Simian Substitute Site For February 2020: Monkey Business

Monkey BusinessMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JANUARY 2020

Art: I periodically maintain a small but perfectly formed list of the world's most outrageous disclaimers. To be fair, up until recently it only consisted of the opening caption of the 3D film Tron: Legacy, which waits until your ticket money's been successfully banked before telling you that only half of it's in 3D. But I can now add the publicity material for the exhibition Tutankhamun: Treasures Of The Golden Pharoah. Buried in the small print is a note explaining that the Pharoah's death mask - the image that comes into your head when you think of King Tut - isn't actually in the exhibition at all. The thing that looks like it on the posters is in fact a small replica used to hold some of his internal organs. Get past that disappointment, and this is actually a pretty great collection of beautifully detailed artefacts, making their way around the world one last time before they take up permanent residence back home in Egypt. Tutankhamun's visit to London in the 1970s was one of the first blockbuster gallery events, and the queues for this one initially appear just as hellish. But the material is ingeniously arranged around the Saatchi Gallery in a series of display cases with descriptive notes placed above them, allowing you to read the historical background as you shuffle towards the actual case itself. They say it's a 60-90 minute route around the gallery, but allow yourself two hours and you'll get to see everything without too much hassle. It's running in London till May 3rd, and then continuing its world tour from there.

Music: Presenting a story in five parts, spanning a period of 36 years.
1983: Fun Boy Three, featuring Terry Hall on vocals, release their album Waiting. It includes the song The Farmyard Connection, which subsequently makes it onto my 1983 Pick Of The Year compilation, Post-Apollonian, Pre-Dionysian.
1994: Terry Hall releases his solo album Home. It includes the song Forever J, which subsequently makes it onto my 1994 Pick Of The Year compilation, And You Sure As Hell Can't Sing.
1996: Nearly God - an act that is basically Tricky trying to get around his record company's insistence that they can only put out one album per year under his own name - release their album Nearly God. It includes the song Poems, featuring guest vocals by Terry Hall and Martina Topley-Bird, which subsequently makes it onto my 1996 Pick Of The Year compilation, We Are The Kids And We're Out Of Our Heads.
2019: The Specials, featuring Terry Hall on vocals, release their album Encore. It includes the song The Life And Times (Of A Man Called Depression), which subsequently makes it onto my 2019 Pick Of The Year compilation, Fearless. Ruthless. Cheerless. Clueless.
Also 2019: eleven hours and fifty-one minutes after I launch the competition to win a CD of Fearless... - i.e. still on the evening of Christmas Day - Dave writes in with a perfect summary of the preceding timeline, thus claiming the prize for himself like he always does. Dave: congratulations. Everyone else: DO BETTER.

Telly: I believe BBC Three is what the young people today have instead of actual television. (Or at least that's the BBC's plan, which may not quite live up to reality.) I'm here for Blindboy Undestroys The World, a series of four documentaries (plus a pilot made a year earlier) by Blindboy Boatclub of Rubberbandits and podcast fame. They're a fascinating collection of Blindboy's patented Hot Takes on the problems of modern life - the internet, modern slavery, work, anxiety - tricked out with undercover reporting, surreal pranks at the expense of wrongdoers, and a bastard of a talking fish called The Trout Of No Craic. It's a very similar mixture to the one Blindboy and his director/co-writer James Cotter were using on RTE a few years ago with their series of Rubberbandits Guides, reaching a peak with their show marking the centenary of 1916. My main concern here is that Cotter appears to have been forced to work to the BBC Three Yoof TV template: hyper-fast editing, gratuitous on-screen text, and a tendency to blow some of an episode's best surprises in an opening 'coming up...' montage. The result is a show designed to be split into bite-size shareable content, which I guess is what those young people want, but seems to be missing the point of making a half-hour show. Nevertheless, if you can get past the style, it's a good attempt at converting Blindboy's inquisitive podcast approach into a visual medium, although this apparently requires several minutes of legal disclaimers to be inserted after some of his strongest claims. We may not have realised that we needed a Dadaist John Oliver, but it's good to know that we have one now.

