Simian Substitute Site For June 2018: Monkeyshrine


Internet: Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris are the perfect example of modern jobbing comedy writers. Starting off about two decades ago with their spoof local paper The Framley Examiner, followed by a few years of writing the text bits in Viz, they've now become ubiquitous: creating modern Ladybird books, becoming Charlie Brooker's go-to writing partners, and transferring the tropes of Scandi noir to a Radio 4 sitcom. If you follow Hazeley and Morris on Twitter, it becomes apparent that they're fascinated by the mechanics of comedy itself, dropping behind-the-scenes stories of script-doctoring on Paddington 2 or how Philomena Cunk's interviews work. All of this comes together in their new podcast Rule Of Three, in which the pair interview different people every week about one specific piece of work they find funny, and pull it apart to analyse why it is. As E.B. White once famously noted, there's a very real risk of the frog dying, but so far they've managed to get the balance between analysis and laughs just right. Their chat with Jon Holmes about Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album is a good place to start.

Music: Time for another quarterly round-up of things I've been listening to. Justifications follow (along with YouTube links for the non-Spotified):
1. This one's still in my head after seeing Miyavi live in April. The World Mix loses the original's RAWK bombast, but adds some verses from Afghan refugee rapper Sonita.
2. One of the songs on Half Man Half Biscuit's new album contains a perfect six-word gag - "Hadron Collider / Who's there / Knock knock" - just in case you thought Nigel Blackwell's muse had run dry after thirty-odd years. This particular song is mostly here for the refrain, but it's a great refrain.
3. Kojey Radical was one of my big discoveries of 2016: I was convinced he would be huge by now, but the rest of the world seems to be taking its time catching up with him. In the meantime, there's this lovely single collaboration with Mahalia and Swindle.
4. Daniel Kitson ran the breakfast show on Resonance FM for three weeks in May. It was precisely the mixture of whimsy, cheekiness and unexpected music that you'd imagine. I think we can all agree, though, that this track by Awkwafina really shouldn't be played at breakfast time anywhere.
5. Time for one of those things that Spotify thought I might like: instrumental outfit Echo Collective covering Radiohead's album Amnesiac. Lots of it just sounds like the originals with the rough edges sanded off, unfortunately. But somehow, the Lytteltonesque swagger of the final track translates rather beautifully.
6. People seem to be very uncertain about the new Arctic Monkeys stuff. I actually like the fact that it's an album that I'm still not sure about after a couple of listens.
7. The singles suggested that Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer was going to be a highlight of the year: the album itself goes way beyond those expectations. You've all seen the emotion picture by now, hopefully?
8. As mentioned in the recent discussion of our Tallinn trip, Noëp puts on a pretty good live show. The records don't have quite the same oomph, but this is still a nice song anyway.
9. Still waiting for Ylvis' Stories From Norway series to get some sort of international release. In the meantime, at least we have the songs. This one (from The Andøya Rocket Incident) had a personal relevance for me a couple of months ago, because... well, we'll get to that.
10. Fifteen years after its initial release, Max Richter's The Blue Notebooks has been repackaged with assorted remixes and variations. This mashup of its most familiar melody (you may remember it from the film Arrival) and a Dinah Washington classic has been knocking around for some time, but it's nice to have it now available alongside the original.

Theatre: If the title of their recent show at Wilton's Music Hall is anything to go by, the next Tiger Lillies album will be called Devil's Fairground. It could just as easily be called More Songs About Fucking And Smack, except then you wouldn't be able to distinguish it from all their previous albums. To be honest, it must be well over a decade since I last saw the Lillies, having slowly drifted away from them since their career peak as the musical force behind Shockheaded Peter. They still look much the same now, apart from having changed drummers - the facepaint means that singer Martin Jacques and multi-instrumentalist Adrian Stout appear ageless. The night we saw them at Wilton's the audience was a little bit odd, breaking into shocked giggles at any swearing and seeming to be totally unfamiliar with the one cover version of the night, Is That All There Is? But the mixture of melancholy, pitch-black humour and pretty tunes still works for the band, so there appears to be no reason why they should change now.

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BrewDogging #52: Tallinn (Nordic Expedition II part 4)

Two of the most prominent features of BrewDog Tallinn are a merchandise wall and a Stargate.[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton, Berlin, Warsaw, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading, Malmo]

March 30th - April 2nd 2018

Having started in Denmark, trekked through Sweden and made our way across the water to Finland, there's one more country to go before this Nordic Expedition is complete. To be honest, up until recently my mental image of Estonia has been shaped by two things: the old Film Unlimited trope of the Estonian Butler Movie as the archetype of esoteric cinema, and the former sumo wrestler Baruto. (A couple of years ago, I managed to combine the two for an April Fool's gag.) But last time we were in Finland, we heard that the city of Tallinn had become a new hub for craft beer brewing: there were even Finnish brewers who'd moved over there for the tax breaks.

