Sounds Like: There is a world where the musical influence of the sixties took a whole different direction. This is that world.
Matt Berry continues to find new ways of delighting me. Now, you may be here because of your familiar with Berry’s work on screen, be it as Steven Toast, Jackie Daytona or the variety of other sidesplitting roles he’s tackled from the “IT Crowd” to, god help us, “Garth Marenghi's Darkplace” But there will be no reference to any of that here. This is about his music, a stream of creativity that — dare I say — dwarfs his career on screen.
“Gather Up” is a career spanning box set consisting of five LPs, and its the perfect entry point for the uninitiated. I should know, as this was my first foray in to his musical output, having been intrigued by the snippets that peppered episodes of “Toast of London,” including it’s hypnotic opener. “Take My Hand” is the first track you encounter here and then it’s off to the races. The five volumes unfold and draw you into a pocket universe, where the psychedelic sounds of the London in sixties evolved into a whole different sound, something familiar but wholly original.
It’s impossible to categorize Berry’s sound, as it is uniquely his. It uses folk, psychedelia, rock, pop, jazz and even television themes to arrive at something utterly hypnotic.
The first two LPs serve as a greatest hits collection, with gem after gem. I had a hard time getting away from the first record and proceeding to the next, as I was absolutely enthralled by songs like “Medicine,” “Take a Bow,” and “Something in My Eye.” When I finally got to the second album, I was delighted to find more amazing tracks that I loved instantly. From “Like A Stone” to “Solstice,” it’s astounding how much these songs shift in tone and yet, still feel like the work of a very singular vision.
The third and fourth volumes take us further out, to explore unreleased and rare recordings. The fourth disc is entirely unused selections that were developed for the first, unused cut of his album “Phantom Birds.” Now its at this point, I should mention that it is impossible to divorce yourself of the knowledge of Matt Berry’s acting career. The spoken interlude “Peter Cleopatra and The Windmill” reminds you that he is a master of the spoken word. Also there is humor here, like the extended guest list on “Blankey Blank (Vocal Intro)” but it’s never at the expsene of the music. That’s maybe the most surprising thing to explore in Berry’s music: how honest, and vulnerable it is, with the humor sly and equally authentic.
After four records of sheer delight, the fifth and final disc blew my mind. It’s a live recording from a a festival in 2015. The fact that the songs sizzle live wasn’t surprising, nor was how consistent the delivery from Berry as a vocalist was. No, the surprise here is just how robust of band Berry has put together, and how he commands the stage as a band leader. This isn’t a band that was formed to run through the hits, but a band that improvises with each other. A true live act, and it is an electrifying listen.
Matt berry has over a decade of recordings, and I’m already on my way to tracking them all down. “Gather Up” was a shot in the arm for me, totally energizing me with it’s creativity and brilliance. The collection, at five records, may seem like a steep investment. But it’s available digitally for a much more reasonable price, and is the best present you can buy for yourself. Gather Up and dive in, and reflect how fortunate we are to have a talent like Matt Berry.
Find “Gather Up” and the bulk of Matt Berry’s Music on Bandcamp!