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Picks Of The Year 1982 - 2019: 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 15/01/2020 to include the playlist for 2019.]

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 they all have at least one track missing. See the relevant pages covering the years 1982-1989, 1990-1999, 2000-2009 and 2010-2017.)

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Simian Substitute Site For January 2020: Monkey Monk Brewing

Monkey MonkMONTH END PROCESSING FOR DECEMBER 2019

Comedy: Happy New Year, readers! Here comes the traditional hungover review of the New Year's Eve comedy show we watched last night. This time round, our options were limited: Ivor Dembina's Hampstead Comedy Club was taking one of its irregular years off, while Monkey Business was going for a more cabaret/burlesque approach which didn't quite fit our needs. So we chose for the first time to spend NYE with our chums at Good Ship Comedy, who've become our favourite London comedy club over the past few years. Ben Van Der Velde did his usual miraculous job as compere, spinning all manner of crazy nonsense out of his banter with the audience, and presiding over a bill that got better and better as the night went on. Josh Howie had some good lines that he was a little too keen to throw away casually: Jenny Collier had a nicely consistent set that built to a couple of great extended anecdotes: and Nathan Caton justified his headliner status by somehow being relaxed and hard-hitting at the same time. All this happened, as is usually the case with Good Ship nowadays, in the upstairs room of the Colonel Fawcett pub in Camden, where we got free entry to their end-of-the-decade party afterwards to see us through to midnight and beyond. Their intriguing promise to only play music from the Tenties broke down into a collection of old Motown and disco classics as we crossed into 2020: my attempt at a foolproof request to the DJ - "hi, I'm the oldest guy in the room right now, have you got any Janelle Monae?" - was met with blank incomprehension. Well, maybe next year.

Food & Drink: For those of you who like to keep tabs on it, The Bermondsey Beer Mile - the website co-run by The Belated Birthday Girl and myself, which documents London's most beard-and-vape-heavy bar crawl - continues to do a lot better than this one, even though it's updated even less frequently. We currently seem to be in some sort of two-updates-a-year groove, but hope to be more reactive to changes in the future. Anyway, we've just tweaked a few pages for the end of the year. A quick summary of news highlights for you - uBrew, the borrow-our-kit-to-make-your-homebrew outfit, has finally gone bust after several months of uncertainty: the cafe Secret Goldmine has just transitioned into a taproom for New Zealand brewery Yeastie Boys: and The Kernel is back in full force on the Mile with a new dedicated taproom of its own. As I said, we're hoping to update the site a bit more frequently in 2020, but just be warned that our plans for a dry and vegan January may initially have an impact on that.

Travel: At some point - maybe even this month, hopefully - I'll tell you all about what we did for Christmas. Suffice to say that we spent one night in Brussels immediately before it, and a full day and night in Brussels immediately after it. So: let's talk about Brussels. Inevitably, we spent some of our limited time there revisiting old haunts: a couple of visits to BrewDog Brussels (still surprisingly quiet), a night in Hotel The Moon (still cheap and cheerful, and their four euro breakfast is even more so), a stroll around the various delights of Christmas market extravaganza Winter Pret (though The BBG drew the line at this year's new attraction, The Kindness Machine - "by being scanned by a huge camera, the spectator will receive a personalized prediction of their altruistic acts"), a lunch at traditional favourite A La Mort Subite (so traditional I can't even qualify it with a parenthesised aside), and a visit to Bozar (the current Keith Haring exhibition predictably had gigantic ticket queues, but the free show of Yves Zurstrassen's work made up for that quite nicely). We also found two new beery places to add to our collection: The Hoppy Loft is a surprising craft beer outpost located above the Delirium Village complex of bars owned by the makers of Belgium's most famous loopy brew. while Nuetnigenough is a lovely restaurant with both an epic bottle list and a menu of dishes using beer. Culturally, our best discovery was the Fondation Jacques Brel, a multi-stranded archive of the great man's work: if you're limited on time, just go for the section Brel Chanteur, which lets you see three short documentaries and a concert film. Finally, our new favourite hotel within walking distance of BrewDog Brussels (sorry, The Moon) is 9 Hotel Central, which offers designer style at Premier Inn prices. Next time we visit the city, The BBG has asked me to remind her that she wants to check out the interesting-looking places on Rue de Flandre, which is why I'm mentioning it here.

