Matt Berry

He’s the BAFTA award-win­ning ac­tor, writer and mu­si­cian. And now he has a new, and rather un­usual, cov­ers al­bum up his sleeve… .

Prog - - Intro - Words: Rob Hughes

Best known as the beardy brag­gart of tele­vi­sion come­dies such as Toast Of Lon­don, The IT Crowd and House Of Fools, Matt Berry has also forged an im­pres­sive mu­sic ca­reer, oc­cu­py­ing a won­der­ful space be­tween prog, folk and psychedelia. His lat­est al­bum Tele­vi­sion Themes, on which he’s joined by reg­u­lar com­padres The May­poles, finds him re­con­fig­ur­ing some of the most en­dur­ing sig­na­ture tunes of his youth. Among the cul­tural de­lights ab­sorbed by gen­er­a­tions of British TV view­ers from the 1960s to the 1980s are the themes from shows such as The Good Life, Rain­bow, The Liver Birds, Sorry! and, nat­u­rally, Doc­tor Who. Berry ex­plains all to Prog… So how did Tele­vi­sion Themes come about?

The la­bel asked if I fan­cied do­ing a cov­ers al­bum at some point, which I didn’t, un­less there was a con­cept be­hind it. So this is the con­cept. I’ve never been a huge fan of artists do­ing cov­ers al­bums that are a bunch of un­re­lated songs – it seems kind of dis­parate. Whereas with this, I was only in­ter­ested in do­ing one if there was a theme. And TV themes seemed the most ob­vi­ous to me.

Bear­ing in mind how fa­mil­iar most of these themes are to en­tire gen­er­a­tions, how did you set about do­ing the ar­range­ments for them?

I didn’t mess with them too much be­cause there was noth­ing re­ally wrong with the orig­i­nal ar­range­ments. And if you start to be­come too com­plex with it then the melodies can dis­ap­pear. So I wanted to be fairly faith­ful to it, but ob­vi­ously I don’t have a huge or­ches­tra for those tracks where it’s needed, so it is go­ing to sound like it’s been done by some­body else. At the same time I was very keen to re­tain the at­mos­phere of the orig­i­nals, for the sim­ple rea­son that you can’t get a lot of those tracks any more, com­mer­cially.

I didn’t do it to make a nov­elty al­bum or to make some­thing that’s funny. It’s not just a pure nos­tal­gic thing, it’s about pieces of mu­sic in them­selves that are worth show­cas­ing. Cre­at­ing tele­vi­sion themes feels like a for­got­ten art rather than some­thing friv­o­lous. How did these tele­vi­sion themes help to shape you back when you were a kid?

I was born in the early 70s, so there wasn’t much else to look at. Any­thing that was com­ing out, visu­ally or through au­dio, would have an im­pact, whether it was scary or ar­rest­ing or rich to lis­ten to. When you’re lit­tle you soak all this stuff up, and I was al­ways sen­si­tive to mu­sic.

It was an era when TV com­posers such as Ron­nie Hazlehurst would af­fect your mu­si­cal ed­u­ca­tion with­out you even know­ing it…

He was part of these things that I and mil­lions of oth­ers got ac­cess to. And a lot of these things, in­ter­est­ingly, came about due to bud­get con­straints. It was the same with Doc­tor Who.

Delia Der­byshire was do­ing these ex­per­i­ments with tape and os­cil­la­tors be­fore Doc­tor Who came along, but the fact is that it sounded avant-garde and caused a huge stir be­cause it was put onto a show that was watched by mil­lions of peo­ple.

You’ve said that you had the urge to cre­ate mu­sic from an early age but didn’t know any­body else who felt the same. Did that feed a DIY aes­thetic?

Yeah. If you share an in­ter­est in some­thing that no one else does then you have to learn ev­ery­thing about it. And the re­sult, in terms of mu­sic, was that I had to be­come an en­gi­neer. I had to learn how to use early mul­ti­tracks be­cause I didn’t have any­one else who could come and play a gui­tar part or what­ever. So it made it a ne­ces­sity. I was in­ter­ested in how to ma­nip­u­late tape and the fact that you could record four live events onto one tape. That blew my head off even then. I can still re­mem­ber how in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing that dis­cov­ery was.

You were also dis­cov­er­ing al­bums for the first time. And prog rock too, right?

There isn’t any­thing more prog to me than [Mike Old­field’s] Tubu­lar Bells. I was still in­ter­ested in two-minute pop songs but I wanted more. So it all be­gan by lis­ten­ing to Tubu­lar Bells, where some­one does a song that lasts 23 min­utes or what­ever. It was like a dream, where you start in a cer­tain po­si­tion and then ex­pe­ri­ence a whole bunch of other things by the time you get to the end. Tubu­lar Bells was the first ex­am­ple of that for me. Then when I had a few more pen­nies in my pocket, I got The Dark Side Of The Moon.

What were your first im­pres­sions of Pink Floyd and The Dark

Side Of The Moon?

My par­ents weren’t, and aren’t, in­ter­ested in mu­sic. Most peo­ple get a cer­tain ed­u­ca­tion from older rel­a­tives or sib­lings, but I didn’t have that at all. So when I got these al­bums, like Je­sus Christ Su­per­star, it was just a brown al­bum. Or, in the case of The Dark Side Of The Moon, it was just a black one with a shape on it and I was none the wiser as to who’d made this mu­sic, why they’d made it or when. But it had that cer­tain sound to it that I loved – that sort of ana­logue sound. I still play that al­bum now.

You have a home stu­dio these days. Are you one of those peo­ple who can’t re­sist go­ing in there and tin­ker­ing about at all hours of the day?

Oh yeah, there’s al­ways some­thing to work on. I’m do­ing a show called Year Of The Rab­bit [a Vic­to­rian-era cop spoof for Chan­nel 4] and I’m do­ing the score for that at the mo­ment. So that’s kind of in­ter­est­ing be­cause I’ve been look­ing at pho­to­graphs of En­nio Mor­ri­cone when he recorded the spaghetti west­erns, look­ing at how he’d po­si­tioned the amps and ev­ery­thing else in the room, which is rel­e­vant to what this new show is go­ing to sound like. It looks like he treated the gui­tar and its amp as an­other or­ches­tral el­e­ment, which ac­counts for why cer­tain in­stru­ments sound like they do on those old scores. At­mos­phere is ev­ery­thing. We start film­ing in Jan­uary, so

Year Of The Rab­bit will be out some­time next year.

Tele­vi­sion Themes is out on Oc­to­ber 5 via Acid Jazz Records. See www.the­mat­tberry.co.uk for more in­for­ma­tion.

“THERE ISN’T ANY­THING MORE PROG TO ME THAN TUBU­LAR BELLS.”

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