Simian Substitute Site for January 2022: Crafty Apes

Crafty ApesMONTH END PROCESSING FOR DECEMBER 2021

Comedy: Happy New Year, everyone. Most years, as regular readers will know, we tend to spend the evening of December 31st in one of London’s finer comedy clubs. This time, for the second year running, we compromised with an online comedy night courtesy of Siôn James and his Collywobblers Comedy Club. Apparently James has been running Zoom gigs throughout the pandemic, and it shows in the sharp organisation of this show with a remote audience of over 60 attending: four fine acts (Patrick Monahan, Fiona Allen, Miss Mo' Real and the tireless Marcel Lucont, the latter doing his fourth gig of the night), a bit of musical silliness from Tony Ukulele to take us up to midnight, and then a rather lovely kitchen disco to follow, made all the more fun by the punters who left their cameras running (us included). And unlike Hampstead Comedy in 2018-19 and Good Ship Comedy in 2019-20, Collywobblers' DJ actually played some Janelle Monae when we asked, giving them a massive head start as our Best Comedy Club Of 2022 So Far. Ivor: Ben: the bar has been set.

Telly: Our Christmas was a mixture of being out and about for part of it, and locking ourselves in at home for the rest. For the second year running, we took out a one-month subscription to Disney+, the plan being to binge watch all the interesting stuff that’s been released there over the last twelve months and then cancel before they can take any more of our money. We had several Marvel series in there, inevitably. WandaVision plays wonderfully with your expectations, starting from the basic premise of two Avengers characters living in a 1950s sitcom and taking some ingenious detours along the way: it’s a shame that in the end, it all builds to the usual zappy explodey bollocks. Hawkeye does the same to some degree, but the charm of the leads and the relatively small scale of the explodey bollocks help it go down nicely. Meanwhile, M.O.D.O.K. (created with the help of the Robot Chicken people) rudely sends up the whole genre while obviously still being totally in love with it. In non-Marvel programming, the big new release is Get Back, in which Peter Jackson reedits the footage from the Let It Be sessions to make the Beatles look less like arseholes (though he doesn’t quite succeed with Lennon). There’s definitely enough terrific material in here to justify Jackson tearing up his original plan to make a two hour film, but not really enough to justify an eight hour series: at this length, it’s more for Beatles obsessives than a general audience. Finally, Steve Martin’s Only Murders In The Building is a delight for anyone who found that Knives Out left them with a particular itch that needed scratching. Yes, I know that The Book Of Boba Fett has just launched as well, but that’ll have to wait till next year’s one month sub now.

Travel: As for the out and about bits of Christmas, for the second year running we booked ourselves into a central London hotel for a few days. Last year, thanks to the late announcement of lockdown, we had to postpone our stay at the Resident Soho: this year, I’m pleased to report that our stay at its relative in Covent Garden went as planned. We’ve had several London Christmases before, but this was my first one in the centre of town, and it’s fascinating to see what stayed open on the day. Short answer: all the tourist eateries – steak houses, Cafes Concerto and the like – plus lots in Chinatown and virtually nothing in Soho. Oh, and all those money laundering joints that pretend to sell American sweets apparently never close, ever. The biggest surprise was finding the Cineworld Leicester Square open on Christmas Day, possibly the only cinema in London doing so. So we ended up spending three hours of the day being disappointed by The Matrix Resurrections, though to be fair that’s what we were expecting to happen. We got in a couple of bits of Christmas live entertainment too, despite everything. The more traditional one was Carols By Candlelight at Cadogan Hall, with a full orchestra in Mozart wigs and Peter Davison reading from Dickens: the less traditional was Two Turtle Doves at the Crazy Coqs, a cabaret of Christmas songs performed by Barb Jungr (who has a lovely festive song in her back catalogue already) and Dillie Keane (who doesn’t). Add in three very nice dinners (at J Sheekey, Kutir and 28-50), one decent brunch (at Madera), a fun exhibition about the Beano and some fancy cocktails adjacent to the Crazy Coqs at Bar Americain, and that seems like a pretty good three days for a city that’s largely shut on Christmas Day.

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Living For The Weekend: A 2022 Diary By The BBG

Yes, three years in a row of Iceland pictures, we know, we *KNOW*As if the Christmas Day excitement of the 40th Pick Of The Year compilation wasn’t enough, there’s one more milestone to mark off before the year’s out. Because this week sees the tenth anniversary of the publication of the first edition of Living For The Weekend, the diary designed by The Belated Birthday Girl and published by the good people at lulu.com.

Predictably, she's celebrating this anniversary by publishing the eleventh edition. Living For The Weekend: 2022 Diary is now available for £3.99 plus postage and packing, and if you know what all that's about just click on the link and buy one right now. If you don't, details follow.

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Hashtag #BurnItAll: Pick Of The Year 2021

Emergency! Emergency! Fire in Image One! Bring water!To go through the story one more time. In late 1982, inspired by my purchase a few months earlier of a twin deck cassette recorder, I put together a 120 minute compilation of my favourite songs of the year, and called it Pick Of The Year 1982. I did something similar the following year, and kept going.

Merry Christmas and welcome to Pick Of The Year 2021, which is therefore the fortieth one of these that I’ve done. It’s an 80 minute CD rather than two C60s, but the aim is still the same – an end-of-year snapshot of the music that’s most taken my fancy over the last twelve months.

Did I imagine back in 1982 that four decades later, they would still be releasing new music that would take my fancy? Not sure. It probably wouldn’t have surprised me to have been told that: like most people I knew of my generation at the time, music defined me in a way that I suspect isn’t quite as comprehensive for a teenager these days. They’ve got other things going on, and fair play to them for that. Looking at the track listing below, I can’t help noticing how many old acts are on there – and how many cover versions, too. Plus there’s all the jazz, the modern classical, whatever the thing is with Estonian bagpipes on it...

...and, of course, the way that the list is limited by the capacity of a physical medium that very few people care about any more. (Trying to get hold of old-style jewel cases and CD labels this year has turned out to be an absolute bugger to do.) Still, if you’re one of those people, you’ll be delighted to learn that once again the bottom of this page contains a competition to win a CD copy of Hashtag #BurnItAll: Pick Of The Year 2021 for yourself. I still haven’t gone down the obvious route of making the competition question ‘Is your name Dave?’, so maybe we’ll save that one for the fiftieth compilation. But for now, here’s the fortieth.

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BrewDogging #75: DogHouse Manchester

'Hello, reception? The six o'clock alarm never rang.'So, here we are at bar number 75. I don’t mind telling you, these things are getting harder and harder to write. Back when we started in 2013, and made our way around the dozen or so BrewDog bars in existence during our first year, there were interesting little quirks to every one we visited. But as the chain’s got bigger and bigger, individuality has predictably been sidelined in favour of a standardised corporate image. The regular sized bars (like, say, Chancery Lane) have become much of a muchness: you’re left hoping for the occasional deviation from the norm.

Well, we should be getting one of those in London next year, thanks to the recent announcement of the new megabar set to open in the former Eurostar terminal at Waterloo station. From the initial press release, it seems like every idea BrewDog has ever had – both good and not-so-good – is going to be mashed up into a single location, topped off with the health and safety nightmare of a slide connecting its two stories.

Maybe this is the future for BrewDog (and, perhaps, BrewDogging): small bars opening without much fanfare, interspersed with high-profile showstoppers. And if DogHouse Manchester isn’t a showstopper, then I don’t know what is.

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Simian Substitute Site for December 2021: A Monkey Christmas

MONTH END PROCESSING FOR NOVEMBER 2021

Books: Those of you who’ve been on the edge of your seats since last month, wondering which of our shortlist of five audiobooks we ultimately chose: you can relax now. At first glance (or whatever the sonic equivalent of glance is), I’d assumed that Stanley Tucci’s Taste would be a similar mashup of memoir and food writing to Grace Dent’s Hungry (which we enjoyed earlier this year), but with more of an actorly bent. That’s not quite what it is, though. Dent is using memories of meals as a literary device to connect her past with her current role as a restaurant critic. With Tucci, though, you feel like food is an inseparable component of his existence: every major event in his life is associated with something he ate or drank at the time. Frequently, we get recipes - which, to be honest, is where the audiobook format loses out over the printed page. The compensation for this is Tucci’s warm and wry reading of the text, even if he is a little too pleased with his own jokes sometimes. Still, one of those jokes looks like it’s going to be joining the lexicon at Château Belated-Monkey: his insistence that meatless meatballs should be referred to simply as ‘balls’.

Music: A new Covid variant's doing the rounds, and at the time of writing people still can't quite agree on whether we're just as doomed as before or even more doomed. The perfect time for us to see three crowded gigs in the space of a fortnight, then. Jarvis Cocker started us off at the Albert Hall in Manchester, for reasons to be clarified later this month. Technically it was a long delayed promotional show for last year’s Jarv Is... album, but he covered all the other bases of his career too: some Pulp deep cuts, a few solo favourites (people do enjoy singing along to Running The World for some reason), and even a couple of French classics from his current oddity Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top. The following week saw a similarly delayed show finally happen after two postponements and a change of venue – Mary Coughlan at Islington Assembly Hall, also mixing up her new-at-the-time-the-gig-was-originally-scheduled record with plenty of older material, including a hefty chunk of her 35-year-old debut. Finally, the gig where we took the biggest chance was a show at the London Jazz Festival featuring percussionist Sarathy Korwar, who we only went to see because one of his many collaborators on the night was cellist Abel Selaocoe, star of our favourite/only Prom this year. Korwar turned out to be a terrific bandleader, as well as our gateway into a few of his other bandmates, such as poet Zia Ahmed and Melt Yourself Down vocalist Kushal Gaya, who brought the house down at the end by coming on stage carrying his sleeping toddler, compete with massive ear protectors.

Theatre: Mind you, that delay of over a year to see Mary C pales against the two years plus we’ve been waiting for The Shark Is Broken. First mentioned on these pages in August 2019, it was one of the hits of that year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and as such had pretty much sold out by the time we got there. A London transfer was always on the cards, but that pesky pandemic has delayed it until now. It’s set in 1974, as three actors – Robert Shaw (Ian Shaw), Roy Scheider (Demetri Goritsas) and Richard Dreyfuss (Liam Murray Scott) – sit in a boat while the film they’re working on together hits yet another delay, because Bruce the mechanical shark has malfunctioned again. Guy Masterson's production has acquired a few production curlicues since its run in Edinburgh - I'm pretty sure Nina Dunn's astonishing video backdrop wouldn't fit into Assembly George Square Studio 3 - but it's still basically a showcase for a study of three personalities clashing under pressure, all of them blurring the line between the stars themselves and the roles they played in Jaws. You could argue that the play's a little too keen to shoehorn in old movie set anecdotes (a flaw it shares with the novelisation of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), and some of its ironic foreshadowing is aggressively on the nose. But it's all carried off by the wit of the script, co-written by Joseph Nixon and Ian Shaw, with the added gawp value of the latter playing his dad on stage. On the night we saw it, though, Shaw was replaced by his understudy Will Harrison-Wallace, who did a spectacular job in the circumstances: particularly when it gradually dawns on you what the final scene's going to be, and how difficult it must be to perform even with Shaw's genetic advantage, never mind without it.

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