Simian Substitute Site for April 2021: Medicine Monkey

Medicine MonkeyMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MARCH 2021

Books: Two months into our audiobook-at-bedtime regime, The Belated Birthday Girl came up with a perfectly valid point: "could we have a female voice for a change?" So after Buxton, Mortimer and Whitehouse, our next book was The Lottery And Other Stories by Shirley Jackson, inspired by that recent film that was kinda sorta about her. Our first attempt at listening to fiction in audio form, and to be honest short stories are perfect for the 20-30 minutes a night we're allocating to the task. Narrator Francine Brody does a decent job of making all these tales distinctive, although inevitably certain voices keep popping up again and again - the buttoned-up housewife, or the whiny teen. As for the stories themselves, they're a fascinatingly diverse selection, ranging from whimsical tales of petty inconvenience to out-and-out psychological horror. Jackson's sense of place is extraordinary - the homes where her characters live inevitably come to define who they are, which is what makes Like Mother Used To Make such a wicked little tale. The fact that she was even prepared to discuss race out loud in the late 1940s is something I wasn't expecting, although the way in which Flower Garden announces itself as a story about race halfway through comes as a jolt these days. The odd little themes and motifs that reoccur throughout these otherwise unconnected stories give the collection an implied throughline, making the whole thing a very satisfying listen. We finished it a couple of weeks ago, and now we're back to non-fiction and men again - but that's a discussion for next month.

Music: March 2021 has been notable for people looking back at their naive predictions of how things were going to pan out after March 2020. Here are mine, if you're interested. (And as we started the first year of this mess with a monkey-themed cartoon from Private Eye, let's start the second year the same way.) Many of these monthly roundups since then have been full of reports on online gigs. We don't do as many of them as we used to, but they're still very much happening. Here's a good one from this month: Kid Carpet, live from the Town Hall in Trowbridge. Alarmingly, it appears to have been almost exactly a decade since we last saw the Kid play a gig for grown-ups: theatre shows and stuff for children have been keeping him occupied since then. Some of the songs from those shows end up in this set, along with a couple of unreleased ones and some old favourites. (He even plays Gordano! Thank you oh Lord and Baby Jesus, as a wise man said in some YouTube comments once.) It's all as ramshackle and entertaining as ever, and it's almost in keeping with the music to have it videoed by a company that normally does weddings. It's part of a whole series of gigs shot in and by Trowbridge Town Hall, because they'd like people to give them some money while they can't put on live shows. Maybe you could consider doing that.

Travel: Last month's posts were all about online film festivals: and next month I'll probably say a bit about online beer festivals too. Is there any kind of festival that can't be held on the internet? Well, if anything was going to test that theory, it was the St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin. Magnificently, this year the parade was replaced by a YouTube-based arts festival that literally occupied a six day weekend. The theory was meant to be that all the video they produced would be taken down a few days after Paddy's Day itself, but it's the beginning of April now and it all still seems to be here. Two highlights stood out for me, both coincidentally involving artists who were on last year's Pick Of The Year compilation. Mary Coughlan contributed A Song And A Chat, a mixture of leisurely interview and greatest hits set, both of which were extremely enjoyable. And Blindboy Boatclub was all over the shop, delivering a set of five nightly short lectures on the subject of Creativity And Mental Health, topping it all off on the final night with a reading of his short story Jo Lee (content warning: contains content). To be honest, those are the only ones that I saw, but there's hours (if not days) of other stuff available, and the big traditional finale live from Whelan's has to be worth a look.

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This Is My Place: #JFTFP21 (part 3 of 3)

Little Miss PeriodWell, you've missed it all, I'm afraid. The 2021 edition of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme was only online between February 19th and March 10th, and now it's all gone apart from a few of the accompanying webchats (specifically the season introduction, a discussion on realism in Japanese cinema, and a chat about Bizen pottery that ties in with one of the films I didn't see). Yes, the final part of this writeup of what I saw in the season is a bit late, but at least it's not three months late like last year's.

So, assuming we can skip the basics because you've already read part one and part two, here comes part three of my review of this year's programme, which of necessity has to start by explaining why the photo at the top of this page is meant to represent a menstruating woman.

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Glasgow Film Festival 2021

In other years, this design would probably have made for a pretty sweet t-shirt.It's been an interesting twelve months for online film festivals, as long as you don't think too hard about all of the stuff happening outside which has forced us to have online film festivals in the first place. On this site, I've reviewed a few of my favourite real-world fests that have successfully pivoted to video (LFF, Sheffield Doc/Fest, JFTFP): and I've also covered a new one that was set up entirely from scratch (We Are One).