That isn't as dramatic a move as it sounds, as Tallinn is ridiculously close to Helsinki: just half an hour by plane, or two hours by boat. We take the latter option to travel to Estonia, using the Tallink Megastar ferry. It's Good Friday morning, so the West Harbour Terminal in Helsinki is full of Finns making the same journey for the Easter weekend, all being addressed over the PA as ‘dear darling passengers’. Our window seat on the Megastar turns out to be a good choice, despite the fantastically rude kids who barge in front of us every so often for a look: the voyage isn't as spectacular as our one into Finland, but approaching Tallinn through a layer of ice is still pretty impressive.

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Riding The Viking Line (Nordic Expedition II part 3)

Slussen, in Stockholm. It'll be nice when it's finished. (Around 2026, apparently.)March 27th-30th 2018

If Nordic Expedition II is a song, then this bit is the middle eight.

So far this week (as in the last week of March 2018), we've been to Copenhagen and Malmo, visited a new BrewDog bar and done several other fun things. Without wanting to give the game away too early, by the end of the week our journey will climax in a country that's entirely new to us. But in order to get there, we need to revisit some of the highlights from Nordic Expedition I: Stockholm, Helsinki, and a ferry journey between Sweden and Finland. The challenge is therefore to find new angles that we didn't already cover two years ago.

Let's see how we do, shall we? (Bearing in mind that all that 'new angles' shit is probably going to go straight out the window as soon as we get near a BrewDog bar.)

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BrewDogging #51: Malmo (Nordic Expedition II part 2)

It's the lightbox that confuses me, I think. Perfectly acceptable when it's behind the bar advertising the tap list, less so when it's outside the building.[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton, Berlin, Warsaw, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading]

March 25th-27th 2018

These multi-city journeys require some planning, you know. Over the last decade or so, we've taken plenty of inspiration from The Man In Seat 61 when it comes to potential methods of getting around. But ultimately, you have to fire up multiple browser tabs for plane, train and boat websites to co-ordinate all the bookings, and that's before you even get to the hotels. Still, it all somehow comes together, and you even have a paper trail at the end of it. In the case of the original Nordic Expedition in June 2016, I can now look through my mail inbox and see that we had our route through Norway, Sweden and Finland booked and locked down by April 16th.

So imagine our delight when BrewDog Malmo opened just over a fortnight later, in an entirely different bit of Sweden. It was too late to change our route by then, and even if we'd wanted to it would have taken us massively out of our way. We always suspected we'd be coming back eventually to tie up that loose end. And two years later, here we are.

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The Copenhagen Introduction (Nordic Expedition II part 1)

March 24th-25th 2018

2016 was the year when The Belated Birthday Girl and I went on our Nordic Expedition: a two-week trek around Oslo, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Turku and Helsinki. The inspiration behind that route, as you may already know, was that each of those five cities had a new BrewDog bar we could visit. But as I noted in the Oslo section of the report, we already knew we'd have to come back at some point: "in between our making the bookings and going on the holiday, the buggers opened a sixth bar in an awkwardly-located bit of Sweden. We're saving that one for another time."

Easter 2018 was that other time. So over the next four posts, join us on Nordic Expedition II. It's shorter than the first one, but it somehow covers four countries rather than three, including one neither of us have been to before. There are more BrewDog bars, plus most of our usual distractions like food, music, movies, art and lots more. Plus, rather like our holidays in both 2016 and 2017, they're introduced on this site with a video of something on fire. Unlike those years, though, I won't keep you in suspense over where the fire was - it was in Copenhagen, the first stop on NEII.

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Simian Substitute Site For May 2018: Monkeyglasses


Books: Flashback to two years ago, when I mentioned that I'd just attended a book reading by veteran funnyman John Dowie. The book he was reading from was still a work in progress, and the gig was primarily promoting the crowdfunding campaign for its publication. Well, good news: The Freewheeling John Dowie is now written, published and available for you to buy. Dowie has fallen in and out of love with performing over the years, but his love of cycling has stayed constant throughout. So this is a memoir which uses his long-haul bike journeys as a framework on which to hang stories from his life as a performer. It's a structure that allows him to ramble, make unexpected detours and double back on himself, so it takes you a while to discover that the book divides roughly into two halves. In the early part, most of Dowie's stories are based around his sense of adventure and his delight with the people he meets: but from the death of his father onwards he becomes much more cynical and embittered, and frankly less interesting. (Memo to all men over 50 in the media: just complaining about stuff isn't automatically funny.) Thankfully, the chronology is juggled so that the book ends with his happier mid-career switch into playwriting, which leads me to suspect that Dowie's got a healthy degree of self-awareness. After all, he admits that mining material from personal tragedy has become one of those stages that all modern stand-ups go through, and he does so with the book's characteristic combination of brutal honesty and flawless comic timing. "There are, I would imagine, further Stages of Stand-Up that the current generation of comedians has so far failed to reach. But if one day you're leafing through the programme for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and come across a show with a title such as My Colostomy Bag and Me, you'll know that one of them has got there. My money's on Stewart Lee."

