Spank Gold Volume 7: Spank's Edinburgh Diaries 2010-2019

I think that holding this vote in the geographical centre of Edinburgh may have skewed the results a tad.October 11th, 2010. It was close on ten years ago that I wrote the following sentence: "This'll be the last one of these for a little while, I think." In the year or so leading up to that, I'd managed to publish six books via the print-on-demand outfit lulu.com: one collection of travel pieces scraped from the website, two volumes of Edinburgh Festival reviews, and three similar volumes of London Film Festival reviews. I had a couple of vague plans in mind for future books, but I predicted that it'd be a while before I had enough material in hand to create those, so I quickly knocked off some basic ebook editions of the original six in time for Christmas 2010 and left the publishing world for a spell.

In that ten year gap, The Belated Birthday Girl has published nine books: admittedly, to a degree, they're all variations on the same book, but still. Basically, I need to publish three more volumes before her 2021 diary comes out, in order to have any hope of keeping up with her.

I started the process in April. Just finishing it off now.

Continue reading "Spank Gold Volume 7: Spank's Edinburgh Diaries 2010-2019" »


Simian Substitute Site for August 2020: Brass Monkey Leith

Brass Monkey LeithMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JULY 2020

Movies: Most of the people that The Belated Birthday Girl and I know fall into one of two categories. Category A are the people who go to the cinema no more than a couple of times a year: Category B are the sort who could happily make a couple of visits in a single day. And I'm here to warn the Category B people that the first time you go to the pictures after nineteen weeks of being locked in your house, it will do your bloody head in. I suspect that the actual film you see won't make much difference: when you've spent that length of time thinking you've been watching films on your telly, and then go into a big room and have your attention forcibly grabbed by one, Trolls World Tour could feel like a life-changing experience. As it happens, our first visit to the pictures since The Invisible Man back in March turned out to be Parasite: Black And White Edition, so I honestly can't tell how much of the impact was down to it being an unambiguously great film, and how much was down to having forgotten what the theatrical experience was like. Thanks to Curzon Mayfair for looking after us: their distancing strategies had the twenty or so people in the audience carefully spaced in the 300+ seater room. It should be noted that pretty much everyone took their facemasks off once they were in their seats, which I suspect was fine on this occasion, but won't be for much longer: it was always likely to become more of an issue if/when Tenet started packing in the crowds. (On that topic, here's what I consider to be my most underrated tweet of the month/year.)

Music: It's been five months since I last did one of these, so I guess that the latest Spank's Audio Lair can double as a Lockdown Playlist. It could easily have been double the length, but I decided to stick with the usual arbitrary limit of ten tracks. YouTube links are supplied below for Spotify deniers.

  1. The Waterboys. Mike Scott seems to be doing a lot of spoken word material in his old age, and I think I like it.
  2. Daði Freyr (Daði & Gagnamagnið). Ah, Iceland, maybe next year, he said ambiguously.
  3. John Foxx & The Maths. I love that Foxx is still making records that are perfect examples of eighties electronic pop, something he's somehow been doing consistently since 1977.
  4. Sparks. The unofficial anthem of the six weeks of furlough I spent writing my next three books. First one on sale next week!
  5. Sufjan Stevens. Suf's gone back to writing over-complicated epics, though this one probably has one section too many for its own good.
  6. Black Bra. I came for the keyboard work of podcaster Jesse Case, but I'm staying for the pollyharveyesque stylings of frontwoman Elizabeth Grace Cameron.
  7. Jarv Is... ...telling more slightly pervy stories about slightly pervy people. Hoorah!
  8. Fiona Apple. More her thing than mine [points in general direction of The BBG], but I'm liking this a lot.
  9. Bob Dylan. It feels tasteless to label a veteran artist's new album as A Good One To Go Out On, but...
  10. Francoise Hardy‎. Presented as a tribute to the late Ennio Morricone, who wrote this tune and its ridiculous number of key changes.

Telly: I had the perfect crime planned. I'd sign up for Disney+ on their seven day free trial offer. I'd do it just before they released Hamilton on the streaming service. I'd watch that and The Mandalorian in rapid succession, and then cancel my subscription before they made me pay anything. Except, of course, Disney cancelled their free trial offer just a week or two before Hamilton dropped. I suppose I should expect nothing less from a multinational whose corporate logo is literal vermin. Still, I paid out my six quid for one month anyway. I raved about Hamilton here before when I saw it in London two years ago, but was slightly sceptical that the filmed version would be more like a regular live stream of a theatre show, only with a four year time delay (it was filmed during its 2016 Broadway performances). In fact, cunning use of inserts filmed during an audienceless performance mean that we get some useful closeup views that a simple live stream couldn't have offered. The cast are all stellar, with the surprising exception of Lin-Manuel Miranda in the title role: his gulpy I'm-so-sad singing voice is the weakest link in the whole thing. Still, one benefit of a visual record of the show now being available is that Weird Al finally has his video. Meanwhile, The Mandalorian is extraordinarily good fun in a way that some of the more recent Star Wars films have forgotten about: a heady mixture of tones from the darkness of its jailbreak episode to the cutesiness of ***y ***a, and somehow staying coherent throughout. Nice theme tune, too: if ever a piece of music had 'space Western' written all over it, it's this one.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for August 2020: Brass Monkey Leith" »


We Are One

Obviously, there are lots of incredibly pressing problems that need to be solved on the planet right now. But there's been one particular problem that's been preying on my mind ever since the lockdown started in March. It's this - how are film festivals supposed to work now?

You have to sympathise with the BFI, who had to consider that question more urgently than most. Their second biggest festival of the year, the LGBTIQ+ fest that they nowadays call Flare, was due to start on March 20th but had to be cancelled just a few days beforehand. In a herculean effort, they pivoted to video in virtually no time, and had a reduced series of films running on their online player for the duration.

Their biggest festival - the London Film Festival - is coming in October, and some fascinating hints have already been dropped as to how they're going to make that happen. We'll talk about that here nearer the time, of course. But in between Flare and the LFF, the BFI was one of a number of organisations involved in the creation of We Are One, a free film festival that literally spanned the entire planet. This was back in June, so you've already missed it. Luckily, I didn't.

Continue reading "We Are One" »


22: The Death Of All The Romance

Well, this is awkward. For two reasons, in fact.

First reason: having committed myself to a song that I haven't heard in over a decade, it turns out I don't like it very much. Or, more accurately, the bit I like is from 3' 45" to the end, once they've all stopped singing. I'm lumbered with this dull video of the album cover because the official video is of the radio edit which stops before the coda, and all the full-length live renditions on YouTube have been filmed on analog telephones, judging from their sound quality. (The other alternative would have been to go with 22 Grand Job by the Rakes, but the video for that's problematic ay eff.)

Second reason: I needed a song with 22 in the title to help me announce that The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey first appeared on the internet on July 14th 1998, which is 22 years ago today. It launched with a review of one of my favourite comics at the time, Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson. And by pure coincidence, yesterday (July 13th 2020) saw the launch of a new website called So Many Of Us, an extraordinary piece of work in which dozens of women share their stories of how Ellis has abused and manipulated them over two decades or more. I guess I'm not so disappointed these days that he blocked me on Twitter.

All of this is rather grim, which makes the transition into this next bit a grinder of a gear change, but here goes: today is this site's 22nd birthday! Hooray! As The Belated Birthday Girl keeps telling me, she can think of very few commercial websites that have been around as long as this one, so I suppose this counts as some sort of achievement. Thanks to all of you who've hung around this long, and still seem to be somehow enjoying it.

Right, that's that out of the way. Now I guess I've got 365 days to find a better song with the number 23 in the title.

