Books: What an appalling travel writer I am. Seriously. Six months after we went to Japan, I still haven't managed to post a full writeup of the highlights on here (though I've at least managed to crack a first draft, and you should see the final thing over the next few weeks). Even a lazy sod like Karl Pilkington has managed to write two whole books about his travels. The Further Adventures Of An Idiot Abroad is the most recent one, and it's effectively the novelisation of his second TV series (with a curiously brief postscript covering series 3, which has just started on Sky One). I've never been entirely sure about An Idiot Abroad: Pilkington works beautifully in the context of The Ricky Gervais Show, where it's obvious that it's as much about him winding up Merchant and Gervais as the other way round. Put his character in the middle of real people - foreign real people, at that - and his misanthropy becomes that little bit more uncomfortable. But his schtick translates terrifically into a lavishly illustrated book like this one (Freddie Claire's lovely photos may not make it into the paperback edition, so get the hardback while you can). It's always clear that he's the butt of the joke, and it's delightful to catch those rare occasions when he turns out to enjoy something, even if it's just the slow pace of a Japanese tea ceremony: "I liked the way we didn't speak the same language and were from different parts of the world but tea brought us together. I left before they washed up though 'cos Christ knows how long that takes them."
Movies: As I mentioned in my wrapup of LFF 2012, this was one of those rare festivals when I didn't catch any of the music-based films, mainly down to the struggle to fit sixteen days worth of movies into a twelve day schedule. And the one I was most annoyed at missing was Good Vibrations, Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn's retelling of the life of Belfast punk rock legend Terri Hooley. Thankfully, it recently had another London screening as part of the Irish Film Festival London, in advance of a proper release in March 2013. The film does a terrific job of capturing the knife-edge feel of Belfast in the seventies, with the entire city divided, and anyone who avoids taking a side finding themselves on the least popular side of all. Richard Dormer pulls off miracles in the role of Terri Hooley, the music fan whose Good Vibrations record shop and label became the public face of Northern Irish punk, particularly when he released John Peel's favourite record of all time. In a terrific balancing act, he's never entirely sympathetic, but you never stop wanting him to succeed anyway. The supporting cast is equally fine, including yet another one of those occasions when I've marvelled at a lead actress' work and only realised at the end that it's Jodie Whittaker again. The music is terrific, obviously, and its energy level transfers to the film as a whole. It's just a shame they didn't have any time to namecheck Good Vibrations recording artistes Cruella de Ville, though.
Music: Neil Hannon, lead genius of The Divine Comedy, had his 42nd birthday on November 7th. This information was made widely available when tickets went on sale for his November 7th gig at the Royal Festival Hall, but I don't think I'd appreciated just how much of a birthday present to himself it would turn out to be. With a crowd already made frivolous by the handing out of free party hats and blowers, he ran through a selection of the old favourites with the help of a couple of special guests, Alison Moyet being the most spectacular. And then, halfway through the gig, he suddenly unveiled a string quartet and announced that he was going to perform the whole of Promenade, the 1994 album that was my introduction to The Divine Comedy. It was lovely to hear these songs again (some of them have hardly ever been done live before), but it has to be said that Promenade is the work of a precocious 24-year-old who has complete self-confidence in what he's doing, and the older Hannon can't quite reach the heights required to make some of its more self-indulgent sections work. Still, what better time than your birthday to be self-indulgent? Many happy returns, Mr Hannon. Now write some new stuff. We're waiting.
In the meantime, your Simian Substitute Site Of The Month for December 2012 is mixtape number PMB090 from Project Moonbase, a nifty little number entitled Monkey Magic. The idea behind Project Moonbase is a fine one - each week DJ Bongoboy and MC Zirconium assemble a selection of obscure tracks around a basic theme, and present them as an online radio show for your streaming or downloading pleasure.
This is their 90th edition, as the serial number implies, and it features monkey-related tunes from The John Barry Seven, The Swing Ninjas, Godiego, The Kongsmen, Ramsey Lewis, Fabio Frizzi, Cara Stewart, Messer Chups and Arpadys. What, you've only heard of John Barry out of that lot? Well, that's why Project Moonbase are so good at what they do. Have a listen to number 90, then check out some of the others. At the time of writing, their latest effort is a train-based mix, which includes Vernon Elliott's theme to Ivor The Engine.
If Suze's recent comments are to be believed, nobody reads these Simian Substitute Site pages any more. Prove him wrong in the comment box below if you like.