“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly coloured, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people.”
~ Bill Hicks
Mark McGhee is a jack of all and a master of several too, especially within our scene, he is a one-man-music-industry. I’ve been following his career for a few years now, since hearing ‘Overheard In The West End’ while doing my old radio show, through attending (in body, if not in mind) his guerrilla-style open mic sessions over our years covering Kelburn Garden Party, he had a tent there annually where he made things happen, and he certainly did make things happen, that is exactly where we discovered some of our favourite musicians including The Twistettes and Ciaran Mac & O’B and even Colonel Mustard I think.
I finally got round to reviewing Mark when he supported Abdominal & The Obliques on their UK tour. He was appearing under his Mark Mywords persona and I think I said “Glasgow’s answer to John Cooper Clarke” or something like that. I think what I meant with this comparison was the raw, visceral deliverance with which Mark will hit you with his prose, shove it down your throat if needs be, he’s a talented wordsmith though and it commands attention without the use of force.
In my comparing him to JCC I was wrong, so very wrong… JCC doesn’t front a cool band like The Girobabies, he doesn’t have a chameleonic array of onstage personas, he hasn’t released an album as eclectic and diverse as ‘Need The Characters’ and he doesn’t impress me half as much with his word-wielding as Mark often does. So with all that being said, it is my esteemed privilege to be the first person outwith the project to hear Mark’s debut album as rapper Jackal Trades, and I am pleased to report it is a fucking masterpiece!
I was sitting in a half-fucked funk, a sort of junkie limbo somewhere between too stoned, too drunk and under-slept at the darkest hour of 2am on Sunday morning/Saturday night, when Mark unexpectedly dropboxed me the album. I was literally peering through one eye and struggling to straighten up, but I pulled myself together in order to download the album to my laptop, fearing that maybe somehow if I waited til’ next day it wouldn’t be there anymore. It took a while to download and once it was finished and safely nestled in my iTunes library (between Jack White and Jackie Edwards) I had planned on going to sleep, but then something stirred inside me…
I’m in a very unique and favourable position here – to be the first to hear this, and there’s still three litres of amber-coloured, golden cold cider left in the fridge. I didn’t take much persuading, I put some puff in some papers, poured a pint and pricked my ears pressing play…
I’m glad I did, because the next fifty five minutes were cathartic, I’d been waiting for this album for a long time, and even though I had the highest of expectations for it, I was still blown away by it, not disappointed in the slightest bit, every song was a gem. By the time Bill Hicks Fan had finished I was emotionally overwhelmed by the experience, so I put it right back to the beginning again… And for a third time too… Though he remains humble, it’s obvious Mark is a genius.
His soliloquy begins with ‘The Hills Have No Eyes (produced by Yoko Pwno)’, Mark’s a master of the apothphgem, as in brief, terse, witty sayings with a clever twist, a skill most writers can only aspire to he seems to possess naturally, and they are always beautifully delivered, and with such a mellifluous voice that infests in your ears infectiously. He doesn’t just rhyme words, he rhymes multi-syllables simultaneously, more of a poet than a rapper. The first song starts off grimy, with an unctuous dubstep feel. Mark’s deliverance is spot on, savagely bitter, brilliantly broody, and full of persiflage. The beats are dark and Mark marries his voice to them macabrely.
The album is littered with soundbites which pleases me as I am a sucker for a well-placed soundbite. More word-slinging in ‘Triangular Trades’ as Mark demonstrates his dexterity with the spoken language, he has an uncanny ability to reel off sentences that most of us would consider tongue-twisters if we tried to say them slowly. It’s sometimes difficult to keep up as he can hit you with clever plays on words from several angles in one breath.
‘Century Of Self (produced by Scatabrainz)’, Mark’s obsession with pasties and bank accounts continues here, but that’s the good thing about it, he’s not rapping about inaccessible things to your average joe like pimping, gangstaz and stretched limousines, he’s keeping it real, really real, rapping about bus stops, Greggs the bakers and snorting Mandy, staples of the Glaswegian lifestyle whether you’re a rapper, a punk, a jakey or a postman.