Music: Flashback to one year ago, when The Belated Birthday Girl and I were in Japan, and saw a Takashi Miike film there as we usually do. (Now available from wherever you usually buy DVDs.) The end title theme by Japanese guitarist Miyavi intrigued me, and I ended up buying his greatest hits album off the back of that. There were enough decent tunes on that compilation to make me sufficiently curious to check him out when he announced a live show at the University of London Union. But at £35 a ticket for a student gig featuring an artist almost entirely unknown outside Japan, who else was going to be there? And the answer was, several hundred incredibly noisy and up-for-it fans who'd obviously been following Miyavi for a lot longer than I had. As a guitarist, he's got a couple of basic tricks he falls back on: riffs using a slap style more commonly associated with Seinfeld-era bass guitar, and solos which eschew any note lower than the twelfth fret. For a show that's largely pre-recorded (apart from a live drummer, two backing vocalists and Miyavi's own contributions), it's a surprisingly great live experience, and that's all down to Miyavi himself: working every inch of the tiny stage like he's playing a football stadium, and pulling off all the rock god poses with just the right amount of tongue in cheek. The mixture of industrial noise and catchy tunes works brilliantly on songs like Long Nights, and apologies if that hook stays in your head for the next five years once you've heard it.

Theatre: Flashback to four years ago, when I wrote briefly about Max Richter's 'recomposition' of The Four Seasons, which took Vivaldi's original and produced a series of minimalist variations on its main themes. Just to confuse matters even further, that recomposition recently underwent a reimagining of its own at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. The Four Seasons: A Reimagining strips Richter's orchestral piece down to an ensemble of six, and uses it as the jumping-off point for Gyre & Gimble's bunraku-inspired puppetry. You couldn't really say there was a story in there, more of a series of vignettes vaguely covering the whole circle of life (it's not giving too much away to say that in this version, there's a thirteenth movement to The Four Seasons that's very similar to the first). It's probably closer to ballet than anything else, leaving a lot of narrative interpretation to the viewer. The intimate candlelit space of the Wanamaker has certain disadvantages, mainly that every seat apart from the most expensive ones has a restricted view to some degree or other. But there's enough of the gloriously fluid puppetry visible to make it worth your while, and if all else fails you can always watch the musicians up in the balcony.

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BrewDogging #50: Reading

Possibly the fourth or fifth brunch ever served at BrewDog Reading. I dunno.[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton, Berlin, Warsaw, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong, Oxford, Seven Dials]

We were only ever meant to be doing twelve of these, you know. But here we are. Fifty.

I'd be the first to admit that these BrewDogging posts have been coming out at somewhat erratic intervals. Back in 2013, we knew where we stood: we started off the year with a plan to visit all twelve bars we knew about, and by the end that had increased to thirteen. Since then, as new bars have opened, we've gone to them whenever it's been convenient for us to get there. There was always going to be some sort of saturation point reached, either on our part or on BrewDog's, and I'd assumed we'd reached it in 2017 - a year when (as previously noted) the company opened just three new bars and closed four old ones.

But I'd underestimated James Watt's desire for world domination. If 2017 was a quiet year on the new bar front, 2018 is shaping up to be anything but, with some pretty ambitious plans for new locations. In March 2018 alone, two bars opened on consecutive weeks. You already know about Seven Dials, where we grabbed brunch on its opening weekend. One week later, we did it all over again in Reading.

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Monoglot Movie Club: I Was Misinformed

You can't see it here, but just off the right edge of the photo is a woman staring at the guy with a look of disgust. And she's carrying a placard reading 'TRADITIONAL ISLAMIC ATTITUDES TO PROMISCUITY'.Renault: And what in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

There's a certain inevitability to this. Last month, you'll remember, I editorially steered the good ship MostlyFilm into its final port of call. As part of its climactic week-and-a-bit of wonders, I contributed the last episode in the long-running feature Monoglot Movie Club, while suggesting that it could possibly return in some form or other on this site.

In the six weeks that followed the publication of that article, I would end up visiting seven different countries (okay, one of them was Scotland, but still). Three of them would be countries I'd never been to before, and I would see a film at the cinema in all three. So, yeah, Monoglot Movie Club is definitely returning here, to the extent that it's now got its own category in the right-hand sidebar. (The category includes earlier travel posts that contain movie reviews, as well as the Red Button Bonus Material pieces for the MostlyFilm series.)

