Review: Matt Berry @ The Ruby Lounge, 15.05.13
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY MUSIC NEWS.
Comedy legend Matt Berry has been on tour with his band The Maypoles. Can he emerge from the shadows of his seminal sitcom work and find respect as a serious musician? Music News went to The Ruby Lounge in Manchester, to find out…
There are many out there who will only know Matt Berry for his fruity-voiced comedic personas. His iconic portrayals of Dixon Bainbridge, Lucien Sanchez and Douglas Reynholm are amongst the pantheon of sitcoms finest creations, and his forthcoming series Toast Of London may yet see Steven Toast added to that roster.
Yet Berry has always had an alternative career as a musician, crafting a series of critically acclaimed recordings alongside his compositions for film and television soundtracks. Previous tours have seen these two worlds collide, with his first in 2006 being so heavily promoted on his comedy work that the names of his hit shows appeared on the tickets above his name.
Over the years, his shows have usually featured a series of excerpts from his series soundtracks interspersed with his standalone songs via elaborate on-stage eccentricities. These were toned down with each successive tour, yet still remained a vital element to satiate a large potion of the crowds. Now having found his true audience, Matt Berry, the musician, has at last fully emerged from the shadow of his other life. The results are mind blowing.
Backed by his long standing live band The Maypoles and touring in support of his strongest collection of songs to date – the forthcoming album Kill The Wolf, Berry plays the whole show straight for the first time. The vast majority of the audience are along for the ride, though of course, a couple of spectators can’t help but shout out a smattering of Berry’s well known comedy lines. Despite, or perhaps because of this, Matt’s focus is entirely on the music, and everyone is on top form throughout.
This is a well oiled machine, capable of making acutely rehearsed material sound natural and free-flowing, so when there is call for improvisation it never comes at the expense of the craft. Throughout, Berry is in complete control, yet more than willing to take a back seat on several occasions to highlight the prowess of his backing band.
Tonight, they are augmented by none other than The Bluetones former frontman Mark Morris on acoustic guitar, and drummer Mark Richardson ofSkunk Anasie and Feeder fame. Long-term collaborator Andy Vickery continues to grow and develop as a live guitarist, and his blistering solo work on hard rocking new song The Signs has to be heard to be believed.
The set, focusing mostly on tracks from Kill The Wolf and previous long-player Witchazel, still has time to return to the title track of Berry’s recently reissued 2004 album, Opium, and the fan favourite Take My Hand, which has seen several iterations since it first emerged many moons ago. As well asThe Signs which expands upon melodies first heard in festive one-off comedy AD/BC, highlights from the new material include epic nine-minute prog numberSolstice, and the opening double whammy of new single Medicine and The Devil Inside.
Whereas previous tours relied heavily on Berry’s links with comedy, only the strongest moments survive here, with AD/BC‘s lead track The Innkeeper’s Songprompting a sing-along almost as loud as that caused by the ska-tinged reworking of Snuff Box, which segues inventively into a fusion of The Suicide Roomfrom the same show, and a freeform jam session allowing each musician a leading moment to shine. A tribute to one of Matt’s key influences, Ronnie Hazlehurst, sees the band play the themes to Are You Being Served and Sorry with a level of respect usually reserved for rock legends, and it works a treat.
With the encore shunning long-running accidental signature song One Track Lover from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace in favour of beautiful Witchazel trackThe Pheasant, the show ends on a bizarre high, as the band are joined by the entirety of brilliant support act Pugwash to perform a cover of Live And Let Die. Their glorious frontman Thomas Walsh takes on lead vocals, and the song culminates in a brief snatch of The James Bond Theme before everyone departs the stage.
Ever the gentlemen – Berry is straight out to meet and greet fans, and can rest easy knowing that his transformation into a respected musician is at last, complete.
The Devil Inside
Song For Rosie
Take My Hand
Snuff Box/Suicide Room Jam
Are You Being Served?
The Inkeeper’s Song
Live And Let Die/The James Bond Theme
Matt Berry’s new album, Kill The Wolf, is released June 17th. He plays Islington Academy, London on Saturday, May 18th.