The first BrewDogging post appeared here in February 2013, which means that the project has been running now for just over eleven years. Truth be told, neither The Belated Birthday Girl nor I have quite the same enthusiasm for it now as we did back then. The bars are starting to look a bit samey, the beers have lost their sense of adventure, and then there was all this shit all over the papers last month.
We're still drinking the beers, but that drive to visit every single bar as soon as possible after it opened has left the building by now. It's a fun way to push us into visiting places we wouldn't normally go - and there are a couple of examples of that already in the pipeline for 2024. But to pluck an example out of the air, we wouldn't be using the existence of a bar as a reason to visit, say, Basingstoke.
Food and Drink: In all the fuss - such as it was - about this site having its quarter-century birthday last year, we never really thought about its little sister that turned five at the same time. Which is silly, really, because The Bermondsey Beer Mile is easily racking up thirty times as many hits as this place, and close on one hundred times as many on Saturdays. In case you weren't aware of it, back in 2018 The Belated Birthday Girl and I put together an unofficial fan site for London's trendiest trail of small breweries, describing the bars you'd find along the way and what to expect from each one. There were plenty of web pages that described what the Mile was like at the time the page was written: but we were the only site that promised to update details when new bars opened or old ones closed down, and we were also the only site to map out the route to take. Since then, whenever we've visited the Mile ourselves, we've been amused to see people literally using our work on their phones to navigate. After a year or so where we haven't done much to update the site - we had an excuse, you know - we've just brought it up to date with the latest collection of openings and closings, noting along the way that 2023 was a volatile year for small breweries. On that topic, late last year we were interviewed by news site The London Spy for an article on the current state of the Mile. We're happy with the quotes they used, but amused by one bit where the initials of the Bermondsey Beer Mile and The Belated Birthday Girl get a little confused...
Music: Some years, January becomes the time when record companies suddenly put out tons of new music that they've been saving up, and you think 'yeah, this could be an interesting twelve months'. Other years, there's no new stuff out there worth mentioning, and you find yourself idly picking though your old CDs for things you haven't played for yonks. 2024 seems to be one of the latter. That's why this month's Audio Lair playlist is full of deep cuts from the likes of Mott The Hoople, Hurrah!, Richard Hawley, Jim Bob, GoGo Penguin, Simon Love, C.W. Stoneking, Jarvis Cocker, Judy & Mary and Magazine. None of these are songs I'd thought about much for years, and in some cases decades. There were a few surprises in store - for example, finding that racial slur in the second verse of All The Way From Memphis a lot more problematic than I did back in 1973 - but it's nice to hear them all again. See if you feel the same way.
Music bonus: It's February 1st, so it must be time to announce that Dave's won another competition. On Christmas Day last year, the no-longer-a-surprise drop of Kiss Me While The World Decays: Pick Of The Year 2o23 was accompanied by the inevitable contest to win a copy of the CD. The question concerned the ancient rapping duo Pete & Bas, and required you to tell me the title of Bas' solo album. What's the catch? All you need to do is find out Bas' full name and you're just a Google search away. Unfortunately, most official sources - from the BBC up to Wikipedia - will tell you he's called Basil Bellgrave, and that's a fib. A man with Bas' past needs to use a fake name so people can't tell what he's been up to, and that's what's happened here. As uncovered by some internet detectives on Reddit, his real name is Basil Preuveneers (although he's the director of a company called 81 Belgrave Road Management, which may explain his choice of pseudonym). Bas is a semi-retired notary public who's stepping back from his business to pursue 'a love of music,' according to their website. He certainly had a history of musicalachievement before his retirement, and now he's progressed to being one of the best-dressed rappers in the UK. But that's not all: in 2022 he recorded a solo piano album under his real name, allowing him to use the title... Preuven Classics Vol. 1. If you'd clicked on the right link in the Peter Gabriel paragraph on the competition page, you'd have found yourself in Bas' notary website, from which you could have got his real name and traced it all along from there. Dave possibly took a more scenic route to the answer, but nevertheless had it all wrapped up by 2.54pm on Christmas Day. So well done to him yet again, and apologies to his family for keeping him away from another Christmas dinner. As for the rest of you losers, you could probably do with some nice music to console yourselves...
[Updated 21/01/2024 to include the playlist for 2023.]
At least one of the links below tells you the full story, so I won't go through it all again. But in brief: since 1982, I've been producing an annual series of Pick Of The Year compilations, collating my favourite tracks from that year's music releases. From 1982 to 1989, they were gargantuan twin-tape affairs: between 1993 and 1997, they were single 90 minute cassettes: and since 1998, I've been burning them onto CDs. (I didn't make compilations at the time for 1990-1992, but two decades later I created some CD-length ones as a best-guess approximation with the benefit/hindrance of hindsight.)
1998 was the year that I started writing about these compilations on the interwub, as they were being produced. The years before then have been subsequently been documented on this site, with a lot of ironic pointing and laughing at the sort of junk I used to listen to. Put all that together, and you've got a hefty collection of tracks covering my musical interests from 1982 to the present day.
And thanks to YouTube, you can hear most of them right now. The playlists below aren't complete, inevitably: some artists are less happy than others about letting their product be heard for free. But the vast majority of the songs I've chosen are there in some form or other - from official record company videos, to slapdash fan-made tributes consisting of a single still image with the song playing over the top. (I guess my own Felix Project videos fall somewhere in between those two stools.)
Anyway, you've got a couple of days' worth of music here that I've liked at one time or another. And I'll be updating this page each time I produce a new POTY compilation. Enjoy.
For those of you who don't want to look at videos, there are also Spotify playlists available for each year, although many of them have at least one track missing. See the relevant pages covering the years 1982-1989, 1990-1999, 2000-2009 and 2010-2019. And if you make it all the way to the bottom of this page, you'll be rewarded with a single 791-song, 63 and a half hour playlist of the whole damn lot (though the widget only displays the first hundred tracks, the coward).
I started going to the London Film Festival in 1989, and I've been there every year since. Thanks to a combination of Spank Gold articles (after-the-fact writeups of the 1989-1997 festivals), reposts (pieces written for the old site between 1998 and 2005) and live blogging (since 2006), I've got a record of every single film I've seen at those Festivals.
Trying to pick your way through all of those is obviously going to be hellish, hence the index below. Similar to the equivalent index I've assembled for the Edinburgh Festival, each year links to the relevant piece on that particular LFF, including a roughly chronological list of what I saw (plus, of course, any additional films reviewed by Spank's Pals). As a bonus, you get a thumbnail-sized history of programme cover designs.
This will be updated each year after the LFF, so most of the time this page should be resident at the top of the LFF folder on the site. Have yourselves a good old browse through, and try not to think too hard about how much the tickets for all this lot have cost me over the last couple of decades.
Books: One of my favourite gags by the comedian Andrew O’Neill is based around the social media pastime of sharing deliberately unpopular opinions. Whereas most other people’s opinions are weak sauce like ‘The Matrix Reloaded is just as good as the first one,’ Andrew goes in hard with ‘AGRICULTURE WAS A MISTAKE.’ It’s the gargantuan leap of scale that makes it such a fabulous joke, along with the slight twinge you get when you wonder: what if it's true? What has our insistence on generating as much food as possible done to the rest of the planet’s ecosystem? It’s a question that’s come to mind as we’ve been listening to the audiobook of Wilding by Isabella Tree. As owner of the Knepp estate in West Sussex with her husband Charlie Burrell, they tried and failed to make it work as profitable farmland. So they decided to go in the other direction – letting the land grow wild, and adding free-roaming animals into the mix. Wilding is Tree’s retelling of the story of how this experiment progressed over the space of a couple of decades – and if the bare bones of the story sound familiar to you, it may be because The Belated Birthday Girl saw a documentary based on the book at the LFF a couple of months ago. She’s enjoying the book because it fills in the detail that a 75 minute film has to leave out. For me, it’s a terrific piece of storytelling: Tree (who narrates the audiobook herself) lays out the details of how they managed their project in an admirably clear fashion, making it more of a story and less of an agricultural stocktaking exercise.
Music: We’ve already celebrated the triumph of The BBG’s 2023 Undiscovered Gigs project, where the plan was to see twelve live shows by people we knew nothing about beforehand. But it’s worth spending a little more time talking about the 13th show on that list, where we didn’t know where the venue was until the day before, and didn’t even know the names of the people on the bill until we were in the building. Welcome to the slightly unnerving world of Sofar Sounds. Since 2009, they’ve been building a community of performers and gig-goers, bringing the two together in a series of secret-ish shows where the audience has to trust completely in the curation process. All you’re told at the time you buy the ticket is the approximate location and the type of venue you’ll be in – it could be anything from an already established performance space to sitting on the floor in someone’s living room. All other information on the show is subsequently dripfed to you on a need-to-know basis. For our first one, we played it safe and went for a venue-type venue in the Barbican area, which turned out to be Piano Smithfield. All three of the acts we saw that night - Jeanie White, Okiem and Jackson Rouse - were excellent: it’s possible that if we’d encountered Jackson Rouse before I’d locked down the track listing for POTY 2023, his single Wash My Hands might have ended up on there. We may have to do this again, possibly somewhere where we’re expected to bring our own cushion to sit on.
Theatre: Christmas is very much a time for certain types of theatrical experiences, and though we didn’t get around to seeing a panto this year, we did at least manage a family show with puppets and a performance of The Nutcracker. To be honest, we really should have caught up with My Neighbour Totoro during its first run at the Barbican last year, but were too slow off the mark: we were better prepared for the show's return visit, now running till March 23rd. It seems like an impossible task to take the wild fantasy of Hayao Miyazaki's animated classic and reproduce it theatrically, but director Phelim McDermott has form in making the improbable happen on stage, and his team rise to the challenge spectacularly. Crucially, this adaptation maintains your attention even during the long stretch in act two that doesn't involve puppets. As for Nutcracker, it's safe to say that this isn’t anything like the Russian State Ballet of Siberia’s traditional version we saw in Cardiff five Chrismasses ago: the cheeky tone's set very early on when a TV set can be heard playing the old Frank Muir Fruit & Nut advert. They've converted the former Spiritland bar on the ground floor of the Southbank Centre into a lovely popup venue called The Tuff Nut Jazz Club, where a cast of six dancers (choreographed by Drew McOnie) kinda sorta retell the story of the Nutcracker, to a jazz rearrangement of Tchaikovsky’s music by Cassie Kinoshi. It's all compressed into a ridiculously entertaining hour that's incredibly camp but somehow never cheesy with it. And after some performances you get the bonus of Nutcracker Nights, where guest artists convert the room into a proper jazz club. It's running till January 6th, so you've still got a few days if you missed it.