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Matt Berry
Kill The Wolf Mat Colegate , June 21st, 2013 09:36

If you were to show someone a greatest hits compilation of Matt Berry's performances in the various comic TV series he has appeared in over the last ten years, and then asked them what kind of album he would make if given the chance, there's a good chance they would nominate prog. His performances are rich in bellowed portentous announcements ("SPEAK, PRIEST!"), eyebrow raised whimsy, and pompous bombast, three characteristics that they share with the best and most enjoyably ridiculous prog rock. Such an assessment would be partly right, too. Kill The Wolf has all of these things, but what it would fail to convey is how daffily enjoyable, beautifully arranged and oddly moving the finished result is.

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Verily (expect more of that, by the way), for though Berry acts like a man who upon removing his tabard would have chest hair shaved into the shape of the Greenslade logo, he is also a nimble lute-smith, an arranger of lays most touching and an impassioned balladeer, to boot. And all these skills have come together in a way most pleasing to mine ear (okay, I'll try to stop now).

What we have here is prog-folk of the highest order. A glance back across sylvan glades to a time when groups such as Trees were releasing albums like 'The Garden Of Jane Trelawney' and sharing bills with the likes of Griffin, The Amazing Blondel, Principle Edward's Magic Theatre and Pople Crump (one of those is made up). Raggle-taggle fair folk one and all, keen to the changing of the seasons and the call of the harvest, to the tinkling of the brook and the creaking song of the old oak (Look, I said I'd 'try'. I didn't promise anything).

And what a lovely place it is to escape to. The opening exhortation to "gather up the lemon balm and henbane / mistletoe and mandrake" is sung by a chorus of maidens (no doubt) most fair, and the instrumentation throughout is rich in rustic charm. A sun-dappled Fender Rhodes chimes, flutes streak through the mix like naked nymphs through the glade and Berrys' guitar playing is versatile enough to go from Byrds-ian chime to full raging solos at the drop of a witch's hat. Indeed, Berry played most of the instruments on the album, and acquits himself beautifully. None of the playing feels perfunctory and the arrangements, though often complicated, are thought through and economical, giving the whole album an airy charm that suits the subject matter perfectly. 'Knock Knock' even features a round! And that's not something I've heard since primary school assembly.

However for all this folderol, there are moments where Kill The Wolf trips through a mushroom field and arrives in a darkening glade. Album centrepiece, 'Solstice', evokes the shortening of the days through wheezing harmonium, choral chant and dueling Moogs, before finishing off with a guitar solo that can only be described as 'bitchin'', bringing to mind Amon Duul II jamming with John Barleycorn-era Traffic in a stone circle illuminated by the light from bonfires. And the closing 'Farewell Summer Sun' mourns the season's end with feather-light melancholy - a tired sounding choir, some slide guitar and a tinkling vibraphone picking its way through the song, like a Monday morning festival-goer through crumpled acid casualties.

Berry's voice is as fruity as you'd expect from the man who played Doctor Sanchez in Garth Merenghi's Darkplace ("Monkey bastard hands!"). Sure, you can detect the odd ironically raised eyebrow, but when a fellow is delivering lines such as 'Bonfire's "There'll be smoke/and lots of magic/cider, too/and acrobatics" it's hard to begrudge a wry chuckle. Prog is, after all, pretty hilarious a lot of the time, with it's antiquated concerns and furrow-browed musicianship. So it's a delight to find an album that, while obviously in love with its influences, is confident enough to poke fun at them as well. For such an album be Kill The Wolf, my lords. And I would beseech thee to listen most carefully. For it be far from a hey-nonny-no. Rather, it is a resounding hey-nonny-yes.