Matt Berry - Gather Up: "an appetite-whetting beginner’s guide"

Toast of the town: Matt’s music earns respect.

Matt Berry
(Image: © Acid Jazz)

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It’s becoming easier all the time to disassociate Matt Berry the comedic actor from Matt Berry the musician, which is quite an accolade given how good he is at the first job. Somewhere along the line – perhaps when he supported Steven Wilson at the Albert Hall in 2015 – people started taking his records seriously. Now his 10 years with Acid Jazz are celebrated with a box set which serves as either an appetite-whetting beginner’s guide or a best of, with generous add-ons. There’s a two-LP/one-CD, 21-track selection of cuts from his nine albums, or the full five-LP/four-CD box, 55 tracks, offering outtakes, demos, live sets and the Catch Me In Time recording he made with R&B icon Geno Washington.

While early on, his songs gained a reputation for emanating from a dark English forest populated by extras from The Wicker Man and delving into folk tropes, he’s consistently wrong-footed expectations since. On Television Themes he risked appearing jokey again by refashioning the retro-kitsch music from Are You Being Served? and Blankety Blank, but on Music For Insomniacs he dreamed up lengthy instrumental meditations landing somewhere between Brian Eno and Mike Oldfield (it’s a shame that work doesn’t have greater representation here). The Small Hours went gently psych-folk; Phantom Birds was country-fied.

There are spells on this collection where Berry’s voice, often left unvarnished and mixed to the side of things, evokes Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes. It’s miles away from the stentorian delivery that’s characterised his sitcoms. The Blue Elephant – on which Berry played 19 instruments – clearly paid homage to The Byrds and The Doors, but never lets you settle, always twisting and turning like a silverfish.

Converts will want the full box, the big kahuna, but the merely curious will find the sample disc(s) turning them on to some hypnotic moods and weird wig-outs. It confirms that the man is a Renaissance polymath. Let’s raise a toast to that.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.