Mark Barrott – Sketches From An Island
Prefab Sprout and a Uruguayan botanist… these are the kind of things that got Mark Barrott going as he talked us through each track of his utterly Balearic Sketches From An Island album, out now on International Feel.
In Mark's words:
"The overall vibe of the album is to reference the disparate music that became Chill Out, when you had world music, African music, Steve Reich, Tangerine Dream, Penguin Cafe Orchestra etc., prior to Cafe Del Mar volume one"
It should be viewed as a whole and not an individual. Much as Itunes has done good things for music, the worst thing it's done is to allow people to pick and choose album tracks… it's unfortunate that a lot of artists's best vehicles are albums and that's been lost. For me it was about forming a context which will launch not only the album but all the other Sketches From An Island releases over the years.
"The album is all about greens, browns, terracotta, sky blue – earthy colours that are organic… womb like with no sharp edges."
Baby Come Home
It just happened really quickly in a couple of days last summer. The whole ethos behind writing quickly is that it keeps it exciting for me plus the listener, and I'm then excited to hear it.
It's a pop hit that leads you into the album, it's not necessarily representative of the album. If you look at a load of great instrumental songs from the Motown era and R & B and all that, then that's it – it's a formula in a way – doesn't mean it's contrived – it just happened very quickly and very naturally. If you've got that old Funk, Rare Groove drum beat and then you add that rhythm guitar over the top and then you add simple Solina string machine strings [a popular instrument in classic Disco] over the top, then that flute – that is in essence a summer tune.
The Mellotron flute sample was a sound that became famous from The Beatles – Strawberry Fields Forever. I like that flute sound… it's very evocative with a slight hint of mystical voodoo about it, and I just jammed it – there's no editing, no quantising.
Dr Nimm's Garden Of Intrigue & Delight
Dr Nimm is actually a real man – a legendary botanist in Uruguay… basically the curator of a large forest. This man is a spiritual maverick… he's basically dedicated his whole life to the world around him.
The song is a very Balearic thing you'd expect Klaus Schulze to do or something like that, or maybe an outtake from the album Trevor Horn did with Grace Jones. To be honest I didn't even know this kind of Balearic music existed until people like Paul Byrne at Test Pressing started playing me it, but actually, of all the tracks on the album, it's probably the most Balearic in the true sense of what Balearic music is.
Go Berri Be Happy
I was well into Ghanian, poly-rhythm African land at this point, which is where Steve Reich gets his influences from for Drumming and Music For 18 Musicians and all that stuff, and also I was listening to the new Prefab Sprout album. So basically, Go Berri Be Happy is Prefab Sprout Goes To Ghana! I'm deeply into African music and there's no one more Balearic than Paddy [McAloon of Prefab Sprout].
The title comes from me reading Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies' Detective Agency… it's a very beautiful set of books about the joy of living in Africa and Go Berri Be Happy is my take on that. Berri is a fictional African woman living a happy life and just happy to be alive, and not being burdened by the i-technology of the western world.
That track was conceived one Friday afternoon on a train journey from Milan to Venice during a little tour of Italy I was doing a number of years ago, so I had the early sessions from it but had not edited it. The story in my mind is imagining a son going home to confront his mafia father… a purely fictitious story that just entertained me during that journey, and also was obviously visually sound-tracked by that train journey.
Essene is one of the early religions, believed to be linked to the Dead Sea Scrolls… it doesn't link at all to the story!
Formentera Headspace Blues
It was smack bang in the middle of writing the album… I was in that headspace, locked in and I wanted a centre-point track that was a long track that maybe had a reprise section at the end that was kind of a statement of the album. Basically, it was all the things I like: old analogue synths, a little bit of sequencing, African percussion, metal instruments like xylophone and vibraphone and marimba, slide guitar, and a little bit of ambience underneath… all the things that created the album as one track, as a kind of signature.
If you live in Ibiza, Formentera is a place you go to escape for a week. Parts 1 and 2 were simply two songs in the same key that I loved playing next to each other… you get to a point in the album where you can kind of see what it is and certain tracks fit and certain tracks don't, and there are certain tracks left over from different projects that will fit in a certain context.
It's one of the first tracks I did when I came to Ibiza. It wears its signature on its sleeve. It's Ibiza, sunset, the end!
The song just happened messing about with a Mellotron flute. This was actually the first song I wrote for this whole project. I sent it out to a few people like Test Pressing and Lexx, and I thought "uh, have I got something here?" And it's from that that Dr Nimm and Baby Come Home and the first Sketches From An Island EP came. It just happened with being in Ibiza so obviously you're motivated and influenced by your environment. I was really happy with the track and I think it really stands the test of time – I didn't realise at the start what I'd got. When people say "this is great" it really makes you reevaluate your own work, except if they say it's shit and then you know they're wrong!
Listening back to it now I think wow… a timeless piece of music, but a piece of music that I just happened to make. And it really set the tone for my next batch of work.
Back To The Sea
The last two tracks were towards the end of the album when you look at what the gaps are I guess. Back To The Sea was a bit like a reprise. It's a short track but it says a lot. I just had it very fleshed out on guitar and I was listening to a lot of Vangellis and I was trying to get a lot of those Vangellis CS80 sounds in there. This has gone onto the Cafe Mambo album this year, and apparently this is on the album just before Vangellis' Love Theme, which is pretty cool!
This was actually written in Sheffield… I remember going upstairs and thinking "what kind of music would I play at my funeral?" It's kind of funeral music but in the sense of death being joyous, that death is not an end – that death is actually a beginning or maybe the end of the beginning.
I thought the birdsong at the beginning and end would be a nice beginning and end and I'm a big fan of putting ambience behind music because it gives it a bigger sense of space, and it's kinda like you can just imagine lying in a white room and white bed as you breath your last breath as the sun comes up and the dawn chorus starts. I didn't want people to be let off the hook with some kind of reprise or Baby Come Home… I like to put pop with movie poignance, and I think of any track I've ever written, that track is poignant and reflective, and that's how I wanted to end the album.
Mark Barrott – Sketches From An Island is out now on CD and itunes, with Gatefold Vinyl following on the 14th July.
Preview all the tracks here;
Joining The Circus
What to do for British politics?
Solidarity with Ukraine
URL vs. IRL
Do DJs Today Need Social Media to Be Heard?
I Hear (Borusiade Remix)
Mother of MarsShop Now
Hologram TeenShop Now