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Fearless. Ruthless. Cheerless. Clueless.: Pick Of The Year 2019

Don't worry, *nobody* recognises the second one.There used to be a tradition here on Christmas Day. I'd post up a video of a newish Christmas song - this year, for example, it probably would have been this not-safe-for-work-or-family-gatherings romp - wish you season's greetings from myself and The Belated Birthday Girl, and we'd be all done in time for lunch.

Some of you will remember that I didn't do that last year. And I rather enjoyed what I did instead, to be honest. So, in what the young people today will not be calling a 'surprise drop', here's a CD-R's worth of my favourite songs of 2019, along with the usual competition to win a copy of the CD for yourself. Assuming your name's Dave, obviously. Merry Christmas!

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BrewDogging #68: Carlisle

Just try something for me: open up the Warsaw review in a separate tab, and then flip between the pictures on the two tabs. Spooky, isn't it?This'll be the last BrewDogging of 2019, I reckon. (There's a research trip for another one still to be done, but you won't read about that until 2020.) In 2019, I wrote reports on eleven new bars, ten of which are linked to at the bottom of this page: Brixton, Paddington, Dalston, Union Square, Peterhead, Itaewon, Le Marais, Outpost Manchester, Perth and Edinburgh Airport, obviously not counting the one you're going to read about now. The vast majority of these opened this year, so we seem to be just about keeping up with James Watt's plans for world domination.

We should also report that we lost one: Angel, which finally pulled down the shutters after three separate attempts to make it pay its way. (Someone else is currently having a go at making the site work.) Maybe that makes you a bit twitchier about new bars when they open, looking for signs that they'll be able to make it through that all-important first couple of years? Maybe.

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Living For The Weekend: A 2020 Diary By The BBG

More food mama / Give us more food mama / Give us prawn ring mama / Give us anything mama / Thank God my mum has gone to Iceland [not pictured: mum]Your next diary is going to be rubbish, and it's all going to be the Government's fault. (Not that Government, the one before.)

Back in June 2019, they announced that they were going to move the date of the 2020 May Day Bank Holiday. Under the usual rules, it would have fallen on Star Wars Day, Monday May 4th. But for 2020 it's being moved to Friday May 8th, to fall in line with the 75th anniversary of VE Day. 

A change like that is always going to annoy some people, but it was surprising where the main objection to it came from: diary and calendar manufacturers. Because by the time the announcement of the date change was made, many of them had already completed their print run. Some of them had to expensively pulp all their stock and reprint: others have had to go for the messy option of an apologetic sticker on the cover with a correction: a few are just ignoring the situation and hoping not too many people lose their jobs from not going in to work on May 4th.

In those circumstances, a diary that's traditionally put together in a kick bollocks scramble towards the end of December doesn't seem like a silly idea any more, does it?

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Simian Substitute Site For December 2019: Monkeys Music Club

Monkeys Music ClubMONTH END PROCESSING FOR NOVEMBER 2019

Movies: November's always a funny time for movie-going here at Château Belated-Monkey: all those films we saw at the LFF in October start appearing in cinemas, and it feels like the rest of the country is finally catching up with us. (We took a bunch of Spank's Pals along to Knives Out just the other day, for example, and are happy to report that it's one of those films that contains hidden bonuses for people who see it twice.) Mind you, we don't watch everything the LFF has to offer, so sometimes November sees us catching up with unseen festival movies that got unexpectedly good buzz. The Last Black Man In San Francisco is one of those, and you can sort of understand why: director Joe Talbot and cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra have between them assembled some of the most ravishing images you're going to see in a film this year. Having said that, every single one of those images is already in the trailer: the full-length film starts falling apart a little when you consider it as drama. Its two central characters - the dreamer played by Jimmie Falls, and the playwright played by Jonathan Majors - have an interestingly ambiguous chemistry, but we end up seeing everything through the lens of the playwright, meaning that all that glorious imagery is weighed down with overly theatrical plotting and dialogue. It's still worth seeing, on a large screen if possible, but it's frustrating in the way it hovers close to greatness without ever quite achieving it.

Music: It happens to us all in our twenties, I'd imagine: we get blind drunk one night, and wake up in bed next to someone unexpected. Except in my case, as I've previously documented, I woke up one Saturday morning to find I'd been sleeping with a box set of the Philip Glass opera Akhnaten, which I'd bought from Tower Records on the way home from the pub. David Freeman's original eighties production was the first opera I'd ever seen at the London Coliseum,  and I was very fond of it: so I'm not quite sure why I didn't rush to see Phelim McDermott's new production when it played at the same venue earlier this year. Happily, that production's now currently running at the Met in New York (closing on December 7th), and was recently the subject of a live broadcast to cinemas across the world. Having seen McDermott explain his relationship to Glass and his music in his lovely solo show Tao of Glass earlier this year, it's fascinating to see the techniques he uses to visualise the score: in particular, the chorus of jugglers whose repetitive rhythms match the ones we're hearing. (Commiserations to the juggler who ended up dropping a club in front of a global audience of some several hundred thousand, though.) The music and visuals are both extraordinary, and easily distract you from the fact that plotwise the opera could be synopsised on the back of a postage stamp. If your local cinema ends up doing an encore screening, you should go.

Theatre: "How are they going to do that on stage, exactly?" People never asked that question in the early days of theatre: the assumption was that traditional staging techniques and the complicit imagination of the audience would combine to allow you to depict anything you damn well liked. But as we got used to the realism of television and movies, we expected to have our visual images spoonfed to us, to the extent that we doubt what theatre's capable of. For example, if it could recreate the events of Touching The Void, the true story of Joe Simpson's quest to descend one of the world's most inhospitable mountains with no partner, no supplies and a broken leg. Director Tom Morris (younger brother of Chris, fact fans) and writer David Greig have come up with the perfect solution to that problem, one which the movie version of the story touched on a little bit - it's as much about the mental trauma Simpson went through as the physical trauma. The latter is recreated with imaginative use of props and a surprisingly versatile set, but the real focus here is the psychological stress of Simpson's ordeal, which is portrayed using some ingenious theatrical devices. Unlike the film, which goes out of its way to reassure you from the off that everything turned out just fine, there's a real tension in this staged version even if you do know the ending. It's on at the Duke of York's in London till February 29th, and is well worth a look. 

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London Film Festival 1989-2019: An Index

Because Films Inspire... some sort of hideous trainspotter impulse, apparentlyI started going to the London Film Festival in 1989, and I've been there every year since. Thanks to a combination of Spank Gold articles (after-the-fact writeups of the 1989-1997 festivals), reposts (pieces written for the old site between 1998 and 2005) and live blogging (since 2006), I've got a record of every single film I've seen at those Festivals.

Trying to pick your way through all of those is obviously going to be hellish, hence the index below. Similar to the equivalent index I've assembled for the Edinburgh Festival, each year links to the relevant piece on that particular LFF, including a roughly chronological list of what I saw (plus, of course, any additional films reviewed by Spank's Pals). As a bonus, you get a thumbnail-sized history of programme cover designs.

This will be updated each year after the LFF, so most of the time this page should be resident at the top of the LFF folder on the site. Have yourselves a good old browse through, and try not to think too hard about how much the tickets for all this lot have cost me over the last couple of decades.

