Simian Substitute Site for March 2023: Wales Ape & Monkey Sanctuary

Wales Ape & Monkey SanctuaryMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2023

Books: It was a surprise to look through the new release audiobooks this month and find that one of them was With Nails: The Film Diaries Of Richard E Grant, read by the author. It’s a surprise because I bought that book almost three decades ago, and it’s taken Grant that long to finally sit down in a studio and read it out loud. I’m assuming that his recent experience of recording the audiobook of his 2022 memoir A Pocketful Of Happiness gave him a taste for the medium. I had a memory of the book being a good fun read when it first came out in the nineties, and for large parts of it that’s true: we follow Grant from his debut in Withnail & I to Pret A Porter a decade later, as he marvels at his good fortune while still being detached enough to have a wryly cynical view of the movie business. However, I’d totally forgotten about the darker passages in his diaries: the story of the stillbirth of his first child is astonishingly intense (his emotional reading is a large part of that), and it takes a while for the book to get back to the amusing on-set anecdotes. But as a document of the first decade of a film actor’s career, it can’t be beat: although the thirty year gap between publication and recording must have given an awkward edge to him reading his tales of hanging out with Kevin Spacey.

Telly: I mentioned while we were in Edinburgh last year that The BBG and I had become fans of the New Zealand version of Taskmaster, which copies the framework and design of the UK show but has slowly developed its own distinct personality over the course of three seasons. As a result, we’ve become a lot more aware of the New Zealand comedy circuit, and the ridiculously small number of people in it. As proof of this, there’s currently a primetime show on NZ’s channel Three called Guy Montgomery’s Guy Mont Spelling Bee, whose cast appears to be made up almost entirely of Taskmaster NZ alumni (plus at least one person we saw at the Edinburgh improv show Snort). Like our own No More Jockeys, it originated as an online game that a bunch of comedians used during lockdown to amuse themselves and anyone else watching. Unlike Jockeys, though, Montgomery has managed to turn it into a working format for an entertaining TV show, even though its premise is literally ‘watching comedians trying to spell difficult words’. Elsewhere in the Antipodes, they’re a few episodes into the first ever season of Taskmaster Australia. It’s still at the bedding-in stage: Taskmaster Tom Gleeson is a little too Light Entertainment for the role, assistant Tom Cashman is enjoying himself a bit too much, and the audience laugh track has been doctored to sound positively inhuman. But some of the tasks have been absolute corkers, to the extent that – as with New Zealand – we can probably expect a few of them to be stolen for the UK version in a year or two.

Theatre: The first time I saw Richard Hawley, I wasn’t entirely impressed, but I warmed to him hugely over time. So as soon as I heard about Standing At The Sky’s Edge – a musical based around Hawley’s songs – I leapt at the chance to see it. Somehow, it wasn’t until a day or two before my visit to the National Theatre that a horrifying thought struck me: what if it turns out to be Mamma Mia! but with added references to Henderson’s Relish? Happily, this isn’t one of those jukebox shows where the plotting is jerry-built out of random lines from the songs, as long as you don’t count the scene where Open Up Your Door is sung by someone standing outside a door. Chris Bush’s book is generally a lot smarter than that, brilliantly structured around a single flat in Sheffield’s Park Hill estate, and interweaving the stories of three sets of people who’ve lived in it at different times. The young couple who moved in in the sixties, convinced that the steel industry would keep them going through thick and thin: the family of Liberian refugees who came over in the late eighties: and the newly-single woman taking advantage of the estate's 21st century gentrification. So it’s definitely not Mamma Mia!, but what we get instead is two shows battling it out for space on the same stage. An Our Friends In The North-style social history of Britain from 1960 to 2020, with some lovely echoes across its three timelines: and what amounts to a Richard Hawley ballet, with his songs proving surprisingly amenable to a Broadway-style makeover, and Lynne Page's spectacular choreography frequently involving the entire 21-strong cast. The frustrating thing is that both of these shows are great, but it just feels like we’re constantly flipping between one and the other: if the two could have fitted together better, this could have been magnificent. Still, I’m happy to settle for great. It’s running at the National until March 25th.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for March 2023: Wales Ape & Monkey Sanctuary" »

Always Evolving: #JFTFP23

They could have at least made the last woman on the filmstrip a robot or something.I've been covering the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme both here (2008, 2010, 2011, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022) and over there (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017) for so long now, it probably deserves its own blog category. This is actually the 20th year of the programme, and its brief is still the same: to create a showcase of current and classic Japanese films, take them out on tour across the arthouse cinemas of the UK, and come up with the most ridiculously contrived theme to tie them together into a single season.

I've had a giggle at some of the excuses the Japan Foundation has used in the past to say a particular collection of films belongs together, but the full title of the 2023 season - Always Evolving: Japanese Cinema Then, Now And For The Future - is really clutching at straws. Here, basically, are some old films and some new ones. Still, as ever it's an interesting collection, so let's look at seven of the twenty that are travelling the country until March 31st.

Continue reading "Always Evolving: #JFTFP23" »

BrewDogging #83: Wandsworth

In and out of Wandsworth with the numbers on their names, it's funny how their missus always looks the bleedin' sameLast time on BrewDogging, I called into the Upminster bar just before Christmas, and wrote about it a month later. Not too long after the post went online, I realised that there was something important that I forgot to mention. The BrewDogging post before that one was written in August 2022, the climax of a berserk week which took in visits to bars that had recently opened in Inverurie, Ellon, Waterloo and Edinburgh. Waterloo was the most attention-grabbing of the four, being the biggest bar that BrewDog – or, depending on your criteria, anyone else – had opened in the UK.

Which made it all the more awkward when a couple of weeks later, they closed down half a dozen or so of their older bars. Three of them were former Draft Houses that they’d rebranded as BrewDog pubs, which we don’t cover here. But regular readers will recognise the other three. Peterhead, one of the smaller locations on the outskirts of Aberdeen: Old Street, the alcohol-free experiment which first dropped the ‘free’ bit of the concept, and then the ‘alcohol’: and Dalston, whose terrific vegan menu – a rare deviation from the standard BrewDog nosh – will make it the most sadly missed in this household.

It’s not just happening to BrewDog, of course, and it's not just limited to the UK. It's come to light that we lost Florence some time in the last twelve months: it's possible we might have lost Itaewon as well, but nobody at BrewDog seems to want to give a straight answer as to why it’s been closed for "refurbishment" for so long. Times are tough, we get it. And yet BrewDog are still bullishly opening new bars, and making them bigger and bigger, with Waterloo and Las Vegas being the most visible examples.

There aren’t many situations where you can mention Wandsworth in the same breath as Las Vegas, but I guess this is one of them.

Continue reading "BrewDogging #83: Wandsworth" »

Simian Substitute Site for February 2023: Monkey Valentine


Books: Our first new audiobook of 2023 is one that we’ve been thinking about buying for a while now – since August 25th last year, to be precise. That was when we saw Oliver Bullough being interviewed by Ian Rankin on stage at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in an event which you can still watch on a pay-what-you-like basis on their website. Watch it now, and see if it makes you as keen to read/hear Butler To The World as it did us. Bullough has a simple question he wants to answer: how did Britain go from being a dominating superpower to become the place where the rest of the world goes to launder its money? He takes a forensic approach to the history of modern British corruption, taking the Suez debacle as his starting point, and tracing from there how Britain’s USP transitioned from Owning An Empire to Fannying Around With The Monetary System. I suspect Bullough has broadcast journalism somewhere in his background, because he reads this splendidly in the audiobook edition, keeping the whole thing thoroughly engaging even as he delves into the complexities of international finance and the long-term impact of deregulation. Having said that, if you go for the just-published paperback edition instead, you’ll get a bonus chapter looking at how the Ukraine situation has changed things in the year since the book’s original publication. Your call.

Music: Here’s a set of simple instructions for you. 1: go to the page on this site for my 2022 Pick Of The Year music compilation, Take The Drums Out, and scroll down to the bottom of the page to read the competition, which was first published at around noon on Christmas Day. 2: scroll back up to the top of the page and read the mouseover text on the cover image. 3: page through the posts I wrote on this site in 2022 to see which one was the first to feature that cover image – there were only 52, it won’t take too long. 4: having located the post, read the text around the picture and work out which of the locations mentioned may have featured lots of people dancing to a Viking thrashing at a drumkit. 5: look up the location by name on Google Maps. 6: right click on the location and make a note of the first set of numbers that appear in the popup. Depending where on the marker you click, they should be something like 64.14741053278492, -21.937786882702298, the co-ordinates for the bar Lemmy in Reykjavik where that photo was taken. Oh, I’m sorry, was that too difficult a competition for you? Tell it to Dave, who sent me his answer at 7.13pm on Christmas Frickin’ Day. He wins again. Everyone else, at least try to make an effort next year.

Telly: Another Christmas tradition that seems to have sprung up in recent years is our taking out a Disney+ subscription for a month, bingewatching anything good that’s been added to their catalogue since we last subscribed, and then cancelling it before they can charge us for a second month. Putting aside the Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special (45 minutes of pure James-Gunn-in-kid-friendly-mode delight) and Star Wars: Andor (in which absolutely nothing had happened by the end of episode 2, so fuck that noise), there are two series which hooked us this time around, neither of which should come as any sort of surprise. All too often, streaming shows work for one complete season and then run out of ideas second time around. This may explain why I’ve particularly warmed to Only Murders In The Building, which had the brass-balled audacity to set up the plot for its second season in the opening minutes of its first: creators Steve Martin and John Hoffman (and their writing team) know exactly where they’re going. The balance between new characters and returning old favourites is maintained beautifully, as is the balance between a twisty murder mystery and the joy of watching some old mates mucking about. Meanwhile, if unbalanced is what you want, how about a Korean drama with Takashi Miike in the director’s chair? Based on a web series, Connect tells the story of a young musician who falls victim to an organ harvesting gang, but manages to escape with only one eye missing. Unfortunately, in certain situations he can still see stuff through his missing eye, which has now been transplanted into someone else’s head. Even more unfortunately, the recipient of his eye is a serial killer. And I still haven’t told you the most ridiculous aspect of the plot yet. It’s six episodes of overblown violent insanity, and Miike turns out to be the ideal person to bring it to the screen. In very different ways, Murders and Connect are surprisingly addictive, which is why we’re still watching them at the time of writing and have had to let our Disney+ subscription roll over into a second month. Damn you, Mouse!

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for February 2023: Monkey Valentine" »

Picks Of The Year 1982 - 2022: The Video Playlists

Picks Of The Year 1993 - 2008 inclusive. There isn't enough image space on the page to include them all, sorry.[Updated 27/01/2023 to include the playlist for 2022.]

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 773-song, 62 hour playlist of the whole damn lot (though the widget only displays the first hundred tracks, the coward).

Continue reading "Picks Of The Year 1982 - 2022: The Video Playlists" »