Books: Let’s make this clear up front: there are two books out there called Topographia Hibernica, and the one you want is the new one. The old one was written by Gerald of Wales in the 12th century as anti-Irish propaganda, describing the people as savage ignorant brutes and thus ripe for colonisation by the Brits. It's the sort of Irish lore that Blindboy Boatclub often raves about in his podcast, which is why he's reappropriated its title for his third collection of short stories. This particular Topographia Hibernica is a huge step forward from Blindboy's earlier books, although the stories still fall into two broad categories: dark character studies with a surreal twist, and slabs of dystopian grimness. The grim ones are still grim, but now they feel less like an author being a bastard to his characters, and more like organically formed tragedies: podcast listeners will work out fairly soon that one of the saddest ones, The Cat Piss Astronaut, is taken from an incident in Blindboy's own life that he's talked about before. But when he throws his surreal humour into the mix, the results are like nothing else out there - whether it's the visual image at the heart of The Donkey distracting you from what the story's really about, or the way the macho posturing in I'll Give You Barcelona ultimately resolves itself. It's the first time he's had a book published over this side of the Irish Sea, and hopefully we're going to get more.
Comedy: Blindboy’s got a successful podcast, sure, but he’s got a long way to go before he can pull down the numbers of Off Menu. The simplicity of its premise probably helps – Ed Gamble and James Acaster interview a celebrity about their dream meal – but the sheer variety of the responses they get to that question is what keeps fans coming back week after week. And, I guess, also has them packing out theatres during their just completed run of touring live shows. We caught them during a weekend in Brighton, and given that the live show guests have been locals, I was hoping that at some point we’d be treated to a shout of “POPPADOMS OR BREAD? POPPADOMS OR BREAD, NICK CAVE? POPPADOMS OR BREAD?” Not to be, sadly, but Joe Wilkinson proved a fine alternative, and was a perfect illustration of what makes this work as a live format: the audience, cheering on his basic bitch dinner of chicken Kievs, chips and peas, but turning on him when he announced that cheap Kievs were just as good as expensive ones if you overcooked them enough. All the live shows have been recorded, so if you follow Off Menu's podcast feed you should get to hear it eventually. (In the meantime, our own food recommendations from our Brighton weekend would have to include the fabulous Asian vegan nosh at Bonsai Plant Kitchen, and the combination of bao buns and brilliant beer on offer at The Pond. We didn't have the pizza at Dead Wax Social, but it's a fabulously unpretentious place for drinking and dancing, so we'll recommend it anyway.)
Music: Max Champion wrote and performed dozens of lightly comical songs on the London stage at the start of the 20th century, but until the recent release of the album What A Racket! you couldn’t have heard any of them. There’s a good reason for that: Max Champion never existed, and neither did his songs. What we have here is Joe Jackson – yeah, that Joe Jackson – writing and recording eleven pastiche music hall songs from scratch, and putting together a short film full of tremendously subtle horseshit to persuade the gullible that they’re the real thing. Given all the genres of music Jackson has experimented with since his debut in 1979, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that he’s found another one. What is a surprise is how much fun it all is. Despite Jackson's hints that Max is somehow ‘speaking from his London of the early 20th century, directly to us in the early 21st’, that angle’s never pushed too hard. Everything just feels right for the period – the cheeky humour, the laments for the lot of the working man, and the odd bit of sentimentality where you least expect it. And thankfully Jackson still has an ear for a solid tune and a quirky arrangement, so it all works musically as well. Observe: