"If you take a risk, your odds improve."
A quick perusal of the artwork of Matt Berry and the Maypoles Live, with it’s Acid Jazz label styled in the manner of the old Philips logo, a back cover which consists of the tracklisting and photos of the individual members of The Maypoles playing live and the inside of the CD booklet consisting of nothing more than a picture of the band in full flight on stage, it captures the spirit of those brilliant, but cheaply packaged, live albums of the past.
As you would expect, the set list of this live album leans heavily on Berry’s two best known studio albums, 2009’s Witchazel and 2013’s Kill the Wolf, however he also makes sure that nods are made to his career in television as well, with the self-penned theme tunes to two of his most beloved shows being given an airing in the shape of Witchazel’s “Take My Hand” (aka the theme to Toast of London) and “Snuff Box”. Of particular brilliance is Berry’s nod to the work of TV Theme Tune composer Ronnie Hazelhurst by way of a surprisingly funky rendition of “Sorry (Theme From)”, which, although the shortest track on the album, is one of its most memorable moments.
This album is far from a one man show, as The Maypoles are a well-honed live act, and include among their number Bluetones frontman and fellow Acid Jazz solo artist, Mark Morris, on acoustic guitar and backing vocals, as well as the phenomenally talented Cecilia Fage. Fage shares the spotlight with Matt Berry regularly throughout the album, but her co-vocals are never more formidable than the opening lines of “Take My Hand”, which stirs the soul and reminds you exactly how firm a grasp of melody Berry has.
Taken as a whole, Matt Berry and The Maypoles Live is untroubled by a weak spot, as it skilfully achieves a balance between the shorter and gloriously accessible tunes like “So Low”, “Song for Rosie”, “Medicine” and “Devil Inside Me”, with the lengthier progressive folk workouts of “Solstice” and “The Pheasant”. Hell, “Snuff Box” manages to straddle both extremes and even finds room for a few glorious bars of “The Empty Room”, a song which I have every intention of instructing my loved ones to play at my funeral.
Something which has become increasingly evident to me as I have repeatedly listened to this album for the purposes of this review, is just how much replay value it has. In fact, I’d probably go as far as saying that this is probably the best album released in the last twelve months, simply because, despite the often unsettling tone of the songs, it’s so damn joyful. When I listen to Matt Berry and The Maypoles Live, I can’t help but grin to myself, as it’s evident how much Berry and his band are enjoying themselves.
Sure, there are some of Berry’s songs that I wish were on here, such as “The Signs” or “Accident at a Harvest Festival”, and they’ve been known to perform a glorious cover of Wings’ “Live and Let Die” on stage from time to time, but that’s just nitpicking. While his television career continues to delight, Matt Berry continues to quietly forge a satisfying career as a musician of rare quality and Matt Berry and The Maypoles Live is a brilliant live document that you will revisit time and time again.