Matt Berry: actor, musician, comedian, Clem Fandango despiser. In fact, is there anything he doesn’t do? He must work 24 hours a day? “Yeah, pretty much, it’s quite tough,” he agrees.
As an actor you might know him from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh, The IT Crowd, House of Fools, and Toast of London. You’d certainly recognise his voice; a scene-stealing voice so rich and matinee idol–like that it has made the words ‘Yes, I can hear you, Clem Fandango’ into a catchphrase.
In person his voice is distinctly less bombastic than that of Steven Toast. I mean of course it is. We’re chatting not to discuss his acting, but to talk about his acclaimed music. As well as composing the scores for his own shows like Sniffbox and Toast, he’s also released five acclaimed and really rather great studio albums.
Now he and his band The Maypoles (featuring Mark Morriss of the Bluetones) are hitting the road and have got a new live album out too. So we thought it would be a good time to have a chat with him about the music he grew up with and how he’d like to be a session musician for ABBA.
What was the first gig you ever went to?
Jean Michel Jarre at Docklands. It was the first thing I’d ever seen like that and it was fantastic. It was quite a spectacle and very impressive for a 14 year old.
I loved it. I’m still a fan now. His first two albums are among my all time favourite albums so he definitely influences me. It was all very different to me because the songs didn’t have any names which was very odd when I was young and there was no singing which was really interesting.
What’s the music you ever developed an obsession over?
It would be Tubular Bells I think. I think I’d just turned 13, and my mum bought me that and it was just one of those things, like I mentioned, it wasn’t like anything else I’d ever heard.
It sounded really kind of chaotic. There’s a very uneasy atmosphere around that album especially set against what was happening in the charts like Pump up the Jam and Peace in the Valley and what was playing in Radio 1 at the time - there was a huge contrast and that’s why I found it really interesting, because it was the opposite of the type of music I was supposed to be listening to.
What’s the first song you can remember buying with your own money?
That would have been at a record fair but with my own money I can’t remember to be honest. The first one I was bought was Prince Charming [by 'Adam and the Ants] by my mum. She bought me it cos I really liked him on the telly and little kids my age did.
Were there many venues around when you were growing up?
Yeah, I grew up in Bedford and Esquires was the place to go. There were some great bands that came through there: Ocean Colour Scene came through, Oasis played there. If you wanted to see someone decent you had to go into London but I couldn’t afford to go into London very often but Bedford had a good scene. And then I eventually studied art in Nottingham which had a fantastic scene.
What’s your worst music habit?
I supposed repeating myself would be the worst thing. It’s very difficult to stop yourself doing that. There’s times when you’ve just got to let other people in and someone else will spot it and if they do it’ll stop there and then and that thing is ditched.
If I have any slight doubts myself I’ll get an outside pair of ears to listen and if they think the same thing as me then that’s it, it’s done.
What influences you outside of music?
It’s always the same things, it’s either the changing of the seasons or nightmares and mood stuff, internal stuff really.
I’m quite kind of British in that way – in that I’m still writing about the seasons. I don’t write about Route 66 or some girl in [New York's] Chelsea hotel because I’m in London.
Is it different writing for Maypoles instead of TV shows?
Only in the sense that say, for Toast, the songs can’t be more than a minute long, so you have to say everything you want to say very quickly. But what usually happens is, if it’s gone well, then it will end up being a song that I play with the Maypoles anyway, and it’ll extend into a four minute song.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given as a musician?
It’s the same in any art, it’s the same with acting too: do it yourself because no one else is going to do it for you. Write this shit yourself, because no one else will write it for you, and if you’re waiting for that it’s never going to happen. It’s best for you to do it yourself.
If you could be from any band in history, who would it be?
That’s a good one. I would have been a session musician, probably, playing on the ABBA albums. Because then I don’t have to be out front with them, but I get to be there because I’m very interested in their recording techniques and how songs were kind of put together.
That would mean I could be right involved but not out at the front. In terms of music it’s not that important to be at the front for me - it’s all about the music. That would be a spying thing for me.
It’s not just ABBA, I would have done the same with ‘Dark Side of The Moon’. I would have to have gone back and watch them record it - that would have been far more fascinating than being on the road and on the stage with any band.
Matt Berry and The Maypoles' new live album, ‘Live,’ is out now via Acid Jazz.