Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Matt Berry "Witchazel"

Matt Berry is primarily known as a comedian and comic actor. I know him from Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, in which he play the alcoholic actor Todd Rivers (who in turn plays Dr Lucien Sanchez). I have developed an excessive fondness for the Todd Rivers character and have been fascinated by Witchazel since I first became aware of it. It was billed to me as Matt Berry goes folk, with it being not entirely clear whether it was a comedy record (like a Spinal Tap of British folk-pop) or was meant to be taken seriously. Berry has done comedy music before - one episode of Darkplace featured his song 'One Track Lover', a pastiche of moody '80s electronic music and one of the highlights of that programme.

I finally cracked and bought a copy and have been listening to it ever since. It feels to me like a record its maker wants taken seriously. The music (mostly created by Berry, who plays nearly all the instruments) does not sound like the pastiche of late 60s British folk-rock the cover might suggest. Instead it sounds a bit more contemporary, while clearly drawing on some kind of folky past. Thinking about it, I was reminded in a strange way of Cate Le Bon - not that it sounds like her directly, but it has the same kind of updated folk sensibility.

I have mostly gorged on the music without paying too much attention to the lyrics (I am not really a lyrics person). Where they have crossed my mind, they do not come across as being that ridiculous, certainly no more so than what you get in the world of the folkies, so I suspect they are meant to be taken seriously too. Though it is hard to tell, from following Berry on Twitter I get the impression his sense of humour is very deadpan.

Whatever his intentions, I am taking this record at face value. It is a collection of nice folk-influenced tunes well sung. I particularly like 'Take My Hand' and 'A Song for Rosie', but it's all good.

It does make me wonder, though - what is Matt Berry's motivation here? Making a record takes time and money (and this was recorded by him before any record company had decided to release it). There is no money in music anymore, so he was hardly expecting to be able to add more strings to his bow and rake in the cash from music as well as comedy. So it must be basically a hobby - some people write for amateur press associations, he writes songs and releases records. And he releases serious records that confuse people because even though he is a comedian they are not funny. What a strange life he must lead.

Witchazel cover

Dr Lucien Sanchez

An inuit panda production

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