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.

Withered Hand: Heart Heart EP

Of all the things I work on, I think the stuff I get to do for the Scottish music label Fence Records is my favourite. I've been a fan forever and this latest project has allowed me to be involved in something that I remember wishing I could do back in college.

Back then, Fence would release really cool little EPs on CD-R as a kind of record-club called Picket Fence. I had tons of these things. The artists had complete freedom and, because it was quite a small-scale set up, you'd get loads of odd music and weirdness that you couldn't find on 'proper' albums. Each PF release came in a neat wee cardboard sleeve with artwork by the act themselves and, if I remember correctly, a spray painted issue number. *

I loved that stuff. I remember showing them to my classmates saying how cool it would be to work on something like that.

Well, recently Johnny and Kenny asked me if I'd be interested in working on the artwork to a kind of spiritual-successor to the Picket Fences. Of course I bloomin' would! Didn't they know I'd said to my classmates how cool it would be to work on something like that 10 years ago?

So, as of last month, I'm happy to announce the launch of Chart-Ruse. The initial set in the F3NC3 R⅓CORDS’ 33s subscription-based EP series. **

Kicking things off, is Heart Heart EP by Edinburgh's mighty Withered Hand. The 7'' vinyl features 3 tracks plus a King Creosote remix which is exclusive to the record itself (as in, you can't even download it like you can the others). The title track is particularly fantastic and can be enjoyed here:

For the artwork, I gathered together dozens of ancient maps, charts and diagrams and set to work with my (digital) scissors and glue to collage together a bright green (chartreuse - get it?) fantasy-world of mountains and sea monsters. The reverse (which can be seen properly here) features a broken-heart design that I adapted from Withered Hand himself.

The end result is something I'm really happy with. I tried to keep it loose and fun and, well, Fencey, while at the same time giving the series its own particular look and feel.

Moving on from here, the artwork for the next two Chart-Ruse EPs (by Delifinger and a still-secret third artist) will feature different islands and additions to part 1. Following that, we'll change the colour, change the title and change the artwork for the next 3. And so on, and so on. Confusing? Yeah, kinda, but that's the fun of it. As time goes on, it'll start to make sense.

The Chart-Ruse subscriptions have sold out but you can buy Withered Hand's Heart Heart EP and pre-order Delifinger's Escapes EP individually. Keep an eye out for news on the third release, and subsequent sets in the series, by following Fence or myself on Twitter. The full artwork is on my site and there are more photos on my Flickr.

* The spraypaint would make the CD stick inside the sleeve in the most maddening way. It somehow added to the charm, however.

** Fence, as you may have noticed, LOVE a convoluted title and a bad pun. KC's doing, I think.

Jonnie Common: Master of None

Jonnie Common - Master of None

In August, Jonnie Common released Master of None, his debut solo album. I was massively proud when he asked if I would provide some drawings (one old, one new) for the artwork. If this sounds familiar, I briefly wrote about this project back in July - it's worth revisiting in a little more depth with some new photos, though. 

From my side, it was a fairly painless process. I sent over my Dog drawing and put together a big, furry pattern for the inner sleeve. JC then added some rockin' pink magic and handled the layout. The end result is a really great wee collaboration - something completely new and different to what we'd think up individually.

I first started talking with Jonnie a while back after I made a little music video for Infinitea by Down The Tiny Steps (his old band). I did this on a whim to accompany a blog post announcing it as my 4th most listened to  track of 2009. By happenstance, Jonnie also knew my work and we began chatting about maybe collaborating on something or other. This was a weird thing because I was a fan, y'know? I'd been listening to his stuff for damn near 10 years and I'd seen plenty DTTS / solo sets at various Fence gigs. How many dudes who live on your iPod do you get emails from? Aye, exactly.

Anyway, Jonnie's a good dude. I've since caught up with him a handful of times in person and we're hoping to work together on a couple different projects over the next few months. Stay tuned here or on for further news and information.

Jonnie Common - Master of None

As for Master of None, it's my favourite album of the year by a long way. I really, really love it. Honestly, it's amazing. I kinda wish my artwork wasn't on the cover so I could sound completely genuine when I gush about it to my friends. I also kinda wish I didn't know Jonnie so I could act like a totally lame super-fan without being, um, a total creep. Alex says it's her go-to record 'it feels like having a conversation with a friend' and it's a rare day that we don't either give it a spin or find a track or two sneak into a playlist.

Without writing a flat-out review (there's a great one up here on Song By Toad), I'd just like to recommend you give Master of None a listen. It's a sweet, funny, charming album that can effortlessly drift from a beautiful letter to his future kids (Heir To The Throne) to a wordplay-fuelled rap (Bed Bugs) without missing a step. Jonnie's distinctive voice (in both senses of the word) somehow creates a personal, cohesive whole from a big ol' mountain of sounds and styles.

And, man, the man has a way with a lyric - I'd happily write out Hand-Hand in its entirety just for fun. There's more ideas in those 4 minutes than in most full length LPs. Highlights: opening with "sing for us, Jonnie!", facing mortality "when I leave this planet, I don't wanna leave a mess" and a curiosity about horse-hair brushes: "do they pluck them from the living ones or do they take them off the corpses?". It'll put a smile on your face and a shake in your arse. Listen to it, learn it, sing along:

Hand - Hand - Jonnie Common by FollyOfYouth

Good eh? As I mentioned, being associated with this LP in any way makes me very proud. For any artist, designer or illustrator, providing artwork for music you love is a dream job that can't easily be beaten? I mean, what else comes close? Film posters? Maybe, I dunno. Oh yeah, I've put a few more photos of the vinyl cover up on my Flickr page.

Jonnie Common - Master of None

So, should you want to check out Master of None for yourself, it is available on vinyl (with an mp3 code included) through Red Deer Club records. You can also download a digital copy over on Boomkat and, should you want to try-before-you-buy, you can stream the whole record (!) right here on Soundcloud.

Support Jonnie Common, he's one of Scotland's finest songwriters and he's made a wonderful thing.