The IT Crowd’s Matt Berry tells Brian Boyd about his prog-folk predilec­tion,

No one seems sure what to make of Matt Berry’s new psychedelic prog-folk al­bum in­spired by the ter­rors of the coun­try­side. It’s not all some joke, he tells Brian Boyd

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IS IT A BIRD? Is it a plane? A post-ironic prank or a heart­felt mu­si­cal tribute? No seems to know quite what to make of Matt Berry’s Witc­hazel al­bum – ex­cept that it’s a psychedelic prog-folk af­fair. And you don’t get many psychedelic prog-folk al­bums to the dozen these days. All ques­tion­ing aside, Berry has pro­duced a rara avis with Witc­hazel – an al­bum that so in­tox­i­cated Paul McCart­ney when he heard a rough ver­sion that he read­ily agreed to do a guest vo­cal slot on it.

Or did he? If you think Matt Berry’s face is fa­mil­iar that’s be­cause for his day job he’s a well-known comedic ac­tor. He plays the ex­plorer Dixon Bain­bridge in The Mighty Boosh; is a char­ac­ter on the IT Crowd and is all over Garth Marenghi’s work.

“I was singing be­fore I did comedic acting,” says Berry. “I did all the in­die band stuff. I went to art school and was in var­i­ous bands then. I’ve been writ­ing songs for as long as I can re­mem­ber. This would be my first real re­lease – al­though there was a sort of spo­ken word al­bum, Opium a few years ago.”

Witc­hazel has a theme – as most psychedelic pro-folk al­bums do. “It’s all about the ter­rors of the coun­try­side,” he says. “On Opium I had looked at the ter­rors of city life, but this was in­spired by some very for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ences I had when I was grow­ing up. The first one was the book Water­ship Down which ab­so­lutely ter­ri­fied me – so much so that I still think of the coun­try­side as be­ing full of rab­bits killing each other. The other ex­pe­ri­ence I had was all to do with Kate Bush.” As Berry points out the first ap­pear­ance of Kate Bush do­ing Wuther­ing Heights on Top of the Pops had the same seis­mic ef­fect that a pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion felt when see­ing David Bowie singing Star­man on the same pro­gramme.

“Kate Bush fright­ened the life out of me,” he says. “I found my­self torn be­tween two ex­tremes – re­ally fan­cy­ing her and also think­ing she was a witch who lived in a scary for­est. There was some­thing about the way she stared di­rectly into the cam­era with those big, glar­ing eyes.”

With song ti­tles such as Ac­ci­dent at Har­vest Fes­ti­val and The Badger’s Wake on the al­bum, you’re never quite sure which way to take Berry’s work. “A few peo­ple have won­dered about what level I’m re­leas­ing this al­bum on,” he says. “I’m not tak­ing the piss. This isn’t some mas­sive Chris Morris’ style stunt. I’m not in­ter­ested in com­edy enough to have a joke that would last over an en­tire al­bum.

“But the other thing is that I can’t re­ally do any­thing com­pletely se­ri­ously but re­ally with this, it’s all com­ing from the heart. I’m a big fan of prog mu­sic and al­ways have been. When I per­form to a prog au­di­ence they can see what I’m re­ally try­ing to achieve with this.”

Very well re­ceived so far, Witc­hazel has been de­scribed as a “wood­land fan­ta­sia Fleet Foxes could have made” and the Guardian re­viewed it as: “en­chant­ing, awash with del­i­cate, twin­kling melodies – its soar­ing trum­pets, pas­tel sweeps of gui­tar and oboe and crafty soul-funk in­flec­tions sound gen­uinely im­pres­sive.” For what it’s worth, this sprawl­ing baroque rock al­bum was recorded in Berry’s front room and he plays all the in­stru­ments on it.

He’s do­ing a short Ir­ish tour next week with dates in Dublin, Cork and Gal­way – the ex­cur­sion across the Ir­ish sea ex­plained by the fact that, as he puts it – “I’ve al­ways gone down re­ally well in Ire­land and have done quite a few shows there over the years. Also, it’s al­ways re­ally great to get out of the UK for gigs.”

He’s hop­ing, that in its own small way, Witc­hazel will bring a “light­ness to the nor­mally su­perearnest and pon­der­ous prog-rock world. “There is a hu­mour­less­ness associated with prog and while this isn’t a “funny al­bum I’m hop­ing the prog au­di­ence will get what I’m try­ing to do,” he says. “Prog can be a bit overblown at times and fans can treat it with the same

“A few peo­ple have won­dered about what level I’m re­leas­ing this al­bum on ... I’m not tak­ing the piss”

sort of rev­er­ence that is nor­mally associated with clas­si­cal mu­sic or some parts of the jazz world. But I don’t think we should be pre­cious about prog.”

The Paul McCart­ney guest vo­cal on the Rain Came Down track is puz­zling in more ways than one. “I had a list of four peo­ple who I re­ally wanted

to be on the al­bum and he was on it,” says Berry. “I sent it off to him and one day I got this e-mail from him which con­tained his vo­cal con­tri­bu­tion. It was some­thing I re­ally didn’t ex­pect,” he says.

On Rain Came Down McCart­ney sings that an­i­mals should “set a good ex­am­ple to us hu­man be­ings/and stop be­hav­ing like Ja­panese/There are a lot of ap­ples on trees, there are many fishes in the sea/We should all just get along/if we keep eat­ing each other the world’s go­ing to be a very lonely place.”

UK na­tional pa­pers have re­viewed this as be­ing McCart­ney but in my opin­ion it’s not. “Some peo­ple think it’s an im­pres­sion­ist,” is all Berry will say when asked. And some peo­ple think it’s an ac­tor/co­me­dian from Liver­pool with a funny sur­name.

Ei­ther way, it nei­ther adds or de­tracts from what is quite def­i­nitely the strangest al­bum of the year.

Part Um­magumma, part Jethro Tull – and with a whole lot of Matt Berry – Witc­hazel is a be­guil­ing cu­rios­ity piece.

Matt Berry plays Whe­lan’s Dublin on July 29; Cyprus Av­enue, Cork on July 30 and the Róisín Dubh, Gal­way on July 31

IT CROWD

BUSH SCARY KATE

MATTBERRY

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