Paying £8.20 For A Song: An Acid Jazz Confession

Hijack by Marden Hill

This is a risky post for someone who likes to imagine his entire audience is made up of snobby teenagers. I'm going to, tentatively, raise the subject of... um, acid jazz.

Oh, and if that isn't enough, I'm getting there via aggressive rollerblading.




Righto, now that it's only us cool kids left - I'll continue.

Over time, I've slowly been collecting a number of obscure-ish songs based mostly on nostalgia for my early teens. Back then (1995-6), I, like many of my friends, got into the inline-skating boom in a BIG way. I wore the gear, had the moves and watched the videos.

Through these videos (think 30 mins of dudes jumping down stairs) I got my first introduction to music proper. Before then, I'd had little exposure to anything beyond Disney theme tunes or my little Michael Jackson cassette. Hearing something new - a surprisingly mixed bag of pop-punk, hip-hop and unexpected gems got me psyched in a way that only a kid with a wallet-chain can be. Through many, many many repeat viewings, I knew all the words to every song and loved them with all my XXL-covered heart.

Royale at Stirling Skatepark
Royale at Stirling Skatepark

Myself, circa 1996. Note the pink t-shirt / cut-off white jeans / kneepads on my shins(?) / claw arm style

Revisiting this soundtrack of my youth, if you will, has not been easy (I've hunted before). Many of the tracks were obscure even in 1996, let alone after nearly 2 decades. Some were only released on small US / Canadian labels and, with limited access to the (often uncredited) videos, I'm often searching by little more than a handful of lyrics and a misremembered melody. I never bought CDs back then, y'see. They were too hard to find and too expensive.

Anyway, to the aforementioned acid jazz (Hijack by Marden Hill above / below). This track, which I discovered through the intro to the 1996 classic* Hoax 3: Broken English, has proven to be one of the most elusive. Unlike the other music featured in the video, the intro had no artist credit. Searching for the lyrics "You're taking over, I'm taking orders, you're taking all of my time" proved fruitless and name-that-song apps yielded no results.

Hoax 3: Broken English intro

My desire to find the tune soon outgrew all fondness I had for it and "Hoax 3 intro" quickly wormed its way to the top of my "music to get" list. Over the course of months, nay, years, I'd frequently take a little time to sniff around YouTube comments and messageboards to see if I could get any closer.

Then, last week, a breakthrough! Midomi recognised the track! I had a name (Hijack), I had an artist (Marden Hill) and the hunt, for the most part, was over.

Marden Hill, from what I can tell, were a prolific UK-based acid jazz outfit that some credit as being the first band to be labelled "trip-hop". They haven't been active since 2002 and possess neither website nor Wikipedia page. There's a nice wee discussion about from 2008 over at Soundological which includes a recent comment from bandmember Kevin Saunders. The internet is a wonderful thing.

Despite my discovery, Hijack remained slippery. It wasn't in the UK iTunes or Amazon MP3 stores (yet it was, infuriatingly, available in the US) and other, less honest, means of procurement turned up dead ends due, I guess, to the track being a bit of a niche commodity nowadays. The album it comes from, Blown Away, was available but, Christ, did I want an hour of this stuff? It's a fair stretch from my usual tastes and there's only so much flute a man can take. Add that I've not bought a full album for one song (remember that?) in years. It felt crazy... almost nostalgic.

I weighed up my options - wait it out a little longer, hoping that it either becomes available on iTunes / through some music nerd's blog or (and this is what I did) bite the bullet and pick up a second-hand copy of Blown Away through Amazon Marketplace for £8.20.

So, yeah, the CD arrived today, intact but with (appropriately) dusty joint-totin' cover art. I popped it into my computer and invited Marden Hill to sit alongside Punky Brüster, Herbalizer and The Cherry Poppin' Daddies in my "Skate Video Nostalgia" playlist. And, y'know what? After a couple of spins, I've decided it was worth every penny.


*I'm only half-kidding with this. I may be all about skateboarding nowadays but, honestly, Hoax 3 was a thing of beauty. It a was wonderfully rich (I might be wrong, but I think they used film rather than video) tour of the world, full of colourful European streets and bleached-out American schoolyards. You can watch the full thing here.

Shoot For The Moon: Space Mountain

DLP Feb 2009 - Space Mountain: Mission 2

Since listening to the special John Gruber / Merlin Mann episode of The Talk Show last week, I've kinda been nerding out on Disney stuff. Their discussion about The Magic Kingdom completely reignited my fascination with theme parks, rollercoasters and Imagineering.

At its best, Disney's attention to detail goes unrivaled - did you know that the reason you'll never see a pirate in Frontierland is because everything is built on top of an entire network of corridors, allowing staff behind-the-scenes access to every part of the park? Did you know they foreshorten Main St USA both vertically (to make the buildings seem taller), diagonally (to make each side of the street lean in and 'frame' the castle in your vision) and horizontally (to make the street feel longer as you enter the park and longer as you leave). The lengths they go to for effect are nothing short of incredible.

My heart, though, belongs to one attraction in particular. Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris. The ride that some argue saved the park after its lackluster early years. That ride (it's important to distinguish the European version of the ride - the older US versions are far less ambitious) became a passion and a hobby of mine after my parents took my cousin Lynne and I to Disney when I was maybe 11 or 12. The atmosphere, the design, the bloomin' big cannon on the side flipped me out bigtime.

Before then, I was already obsessed with rollercoasters. I'd draw them, dream about them, pretend I was on them when riding my bike. I used to record every glimpse of them on the telly, from lame segments on daytime shows ('there's a new ride at Alton Towers, let's see if Eamonn can handle it') to a couple of full-blown documentaries about rollercoaster fan-clubs that I would watch almost daily. Every night, I'd patiently recreate Nemesis or The Pepsi Max Big One on Rollercoaster Tycoon, tinkering away in the way only geeky young boys can. To this day I can't quite explain why I was so consumed.

Space Mountain, though, was the best of the best. I knew this. I knew it wasn't the most enjoyable ride (older, wooden coasters are the most fun), I knew it wasn't the scariest (at the time, the Dragon Khan in PortAventura boasted the most inversions and the most intimidating silhouette) but, despite this, I knew it was built with pure imagination and love. I knew not one inch of its design, its accompanying artwork or its operation hadn't been poured over by The Best People In The World.

The reason I knew was because I had seen Shoot For The Moon (above), a BBC film that followed the construction and opening of the ride. It was the centre of my obsession. To this day I still know it by heart. A wonderful documentary that mixed really geeky engineering and design stuff with beautiful archive footage and a ton of interviews. Through Shoot For The Moon I was introduced to Jules Verne, Le Voyage Dans La Lune and retro-futurism. I learned about the Space Race, the power of art direction and, most importantly, that behind every great, fun, exciting thing there's someone (an adult - who've thought?) who's job it is simply to make their imagination reality.

I guess I could cite Space Mountain as being a major influence on my 'career', as weird as that may sound. I didn't know it at the time, but by watching that film over and over I was immersing myself in ideas, illustration and design. Seeing the man behind the curtain revealed made things more magical, not less. Biology doesn't ruin the 'mystery' of nature. Astronomy doesn't ruin the 'wonder' of the universe.

Shoot For The Moon is available on YouTube (in 5 parts) and I can't recommend it highly enough. Nostalgia is no doubt clouding my judgement, but trust me, give it a watch. If you're in any way involved in a creative profession, you'll find something of interest. It's great. You might even get a little hint of the Disney magic that's so easily forgotten once you've grown old and cynical.

The devil is in the detail.