The whole album is like a dystopian view of the future, as in the future we are living in right now, post-modernism underpins many of the themes, it’s a concept album dealing with everything from politics, to the media, to philosophy. ‘Charlie Brooker Sketch (produced by Mackenzie)’ continues the pig-fucking, industrial, apocalyptic feel of the record. Disturbingly good and mercilessly damning.
There are a few tracks on here I know from the Jackal Trades live sets I’ve seen so many of, but they’re taking on a whole different entity here, polished off perfected and precisely produced, and without the distractions of a festival around me, just me and the music – it’s good. ‘Rabbie Burns Benefits (produced by Soundthief)’ is a humorous tale of Rabbie Burns being brought back from the dead to become a reality TV star. So, although the general feel of the album is dark, it will still make you laugh plenty with its nutty scenarios and witty one-liners.
I’m excited about the next track as I’ve not heard it in any capacity and I noticed it features Tickle as well as favourites of mine Ciaran Mac and Jo D’Arc (Twistettes/Giros) so I know it’s going to be a belter and I wasn’t wrong. ‘Jack The Lad (produced by DJ Sonny)’ starts off with Ciaran’s distinctive and instantly appealing style, and the whole thing is carried along with a melodious and drifting classical guitar riff, right through Tickle’s hard-hitting dubstep-laced part and all the way up to Jo’s beautiful vocals, one half of power-punk duo Twistettes, Jo is demonstrating her vocal flexibility delivering an enchanting and haunting chorus that is palpable and potent. The song is a story with a cast of characters carrying it along to the apex of Mark delivering the conclusion of the tale of woe with his usual street-edged style, a beautiful song from intro to saxophone outro, definitely a stand out track in a record full of stand out tracks.
This album is like a fine wine, full-bodied, actually scratch that, it’s more like a bottle of Buckfast, dark, rich, potent and intoxicating, it’s full bodied as in it’s long enough for you not to be left wanting more – there are no track fillers, quality sip after quality sip. ‘Miley Syria (produced by Gordy Duncan)’ is a wheezy track with a staccato drumbeat carrying it along and Mark’s ever present witty lyricism, with all sorts of clever word wrangling for you to decode to unlock the seriocomic political genius.
‘Marilyn Monroe Logic’ is an auris vermis of 2016 for me, as I’ve heard it many times at festivals and gigs over the year and I carry the chorus around with me stuck in my head, as it is so catchy it should come with a warning. Here, of course, we are treated to a polished off well-recorded version featuring Ella Maby singing the hook. Definitely the ‘hit’ off the album as it was popular before it was ever even recorded. A clever dissection of Marilyn Monroe’s quote “If you can’t handle me at my worst you don’t deserve me at my best”:
“Don’t like me setting fires? You sure as hell don’t deserve me not setting fires as well! Don’t like me being violent? Why should I be peaceful? Don’t like me arguing? Why should I be reasonable?” as just one example of a clever and funny list of many. If you don’t like me doing long-assed loquacious album reviews, you don’t deserve me doing short, succinct, laconic album reviews.
‘I Am The Fear And I Wrote You A Letter (produced by Andy Martin)’ is almost ska-rap! A brilliant choon with more orator magic from Mark. At least I’m definitely not the lazy journalist with the Proclaimers comparison. Watch the video for it here:
Mark likes to revisit an interesting theme. Which revolves around a question I have struggled with myself over the past few years, and which he answers with ‘Celebrity Mourning Is The New Rock & Roll (produced by Scatabrainz)’ and ‘Shortcut to Longevity (produced by Gordy Duncan Jr)’ both incredible songs. The question is, how are we surrounded by bands as great and talented as such acts as The Girobabies, The Twistettes, The Mickey 9s and the hundreds of others in the local scene, and not one of them are signed, or rich, or famous? What happened to the days of a talent scout attending a gig and hearing an amazing new band and walking up and offering them a record deal right there, written in blood or some shit like that? If bands like Colonel Mustard or Joe Bone & The Dark Vibes or the aforementioned had existed in the 60’s, the 70’s, the 80’s or the 90’s they would have been huge, no doubt about it, so where’s the Giromania?
