Reviewed today: Bridget Riley, Mark Watson: I Appreciate You Coming To This And Let's Hope For The Best (Work In Progress), Musik, Russell T Davies, Simon Munnery: Alan Parker Urban Warrior Farewell Tour.
Reviewed today: Andy Smart: 40 Years At The Edinburgh Fringe, Eddie Izzard: Expectations Of Great Expectations, Greg Proops: The Smartest Man In The World, Nearly Human, Tracey Thorn.
Reviewed today: Bristol Improv Presents: Dynamite!, Daniel Kitson: Shenanigan, Guys Dolls And Pies, Mervyn Stutter's Pick Of The Fringe, Roger McGough.
Reviewed today: John Robertson: The Dark Room, Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians XX.
These are all people that I saw perform at my first ever Edinburgh Festival in 1989, the 30th anniversary of which we are celebrating right here, right now.
They're also all dead these days, which puts a minor crimp in the celebrations.
When was the last time you picked up a leaflet from a tourist information office that read like a taunt from a James Bond villain?
I'm guessing you can spot the subtle subtext in the typography here. Even when you've just come from Japan, a country notorious for the impenetrability of its address system, Korea turns out to be operating on a whole other level. It's difficult enough finding out Korean addresses in English, but then you find that Google Maps is incapable of calculating walking routes - you'll either be told one doesn't exist, or made to take a three-mile detour along a motorway and back just to get across the road.
That's why, as we enter the Korean section of this year's holiday, you can expect to see lots of GPS co-ordinates shown for all the places we visited. Slap them into your phone mapping application of choice - maps.me is still my personal favourite on my vintage Blackberry - and you may be in with a chance of retracing our steps. Cool? Cool.
It's the end of an era. Literally. At the age of 85, Japanese emperor Akihito has made the unusual decision to retire and have some fun during the last years of his life, rather than work himself into a not-so-early grave. The Japanese measure their calendar by imperial reigns, so we know in advance that Akihito's era, known as Heisei, will come to an end on April 30th. As seasoned Japanophiles, you'd imagine The Belated Birthday Girl and I would want to be there for the changeover.
Unfortunately, planes and hotel prices for that week have inevitably skyrocketed, so we're going the week before instead. Sorry about that. We have other plans for the changeover week, though, and you'll get to hear about those. Eventually.
Edinburgh: Yes, you've got all that to look forward to this month. But in London, in July, we also get to see lots of stand-up comics holding preview shows in a desperate attempt to bash out an hour's worth of material before the Fringe starts. Given the nature of work-in-progress shows, it would be incredibly rude to use them to jump to solid conclusions about what the finished product will be like, so I'll limit myself to a few vague observations. Paul Putner's Embarrassment is a rather charming piece of work, structuring the story of his early life around his love of the band Madness and their own rise and fall, to coin a phrase. It's blatantly pushing a lot of nostalgia buttons, but curiously an audience largely made up of people too young to remember the 80s seemed to enjoy it just fine. Andrew O'Neill's snappily-titled We Are Not in the Least Afraid of Ruins; We Carry a New World in Our Hearts has the potential to be terrific, and bits of it (particularly the ending) already are: but when I saw it it was overrunning by 30 minutes, and he'll have to take care in the edit to maintain the delicate balance of ecological preaching and daft gags. The most uncomplicated fun I've had at a preview this year has been Elliot Steel's Merked, seeing how his style has developed since a memorable New Year's Eve gig a year and a half ago, where he took a collapsing show and steered it like the Titanic around the iceberg. He's in total control of his material: his routines start off baggy and improvisational, but quietly build in focus until he hits a series of laser-calibrated punchlines. And he's still only 22, the little sod. See him now before he's too big to play the Free Fringe any more.