Continue reading "22: The Death Of All The Romance" »


Simian Substitute Site For July 2020: SCP-983

SCP-983MONTH END PROCESSING FOR JUNE 2020

Internet: Well, let's be honest, everything we're doing at the moment comes under the category of Internet one way or another, doesn't it? And it's been interesting to see how people and organisations have coped with the requirement to move all their activities online. Take, for example, the Japan Foundation, the body set up to promote Japanese culture around the world. They're mentioned on this site annually because of their Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme, and also got a namecheck earlier in the year for a combined movie and lecture event. But now their lecture series has moved onto Zoom, with two fine examples this month. Ninja: Their Philosophies And Duties saw Professor Yuji Yamada entertainingly demolish most of the myths we've picked up from tatty martial arts movies, most notably that ninjas spent most of their time dressed like ninjas. (They're primarily spies: having a recognisable uniform is a bad idea.) Meanwhile, How Do They Read? Voices And Practices of Japanese Language Translators was a panel discussion about the art of translation. Polly Barton (who was at that live event we attended a few months ago) talked about the space between English and Japanese as a physical thing she felt she navigated as she worked, while Ginny Tapley Takemori went into the nitty gritty of how some of the subtleties of the Japanese language (like gendered first person pronouns) can be a nightmare to reproduce in English. I can't help you with the first talk, sadly, but if you think literary translators are more interesting than ninjas, you can watch How Do They Read? on YouTube.

Music: We haven't seen any live music since the New Routes showcase night in Cambridge back in March. Correction: we haven't been in the same room as any live music since then, but we've seen plenty of it, thanks to a wide array of streaming events. Some of them have been charity events to raise money for struggling venues: for example, the Green Note in Camden has run a terrific series of live shows every Wednesday and Friday on their YouTube channel, each featuring a trio of acts performing in a round robin format. There have also been various one-off shows for a similar cause, like Ed Harcourt's fundraiser for Bush Hall. Some acts, however, are just trying to raise money for themselves: from the self-explanatory Andrew O'Neill Sings! broadcast from the comedian's living room at 11am UK time for his Australian fans, to the mighty Soil & "Pimp" Sessions streaming a full-on Death Jazz gig from the empty Blue Note club in Tokyo. Nevertheless, for all of this live wonderfulness, I have to admit that we've spent an awful lot of Saturday nights watching - and dancing to - United We Stream, a series of webcast DJ sets raising money for all the people who lost their livelihood when Manchester's nightlife was shut down. They're currently on hiatus after raising close on half a million quid, but their last two Saturday night shows were a fine finale, featuring firstly Mr Scruff live from the Cloudwater brewery (3 hours 38 minutes into here) and then a full-on DJ battle between the mayors of Manchester and Liverpool. Meanwhile, in recorded music news, the best album to come out of the pandemic so far was recorded in a car last Sunday night.

Telly: Huffity puffity Ringstone Round, if you lose your hat it will never be found... We've all seen enough archive TV by now to realise that revisiting shows you remember fondly from childhood is usually a bad idea. But when Talking Pictures TV announced that they'd be repeating the 1979 series of Quatermass, I couldn't keep myself away. I remembered it being a thing we talked about at school the morning after it was on, but very few of the details, apart from that song and that ending. A good couple of decades after his original adventures on the BBC, Professor Bernard Quatermass is now an old man searching London for his lost granddaughter. England has gone completely dystopian hellscape at this point, enlivened by gangs of hippy punks known as the Planet People who gather at stone circles in the belief that aliens will beam them up to a better world. The truth is actually a little more complex than that, but only a little. Forty-one years after transmission, it's surprising to realise that ITV pulled off their own version of Mad Max a) on an ITV budget and b) a year before the release of Mad Max. John Mills is magnificent throughout, balancing quiet intensity with alarming moments of vulnerability. But it's hard these days to miss writer Nigel Kneale's subtext that Everything Is Terrible And It's All Young People's Fault, with the satirical angle getting a bit heavy-handed at times. Still, Kneale's grumpiness also manifests itself in his delight at killing off his characters in a series of increasingly apocalyptic cliffhangers, so on balance it all works out. Talking Pictures are sadly too old-fashioned a TV station to believe in anything as useful as an online catchup service, which makes it convenient (though unfortunate for the rights holders) that someone appears to have persuaded the Internet Archive that the series is in the public domain.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For July 2020: SCP-983" »