It is no understatement to say that boats play a big part in the life of Mike Vass. The former member of Malinky had always been a keen sailor, but it was whilst recovering from Lyme’s disease that the two worlds of music and sailing came together for him.
His dad gave him a book by Neil Gunn called ‘Off in a Boat‘, which described how Gunn jacked in his job, sold his house and sailed off into the sunset. I haven’t read the book myself but Gunn was described as ‘The most important Scottish novelist of the 20th century’ by Trevor Royale, editor of The MacMillan Companion to Scottish Literature. Vass was inspired and cast off in his own boat whilst he collected his ideas for his 2015 album ‘In The Wake Of Neil Gunn‘.
For his follow up album Mike has gone one step further and recorded the whole thing on his boat ‘Sweet Harmony‘. A stream of guests had to wrestle their instruments into the cramped cabin to help him record ‘Notes From The Boat‘. Pity poor Corrina Hewat manoeuvering her harp below decks.
Around ten guest musicians are featured on the album which gives each track an identity and flavour all of it’s own. Vass is a fine composer and this album delivers on his early promise as a musician and composer to watch.
I guess with this kind of album, that is so overtly influenced by a sense of place, the question arises whether the location an album is recorded in informs the listening experience? Realistically not in the way it once would have done with analogue recording – the days of John Bonham setting up his drumkit in the hall of Hedley Grange, with a mic suspended from the landing above to get the specific sound he wanted for When The Levee Breaks are gone. Digital recording offers near limitless possibilities on what the finished sound is like.
What location does have an effect upon however is the creative process and the musicians in the specific moment of recording. For Notes From The Boat the influence of this ocean travelling vessel goes to the very soul of Mike Vass. You can tell that being on that boat and the act of sailing define him just as much as his compositions and performance, in that sense he has channelled something unique. Once the album was recorded he set sail on a 2,500 mile journey from the Clyde down to the Canary Islands. He mixed the album whilst moored in Arrecife on Lanzarote. Not a bad place for a spot of work.