But here's a category I've steered clear of until now: real-world festivals that I've never got around to attending before, which are now open to me because they've moved online. Glasgow Film Festival has a perfectly fine reputation, but I'd never considered taking time out of my schedule to travel up there to be part of it. But if you put it all online and charge people a tenner a go to see a programme with some surprisingly hot movies in it, then you have my attention.

So, for one year only - hopefully, and I say that without any malice towards it - welcome to the only Scottish film festival worth a damn. (I believe the young people call this 'subtweeting'.)

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This Is My Place: #JFTFP21 (part 2 of 3)

ExtroAs is traditionally the case with the annual Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme, we need to spend a little time poking fun at the utterly generic season title and theme. To quote from their website: "Everybody wants to be part of something, no matter what you do or who you are... But what is it that people mean when they say ‘my place’; when they refer to their sense of existence and belonging?"

So, it's a season of films about people in places. Got it. To be fair, there are a couple of movies in this programme that explore a common theme in Japanese cinema, where someone fails to fit in to what's generally thought of as a very conformist society. But there's not so much of the opposite of that, where people find themselves part of something that outsiders simply can't understand. When the theme of this year's programme was announced, I hoped that they might have found room for Tonde Saitama, which we saw unsubtitled during our 2018 holiday: sure, many of the local references may not travel, but the idea of a small community revelling in how much it's hated by the big city next door is universal, and the end title song sums that up perfectly.

Sadly, we didn't get that one in this season, mainly because it was ridiculously popular and award-winning, which probably put it out of the Japan Foundation's budget. So instead, following on from the first part, here are four more films that they could afford.

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Simian Substitute Site for March 2021: RZSS Snow Monkey Cam

RZSS Snow Monkey CamMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2021

Books: We’re continuing our nightly ritual for 2021 of doing 20-30 minutes of an audio book before bed. A large chunk of our February was taken up with Gone Fishing, the audio version of the book of the TV show of Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse’s fishing trips. Obviously, it’s a very different beast from what we’ve seen on telly – Gone Fishing is one of the best-looking things on the small screen this decade – but I suspect it’s very different from the printed book as well. We get solo sections written by Bob or Paul about their particular connection to fishing: and we get two-way banter sections that feel like they were transcribed from an earlier conversation and are being re-enacted in a slightly stiff way. On top of that, the audiobook offers sequences where they’re obviously going off-script and just mucking about for a laugh: plus there’s a chapter where they throw all convention out the window and leave the studio for a bit. You could imagine all these tones sitting uncomfortably alongside each other, but it’s still Mortimer and Whitehouse, and the daft charm of their relationship carries you over the awkward transitions.

Music: In more normal times, January and February would be when bands would release their big singles, as a tease for all the new material they had coming later in the year. But these aren’t more normal times. As a result, my first Audio Lair playlist of 2021 is a little too heavy on old and reissued material for my liking. Still, it is what it is, and as usual there are links to YouTube videos for people who don't do audio streaming.

  1. King Rocker, the recently televised documentary about The Nightingales, is as much of a delight as people say it is. The end titles sequence – played over this particular video – is my favourite bit.
  2. There are plenty of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu videos featuring her with monsters, though I believe that this is the first one that depicts her getting all Tony Jaa on their asses.
  3. I don't really know Black Country, New Road - all I can tell you is that this song’s been turning up a lot during the 45 minutes I spend each day listening to the radio, and I still get wrongfooted by its wonky rhythms for its first minute or so.
  4. The Kunts’ attempt at a Christmas number one was doomed to failure, because everyone – including us – was streaming the usual festive nonsense all day on December 25th. Asian Dub Foundation’s push for a New Year’s Day number one was much more successful, as it didn’t have to compete with people’s nostalgia for George Michael.
  5. Binker & Moses are saxophonist Binker Golding (who I don’t know) and drummer Moses Boyd (who I’ve been following with interest since I saw him support Kamasi Washington a couple of years ago), and this is the filthy racket that they make.
  6. The BBG reports that Cathal Coughlan's new stuff sounds a lot like he used to in Microdisney, and that this is A Good Thing. I concur.
  7. The latest round in The KLF’s unexpected re-release of their long-deleted back catalogue, Come Down Dawn is their 1990 ambient album Chill Out with all the uncleared samples removed (except for the huge Pink Floyd one I can hear, or is that just me?).
  8. Bloody hell, Gary Numan appears to still have it, doesn't he?
  9. And he'd be the first to admit that Ultravox are the people he originally got it from. For some reason, it’s been decided that now would finally be a good time to release a live album and video of theirs that’s been on the shelf for 44 years, from an era when they hadn’t quite decided yet what sort of band they were.
  10. A last-minute addition to this playlist, taken from the surprise album that Nick Cave and Warren Ellis suddenly pulled out of their arses last Thursday.
  11. Bonus track! It would have been more useful if Lego had come up with this nine months ago, though, when people were prepared to listen to any old shit while they were working from home.


