FringeReview UK 2015
Witty, theatrical and musically spellbinding; Berry’s live shows are always an invigorating journey. Tripping into a world that’s both beautiful and surreal, this latest tour will see Berry deftly navigate an eclectic back catalogue – including tracks from albums Witchazel and Kill The Wolf, and recently reissued Opium. And then there’s the inevitable surprises, be that unique renditions of classic songs, freeform jam sessions, extra special guests, orchestral stage invasions… anything is possible in the world of Matt Berry.
What do you do when you’re BAFTA-award-winning, ridiculously-well-connected, mellifluously-smooth-voiced comedy supremo Matt Berry and you’re allowed to do whatever you want? Why, you make prog-folk-rock with your mates I suppose. And so supposed Matt Berry, when he did it.
I was intrigued, and watched an interview with him on YouTube, where he said of his new album Witchazel: “I dunno. I sort of did it for no reason”. Good enough for me. So I went along to this gig fully prepared to be addressed by The IT Crowd’s Douglas Reynholm, which didn’t happen.
What did happen was a barrage of seventies psychedelia that I confess I wasn’t expecting. Lots of wah-wah, lots of noise. Berry requires six other band members to make this sound, including Mark Morriss of the Bluetones on acoustic rhythm guitar. Man! I loved The Bluetones! Cecilia Fage dances at the side looking every bit like a B52 (the band, not the bomber plane) and adding clarinet. I didn’t catch the other names, but they were all fantastically capable, particularly the youthful lead guitarist.
So, Berry seems to live in some sort of nostalgic fog somewhere in the seventies, with Fairport Convention probably playing in the background in one room, Led Zeppelin in another, and Benny Hill on the telly. A quick google search for his album sleeve will tell you that, if his television farces didn’t. I don’t mean this as a criticism. I only mean to explain exactly what this gig was like, because it wasn’t like the recorded tracks I listened to on YouTube on the walk to the venue.
I would hedge that it was somewhere between 3 and 6 times better than that. It also rocked roughly 120% more. It made my ears ring in the best possible way, and I smiled throughout most of it, not because Berry sold out and did silly voices (he didn’t), but because it looked like the band were enjoying themselves so much, and they were making such a fantastic noise.
In fact, not only were there no silly voices, Berry was a confident stage presence, happily and competently playing some sort of mini-moog thing, as well as donning guitar and singing. And if I wanted to listen to seventies psychedelia (which I definitely didn’t realise that I did) I would certainly want it to sound like this.
Is this comedy music? No, but no-one’s tongue is unconnected to their cheek. Is it going to change the world? No, but it did make a full room of Brightonites very happy, me included. I hope it’s as fun as it looks to be Matt Berry & The Maypoles.
Reviewed by Tom Beesley