Sunday, June 8, 2014

"All things digested have a similar hue"

The Music of Matt Berry

Having released his first two albums himself, Matt Berry made his third long player Witchazel available for a one-day free download in 2009 before receiving a wider release via Acid Jazz two years later.

INFUSED with a WICKER MAN-like Englishness, the music and lyrics of Bedfordshire-born Matt Berry consistently astounds. With comedic star turns in GARTH MARENGHI'S DARKPLACE and THE IT CROWD, his acting roles often see him flesh-out a unique vocal range, which has resulted in a lucrative side career in voice-overs. It’s a rich, womanising tone that strikes as if some noble medieval player is recounting adventures in his twilight days. Influenced by late 60s/early 70s psych-rock, Berry avoids pure tribute or pastiche by an immersion with wind-swept landscapes and askew texts. Inspired by Mike Oldfield, Berry has realised his childhood dream by playing almost everything on his albums bar drums, sax and clarinet. The actor/musician has also produced a series of idiosyncratic tunes which has lined everything from his undervalued BBC3 dark comedy SNUFF BOX to the spot-on JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR parody AD/BC: A ROCK OPERA and compositions for Steve Coogan's SAXONDALE.

Berry's Opium album, released in 2008, defies description; built loosely around the concept of what goes through the mind of a Hangman, it is rich in sound bytes from SNUFFBOX and has some memorable macabre boasts ("All things digested have a similar hue"). In contrast Witchazel is an enchanting psych-folk masterpiece, benefiting from a sound that is progressive without relying on the overblown pomposity that came to be associated with the sub-genre during the 70s. 2013's Kill the Wolf - taking its title from English folklore that demands a ritual wolf sacrifice for any "evil" communial happening - continues Witchazel's pastoral journey but with a more bleached-out palate. Equally evocative, the opening track 'Gather Up' is a mesmerising circular chant that draws the listener out of modern meltdown into the natural world; and the nine minute centrepiece 'Solstice' is an epic of Pink Floyd proportions, a two-part progression awash with guitar solos, clarinet and harpsichord.

Sporting a cover painted by Berry, Music For Insomniacs is a slow-building composition of calm.

Recorded during pre-dawn sessions at his London flat before Kill the Wolf, Berry's two-tiered, 45-minute electronic patchwork Music For Insomniacs was released on the 19th of May (in fact, the first movement ends with a programmed sequence that would go on to become Kill the Wolf’s 'October Sun.') Taking in his beloved Oldfield and anything from Brian Eno and Jean Michel Jarre to Aphex Twin, the album negates his recent prog-folk preferences to create an ambient piece that aims to "colour your dreams." Partly recorded during actual bouts of insomnia, the work patiently evolves with numerous synths, pianos, woodwinds and found-sounds which includes babies crying and a creaking door taking on the gravitas of some giant wooden hull. Such experimental self-indulgence may provide a jolt to devotees eager for the next Witchazel, but as Berry has stated on his website, "if the experiment is successful, you shouldn’t remember it."

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Old Familiar


"I'm Siege Face"; at last, Norfolk's finest is brought to the big screen in the uproarious ALAN PATRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA

ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA sees self-proclaimed broadcasting kingpin Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) working as a DJ in the mid-morning slot at North Norfolk Digital, together with Sidekick Simon (Tim Key). When the station is taken over by the Gordale media conglomerate and renamed Shape ("The Way You Want It To Be"), Alan finds himself defusing a violent siege set in motion by the firing of fellow North Norfolk DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney). Using the situation in an attempt to boost his own career, Partridge acts as mediator between Farrell and the police, with hostages caught in the crossfire. Written by Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Steve Baynham and Rob and Neil Gibbons, ALPHA PAPA successfully takes Partridge's long-standing entertainment persona and fully injects it with a claustrophobic yet cinematic scale. Fans will love to see regulars like harassed PA Lynn Benfied (Felicity Montagu) and Michael the Geordie (Simon Greenall) well into the mix, and Coogan's portrayal of his most famous alter ego is totally at one with the environment.

The most painfully endearing character created by Iannucci and Chris Morris for radio's 'ON THE HOUR' - which morphed into the prophetic TV hit THE DAY TODAY - Partridge started as an inept sports reporter, a man able to grasp only the rudimentary aspects of communication. Coogan - a renowned comedic perfectionist - made Partridge a true great of British comedy, and his acute embarrassing situations, which included shooting a guest dead on his chat show KNOWING ME, KNOWING YOU, set the scene for the next masterstroke of squirmedy, Ricky Gervais' David Brent. In fact, Partridge has been under siege all his life, a car-crash of an existence that has been undermined by terminal - but chirpy - interpersonal skills and a trademark 'sports casual' look. It is a career that has mirrored the rise of media and consequent decline in any real value; radio, TV, mockumentaries, webisodes and now film have all danced to his deflatory tune for over twenty years, illustrating a fluidity in format that has helped keep the character fresh.

The boys are back in town: old school friends aim to revive past glories in Edgar Wright's disappointing conclusion to the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, THE WORLD'S END. 

On the more abrasive comedy scale, THE WORLD'S END - Edgar Wright's completion of the loose trilogy started with SHAUN OF THE DEAD and continued with HOT FUZZ - tells of Gary King (Simon Pegg), who has always regretted failing to finish 'The Golden Mile' on his last day of school (a circuit of twelve pubs in his uneventful home town of Newton Haven). Obsessed with the idea that completing the task would make up for all his mistakes, he persuades his original 'Mile' mates - over two decades later - to abandon their respectable lives and recreate the crawl. Car salesman Peter Page (Eddie Marsan), estate agent Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), architect Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) and lawyer Andy Knightley (Nick Frost) are drawn into the venture, despite festering resentments towards Gary. When King has an altercation with a youth in the Gents who turns out to be a blue-blooded robot drone, it becomes apparent that the whole town - except for a few willing collaborators (including one played by Reece Shearsmith) – have been replaced by replicants under the control of aliens called The Network. These beings have guided recent technological advances for the human race and are determined to enforce conformity across the universe.

At a time when numbers of the quintessential British public house are ever diminishing, THE WORLD'S END takes the notion of the pub crawl and turns it into a quest of almost Arthurian nature. Although an entertaining romp, awash with the director's trademark editing frenzy, there is nothing new here despite cast and crew proclaiming how profound its message. Individuality is - quite literally - King, forced home by the use of Primal Scream's soundbyte from THE WILD ANGELS ("free to do what we want to do"). The climactic verbal melee between Gary, Andy and Steven with The Network ultimately ends with the aliens giving up trying to talk to the humans and telling them to "fuck it". By Gary convincing the aliens that mankind is not worth winning over - and in a flat coda Andy, in London ruins, explaining to children that the alien withdrawal led to an apocalypse - the film drowns in its aura of fractured relationships and failed opportunities. Whereas THE WORLD'S END ticks the boxes of its own making, ALPHA PAPA takes its own dysfunctional family and moulds a far more successful whole.