Telly: There’s no denying that right now, world-class telly is still being made. Some days, though, only garbage will do, which is why I’m talking about History Of Swear Words here. Netflix are selling it as a comedy programme (it’s made by the Funny Or Die people), but it’s a bit short on proper laughs: it’s a mixture of serious analysis by experts in linguistics and social history, and riffs by comedians on why these particular words are funny to say. And it’s all held together by host Nicolas Cage overacting in the style he’s made entirely his own. It’s a mess, but entertaining enough in twenty minute chunks, and has the odd moment of surprising insight. For me, the most interesting episode was the one dedicated to the word ‘damn’, a case study of a word that once was offensive but isn’t any more. Religious taboos don’t mean much these days: and in our lifetimes, the show suggests, our current swears involving sex and excretion will probably go the same way, as these days the most taboo words available are slurs. Nicolas Cage isn’t going to be narrating a light-hearted seminar on the N-word in season two, or any time this decade. In the meantime, we can wait and see if they’ve got any words left to analyse in a second season. I’ve already put a bet on the C-word for the series finale.

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This Is My Place: #JFTFP21 (part 1 of 3)

It's not a particularly exciting poster this year, but at least it's not the eyeball-inside-a-mouth horror that 2020's was.It's a difficult time to be thinking too hard about what'll happen in the future. But I suspect that whatever happens, in years to come we won't be hitting the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme as heavily as we have been in the past.

I said that back in June last year, when I was writing about the 2020 iteration of the film festival (which I'll be calling JFTFP from now on, because life's too short). After more than a decade - we'd been going there since 2008 - of indulging in their annual collections of recent and classic Japanese cinema, finally the sheer cost of seeing these things at the ICA had just become prohibitive, with every single discount we used to get being whittled away. There were times in the past when the number of films we saw at JFTFP went into double figures, and that's not even counting the years when I was getting freebie screeners from the Japan Foundation so that I could preview them for MostlyFilm. But not any more, it would seem.

Unless, of course, there was some sort of catastrophic chain of events that resulted in the 2021 JFTFP shifting online and becoming free. So here we are.

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Simian Substitute Site for February 2021: Miss Monkey's Valentine's Day Problem

Miss Monkey's Valentine's Day ProblemMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JANUARY 2021

Books: For the first time in my life, I own a device that’s capable of purchasing and playing audio books. It’s the Nokia 8.3 5G, a phone so cutting edge that it features in the new James Bond film. (Well, it used to...) So, for 2021 we have a new pre-bedtime routine: listening to 20 or 30 minutes of an audio book per night. Our first one is Ramble Book, a sort of memoir by Adam Buxton. In part, it's a look back at Buxton's childhood in the 1980s, focussing not just on his school and work experiences but also on the films and music that shaped him (the latter augmented with a glorious set of Spotify playlists). But it keeps switching between that period and the present day, looking at his relationship with his father during the last few years of the latter's life. Buxton seems determined to portray himself in as bad a light as possible - a constant theme throughout the book is his frustration at how his schoolmates (notably Joe Cornish and Louis Theroux) are achieving much more than he seems to be. And there's a niggling suspicion that his life isn't quite as interesting as he thinks it is, particularly as the book takes pains to largely avoid the period of time when he was properly famous. But he uses the audiobook format well, bringing his expertise as a podcaster to make it sonically interesting (for example, when he goes outdoors to record the sidebar digressions or 'rambles'). It's an enjoyable bedtime listen, and that's all we were looking for at this early stage in the year. Will we go for more challenging choices as 2021 progresses? Watch this space.

Comedy: As reported here three months ago, we came to Taskmaster ridiculously late, and are currently spending a couple of evenings every week catching up. But now we also have to catch up with a YouTube gameshow called No More Jockeys featuring three Taskmaster alumni: creator Alex Horne, collaborator Tim Key and contestant Mark Watson. The rules are, when you think about it, simple: "On each turn, players name a person plus a category they fall under. That person and category are then eliminated, and subsequent people must not fall under that category. As more categories are added it gets harder, and eventually impossible, to name anyone new." You might just have to watch an episode if that explanation didn't make much sense. As the games progress, the discussions and challenges become more and more digressive - ultimately, Jockeys is more of a bants-generating algorithm than an actual contest. But it's a very good one, with the same delightful edge of silliness to it that Taskmaster has. We've joined it just at the start of the third set, with new matches appearing online every Friday.