[updated 05/11/2019 to include 2019 reviews]

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Simian Substitute Site For November 2019: Fire Monkey Pyro

Fire Monkey PyroMONTH END PROCESSING FOR OCTOBER 2019

Music: At the Cadogan Hall in London at the start of the month, an audience largely made up of Japanese pensioners stared silently at comedian Yuriko Kotani for several excruciating seconds. Eventually she continued: "...so, no using the C word with this crowd. Got it." She hadn't been to a gig like this before, and neither had we: because Kotani was merely the opening act for an evening of 1960s Japanese pop classics rearranged in a jazz-funk style, performed by singer Naomi Suzuki backed by England's own James Taylor Quartet. It was part of the Japan-UK Season of Culture, a year-long cultural exchange of events bookended by Tokyo's hosting of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics. I can't imagine any of the other events will be as delightfully odd as this one, with an audience of Japanese oldies nodding along blissfully to tunes they knew played to a rhythm they didn't. Having said that, the gig really took off once the JTQ launched into an instrumental that we all knew.

Telly: Two episodes in, and I'm still not sure what to make of the TV version of Watchmen. On the one hand, I'm amused by the act of ironic leagueofextraordinarygentrification it's performed on its source material: not so much imagining an alternative future for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' characters, but an alternative future for the world they lived in. (So far there only seems to be one character from the original comic in here, and even they've not been properly introduced yet.) On the other hand, showrunner Damon Lindelof still has the stink of Lost hanging off him, and it does make you wonder if that show was constructed in a similar way to this one: that somewhere, there's a book with a perfectly clear description of the events that led up to everyone being on that island, and Lost is a followup to it which references the original in the most oblique ways possible. There are some good parts to what he's done here (the replacement of 1980s nuke panic with 2010s race panic), and there are some bad parts (at Château Belated-Monkey we're particularly aggrieved by the overly quiet sound mix). At this stage, Watchmen's got a lot of mysterious ideas that don't quite mesh with each other: and with anyone else at the wheel, you'd be prepared to assume that they would all tie together eventually. But not Lindelof. I'll give him one or two more episodes tops, and then we'll see where we are after that.

Theatre: Theatre from 37 years ago that you'll never see again, admittedly, but still theatre. At some point conveniently close to Christmas, expect the release of a CD box set called Not All The Albums Again, a collection of the Not The Nine O'Clock News compilation records from the early eighties. Most of it's obviously grabbed straight from the soundtrack of the TV shows, but one of the records included here is an anomaly: it's the live recording of Not In Front Of The Audience, the spin-off stage show that the team performed at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1982. It's a combination of remixed old favourites (a whole new collection of racist slurs for Constable Savage, that sort of thing) and new material, and the highlight of the latter is a ten-minute musical called Laker!. Ostensibly the then-topical story of the rise and fall of Skytrain, it's actually a high-speed compilation of all the clichés of 1980s musical theatre. ("SHOUTING! We're standing here SHOUTING! It's very EXCITING! Just look at the LIGHTING!") Inspired by the news of its forthcoming re-release (not to mention its debut on CD), I listened to Laker! once for what must be the first time in a couple of decades, and now many of its tunes keep popping up in my head during my every waking hour. So now it's your turn.

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Spank's LFF Diary: The Wrap Party 2019

Note to BFI Marketing: I would buy the HELL out of this as a poster. Note to the rest of you: click to embiggen, where possible.No love at the London Film Festival 2019 for me, I'm afraid. Have a look if you don't believe me:

Galas: 3
Special Presentations: 1
Official Competition: 1
First Feature Competition: 1
Documentary Competition: 2
Love: 0
Debate: 3
Laugh: 2
Dare: 3
Thrill: 2
Cult: 1
Journey: 2
Create: 5
Experimenta: 1
Family: 1
Treasures: 6
Total = 34 (plus one Event)

Of course, The Belated Birthday Girl keeps hoping that Tricia Tuttle will eventually ditch her predecessor's category system for something less chundery, but for now it's all we've got. It's always an interesting way to break down what I've seen, anyway.

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