First stop on this mini-world tour: as they used to say, We're Off On The Road To Morocco.

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BrewDogging #49: Seven Dials

Tell you what, James, just PayPal a few grand to that email address over in the left sidebar and we'll say no more about it.[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton, Berlin, Warsaw, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong, Oxford]

Before we get started: have you seen this shit?

This is what they call the BrewDog Intergalactic Beer Visa: a booklet full of pages where you can collect stamps from all the bars that you visit. This is exactly what The Belated Birthday Girl had in mind when she came up with the idea for her Projick in 2013, inspired by the stamp rallies we've encountered on various tourist routes in Japan. As she couldn't persuade the bars to manufacture stamps for her own personal records, she had to make do with creating a space in the back of her 2013 diary in which he documented the date and highlights of each bar visit.

Five years later, and BrewDog have nicked the idea wholesale. So, yes, we now own a Beer Visa each. Technically, this may mean that we have to visit all of the bars again at least once. But let's not think about that right now, and instead concentrate on the latest BrewDog bar to open in London.

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Simian Substitute Site For April 2018: Average Monkey


Internet: Last month in this slot I mentioned Stories From Norway, the terrific new musical comedy documentary series by Ylvis. Statistically, it's likely that the vast majority of you reading this don't live in Norway, so there's very little chance of you seeing the show. Or is there? Here's the thing: my wacky globe-trotting lifestyle (and there's plenty of that to talk about very soon, see below) means I spend a reasonable amount of time in hotels, trusting in the non-existent security associated with most hotel wi-fi systems. In these situations, a decent Virtual Private Network is necessary to keep your personal browsing habits away from the eyes of nasty people. My VPN of choice is Avast Secureline, mainly because I already use their anti-virus software and it seemed like the logical next step. VPNs anonymise your browsing session by routing it through a server in another location, and SecureLine has a wide range of servers arranged around the planet so that there's always one near you. In Oslo, for example. So, with my VPN set to route through Norway, I can go to TV Norge's Dplay site: and because it thinks I'm based in Oslo it'll let me stream full episodes of Stories From Norway, complete with adverts for local products I can't buy. If you end up doing the same, try the episode The Andøya Rocket Incident, which has just enough English to be easily comprehensible, and will make you feel surprisingly nostalgic for Boris Yeltsin.

Telly: A rather unusual thing happened on the morning of Sunday March 11th: there was live sumo on the telly. We've come a long way since May 2009, when I wrote Armchair Sumo For Lazy Bastards to explain the rules to a casual viewer. Back then, the best way to watch the sport was via the live stream broadcast on the Nihon Sumo Kyokai official site. Unfortunately, they realised a few years ago just how popular that live stream was, and started charging ridiculous amounts of money to watch it. Viewers from outside Japan had to fall back on less official methods, like Jason Harris' splendidly informative YouTube channel. More recently, though, the international channel NHK World has started getting in on the act. A year or two ago, they dipped their toe in the water with a daily package of Grand Sumo Highlights: this month, they took it a little further by broadcasting the last hour of the first day of the March basho live. Sure, that meant being in front of your TV at 8am on a Sunday morning, but that was part of the thrill of it. That first day of live coverage, plus the highlights shows for all fifteen days of the tournament, are currently archived on the NHK World sumo page, but be warned they'll only be there until April 9th. How succcessful was their live experiment? Hard to say: the best way to find out may be to watch NHK World at around 9am on Sunday May 13th, and see if they give the same treatment to the next tournament in Tokyo.

Travel: The traditional links to Telly Savalas and Bono can only mean one thing: early in March, The Belated Birthday Girl and I travelled up to Birmingham for the weekend. Specifically, it was the first weekend in March, when the Beast From The East was wreaking havoc across the country. The main focus of the visit was to see Everything Everything play live, and we were rather pleased with ourselves when we managed to make it into Birmingham despite the inevitable travel chaos. Which made it all the more offpissing when the band cancelled the show just seven hours before curtain up, literally while we were celebrating our arrival with a coffee at Yorks Cafe. So, you know, screw those guys. Still, a day spent in Birmingham isn't a total writeoff, as there's plenty of other stuff to do. At the time when we should have been seeing the gig, we grabbed a rather good curry at Pushkar, followed by Black Panther at the Everyman Mailbox. We spent Sunday morning as scheduled with both breakfast and art at Ikon Gallery: they had a couple of particularly good linked exhibitions of prison art by Edmund Clark and Thomas Bock, but you've missed them now. Finally, predictably, there was beer: the inevitable BrewDog visit, of course, but also the more trad real ale delights of the Post Office Vaults, and the trendier environs of Purecraft Bar & Kitchen.

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