Sunday 6 April 2014

Matt Berry and the Maypoles, Tunbridge Wells April 4th

Having been a lover of Matt Berry's music since his first album, Opium, I had tickets to see him live a few years back on his Witchazel tour. Unfortunately, the show at Heaven Under the Arches was cancelled. I resigned myself to not being able to see him live, until a few months ago I came across the announcement that he was playing on a Friday night in Tunbridge Wells in Kent! It couldn't have been more perfect, as my family live in Tonbridge (Wells' not-so-popular sister town, situated nearby). I booked there and then!

So this tour features gigs in Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Nottingham and London. Tunbridge Wells at The Forum  was a slightly unexpected addition, but a very welcome one. The Forum is small and intimate, probably due to the fact that it used to be public toilets before it became a music venue in 1993! It was voted 'Britain's Best Small Venue' by the NME in 2012 and boasts an impressive history of acts playing there from Adele to Muse. My brother's band, the Pulse, have also played there a few times.

The tour is in promotion of Matt's latest album, Kill the Wolf, which I think is probably his best material yet. I say this because Witchazel  runs a close second. For those people that only know Matt Berry for his comedy (The IT Crowd, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, Toast of London), you may be surprised by what you hear with his music. Before the show I was talking to some local chaps outside and they were quoting Matt's comedy ('Whiskeeey!') and praising his iconic voiceover-voice. When I asked them what they thought of Kill the Wolf they admitted they'd not heard any of his music. This must be quite a common thing, but Matt's music following is definitely growing.

A combination of pastoral folk, prog rock and a touch of nineties' indie, the albums are lovingly-crafted (mainly by Berry himself on vocals and instruments). There are some tongue-in-cheek lyrics in places, however they are not comedy albums by any stretch of the imagination. The music transports you to another place, perhaps a village fete from childhood or, at times, a slightly sinister walk through countryside as it gets dark. Travelling to and from Hampshire and Kent, it is the perfect accompaniment to a train ride in which green open spaces can be seen for most of the journey. On the way home to Kent this time I could see mothers with their new born lambs, pheasants and rabbits- Spring is here!

The set list was on the stage at the start of the night so, being two of the keenos at the front, my bro and I got to have a sneaky look! I was impressed to see most of my favourites on there such as the prog rock masterpieces The Pheasant from Witchazel and Solstice from the latest album. A surprise end number was Abba's SOS which was a great finale. Other highlights were Medicine, an upbeat track from Kill the Wolf and my absolute favourite October Sun, which to me has a beautiful bitter-sweetness about it's melody.

The Maypoles are Matt's band and include Mark Morris from the Bluetones and the beautiful Cecilia Fage on vocals. The rest of the band are also majorly talented and thrilling to watch in action. I imagine the choice of venue could have had something to do with most of the band living locally, as they are my brother's former music tutors at West Kent College.

Overall, I know I will be taking any opportunity to see Matt Berry and the Maypoles again. It was well worth waiting to see them live and Matt was kind enough to let me have a photo with him after the show.

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