Matt Berry vinyl reissues - Witchazel & Kill The Wolf 2

Matt Berry vinyl reissues – Witchazel & Kill The Wolf

Psychedelic folk troubadour, comedian, voiceover artist, synth-prog wizard – there seems to be no end to Matt Berry’s Renaissance Man talents. Acid Jazz Records has just reissued two of his earlier records, 2009’s summery, vivid ‘Witchazel’ and 2013’s autumnal, gothic ‘Kill The Wolf’.

Flirting with pastiche, these albums are tongue-in-cheek at times but never as overtly comedic as a listener might expect if they were only familiar with Matt’s comedic work. They contain some genuinely sublime and beautiful music that tips its hat to dusty old psych/prog folk from the 60s and 70s; artists like Strawbs, Caravan and Mike Oldfield. That’s not to say that this is derivative music, though – it makes something new out of its influences.

Witchazel paints a lush picture, and it’s a record that sinks its claws deep, full of hidden details to pick out and enjoy on repeated listens. It’s a song cycle that moves through varied moods and genres, a series of scenes linked by short musical interludes.

‘An Awakening’ kicks things off, a short pastoral instrumental that opens with unsure and discordant woodwinds before bursting into symphonic wonderment, like the sun rising above an idyllic rural scene.

‘Take My Hand’, which later found renown as the theme tune for Matt’s sitcom Toast of London, is a truly beautiful pop song about seizing the moment. It’s sincere in its romanticism and feels spontaneously touching, as if Matt is inviting the listener to enter his world; ‘so take my hand, we’ll disappear to a pub that’s not too far from here, though I don’t know you and you don’t know me I just had to talk to you, you see.’

It’s a song of yearning, youthful romance, almost to the point of desperation, and it’s disarming, because it strips away any anticipated irony with its honest plea for love and affection. The production is amazing, dense yet simplistic – piano, synthesized strings, bursts of brass – Matt’s distant, reverb-drenched voice, confessing through a wall of sound.

The track ends with a bizarre, atonal detuned-voice and synth sting, intoning the album name, a hellish radio plug – one of the many eccentric, unexpected production flourishes scattered across the record. Both these albums were produced by Matt, and he played almost all the instruments himself, so they’re a pure, undiluted expression of his personality.

‘So Low’ is another great pop banger, based on a bluesy repeated riff, with some swinging organ and affectingly melancholic lyrics. ‘A Song for Rosie’ is a fun tune, with its catchy nursery-rhyme repeated hook – ‘one, two, pull off my shoe, three, four, knock on my door’ and the baffling lyric ‘your penguin’s in the bath, it was put there by your mum’.

The imagery is quirky and childish, but these songs deal with nature in a darkly psychedelic way, simultaneously magical and fatalistic. The lyrics are full of references to rural creatures – badgers, owls, cows and sheep – but an awareness of the violence and death inherent to nature is always lurking there, too.

‘Look in My Book’ is a Syd Barrett-esque ghost story that feels haunted and dreamlike. ‘The Pheasant’ is an ironic prog epic, presenting an impressive picture of a creature that’s arguably inherently unimpressive and humorous, which seems to be the point.

The 8-minute plus tune moves rapidly through a series of musical movements, describing the pheasant as a majestic beast, a ‘king of the sky’, soaring over the fields.

‘Rain Came Down’ hilariously features “Paul Mcartney” on backing vocals (intentionally misspelled, since this is actually the comedian Peter Serafinowicz impersonating Macca).

The haunting ‘From The Manger to the Mortuary’ might be my favourite track, opening with a briefly sung ‘how we all turn to dust’ then slowly morphing into a beautiful, symphonic soundscape that picks up momentum and actually becomes very moving, reminding me of The Divine Comedy’s ‘Tonight We Fly’ – beautiful woodwinds cascading into synth whooshes, weird screaming noises, crying, laughing, xylophones, chimes, distant poetry.

‘Roosting Time’, which reprises the ‘Take My Hand’ theme with some new lyrics, feels like a perfect end to the album. There’s a great range of songwriting here – the album lurches from baroque pop to prog-folk to psych without missing a beat, impressively tying everything together with its vivid, layered production.

Kill the Wolf feels like a sister record to Witchazel in many ways – it’s a step forward into a different, more muted season, developing the earlier album’s baroque vision into something moodier. I remember watching Matt at Green Man Festival in 2013 and he opened with ‘Gather Up’, so every time I hear it, it reminds me of that idyllic setting in Mid-Wales.

It’s a great opening track, setting the scene for the album and mostly vamping on one minor chord played on guitar, violin and mandolin, with a choir of male and female voice, insistently chanting a list of herbs like an incantation for a pagan ceremony, or something from the Wicker Man soundtrack.

It becomes a round by the end, the voices overlapping, and the effect is hypnotic. ‘Gather Up’ transitions beautifully into ‘Devil Inside Me’, which features anti-consumerist lyrics – ‘obsessed with this journey of houses and money’ and some great pop hooks accompanied by banjo and violin.

‘Medicine’ is a different kind of tune – more 12-string jangle guitar pop, with a lovely mandolin break and some melancholic words – ‘you got me hooked on medicine, I don’t feel myself again, the world is full of finer men, I don’t know what I’ll find in the compost heap that is my mind’.

‘Solstice’ is an epic, lengthy ode to the changing of the seasons, with an impressive David Gilmour-esque guitar solo and some effectively spooky sections.

‘The Signs’ is a bit of a surprise and a slight departure from the rest of the record, more hard-rocking, with Matt in similar voice to his songs on AD/BC: A Rock Opera, the parody of Jesus Christ Superstar he wrote with Richard Ayoade. But it’s a great tune. ‘Knock Knock’ might be my favourite tune on the album – it’s a spooky, ghostly tale, full of desperation. ‘Farewell Summer Sun’ is haunting, full of deep feeling.

These albums are old friends, and to see them reprinted and packaged so lovingly – Witchazel on caramel-coloured vinyl, and Kill the Wolf on mint green – is a beautiful thing. They’re mysterious, eccentric and true to themselves, quirky but never for the sake of it. A strange trip into one man’s musical vision, and one that’s worth taking. Released on August 20th and available to pre-order now from Acid Jazz Records.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.