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Comedian Matt Berry on Being a Musician

27 October 16 words: Jared Wilson

You may recognise him off the telly, but the ex-NTU student has just released his fifth album on Acid Jazz records

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You came to Nottingham to study contemporary art. What kind of art did you create?
It was mixed media so you could choose what you wanted to explore. I was interested in lots of different things, that’s why it appealed to me. We worked in lots of different mediums over the three years. Eventually I concentrated on my painting, but I also dabbled a lot in music. There were a lot of talented musicians on the course and we were able to incorporate that into our art, too.

Where did you go for a night out when you were here?
I went to Rock City a lot. I’ve been a few times since then to play gigs and I’ve seen that they have these nineties Britpop nights, with massive posters of Jarvis Cocker and Liam Gallagher on them. But when I was there, Britpop was actually happening. It was an exciting time, right in the middle of that era. I was also a regular visitor to a place called The Hippo [now House of Coco Tang] and a club called Beetroot [now defunct] probably more than anywhere else.

You started in Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place, which lots of people reference as an inspiration. While you were doing it, did you ever think it would be something that would transform your career?
I wasn’t thinking, “I’ve been part of something that will be inspirational to others.” It wasn’t like that. When you’re doing something you don’t even know if it’s gonna be broadcast or not. When that went out, it was basically hidden in the schedules without any kind of fanfare. It didn’t do amazingly, and as a result, there was no second series. At the time, there was no hint of success.

So what made it a success afterwards?
It’s impossible for me to know. You do something, and once it’s done, it’s done. Anything that happens after that isn’t your business. It’s in the lap of the gods. I have no idea why people reference it. It’s great that they do and that they like it, but I’m as perplexed as you, probably.

Did taking over from Chris Morris in The IT Crowd make you feel nervous?
It did and it didn’t. I knew that it would possibly piss a lot of people off, but I was gonna do my own thing and hope that no comparisons were gonna be made. I wasn’t taking over the same character, I was going in there to play his son. It was a completely different thing.

When you’re creating characters, like Todd Rivers or Dixon Bainbridge, how much of you goes into that character?
You’re hired because they know you do a certain thing. With Toast, I wrote that. So everything went into that. With the others, you just bring your ideas.

Is it more satisfying working on things you’ve written? How does it feel to see Toast of London go into its third season?
I wrote Toast of London five years ago hoping it might get a pilot. Three series’ later and I’m on stage collecting a BAFTA for Best Comedy Performance. That’s what you want as an artist: from this idea in your head to something that’s out there in the public consciousness. It’s a huge honour.

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You’re currently touring with your band, The Maypoles, how did you start out with music?
I began playing at the age of twelve when I got my first four-track. I couldn’t read music and therefore couldn’t play other people’s songs, so I started to write my own. I haven’t stopped since.

You’re signed to Acid Jazz, which is such a seminal label that it has a whole genre of music named after it. Were you a fan of theirs before you put pen to paper?
Absolutely. It was the only label where you could hear Hammond organ music and that kind of sixties/seventies funk and psychedelia. I remember buying some of the old Corduroy and Galliano vinyl from Selectadisc on Market Street. To end up being signed as a musician to them was a great thrill for me.

You did a cover of Ronnie Corbett’s Sorry. Where do your musical inspirations come from?
When you’re young, you hear stuff that’s different and you explore it. It’s even better if it’s not in the charts because it’s your own inspiration.

You did AD/BC: A Rock Opera – would you ever consider revisiting that?
No, that was just something I did at the time. From what I remember, the BBC wanted Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps to do a Christmas musical and I don’t think they could be bothered. There was a slot there, and they said, “Do you want to do something? There’s hardly any money.” I took advantage of that.

You’ve released five albums now. Which is your favourite?
It’s difficult to say. People always say the one that you’re currently doing, which is true to an extent. But I’ll always be fond of Kill the Wolf, because that was the one that was noticed, I suppose. I’m fond of them all because it’s all your own work. It’s not that I listen to them all the time, it’s just that they’re the closest to how they were in your head.

What was the last thing that made you laugh?
It would probably be a family thing, or something unintentional on the TV. It’s more likely not to be comedy. Something real. I think the last thing that made me laugh was a weightlifter at the Olympics – it was just that little bit too heavy, and once he got on his feet he couldn’t lift it and it went to his neck. The force of it flipped him over. I don’t know if he hurt himself, but it looked incredible and was hilarious.

What was the last thing that made you cry?
There’s loads of ‘em. Anyone getting upset on the TV.

Are you quite emotional, then?
It depends what it is. There’s certain things.

People see the side of you that’s quite shouty and loud…
Well yeah, that’s what they see because it earns money. That’s totally fine.

How do you balance life between being an actor and a musician?
I don’t think about it. You just do it. I’m lucky to be able to do either of them, to be honest. Every day is a bonus.

Matt Berry, The Small Hours is available now.
Matt Berry and the Maypoles, Rescue Rooms, Thursday 3 November, £18.

Matt Berry's website 

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