mark barrott of international feel talks cricket


International Feel has been one of the greatest labels to hit the scene in living memoryhow can we forget those legendary Harvey releases, those thick vinyl presses and all that intrigue from the very beginning"are they really based in Uruguay?", "who the hell's behind this?" etc. etc.  So it was a great privilege to be able to talk to the man who actually was behind it, Mark Barrott, and a great opportunity to pick his brains about how he did it all and what he's up to now.  But fuck that.  It turns out he likes his cricket, so as soon as that came to light, the interview was only going to go one way, although at this juncture it would be rude not to add that Mark is about to re-awaken International Feel with his new project "The Sonic Aesthetic" which you can pre-order from Piccadilly Records.  Buy it, it's good.  

Anyway, Mark spent a chunk of the 80s playing for Cawthorne CC in Yorkshire's highly-competitive Drakes League and was on the verge of great things for the county before, first, being blighted by injury, and second – and this was the ultimate blight for many a promising member of society in the late 80s – Acid House.  This was more than enough to ensure that he has not played cricket since; but his love and knowledge of the game remains, so much so that it seemed wrong to interrupt our discussion with any written narrative; and no, this is not a journalistic cop out – you can pipe right down with that kind of cheek – this is a legitimate creative decision, and if you've read this far, you're clearly enough of an anorak to enjoy an impassioned debate about the best sport known to man without the need for a running commentary.

Like any good Yorkshireman, Mark is not shy about his love for Geoff Boycott, so this is where we start:

Mark: One of the things that first drew me to Geoff Boycott was that I kind of followed a similar path I'm an only child, bit of a loner, not like if I was in America I'm about to shoot everybody or anything, but all I did in the summer holidays was run up and bowl and then bat it back when it came back off the wall.  I would do that 8 hours a day.

Mike: Do you think Boycott lost credibility when he was off our screens for a bit because of that assault charge against his girlfriend?

I don't think Geoffrey gives a fuck about credibility, Geoffrey's Geoffrey and he rules.

Hero of yours was he?

To be honest, I don't do heroes I think 'hero' is a load of bollocks but I think Geoffrey's great. When I was an opening batsman, I was Geoffrey. I was like a fucking wall. Playing for my school in Sheffield I remember opening and scoring three runs in an hour.  As I got a bit older I became quite a good medium pace bowler, so I'd either bat down at number 4 or number 6; so I'd be a bit more aggressive.  I was a really good first slip, but the world's worst outfielder.  I hated if I was ever put on fine leg or something and there was a top-edge coming towards you

And you can hear it!  Going whoosh-whoosh-whoosh in the air!

Just shitting yourself thinking 'oh no oh no'.

But it just wasn't to be for you in the end?

All I ever wanted to do was play cricket, and that's all I was going to do. I think I was good enough to at least play county level.  A month before I went off to play for Yorkshire boys, I broke my elbow playing football. I didn't play cricket again. 

Did you not play again because you were so disappointed about what might have been?

Two things to be honest. Firstly, because I was disappointed, but secondly, I kind of filled that void with music.

It's hard for the two things to co-exist I pretty much retired from the game at the age of 18 because I was staying up until 5am watching DJs, getting wrecked and then would have to get up on Sunday and keep wicket for 45 overs in the blazing sun.

Now you mention that, I can remember actually, I used to get hay fever and sunstroke look what we put ourselves through for fuck's sake, it's not the best combination!  But yeah, the moment had just gone.  It was that age when you're 15, 16 I'd just kind of moved on I suppose.  That was '84, and three years before that I'd got my first synth and watched Kraftwerk on the Computer World Tour I just moved on I guess and just decided that was it. 

Even if you'd given it another go the following year and you'd got in the Yorkshire system, it would have been luck of the draw whether you'd have made it in county cricket, and even then, it was hardly a living.

