Books: Our last audiobook of 2022 is a welcome return to showbiz fluff. Trevor Horn says as much in the opening sentences of Adventures In Modern Recording, making it clear that the family tragedies that have been a major part of his life this century won’t be covered here. Instead, this is a memoir focused on his life in the music business. Horn’s professional career started as a bass player precisely at the time when big bands like the one he was in were falling out of fashion, to be replaced by beat groups. He eventually made it onto Top Of The Pops as frontman of The Buggles, but gradually realised he was better suited as a producer than a performer. The book breaks down neatly into individual chapters looking at the stories behind specific records he worked on: the chapter on Duck Rock is one of the wildest, as Horn and Malcolm McLaren wander round Africa and America recording everything they hear without having the faintest idea what sort of record they want to make. Truth be told, Horn isn’t an especially elegant writer, but he’s at his best coming up with neat verbal illustrations of his processes: like programming a precisely calibrated bass and drum track, getting the band to play along with it, and then taking the programmed bits away, which he describes as being like using tracing to come up with a picture of your own. (Except for Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax, where he threw away the tracing paper instead. But that’s another story.)
Theatre: I mentioned in my review of 2022’s Edinburgh Festival that we were a bit short on theatre events, and to be honest that’s been true for the last 12 months. Happily, with just a couple of days left in the year, I finally got to see something that counts as a theatrical highlight. The Wife Of Willesden is Zadie Smith’s reworking of Chaucer’s The Wife Of Bath, transplanted to present day north-west London – it’s running at Kilburn’s Kiln theatre until February 11th. Smith keeps Chaucer’s original structure from The Canterbury Tales, with more time dedicated to our introduction to the narrator than to the actual tale she tells. Alvita (Clare Perkins) has been married five times and survived them all, so when she says she has a story about how men and women relate to each other, you need to listen. Robert Jones’ gloriously immersive pub set – pay the extra few quid to sit at one of the tables, you won’t regret it – is the perfect setting for Indhu Rubasingham’s energetic production, with a smallish cast juggling multiple roles superbly. God knows what they’ll make of it in Brooklyn when it transfers there in April, but hopefully they’ll know a good time when they see it.
Travel: Well, not travel as such. For the second year in a row, The Belated Birthday Girl and I decided to stay in a central London hotel over Christmas and let them do all the work. (Malmaison London, since you ask.) Still, along the way we got to pretend to be tourists on a couple of occasions. One was a visit to Lift 109, the newly-opened elevator ride up one of the chimneys in Battersea Power Station. Aside from disappointment at one of London’s most iconic buildings being converted into another fucking shopping centre, the main potential cause of disappointment is not being aware that even though your ticket pays for a 45 minute ‘experience’, only 8 of those minutes will be spent admiring the view at the top of the chimney – the rest of the time will be spent queuing, or interacting with low quality video displays. Go in expecting that, and you’ll have a fine time - the view from the top is lovely, especially on a clear night. But for more low-tech, longer-lasting thrills, go to the Postal Museum and its history of Britain’s world-leading post service, because your ticket price includes a 15 minute ride on the little underground train they used to use to ferry mail from one side of London to the other. The ticket gives you unlimited access to the non-rail bits of the museum for 12 months, which isn’t that terrific a deal unless you’re particularly interested in their temporary exhibits (to be fair, the current one about postcodes is pretty cool, though it's only sticking around until January 8th). But one ride on the train and a look around the exhibits is well worth fifteen quid, particularly if you check out their collection of GPO films.
In the meantime, your Simian Substitute Site for January 2023 is the website for Monkey Climber Magazine. The first sentence of their mission statement will explain why: “Running our print mag since 2011 we always took an alternative look at carp fishing, coming from a skate/surf & hardcore/punk background.” I'm not sure how far you'll be into 2023 by the time you read this, but I'm pretty certain that a punk rock carp fishing fanzine is the best idea you've heard of so far this year. The mag is published twice a year, and the site will let you order back issues, read their frequent blog entries, purchase merch, and download phone wallpapers with uplifting messages like “be kind to carp or we’ll kill you.”
As for new stuff in January: there’s probably not going to be much, though there’ll be the odd bit of late end-of-year admin, and at least one piece of new material based on a day out we spent just before Christmas. Use the comment box below if you’d like to guess where that was. Happy New Year, all!