Matt Berry: ‘i’m scared of where I grew up’

Toast Of London star and pastoral folkie on childhood fears and Toast's future

Garth Merenghi and Toast Of London star Matt Berry
Berry smoothie Matt Berry, maker of pastoral folk as well as the star of Toast Of London.

As his creation of pompous luvvie and blithering idiot about town Steven Toast, Matt Berry is unable to show anything other than a thick skin and weapons-grade arrogance.

The real life Berry is a very different animal. As well as being one of the best breakout comedy actors in years, Berry is an accomplished musician who’s released four albums of prog-influenced folk on the Acid Jazz label.

Berry is nearing the end of a tour, which climaxes with a show at the 2,300-capacity London Forum: not bad considering, as Berry admits: “It’s got to the stage where people no longer expect me to do stand-up or play any of my characters for an hour.”
Tonight sees Berry’s worlds collide when he and his live backing band The Maypoles interrupt the tour to play the theme to Toast Of London live from Channel 4’s studios over the sitcom’s beginning and end titles.

“I was scared of the fields behind my house. That sticks with you.”

“I’m nervous about doing that,” laughs Berry. “It could be great, but it could be a disaster. I had the idea at the start of the summer, and when I mentioned it to Channel 4 they said ‘Great idea!’ I left the meeting thinking ‘Yes, it IS a great idea!’ But now it’s a reality? If it goes well, we’ll look great. But part of me wishes I’d kept my mouth shut.”

A friendly, courteous interviewee, Berry is happy to chat away about everything from Luton Town to Doctor Who. But he’s someone who is permanently busy, frustrated at trying to find the time to finish the many ideas for music, film and comedy constantly bubbling away.

“I wish there were more hours in the day,” he sighs. “There’s not enough time to do what I want to get done in my head.”

If there’s a theme linking Berry’s passions, it’s his fascination with the British countryside. He grew up in the Bedfordshire village of Bromham, where the fields at the back of his childhood home exerted an eerie pull.

“I was scared of those fields and that sticks with you,” admits the 41-year-old. “That’s where all these ideas come from. I love those fields, but I had a fear for them at the same time. I could play happily among them during the day, but at night I could see how awful it would be to be among the fields in total darkness, the things that could happen.

“I’ve a fear and a fascination for that countryside. I’m very affected by the seasons too, they bring out different moods in me and can inspire horrific ideas.” Possibly including Toast’s pronunciation of Al-Jazeera…

The countryside certainly inspires Berry’s music, which he describes as “pastoral”, continuing: “Everything in my music is about the seasons and the countryside. That often spins off into the realms of science-fiction and pagan religious ideas in that world.”

Berry admits he hasn’t had time to make any new music thanks to working on Toast Of London all year. Instead, he and The Maypoles have recently released a self-titled live album. “We’d never listened back to anything we’d done before,” Berry laughs. “When we did, it wasn’t half bad. And the result is a 1970s-style gatefold live album.”

“I could take Toast to Los Angeles. I don’t think he’d like it there at all.”

Berry is planning to concentrate on that elusive fifth album between now and February, admitting it’s easiest because the acting industry closes down for Christmas “so nothing gets done and I won’t be derailed by anyone getting in touch. I can get stuck in to making music.”

Not that Berry is keeping away from non-music work. He has film ideas – also about the British countryside. “That bleeds into my other job. Everyone wants to get a film made, so unless something crazy happens, yeah, it’ll happen.”

As for other new projects? It’s the closest Berry gets to sounding like Toast as he voices his frustration at the state of the entertainment industry.

“I can’t talk about anything, which I know is frustrating for you journalist fellers. But it’s because of the time we’re in: everyone is shit scared of spending any money, so they won’t commit to anything definite until the last minute. I want to talk about things, but the arse might fall out of a project at the last minute. So it wouldn’t exist anymore and I’d look like a bleeding idiot if I’d blabbed about it.”

Whatever those projects are, it means the future of Toast Of London is somewhat uncertain.

Matt Berry playing live with his band The Maypoles
Acid Jazzzeeeera Berry has released four albums on Acid Jazz.

“I love doing Toast and it’s done me more good than anything else I’ve done,” he enthuses. “I want to do more of it, but I don’t know when it could be and I don’t know if there’ll be a new series. I’ve other things I want to do.”

Not that Berry is short of ideas as to further mishaps to befall the actor who so brilliantly fell for the mad man Jon Hamm’s charisma this series. “I could take Toast to New York or Los Angeles. He’d probably hate LA, I don’t think he’d like it at all. Which would be good for the show.”

As well as Hamm, Toast Of London has seen recent cameos from Brian Blessed, Peter Davison and Josh Homme.

“I met Peter when I was a Doctor Who fan aged seven and shook his hand,” Berry recalls. “All these years later, it’s absolutely mental having Peter say my words. It’s just the coolest thing.”

Berry is equally as enthusiastic about Robert Bathurst, the Cold Feet star who plays Toast’s housemate Ed, effectively the show’s straight man. “Without Robert, the show falls apart,” he insists. “He plays so many functions in Toast; he sets up the episodes and he listens to Toast’s nonsense. It’s easy to look past the straight and steady characters to focus on the most OTT creations, but Robert is brilliant.”

Whatever the future holds, Matt Berry And The Maypoles’ tour has been “a great time”. This is borne out by Maypoles guitarist Mark Morriss, also the singer in The Bluetones, who confessed to Loaded recently that Berry is “a very social man” on tour which leads to “very severe hangovers”. True? “Mark is a big enough boy and he can just say no. He loves it! Him and me have a really good time.”

Let’s just hope they’ve sobered up enough in time for playing live on Channel 4.

Matt Berry And The Maypoles play London Forum on December 10. Their album Matt Berry And The Maypoles Live is out now.

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Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn

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