My grandfather used to know Brian Close. In the winter, Brian Close was a paint salesman in the off-season.  My family also know the Kettleboroughs as well Richard Kettleborough went on to play for Yorkshire.

He's an umpire now, isn't he?  

Yeah, he went from Yorkshire to Middlesex, and then he went and became an umpire on the county circuit and now he's on the elite panel.

They really fast-track them these days you can see them in county cricket quite quickly.  People say they feel old when policemen look young, but for me, it's when county players that I watched as a kid become umpires!

Yeah, it's just that thing when you're older than the sportspeople

It's a disaster!

But county cricket back in the day it's not like it is now.  They all still worked in winter.  It was a very hard life.

I personally think that cricket in this day and age in this country is in a very good state. I think there are good structures in place.

Hmmm, I look at a lot of English players and I do wonder about their mentality.  Like if Ian Bell was an Australian I think he'd be a really fucking great player, but as it is, he's a technically gifted player that will never fulfil his potential because of his attitude.  I remember once being in Hong Kong with an old Chinese fisherman, and he said to me "the youth of today have no moral fortitude" and that reminds me of Bell.

I'm very disappointed that his average is only low 40s when him and Pietersen both came through I swore blindly that Bell would do a lot better because of his technique, but no sir!

There seems to be this weakness of character.  English weakness of character.  I'm using Ian Bell as an example, but Pietersen – he doesn't have the same mental attitude as someone like Brian Close.  He used to just field the bruises didn't he?  He used to field at short leg and just take the bruises that was his mental attitude.  Pietersen's so talented he gets away with it, but it's still not good enough for me.  Maybe it comes back to modern culture, maybe it's a different world now.

For definite, because with every era, there is less formality, and when you consider just how formal and traditional cricket as a sport was, when some maverick like Pietersen comes along, it really stands out.  It's night and day when you compare him to many players from even just 20 years ago.

There've been a lot of mavericks like Botham etc. but yes, I agree.  It's also worth considering that Pietersen hasn't had to make his runs against Andy Roberts and Michael Holding, or Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.  

It's more of a batsman's game with helmets etc.

The pitches are a lot better.  I think people who made runs in the 70s can be very proud of their achievement.  I just don't see the quality of players across the world these days where's the new Imran Khan or the new Waqar Younis?  A lot more people are playing cricket and it's a lot more headline than it ever was, ever since the 2005 Ashes, but there are not the greats.  And thinking about it, Andrew Flintoff never fulfilled his potential.

Name me an England player in the last 20 years that fulfilled his potential?

Cook at the moment, although it's still early days.

Yeah, maybe Cook.  And maybe Strauss.  Trescothick did to a point.  But the ones with real talent that could have been the very very best I mean look at Harmison what the fuck went on there?  There are a lot of players in the modern game that could have been great.  I think yes, Cook could go on but I don't think Cook is so great that he would have achieved the same status 20 or 30 years ago when you look at the pitches and the game back then.

I take your point – he is quite robotic at times.

Look at his foot movement in the early part of his career, right until the time when he nearly got dropped there's no way that he would have done as well in the past on a pitch that was a bit more juicy with a swinging ball, he would have struggled.  It's great that he's doing what he's doing, but

I think that all of the points there are valid, but I will add as a caveat that in cricket as a whole these days, wickets are less valuable and run rates are a lot quicker, so in a sense I think it's harder for anybody to dominate.  Maybe you aren't going to get these greats ever again, because the game moves a lot more quickly.

Maybe that's a fair comment.  Again, that started with the 2005 Ashes with Duncan Fletcher targeting 400 runs in a day.

Nah, I think it was earlier than that.  Steve Waugh's Australia re-defined the world order for me.  Where he got Hayden and Langer in as openers, who weren't actually openers, they just went all out attack from the start, going at 4 or 5 an over sometimes I think their run rates set the template for how to win modern test cricket.