Theatre: We've seen a few pre-recorded theatre shows online over the past year or so, and they've been fine. But somehow, watching a play that you know is being performed right this second has more of a dramatic edge to it, and I really can't explain why. Hence my joy at Project Arts Centre's livestream of The Approach a couple of weeks ago. It turns out to be a pretty good play to stage in a pandemic: three characters who only ever appear two at a time, holding conversations at opposite ends of a subtly extended cafe table. Writer/director Mark O'Rowe has been mentioned here before in the context of his 2008 Edinburgh Fringe hit Terminus, and this new play is a similar slow-burner which requires you to hang onto its every word to catch the secrets buried underneath. (Its final revelation turns out to have been there in plain sight since the first scene.) The three actresses involved - Cathy Belton, Derbhle Crotty and Aisling O’Sullivan - play it to perfection, and it's just a shame that you've missed both the livestream and the week-long period after it that a recording was available as video on demand. Sorry.

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Picks Of The Year 1982 - 2020: 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 21/01/2021 to include the playlist for 2020.]

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 739-song, 59.5 hour playlist of the whole damn lot (though the widget only displays the first hundred tracks, the coward).

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Simian Substitute Site for January 2021: Year Of The Monkey

Year Of The MonkeyMONTH END PROCESSING FOR DECEMBER 2020
[one-line despatches from a lockdown Christmas]

Comedy: Just the Tonic New Year's Eve Special: the closest thing available to our usual NYE night out, a fine collection of comics both big (Al Murray, Romesh Ranganathan) and small (Daliso Chaponda's only really come to my attention through online gigs like this), with Ivan Brackenbury's hospital radio DJ schtick proving a surprisingly smart choice to lead us into the final countdown. The Bugle Relives 2020: Andy Zaltzman, Alice Frasier, Nish Kumar and Nato Green's overview of the year (livestreamed to a paying audience, available soon as an edited podcast) didn't have the budget of Charlie Brooker's Death To 2020 so had to make do with decent gags instead.

Movies: The Right Stuff: selected from our DVD shelf as a tribute to the late Chuck Yeager, we discovered shortly after viewing that it was recently remade by Disney and National Geographic without the Yeager bits, which seems insane. The Muppet Christmas Carol: it's only when you watch the film with someone who hasn't seen it before (really, she hadn't) that you realise how many things in current Christmas culture reference it nowadays. Soul: I suspect Pixar's newie got a lot of free passes from me thanks to being watched late on Christmas Day under the influence of everything, but sadly we never got to arrange a control group to test that.

Music: Thommo's Christmas Music Show: one of the surprise delights of Christmas Eve, as Mark Thomas made live Zoom calls to loads of his comedy chums and played their favourite Christmas songs - the biggest surprise being that a show that was scheduled to last three hours ended up running for five. United We Stream: the Mancunian charity livestreamers had a couple of epic shows for the festive season: a six-hour recreation of Wigan's Boxing Day fancy dress party, and a twenty-four hour bloody monster from the Hacienda mob covering New Year celebrations in every world timezone.

Telly: Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2019: shit, what are all those kids doing crammed in that room like that? Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2020: ah, that's better. The Mandalorian Season 2: still more fun than most things in the modern Star Wars universe, but it'll be interesting to see if it stays that way given how this season ended. The Little Drummer Girl: sitting on our Sky box for over two years until the death of its author spurred us into bingeing it, Park Chan-wook's adaptation has all the sheer narrative drive that I can remember from when I devoured the novel in a single day back in 1984, and makes me wonder why the movie version with Diane Keaton ever seemed like a good idea. Death To 2020: how the hell does a comedy show with eighteen credited writers have so few jokes in it?

Theatre: The Long Goodbye: Riz Ahmed's online-only dry run for his 2021 Manchester International Festival show, taking the themes from his film Mogul Mowgli and brilliantly distilling them into a thirty minute monologue with music. Kid Carpet And The Noisy Animals Totally Normal Christmas Party: we finally got to see one of the Kid's shows for kids, and this crazed fifty-way Zoom call was the perfect blend of inspired daftness with a crafty bit of satire thrown in for the grown-ups.

P.S.: In the half hour between finishing breakfast and starting work on lunch on Christmas Day, I made one of these things - maybe you'll find it useful next year.

P.P.S.: One day after putting the above ridiculously long list of items onto the internet, I suddenly realised that I'd forgotten a couple of other things I'd done over Christmas: specifically, I'd also watched two complete online pantomimes. So. Cinderella And The Beanstalk: the Newcastle branch of the Stand comedy club put on a surprisingly traditional livestreamed affair with a cast of four, some neat use of pre-recorded video and some rather fine jokes (including a reference to Tier 4 a mere half day or so after it was first announced). Jack And The Beer Hops: a rather less traditional panto put on by the Brewgooder brewery in aid of the Theatre Artists Fund, consisting of a beautifully packaged set of four beers delivered to your home, a ten minute video panto featuring characters named after the beers (or vice versa), and a whole Google drive full of activities including colouring in sheets, a quiz, a Spotify playlist of Christmas songs and a video tasting session for the beers.

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