Witchazel/Kill The Wolf ACID JAZZ


Psych/folk/prog polymath’s early albums get a vinyl reissue.

When Witchazel was released in 2011, Matt Berry was a cult figure from his roles in left-field comedies such as The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd, but an unknown quantity as a musician. There’s often a distrust of creatives who work across discipline­s, and the history of actors making records isn’t exactly glorious. Yet these albums – here reissued on vinyl for the first time – revealed Berry to be a wonderfull­y distinctiv­e player and singer with serious songwritin­g chops, his music playful and possessed of a sense of the absurd, but most definitely For Real. And while Berry is surely a man with a formidable record collection, it’s the way he’s distilled his influences into a private universe, where the psychedeli­c colours of 60s pop bleed effortless­ly into the proggy/folky loam of the early 70s that’s really impressive.

Witchazel is the more varied of the two records, with different styles tackled though never parodied. Take My Hand – now familiar as the theme to Toast Of London – is typical of Berry’s approach, sunshine harmonies and joyful strings rubbing up against a faintly melancholi­c piano melody. One thing immediatel­y noticeable is that Berry’s singing voice is a good deal higher and more vulnerable than the louche baritone he’s known for – it’s perhaps the most obvious point of departure from his actorly persona.

There’s still some connection though, with Berry borrowing from the Jimmy Webb school of songcraft on tracks such as cosmic hippie ballad Woman, where overstatem­ent knocks on the door of profundity. And then there’s the extended freak-out of The Pheasant, which starts out as The Beatles doing acid folk, progresses through motorik and Mellotron sections, and ends with Berry running amok through the Radiophoni­c Workshop.

Kill The Wolf, from 2013, is a more mature, more cohesive work, but still lots of fun. The chanted invocation and jagged mandolin of Gather Up enters full-on Wicker Man territory, with the vocal and woodwind talents of Cobalt Chapel’s Cecilia Fage even more prominent on this album than the last. Fallen Angel sounds like a lost gem from the Island back catalogue, while Bonfire has a lovely Ghost Box vibe. But the stand-out track is the fabulous Solstice, a magical pagan folk chorale cum pastoral prog epic that confirms Berry as a master of mood and texture.

Berry’s profile as both an actor and musician has risen considerab­ly since these records first came out, and these beautifull­y presented, coloured vinyl reissues are a welcome opportunit­y for newer fans to catch up on the early works of a singular artist.


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