Mark’s right, anybody can be famous now, anyone can be a rapper, a music journalist, a guru these days, thanks to the advent of the internet and the saturation of fifteen minute famers that came along with it, Big Brother/X-Factor culture, a shitty culture, the least cultured of cultures – a yoghurt left out in the sun is more cultured than the current climate. Nobody will ever be famous again, not famous like Bowie, or Dylan was, that is the message here, and I think it’s right.
He rolls up like a bakery with more dystopian visions of the future: “Imagine 2040, when all the fifteen minute famers and one hit wonders all hit the same age, they’ll wake you up with a roll call of the daily dead, transmitted through an iChip inserted in your head, a thousand dead celebs in the list from Q to Z, have a very good morning get ejected from your bed, by a burly robot from G4S who’ll escort you to your voluntary position at Gregg’s, who bought over Google in 2034…” that’s the kind of prophetic raps with eerie keyboards you can expect from ‘Celebrity Mourning…’ another jewel in the Jackal crown.
“Minds too small for concepts need the characters” but Mark doesn’t need the characters, he’s such a complex character in himself, succinctly sagacious almost beyond comprehension. And I love a rapper who’s not afraid to rap over trumpets in ‘In The Character Building (produced by Mistah Bohze)’ which might be my favourite track, which I think I’ve said about every track… Yup’, one of those kinda of albums…
“We need the characters, the rebels and the chancers, the misfits and the outcasts, the ones who give us answers, we need a vernacular of angles, and fresh perspectives, we need the thread to string the sentence to direct you to the end, we need the mythical attachments and a wide range of accents…” all to a glorious anti-melody, stomping, erratic, dirgey, boogaloo beat! Brilliant! I think Mark has got all the right characters around him he needs in producing and recording this album, it’s a work of art, that has perceptible love and nurturing in its creation.
‘Need The Characters’ has satisfied you musically before it’s even over, and you still have two tracks to go, two unexpected punches on your way down, most people would have long run out of energy, originality, consistency, and material by now, but not Jackal Trades, the last two cards played (a pair of Jacks) clean the table and sweep up for the win.
‘We Shine Our Torch At The Moon And Remove Our Masks’ is a soulful, haunting ditty, featuring once again the magnificent Jo D’Arc on vocs. This album is so well produced you don’t even notice the sheer scope of genres it has transcended in its fifty five minutes until it’s over – dubstep, soul, fairground ska, grime, hip hop, boogaloo, pop, it subtly weaves in and out of this tapestry of the musicscape seemingly with ease.
As the record draws to a close, and you regretfully see you only have one track left to hear on this audio journey, and it has been a journey! You might be forgiven, after hearing such a brilliant playlist of excellent songs, in thinking that the best is over… And then in comes… ‘Bill Hicks Fans’… Pow! As Will Johnstone would say.
The melody is beautiful, and when you hear Bill’s voice over the nebulous intro, speaking his ethereal wisdom to you from beyond the grave, it fills your heart, very cleverly done, but Bill makes you laugh through the heavily emotional experience, by leaving you with a brilliant punchline as he always does. Something in this song is reaching deep inside me, apart from my love of Bill Hicks (who would hate me apparently), it’s something else, then I realise what it is… This song is Floydian, it’s like rapping over Pink Floyd! How could this album get any better? Just like that. Some people have taken this song the wrong way “If Bill Hicks was alive he would hate Bill Hicks fans” but when you listen to the song and go deeper, as always with Mark, there’s a double, or triple, or quadruple meaning… I’ll leave for you to discover…
A beautiful way to end an opus that is an absolute masterpiece. I couldn’t overhype it, it’s brilliant, it’s too brilliant, even I didn’t expect this. A gritty, urban, urbane, dirty, dystopian, cerebral, compelling, unique, original album that is truly keeping it real. The album launch is 5th November at Classic Grand, with support from Jamie & Shoony, Spring Break, Rory O’B and NOT the Mickey 9s as I accidentally stated in my Mickey 9s review, they are playing the Late Night Sketchy Alternative Xmas Party on 23rd December with the Twistettes and the Girobabies.
This has been more of a novella than an album review, but that’s their fault for producing such an inspirational album for me to write so passionately about. I make no apologies. ‘Need The Characters’ is officially, far and wide, my album of 2016, unsigned or mainstream. See you all at the album launch, that’s right, in the pit!
Originally published on NHC Music 31st October 2016, view that here: