Winter Is Coming

Alex And Paul's Quite Reasonable AdventureIt was a very Prince Charles thing to do, and I don’t mean having your wife bumped off once she’s furnished you with a couple of heirs. I'm talking of course about the Prince Charles Cinema, described by people in the know as "the most depraved and beautiful movie theatre in London." They have a reputation for supporting cult cinema, and for putting on extraordinary events, and this counted as both - at the beginning of April 2022, they staged an entire weekend of films featuring Alex Winter, a man best known for playing William S. Preston Esq. in the Bill and Ted series. And they had him fly over to give talks before or after every single one.

The Belated Birthday Girl and I aren't particularly rabid fans of the actor, but we know a good film binge when we see one. So we picked one film from each day of the weekend to see - one was my choice, one was hers, and the third we hadn't seen before. It wasn't until a day or so before the event that we realised that we'd effectively committed ourselves to spending the weekend in the company of one guy, and, well...

...what if he turned out to be a dick?

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Simian Substitute Site for April 2022: A Boy Lighting A Candle In Company Of A Monkey And A Fool

A Boy Lighting A Candle In Company Of A Monkey And A FoolMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MARCH 2022

Books: We barely knew who James Acaster was before our year-long Taskmaster bingewatch: now he’s a fixed part of our aural landscape. We’re regular listeners to Off Menu, his foodie podcast with Ed Gamble, and this month we also caught up with the audio version of his book Classic Scrapes. The introduction explains how this book has effectively gone full circle. It started as a feature on Josh Widdecombe’s radio show, where Acaster told stories about the scrapes he'd got into throughout his life: those stories were adapted into book form: and then Acaster was recorded reading them out loud again. It works perfectly for the pre-bedtime slot we use for audiobooks - the chapters are short and punchy, and Acaster balances his conversational delivery style carefully so it's not too stand-uppy and not too much of a dry reading. The first chapter in particular is a perfectly constructed short story rather than a routine: some deep thoughts on what it's like to get into trouble for the first time in your life, mixed in with several amusing digressions from the point, and capped off with a terrifically concise punchline. Not all of the stories match up to that early peak, but enough of them do. I suppose the next thing to do at some point is see what his stand-up's like.

Movies: Eight years ago in this very slot here, I wrote about Otway: The Movie, a film about John Otway that was unique for being released as a series of one-night-only screenings, with the film's subject personally in attendance for every one. In March 2022, it suddenly felt less unique, as we saw two new(ish) films in very similar circumstances. Rebel Dread is more or less an authorised biography of Don Letts: the guy who was at all the early punk gigs with a movie camera, and moved on to playing with Big Audio Dynamite, DJing and all manner of other roles. It's an entertaining romp through his life, but you can't help feeling some bits of it are being glossed over, apart from a few references to his regular habit of keeping a couple of girlfriends on the go at the same time. Still, his charm is front and centre throughout the film, and it's also there in the Q&A we got on the day. Letts' presence at cinema screenings is really just a neat way of drumming up interest in a film that's already available to view on demand: by contrast, Michael Cummings has to personally accompany his film Oxide Ghosts: The Brass Eye Tapes because large chunks of it are possibly actionable. As director of the 1997 TV satire Brass Eye, Cumming was responsible for getting the ideas of Chris Morris onto screen in as intact a form as possible. If anyone could be bothered reissuing the show for its 25th anniversary, Oxide Ghosts would be the bonus feature, an hour-long compilation of sketches and scenes deleted from the show for reasons of time, decency or libellousness. If I've made it sound like a collection of cutting-room floor scraps, think again: because this is all top-grade Morris material, and reminds you that the loopholes he used to get unspeakable concepts onto terrestrial TV have all been subsequently closed off. As a result, this film can only ever be shown in screenings like this one: but Cumming insists that he's prepared to keep touring the film as long as people want to see it, so keep an eye out for those 30th anniversary shows.

Music: A batch of ten (or is it eleven?) new things for you to listen to, either via the YouTube links in the text or the Spotify playlist underneath.

  1. Curse you, The Divine Comedy, for releasing a greatest hits album full of songs I already own, and then making me buy it anyway by packaging it with a bonus album of previously unreleased stuff that’s just as good. Like this one.
  2. It’s the first appearance of Kae Tempest in these pages since their big announcement last year. They never really struck me before as one of those artists who were struggling with their gender role, so it’ll be interesting to hear what the impact is on the forthcoming album.
  3. Films with live Q&A sessions after them are all well and good, but the best fun I’ve had in a cinema so far this year has been with the new Indian epic RRR, which grossed more money last weekend than any other film in the world. Yes, it's an Indian film so this is the big song and dance number, but it's also got a bit where the hero picks up a motorcycle with one hand and starts beating English soldiers round the head with it, so there's something for everyone. 
  4. Good to see the Thomas Hardy subtext that’s run through several Half Man Half Biscuit songs finally raised to the level of text in this new one. 
  5. Lykke Li’s back, and still sounding as heartbroken and miserable as she did two albums ago. Given that I never got around to buying her last album, this is apparently how I like her, which is worrying. 
  6. Surprising that it’s taken over three decades for Soft Cell & Pet Shop Boys to team up, but the results are as splendid as you’d hope. Also enjoying the video, where the two bands attempt to portray Four Normal Blokes Down The Pub, and get it 75% right. 
  7. “This can’t be Simon Love, there’s no swearing on it,” said The BBG on hearing this. True, but he does say ‘death to the West' during the middle eight, so at least we’ve got that. 
  8. Still not quite sure yet what I think about Everything Everything's current project of letting artificial intelligence take over the decision making in their lyric writing and video editing. We're seeing them play live in a couple of weeks, maybe they'll have been completely replaced with robots by then. 
  9. Here's something I'd forgotten about: Pick Of The Year veteran Kate Miller Heidke worked with her hubby Keir Nuttall a few years ago on a stage musical adaptation of the film Muriel's Wedding. Her new record - actually, it's a 2020 album that got a bit lost in the pandemic, reissued with bonus tracks - includes her performance of this number from it. Ah, that's where all Simon Love's swearing went to. 
  10. It's a bit cheeky of Arcade Fire to release a single with two distinct halves, and make digital purchasers pay for each half separately - particularly as it's the transition between the two that's the best bit. Also, is it just me or is it frequently on the verge of turning into Somewhere from West Side Story?

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Simian Substitute Site for March 2022: Red Monkey Ramen Shop

Red Monkey Ramen ShopMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2022

Books: Normally this would be where I’d tell you about this month’s bedtime audiobook, and include a link so you could get it for yourself. No link this time, though – it’s a book I obtained through a Twitter link that I thought was legit but turned out not to be. The tape hiss on the MP3s should have been a clue, frankly – what I had was all three volumes of Alan Plater’s The Beiderbecke Trilogy, read by James Bolam some time around the date of their mid-to-late eighties publication, and abridged to three hours apiece so that each book fitted on a pair of C90 cassettes. Starting out as the novelisation of a TV show, and gradually mutating into original novels that were then adapted for telly, there’s a definite sense of diminishing returns. The Beiderbecke Affair is easily the best of the three, introducing our lead characters – woodwork teacher Trevor Chaplin and English teacher Jill Swinburne, living in what was still a shocking co-habiting arrangement back in the 80s, and finding themselves embroiled in a light-hearted mystery. They’re so beautifully drawn in the book that on the rare occasion that mild peril arises, you’re genuinely concerned for them. Sequel The Beiderbecke Tapes does the old telly trick of sending the characters on a foreign jolly (although I’d forgotten that when it was made for TV, budget constraints meant Athens had to be replaced by Edinburgh). As for The Beiderbecke Connection, it’s surprising how plot-free it is, even for a show that usually got by mostly on character and jokes. But the characters and jokes are still good enough to keep you listening. So, I dunno, see if someone’s selling the tapes on eBay if you’re interested. (Although it feels like that would be exactly how a 2022 Beiderbecke reboot would start...)

Comedy: If you’re like me, you tend to find out about podcasts long after they’ve started running. So here’s a chance to get in on the ground floor of a new one, assuming it doesn’t implode after a couple of weeks. BTEC Philosophers stars Elliot Steel (let’s see if I can get through this paragraph without mentioning his dad) and Michael Odewale, theoretically discussing the big philosophical problems of our age, but in reality just chuckling about any old bollocks that comes into their heads. The resulting banter teeters on the edge of laddish but never quite goes too far, although some may think otherwise about Steel’s proposed solution to the crisis in Ukraine. They’re still working on distribution, so it might be a tricky one to track down – initially it was only available on Podbean and Apple Podcasts, but the most recent episode made it to Spotify too. If they can sustain this level of invention on a weekly basis, I’ll be there (though it’d help if they could get themselves on Google Podcasts as well).

Theatre: I thought I was a Kate Bush fan. Owned all her records at one time or another, still have a signed copy of Never For Ever, considered getting tickets for the 2014 comeback shows but never managed it. But then I went to An Evening Without Kate Bush and realised I’d barely been trying. Sarah-Louise Young – a musical comedy specialist, and one of the many women who's been The Third One In Fascinating Aida – has put together a show that at first glance looks like your common or garden tribute act, dressing up in costumes and singing the songs to backing tapes. And she’s pretty damn good at doing that, although I’m sure she’d be the first to admit that the octave drop in Wow is out of her range. But this show is about the fans as much as the songs – especially since Young’s chosen to ignore anything Bush has recorded since 1993 (which is only two albums of new material, but still). It’s about the obsession caused by her reclusiveness, the comfort she brings to her admirers worldwide, the delight of realising that you’re in a room full of people who aren’t really capable of singing Wuthering Heights but are prepared to give it a bloody good go. The show's run at London's Soho Theatre has finished now, but I know it has a little life in it yet.

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What Lies Beneath: #JFTFP22 (part 2 of 2)

Given all the psychological torment that's depicted in First Love, I've chosen to go for a still from it in which a couple appreciate some sausages.It's fun looking back at my writeup of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme from two years ago: a set of films I saw shortly before the entire planet went tits up, but written about after that. My main issue at the time was that the cost of tickets - particularly at the ICA - ruled out the sort of full-season binges we used to do in the old days. After the anomaly of 2021's free online fest, we're back in meatspace for 2022's programme What Lies Beneath, and sadly the ticket prices are still as bad as ever.

The bottom line is this: if you came here wanting reviews of Eternally Younger Than Those Idiots, Will I Be Single Forever?, Kiba: The Fangs Of Fiction, Tomorrow's Dinner Table, Blue, The Lone Ume Tree, The Confidence Man JP: The Movie, Life: Untitled, Aristocrats, The House Of The Lost On The Cape or The Sound Of Grass, then you'll have to look somewhere else. As for the other nine films in this year's programme, I reviewed four of them in part one. Here are the other five, all watched in London over the space of a single weekend.

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What Lies Beneath: #JFTFP22 (part 1 of 2)

Oi! Down in front!It shouldn't be such a big deal coming back to the cinema for the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme - after all, I spent a fair chunk of the tenties experiencing it largely at home, thanks to all the press screener discs arranged for me by MostlyFilm. But it has to be said, one year on from the 2021 programme which was held entirely online, there's something comforting about returning to the ICA for 2022. Junko Takekawa is still giving the introductions, and making us fill in surveys afterwards asking what we've learned about Japanese life: the films are still prefaced by a unique mix of adverts for Japanese tourism and Yakult: and the ICA's cafe is still run by staff so slow-moving that you feel it must be a performance art piece of some sort.

The official title of this year's programme is What Lies Beneath: The Intricate Representations Of A 'Dark Mind' In Japanese Cinema. Which is a long-winded way of saying that the 20 films on show across the country are largely about people trying to conceal things. It's a similar theme to that of 2018's programme (Un)true Colours, and as a result The Belated Birthday Girl can be currently heard going around the house while doing her best Timothy Spall/Mike Leigh impersonation: "Secrets! And lies!"

None of this will, of course, stop us from watching and reviewing a reasonable number of those 20 films. They're going to be all over the UK from now until March 31st, but from the run at the ICA I'm going to report on four now, and five more soon.

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Simian Substitute Site for February 2022: Monkey Love Experiments

Monkey Love ExperimentsMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JANUARY 2022

Books: After seeing Jeanette Winterson being interviewed during our one live Edinburgh International Book Festival event of 2021, anyone normal would have queued up to buy a copy of her new book from the signing tent. Instead, we went online and bought the audiobook version of 12 Bytes while sitting in a cafe a few hundred yards down the road. It's a collection of twelve essays on the overall theme of where technology is taking us, specifically in the transition from AI to AGI - artificial general intelligence, what you might like to think of as the equivalent of Skynet becoming self-aware. From a pair of neatly-linked starting points - Ada Lovelace's early work in computation, and Mary Shelley's fable of the creation of life through electricity - Winterson pulls together all manner of ideas into clusters that are always entertaining, even if sometimes they're a bit of a stretch. (Occasionally I'm reminded of Blindboy's hot takes in his podcast, and think that she should consider starting some of the essays with "I may be talking out of me hole here, lads, but...") Of the dozen or so audiobook readers we encountered in 2021, she's easily my favourite: she's got a delightful reading style that gets deliberately conversational when she's trying to get across footnotes and quotes. And considering this isn't even her field, her enthusiasm for the subject is palpable, while never getting in the way of clarity. If Russell T Davies is prepared to accept that maybe the Fourteenth Doctor doesn't have to be a major departure from the Thirteenth, I might have a casting suggestion for him.

Music (1 of 2): We had a bit of drama in the latest Pick Of The Year CD competition, thanks to an unexpected entry from regular correspondent The Cineaste. You'll remember that the task was to identify which was the first POTY to feature The Belated Birthday Girl on the cover, given that 2021 was the second. Writing in on December 27th (two days after the competition went online), The Cineaste admitted that he was just stabbing in the dark, "but based on the tenuous (if plausible) rationale that you were big on Japan in 2014, I'll go for that year. NB I'm not expecting to win, cos after all my name's not Dave." He's being a bit harsh on himself there: don't forget, if I hadn't received a correct entry by the closing date of January 31st, he would have won. Which I guess makes it all the more galling that Dave entered at 6.24pm ON CHRISTMAS DAY and nailed it. Moreover, he showed his working: "Difficult one. 2001 is the start year. One of the faces in that year's? fairly sure not. [No, see mouseover text on the cover image on that page.] 2002? I'm really hoping not. [And she thanks you for saying that.] 2003? Possibly an early pic. [No idea who it is, it's just a random picture that I found, hence the redaction.] 2004 - very possibly the person in the foreground. 2006 - also possible that's her holding the Beano. Never seen Spank in a hat, could be the one. [Um, let me introduce you to the most carefully concealed catchphrase on this site.] 2010 - is she in that pic? Can't see her. [Neither of us have ever been to Gordano Services.] 2013 - in a BrewDog? Certainly a possibility. but can't see her for sure. [She took the photo.] Torn between 2004 and 2006. I'm going for 2004." And 2004 is indeed the right answer, as noted within the actual competition question for that year (and before you ask, Dave didn't enter that one).

Music (2 of 2): So, congratulations to Dave, commiserations to The Cineaste. As for the rest of you, now that we've got all the admin for POTY 2021 out of the way, it's time to start looking at potential entries for POTY 2022. No time this month for a full track-by-track breakdown, I'm afraid, other than to tell you to expect tunes from Elvis Costello, Simon Love, The Art Of Noise, Kojey Radical, Wet Leg, Telefis, David Bowie, Yard Act and Black Country, New Road (with an implied nod of sympathy to the last band in general and Isaac Wood in particular). The usual slot number ten in the Spotify playlist has been left blank for you to go out, buy a Neil Young CD and listen to that. Harvest Moon's a nice one.


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Picks Of The Year 1982 - 2021: 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 19/01/2022 to include the playlist for 2021.]

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 757-song, 61 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 2022: Crafty Apes

Crafty ApesMONTH END PROCESSING FOR DECEMBER 2021

Comedy: Happy New Year, everyone. Most years, as regular readers will know, we tend to spend the evening of December 31st in one of London’s finer comedy clubs. This time, for the second year running, we compromised with an online comedy night courtesy of Siôn James and his Collywobblers Comedy Club. Apparently James has been running Zoom gigs throughout the pandemic, and it shows in the sharp organisation of this show with a remote audience of over 60 attending: four fine acts (Patrick Monahan, Fiona Allen, Miss Mo' Real and the tireless Marcel Lucont, the latter doing his fourth gig of the night), a bit of musical silliness from Tony Ukulele to take us up to midnight, and then a rather lovely kitchen disco to follow, made all the more fun by the punters who left their cameras running (us included). And unlike Hampstead Comedy in 2018-19 and Good Ship Comedy in 2019-20, Collywobblers' DJ actually played some Janelle Monae when we asked, giving them a massive head start as our Best Comedy Club Of 2022 So Far. Ivor: Ben: the bar has been set.

