From the inside, The Foundry is a rather anonymous looking venue, tucked away in the bowels of Sheffield University. On the upside, the drinks are cheap (£2.25 for an orange J20 and a lime and soda), the sound is good and some great acts play there. Tonight, with my usual gig companion at home ill, I find myself in the company of an old friend who had not previously heard a note of music by either Matt Berry and the Maypoles, or their support act Xylaroo.
With Xylaroo’s debut album Sweetooth having become a favourite of mine in recent weeks, I was intrigued as to how Holly and Coco Chant could deliver the beautifully produced sound of their diversely influenced harmony-pop on stage, and to my delight they didn’t. Armed with just Coco’s acoustic guitar and their vocals, Xylaroo strip back the layers of sound from the songs on their album, laying the emphasis on their lyrics and the glorious blend of their two voices.
Initially the still-gathering crowd seemed a little disinterested, however after the opener “Track a’ Lackin'” and none-album track “Man to Ape”, they gradually win the audience around, with Xylaroo seemingly gaining confidence as their set progressed. By the time they had delivered a beautifully refreshed cover of “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor”, they had pretty much won the audience over with their charm, song craft and the type of harmony that you just can’t produce with studio trickery.
The most any support act can hope for is to win around an audience who are still filtering their way into a venue and aren’t sure who you are. By the end of their set Xylaroo had achieved just that – a difficult job, perfectly done (despite the fact they didn’t play my favourite track from Sweetooth “Narwal”. Next time ladies…).
By the time The Maypoles hit the stage the audience had swelled even further, and when Matt Berry sauntered on stage to a cheer, expectation was ramping up. Throwing the glorious curveball that is opening your set with a lengthy jazz / prog instrumental may not work for everyone, but it does for Matt Berry, and those of us familiar with “Night Terrors” marvel at the musicianship on display, while those who had yet to hear anything from the recent album Small Hours, stood a little confused, but generally receptive. Even if you were not familiar with the material, the level of musicianship on stage was obvious. The Maypoles are a well drilled band these days, with the rural psych-prog of their studio material gaining a distinctly funky edge when they play live. Visually on stage, there’s no sodding about, just the band and their instruments, with minimal distractions, although admittedly the six male members of the band being in regulation jeans and t-shirts only goes to highlight the fact that co-vocalist, flute and saxophone player Cecelia Fage dominates one side of the stage dressed as a celtic goddess.
With an emphasis on the material from Small Hours, Matt Berry and The Maypoles deliver a set big on musical virtuosity and Berry’s winning way at engaging with the crowd. Without any hits as such, they can play a little free and easy with the set, indeed Berry himself seems to decide to reshuffle the set list just for the hell of it mid-way through the gig, but crowd pleasers like “So Low”, “Medicine” and “Solstice” are rapturously received by the audience, as is their cover of Fran Zappa’s “Mr Green Genes”. There’s no diving too far back in Berry’s own back catalogue though, as “Love is a Fool” is the only material lifted from Opium, which given that it is not an album that many will have heard, is probably the right choice.
Berry and the rest of the band depart the stage after a version of “Take My Hand” dedicated to Stephen Toast, returning to perform an encore of “The Pheasant” which could have closed the gig, however inviting Xylaroo back on stage to perform a cover “Light My Fire” pretty much sealed what was unarguably a greta evening of music.
It was one of those nights where just about everything hit the right note. It was a decent venue, with friendly staff, the sound was good, in general it was a good natured and receptive crowd, with only a small minority of younger gents to the centre-right of the stage engaging in vaguely annoying bellendery, the support act won new fans and the main act surprised those who didn’t really know what to expect.
After the venue lights came back on, my friend and I walked to the tram stop, with me determined to see Matt Berry and The Maypoles again, and agreeing with Mr Berry that Xylaroo are a band that are going places.