Music: The moon landings have been a frequent topic of conversation this month, what with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and everything. And I've come to the conclusion that for those of us born in the sixties, it was absolutely catastrophic to our development. As kids, we watched this huge leap in human evolution happening in real time on telly, and assumed that this was the sort of thing that our species just did every few years: I'd have plenty of similar experiences to look forward to over the rest of my life, and this was just the first one. Well, that didn't work out. Still, both The BBG and I felt that the anniversary should be marked somehow, so on the night of July 20th we went to the Barbican to see Icebreaker perform Apollo, Brian Eno's ambient suite that originally accompanied the first great Apollo 11 documentary film, For All Mankind. Some of this music has gone on to soundtrack the likes of Trainspotting as well as everything else, but here it's given the twist of being played live on instruments rather than magicked out of synths and delay units. The result keeps the drifty eerieness of Eno's atmospherics, whilst adding a distinctly human touch. It's a lovely combination, and having footage from For All Mankind playing alongside it is the perfect finishing touch. I should also mention Icebreaker's excellent opening set of newer works, including my first ever encounter with Michael Gordon's Trance 4, which kicks ridiculous quantities of ass.
Telly: Part of what made the Apollo 11 landing stand out for me is a childhood memory of being dragged out of bed at four o'clock in the morning on July 21st 1969, so that we as a family could watch Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. Fifty years later, it struck me that rewatching the British TV coverage of the landing - which is, after all, how any Brits who were alive at the time experienced it - would be the perfect way to commemorate the event. Except, um, you can't. It's kind of shocking that a major bit of British telly has been almost entirely lost, but a couple of programmes (still around on catchup services for at least the next couple of weeks) have attempted to patch up the holes. The Sky At Night did a rather nice job of assembling clips of BBC coverage of the space race up to just before 1969, with lots of unexpected appearances from childhood favourite presenters, and a lovely interview with James Burke in the present day. Over on Channel 4, Moon Landing Live kind of did what I originally wanted, but using clips of news coverage from all over the world (largely Walter Cronkite in the US, but plenty of others too). There are some fun overlaps between the two programmes: James Burke suggests that the BBC got premium access to NASA facilities because he asked more probing questions, while the Channel 4 show starts with a clip of Burke asking Neil Armstrong if he's considered the possibility that he might die in space. And if you need a fun chaser after all that drama, there's always Public Service Broadcasting performing The Race For Space at their very own Prom. Retro! GO! Fido! GO! Etc!
As of Friday June 14th, 2019, The Belated Birthday Girl and I have been doing that thing we do for eighteen years. That thing has, over time, come to involve beer and travel in large quantities, so inevitably our anniversary celebrations would involve those too. And thanks to a pure fluke of timing, we could combine them all in one fell swoop.
Did you know that there's a Paris Beer Week? I know, it's a set of words that refuse to sound right together, like London Fashion Week or something. But it exists, it happens during the middle of June every year, and this year it coincided perfectly with the weekend of our anniversary. Which is handy, because we've had other Parisian beer business on our schedule for a while now.
And before you ask: yes, I know these are still appearing out of order. BrewDogging #63 is coming soon, it's just going to require a bit of a run-up to get to it.
2310: Manchester Piccadilly station
We've arrived back in my home town once more for a weekend at the 2019 Manchester International Festival, bringing my coverage back in-house after four consecutive Festivals elsewhere. (It's running till July 21st, so at the time of writing you still may be able to catch some of it for yourself.) Over the next 48 hours or so, we'll be revelling in MIF's commitment to bringing us artistic experiences that haven't been seen before. A journey that along the way will bring to us new colour, new dimension, new value. New new new.
2350: BrewDog Manchester
Okay, so not everything here's going to be new. But as we pop in for our nightcap beers, we're immediately confronted by a DJ playing Billie Jean at top volume: it's funny how quickly that became socially acceptable again, isn't it? And as we sip on our #Mashtag2015 and Jackie O's Oil Of Aphrodite, I can't help but notice that over its seven years in the city centre, BrewDog Manchester has gradually become just another place in town where the kids come to get bladdered on a Friday night. A group of merry girls asks me to take a photo of them holding their cocktails: another group gets told off by bar staff for standing on the seats in their booth: a bloke takes his shirt off to mark something on the stroke of midnight, and is discreetly escorted from the premises shortly after. There's no trouble as such, but something essentially BrewDoggy seems missing. It makes you wonder what the new place is going to be like.