I think that's a fair point actually.  Another point as to why there aren't the greats is that sport often mirrors modern society, and cricket has become a lot more homogenised as modern society has.  Pietersen is a real exception, but in general, modern governments do not want mavericks.  Modern governments want little worker-ants that are fed just enough happiness to keep them asleep, and you can see that in sport.

But hasn't every government in history wanted to control their people by not allowing challenges from mavericks?  Can you point to me an era where mavericks were encouraged?

No, that's true. Governments hate mavericks!  The best quote I heard about politicians was from Brian Eno, which said "why is it that people with the biggest ambitions and the littlest talent always run for parliament?"  Anyway, I blame Alec Stewart with his whole 'team England' thing.  Who gives a fuck about whether there's a 'happy dressing room' or not?  Actually Gooch before him as well with all his fitness nonsense.

I don't think we can be black and white about that.  In that era you had both Gooch and Gower who had similar, inverted commas, "success" as captains, but arrived at it in completely different ways.  I think the style of captaincy should depend on what your best 15 players are like.

I'd always go for the Gowers, the Boycotts and the Pietersens all this team England stuff it's bollocks.

So what do you think about the current regime then?

I think what Strauss and Flower have done is mould a very average team and made them as good as they can be.  And that's to be applauded because they've put them up there with the best in the world, but the best in the world doesn't really measure up to the best in the world 20 or 30 years ago.  It's more like this corporate structure that makes me want to stick my fingers down my throat and puke.  Maybe I'm just an individualist and I don't go in for team sports.

I was going to say actually, it's surprising to me that you got to the level you did in cricket, because one of the things that turned me off the game as a player was being too individual myself if you put me in a room with 10 other people, I probably wouldn't get on with most of them!

But what appealed to me about cricket is that when you're batting, you are an individual.  When you're a footballer for example, you've got to play as a team all the time unless maybe you're a centre-forward, but cricket, predominantly, is very very individual, and I really like that.  Cricket is that perfect combination of individuality, chess-like strategy and concentration.  One of the biggest things I see in modern society is you don't often see concentration and application any more, and in fact if you look at studies, people's concentration has dropped in direct comparison to the increase in video games.  But if you look at cricket, you've got to apply yourself – people like Alastair Cook do that very well.

I don't think video games are to be blamed for that.  I think it's more that for every single day we're alive, we need concentration less, because there are more things to do and more things automatically done for us.  So it would be like when the calculator was invented, I bet people got worse at maths, but that was because they didn't need it as much.

That's a fair point, it's pretty unarguable but I'm gonna blame video games anyway!

Ha ha ha, but it's interesting what you were saying before, that you see cricket as this perfect combination of strategy and application but you didn't mention the spectacle I personally am not that bothered about the spectacle; I'm watching it because I'm trying to predict the right strategy and trying to understand how a bowler builds his over, so do you view cricket as more chess than something visual?

Yes, to a point.  I think there's three things; so the spectacle and the strategy but it's also the ritualistic.  You could argue that when you smoke a joint, one of the main things is the ceremony of making a joint.  With cricket there's the whole ritual of following it; whether it's listening to Test Match Special or what you do between every ball it's not like a 90 minute soccer match it's an 8 hour endeavour.  The spectator has to have a degree of perseverance. 

What other sports do you like?

None really!  I'll occasionally watch international football, that's if I actually have a TV to watch it on, but not much else.  That's why I wouldn't say I was a sports fan; I'm a cricket fan.  If somebody dropped out of the sky now and asked you to explain cricket, you'd have a nervous breakdown!

God yeah.  And the question that scares me the most is "who's winning?" So often the answer to that you can qualify it infinitely "well, it depends on whether it clouds over", or "this looks like a low first innings score but if it starts taking spin on the final day, it's not too bad" etc. etc.

And it's all those nuances that make it what it is.

The Sonic Aesthetic – Dark of the Moon, in the words of Mark it's "100bpm Heroin House": Check it over on Soundcloud

Mike Boorman