Simian Substitute Site For March 2014: The Serco Prize for Illustration
BrewDogging #14: Sheffield

Simian Substitute Site For April 2014: Harp And A Monkey


Movies: Recently, The Belated Birthday Girl and I spent a Saturday night at home, watching a live stream of John Otway playing at the Half Moon Putney. At the time, it seemed like a curiously hi-tech thing for an old geezer like Otway to be doing. But a subsequent viewing of Otway The Movie - a biographical film that its subject is currently carrying around from cinema to cinema for a series of one-night-only screenings - revealed that this has been part of his modus operandi for some time now. Otway was one of the first artists to realise the power of an internet-enabled fanbase: initially getting them to vote Beware Of The Flowers the seventh most popular song lyric of all time, and then using them to co-ordinate the assault on the top ten that was his 2002 single Bunsen Burner. (I'd almost forgotten the row at the time over Woolworths snottily refusing to stock the record: still, as one interviewee points out, they went bust three years later, so fuck 'em.) Sure, the main narrative drive of the movie is a hilarious series of anecdotes about how Otway got his reputation as Rock And Roll's Greatest Failure, but I'm glad that it celebrates the stuff he's good at too. Catch the film on tour as it moves around, or wait for the DVD that he says should be on the way eventually.

Music: One of the highlights of Otway The Movie is some lovely footage from one of his other follies: an overambitious gig at the Royal Albert Hall in 1998, featuring support from loads of his mates and me in the audience. One of those mates was Wilko Johnson, whom I hadn't seen since his heyday with Dr Feelgood: both the late Rob D and I were astonished that without his distinctive haircut he now looked like Brian Eno. I started seeing him live on an irregular basis after that reintroduction, so when he announced his terminal cancer diagnosis last year it hit me pretty hard. But Johnson's refusing to go quietly: in the middle of a final series of concerts that's been going on far longer than his initially estimated lifespan, he's now released an album - Going Back Home - revisiting some of his classic tunes with no less than Roger Daltrey on lead vocals. In a curious reversal of the way it tends to work with classic rockers, Daltrey's lower register is somewhat gravelly these days, but he hits the high notes with almost as much force and clarity as he ever did. Meanwhile, Wilko is still Wilko: "smashing down the boundaries between lead and rhythm guitar in much the same way as he's always done for the last 35 years," as I appear to have said back in 2011. For a record made by a pair of pensioners, one of whom is living under a death sentence, it's got a ludicrous amount of life to it.

Theatre: It's sometimes easier to assume that Daniel Kitson never performs live, ever. Given how quickly his shows sell out, I'm still not quite sure how we came by tickets for Analog.Ue as easily as we did: and now that its run at the National Theatre is over, I'm not sure if there'll ever be another chance for you to see it. Another one of Kitson's storytelling shows, this one - like his earlier Edinburgh hit, It's Always Right Now Until It's Over - interweaves two stories, using physical props to mark out the chapters of each one. In the past, an old man sits down in front of an array of tape recorders to talk about his life. In the present, a young woman has acquired one of the tapes from that session, and has become dangerously obsessed with it. At that level, it's another fine piece of human observation from Kitson, as ever revelling in the tiny details that make life living. But it wasn't until after the performance that The Belated Birthday Girl asked me a question which made me realise I'd missed an entire level of the narrative - a series of throwaway details that reveals where the young woman's obsession eventually takes her. The fact that both interpretations of the story work equally well suggests that this is some sort of genius at work. But as I said, your chances of seeing it again are vanishingly small - as Kitson points out, the staging of his piece has a real-life endgame planned for it, and I'll be fascinated to see if there's any way of discovering how that works out.

In the meantime, your Simian Substitute Site for April 2014 is Harp And A Monkey, the official homepage of a three-man band of electrofolk storytellers from Lancashire. I first became aware of them thanks to Mike Harding and his terrific Folk Show podcasts - I end up downloading more of them than I actually ever listen to, but the ones I listen to are always full of good stuff. HAAM are the sort of band who cherish a review calling them "the sons of the Oldham Tinkers locked in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop with only the British Film Institute back catalogue and a handful of scratchy folk LPs from the early seventies for company," and I'm the sort of person that a description like that was directly aimed at. From the website, you can read about their history, listen to some of their tunes, and become frustrated at their general reluctance to play down south. Their new album, All Life Is Here, has just hit the shops, and is where the image at the top of the page comes from.

What about me, though? The more eagle-eyed of you will have noticed that since the Simian page on March 1st, there's been precisely bugger all new content on this site for an entire month, which I think is some sort of first since The Great Hiatus Of 2006. Sorry about that. At the moment, my life is tied up completely between work stuff and domestic stuff, both of which are going well, but to such a degree that I've got no real time for anything else. It probably seems like a copout to announce that the six-months-late writeup of our Hong Kong holiday got a bit further along in March without actually being published, but it's true.

Anyway, I think things should run a little more smoothly in April. There should be some progress on those travel pieces that have been on the back burner for ages, plus a new thingy for Mostly Film, and the return of a feature that you'd probably assumed was long gone. Unless none of them happen at all, of course. Either way, the comments box is below: you know what you can do with it.



Listened to a bit of Wilko being interviewed on the radio last week. Other than that I don't know what to say, but you know what I mean ............

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