You could say it’s been a bit of a busy year for BAFTA-winning actor/writer/musician/funnyman Matt Berry.
The third season of his cult comedy series Toast Of London, which kept his diary full over much of 2015, has just hit television sets nationwide. He’s played a handful of shows supported by live band The Maypoles, with whom he is embarking on a UK tour later this month. His last performance was at London’s majestic Royal Albert Hall, supporting post-progressive rock hero Steven Wilson to a sold-out audience.
And while that night he exuded a nonchalant sense of ease from the stage, deep inside he couldn’t quite believe what he was doing…
“It was kinda nerve-wracking,” admits Berry, still amazed. “Because it was someone else’s night, you know? Someone else’s gig, someone else’s space… You just have to grab these things and go for it. If the audience like it, cool. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter. You’ve done the best you can!”
In addition to the end-of-year tour, Berry and his six-piece band – which includes Bluetones singer Mark Morriss and folk musician Cecilia Fage – have also just released a new live album.
It’s a delightfully experimental affair, with curious folky interludes reflecting across quizzical yet brilliant detours. In short, the collection of recordings is as baffling as it is thrilling. But ask Berry about his incentive behind the release and he’ll be more than honest with you…
“Well, the real reason behind it is we won’t be playing a lot of those songs any more,” he says.
For me, there are no breaks and definitely no deep baths
“So I wanted a record of them, quite literally. That was the main reason. The other one being I hadn’t had the time to finish the next studio album because I was doing Toast Of London. So we put this out to bridge the gap and create a copy of music we’ll never play again!”
And naturally, the end of one era makes way for another – you get the feeling Matt Berry is the kind of guy who is always working on something. But where does he find the time to unwind? When was the last time he got to run himself a deep bath?
“For me, there are no breaks and definitely no deep baths,” laughs the comedian. “My workload seems to have become a continual thing, ha ha!”
We asked the Toast Of London star about the 10 albums that changed his life and, as expected, he came up with some eclectic choices indeed…
Matt Berry & The Maypoles are on a nationwide tour from today – see Matt Berry's site for all ticket links. The tour finishes in London at Kentish Town Forum on 10 December – tickets are available from Ticketmaster.
1. Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells (1973)
“I was given this around 1988 or 1989, when everything I was meant to be listening to – all the Top Of The Pops, Radio One stuff – wasn't doing it for me.
“I came across this through my mother who bought me a ‘best of’ Mike Oldfield, which had an excerpt of Tubular Bells on it. It lasted 23 minutes and sounded like the most troublesome music I’d ever heard. That, in contrast to the mainstream stuff, was fascinating to me, because it was completely the opposite.
“I didn’t know you could do a track that was all one side of an album! It was an extraordinary thing. As a result of that I then got the album and never looked back. It’s a point of reference, something I go back to all the time.
“I hadn’t seen The Exorcist, so I didn’t have that association. It was the minor sections halfway through that kinda sounded like mental illness! They’re not straightforward, uneasy in tempo and chord changes.”
2. Jean Michel Jarre - Oxygène (1976)
“There aren’t actually any Moogs on this. It was mostly done on a home organ, which was the first ever string machine. So most of the string washes were done on that, and there are some very early synths on it, too, but it’s mostly organ. Which a lot of people don’t know! Not that it makes any difference at all, but it’s almost accessible because of that.
“It was done on an eight-track recorder, all very lo-fi and simple. Yet it sounds like it’s in space and underwater at the same time! You’ve got this weird thing going on and that’s just his imagination with the instruments. Those instruments were available to absolutely everyone… but he chose to make that album!”
3. Kate Bush - Lionheart (1978)
“The thing is, everyone goes for Hounds Of Love and the mid-80s stuff, where I am a firm favourite of her first three albums. It’s like that with most artists for me actually, the first three are the ones. After that, the message gets kinda blurred.
“So this was her second album and the most amazing session band, who sound like a cross between the Eagles and a rock opera pit orchestra. That’s what I love about it and the first one, too. But there’s something very magical about this album, and the cover is one of the greatest of all time!”
4. Beach House - Teen Dream (2010)
“I’d say this is one of the best albums ever made. Every track is amazing; there’s not a duff moment on it. There are no album tracks on it as far as I’m concerned.
“And like the debut Fleet Foxes album, which is another one of my choices to come, when it came out I thought I would love it for a year and then probably never go back to it. And that just hasn’t been the case; it’s been as important as all these other albums. I keep going back to it, because it’s a sheer masterpiece…”
5. Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice - Jesus Christ Superstar (1970)
“It’s gotta be the original concept album – I’m not interested in anything else. I heard this album before I’d heard of Andrew Lloyd Webber or even knew what the musical was… I didn’t know any of it. I just put it on and it had the same effect as War Of The Worlds had on me.
“It’s incredibly scary and the tension is almost too much. It’s the use of an orchestra with a rock band which gives it an extra kind of colour but also makes it terrifying.
“It’s another record I keep going back to and I kind of reference it in everything I do! It’s that amazing balance of an orchestra and very credible rock music, because it was The Grease Band. They were the best in town; they were Joe Cocker’s band. So there was nothing shit about it!”
6. The Doors - The Doors (1967)
“I think of this first album as almost one track. They were the first band I came across where the keyboard was the lead instrument, which I thought was fucking cool because I hadn’t heard anyone put the organ before the guitar. That was interesting!
“As soon as I heard it, I fell in love with Ray Manzarek’s phrasing and organ playing in general. Without him, I honestly don’t know how interested I’d be in The Doors. I think if they only made this one album, it would be looked at differently. It would be a lot cooler. They would be a lot cooler, basically.”
7. Roxy Music - For Your Pleasure (1973)
“So, this was when Brian Eno was about to leave, but even so, it’s still an amazing record. He approached it from an ideas angle as opposed to with any kind of musical knowledge.
“So he sticks to the black keys for some reason, and has no care for conventional song! It’s got In Every Dream Home A Heartache on it, too, which is probably one of my favourite songs of all time.”
8. Gary Numan & Tubeway Army – Replicas (1979)
“A lot of this is Minimoogs. What Gary Numan did was make them sound like guitars by putting them at the front, a bit like what Ray Manzarek did. It would build up the whole sound.
“And that’s what attracted me to the album: there were great atmospheres and subtleties so it sounds very clever when you hear it. Whether that was an accident or not, I don’t know, but he’s managed to do it!”
9. Erik Satie - Gymnopédies (1888)
“This can’t really be done in terms of albums. But the things he was doing in the late 1880s are of the most interest to me. He’s the king of bittersweet, I think, where he’d put a bass note under a major chord, which would turn the whole thing kinda sad. No-one had really done that before him. And he did it so fast, on solo piano as it were, that it really sticks out. Those shapes and compositions really struck me as a youngster… they still do.
“I don’t find it that gloomy; it’s in both camps. It’s uplifting at the same time – he just fucks with you because he’s playing a major thing with one hand and killing it by playing a sad minor-y thing with the other.”
10. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (2008)
“Like Teen Dream, I thought, 'It’s modern, so I’ll probably love it for a year and then probably won’t go back to it.' But that’s not true: it’s a faultless album.
“I know they lost interest – they didn’t plan to be this massive band. But that doesn’t take away from just how extraordinary this first album is and how amazing the atmospheres are within it.”