song about wondering and not knowing'.

"Therefore, the opening words, 'is it a kind of dream?' came into my mind as I was sitting playing at the piano.

"I sang, 'is it a kind of dream', and then that minor thing of, 'floating out on the tide'."

Batt, the songwriter behind furry 1970s children's favourites The Wombles, says he realised he was on to something because "you start singing it and you're so choked up you can't carry on".

Simon and Garfunkel on their last tour in 2004
Garfunkel revealed last month that he and Paul Simon are planning to tour

Of the record's six weeks at number one he says: "You're just driving around in a daze thinking, 'bloody hell' - you'd switch on the radio and there it'd be."

But his memories of Bright Eyes, recorded with "my hero" Garfunkel in London three years before, are not all positive.

"It was one of the most difficult sessions I've ever been involved in, we even just argued over the way it should be sung and everything," he says.

At the heart of the tension was a battle of wills over a duff guitar note, he adds.

"We did this great take which everyone loved including Art and yet there was one note, just one little slip."

Batt says he told Garfunkel that, with a 60-piece orchestra waiting to come into the studio to record, he would simply ask the guitarist to come back the next morning "to drop that note in".

"Art said 'no, I don't think we should do that, I think we should get it right now'," Batt adds.

'Tension disappeared'

The arrival of Columbia Records head Goddard Lieberson, executive producer of music for the film, ramped up the pressure on Batt.

He says that, after hearing the recording of the string section, Lieberson told him: "I don't like the arrangement."

"I thought 'how rude' so I said, 'that's all right, I'll go then, I'll take my song and you can get someone else to write a song'."

Eight hit singles and four albums with The Wombles
Wrote hits for artists including Cliff Richard and David Essex
Guided career of singer Katie Melua, writing hits including The Closest Thing To Crazy

He adds: "I walked out through the orchestra with my score in my hand and I drove off in my car."

The film's director Martin Rosen persuaded him to return to the studio to continue with the arrangement on his own terms.

And when Batt and Garfunkel listened back and realised they had made a hit, "all the tension and distrust had suddenly ebbed away", he adds.

Batt says that, when the record hit number one, Garfunkel called him.

"He said, 'Mike, I just wanted to say thanks and to share with you that we did so well with the record'.

Art Garfunkel
I saw that the vocal was winning and that made me think, 'this record, mix it right and you have very lovely pop tune here'
Art Garfunkel

"I said, 'yeah, isn't it funny that you can have such a tense session and yet the record come out so well and be so successful'?

"He said, 'what tension?' He hadn't remembered any of it - he'd blanked all the bad bits."

Garfunkel makes no mention of any tension in the studio, saying only that he thought the track's backing was in place before he turned up to perform his vocal.

But, regardless of their differing memories of Bright Eyes, both come alive when speaking of their pride in the finished product.

Garfunkel, instantly recognisable by his shock of curly hair, says: "Sometimes you have a good hair day and some days you don't.

"I saw that the vocal was winning and that made me think, 'this record, mix it right and you have very lovely pop tune here'."

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