Friday, 17 May 2013

Matt Berry and the Maypoles – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 16th May 2013

The Brudenell Social Club in the heart of Headingley is gradually filling with a variety of customers of varying age groups. The merchandise stall is causing interest due to an array of rustic looking tour t-shirts, as is the bar, with drink prices far and away reduced from city centre prices. Pugwash released their debut album “Almond Tea” in 1999 and since then have been releasing cleverly crafted pop tunes with a twist, but not an unpleasant twist. There were obviously members of the audience this evening who were familiar with their work and who were able to give impetus for those of us who were new to the band. Displaying a fine array of Rickenbacker guitars, the tunes were coming thick and fast and the momentum was maintained through a tightly performed set. Song titles such as “It’s Nice to Be Nice” and “Be My Friend Awhile” give the listener some idea how uplifting these tunes could be, and indeed they were, but not to the extent that they were saccharine sweet. Think Electric Light Orchestra meet the High Llamas. There was a palpable air that the musicians on stage were having a magnificent time playing these songs, and the between song banter belied characters that were familiar with stage work and knew how to engage with their audience. Apparently Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys showed a fleeting interest in their material, and it is not hard to understand why.

Three members of Pugwash feature on the new release by Matt Berry, “Kill the Wolf”. Matt Berry the comedy writer/actor and Matt Berry the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist are two diverse characters with a personality that spans the two. Comparisons between his two persona are inevitably to be made and, it could be argued, one informs the other.  Renowned for his contributions to such cult television series as “The IT Crowd”, “The Mighty Boosh”, “Snuffbox” and “Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place” as well as composing music for “Saxondale”, Matt Berry has obviously gained the respect and affection of the audience tonight, as the club was full, and busy with anticipation.  Opening with “Medicine” tracks from his new release were showcased as well as precious moments from his back catalogue, including "A Song for Rosie" from his last album "Witchazel" . Possibly one of his most well known pieces "Theme from Snuff Box”, which curiously appears in the film “Dredd”, was given a slightly more relaxed rendition in stark contrast to the material from the new album. These latest arrangements have an edge which appears to give them more credibility in the psychedelic folk and progressive rock arena. There is still a soulful funky framework to these tunes, but the edges have been roughened, and the chord progressions perverted. Some of the lengthier workouts, such as the nine minute “Solstice”, displayed muscle and bite, whilst some of the more delicate tunes show what a gifted and talented multi-instrumentalist he is. Berry himself describes the new album as, “another pastoral folk journey, but this time with a slightly more sinister edge”, a description which suitably evokes their character.  

For audience members of a certain age, and proclivity, the highlight of the evening must have been the bands rendition of the theme tunes to the television series “Are You Being Served?” and “Sorry”. Whilst just as the smiles of recognition were drifting from the faces of the audience, the encore featured members of Pugwash joining the band for a heart warming and joyous version of Wings Bond theme “Live and Let Die”. Berry appeared comfortable on stage and directed the bad with a professional confidence that makes the audience feel at ease. Half way through the set one audience member shouted “Faaaaaaatheeeeeeer”, a quote from a classic “IT Crowd” scene featuring Berry, which, although doubtless shouted at concerts on numerous occasions,  reinforced the reverential position he occupies amongst his admirers. 

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