Telly: Our Christmas was a mixture of being out and about for part of it, and locking ourselves in at home for the rest. For the second year running, we took out a one-month subscription to Disney+, the plan being to binge watch all the interesting stuff that’s been released there over the last twelve months and then cancel before they can take any more of our money. We had several Marvel series in there, inevitably. WandaVision plays wonderfully with your expectations, starting from the basic premise of two Avengers characters living in a 1950s sitcom and taking some ingenious detours along the way: it’s a shame that in the end, it all builds to the usual zappy explodey bollocks. Hawkeye does the same to some degree, but the charm of the leads and the relatively small scale of the explodey bollocks help it go down nicely. Meanwhile, M.O.D.O.K. (created with the help of the Robot Chicken people) rudely sends up the whole genre while obviously still being totally in love with it. In non-Marvel programming, the big new release is Get Back, in which Peter Jackson reedits the footage from the Let It Be sessions to make the Beatles look less like arseholes (though he doesn’t quite succeed with Lennon). There’s definitely enough terrific material in here to justify Jackson tearing up his original plan to make a two hour film, but not really enough to justify an eight hour series: at this length, it’s more for Beatles obsessives than a general audience. Finally, Steve Martin’s Only Murders In The Building is a delight for anyone who found that Knives Out left them with a particular itch that needed scratching. Yes, I know that The Book Of Boba Fett has just launched as well, but that’ll have to wait till next year’s one month sub now.

Travel: As for the out and about bits of Christmas, for the second year running we booked ourselves into a central London hotel for a few days. Last year, thanks to the late announcement of lockdown, we had to postpone our stay at the Resident Soho: this year, I’m pleased to report that our stay at its relative in Covent Garden went as planned. We’ve had several London Christmases before, but this was my first one in the centre of town, and it’s fascinating to see what stayed open on the day. Short answer: all the tourist eateries – steak houses, Cafes Concerto and the like – plus lots in Chinatown and virtually nothing in Soho. Oh, and all those money laundering joints that pretend to sell American sweets apparently never close, ever. The biggest surprise was finding the Cineworld Leicester Square open on Christmas Day, possibly the only cinema in London doing so. So we ended up spending three hours of the day being disappointed by The Matrix Resurrections, though to be fair that’s what we were expecting to happen. We got in a couple of bits of Christmas live entertainment too, despite everything. The more traditional one was Carols By Candlelight at Cadogan Hall, with a full orchestra in Mozart wigs and Peter Davison reading from Dickens: the less traditional was Two Turtle Doves at the Crazy Coqs, a cabaret of Christmas songs performed by Barb Jungr (who has a lovely festive song in her back catalogue already) and Dillie Keane (who doesn’t). Add in three very nice dinners (at J Sheekey, Kutir and 28-50), one decent brunch (at Madera), a fun exhibition about the Beano and some fancy cocktails adjacent to the Crazy Coqs at Bar Americain, and that seems like a pretty good three days for a city that’s largely shut on Christmas Day.

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Living For The Weekend: A 2022 Diary By The BBG

Yes, three years in a row of Iceland pictures, we know, we *KNOW*As if the Christmas Day excitement of the 40th Pick Of The Year compilation wasn’t enough, there’s one more milestone to mark off before the year’s out. Because this week sees the tenth anniversary of the publication of the first edition of Living For The Weekend, the diary designed by The Belated Birthday Girl and published by the good people at lulu.com.

Predictably, she's celebrating this anniversary by publishing the eleventh edition. Living For The Weekend: 2022 Diary is now available for £3.99 plus postage and packing, and if you know what all that's about just click on the link and buy one right now. If you don't, details follow.

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Hashtag #BurnItAll: Pick Of The Year 2021

Emergency! Emergency! Fire in Image One! Bring water!To go through the story one more time. In late 1982, inspired by my purchase a few months earlier of a twin deck cassette recorder, I put together a 120 minute compilation of my favourite songs of the year, and called it Pick Of The Year 1982. I did something similar the following year, and kept going.

Merry Christmas and welcome to Pick Of The Year 2021, which is therefore the fortieth one of these that I’ve done. It’s an 80 minute CD rather than two C60s, but the aim is still the same – an end-of-year snapshot of the music that’s most taken my fancy over the last twelve months.

Did I imagine back in 1982 that four decades later, they would still be releasing new music that would take my fancy? Not sure. It probably wouldn’t have surprised me to have been told that: like most people I knew of my generation at the time, music defined me in a way that I suspect isn’t quite as comprehensive for a teenager these days. They’ve got other things going on, and fair play to them for that. Looking at the track listing below, I can’t help noticing how many old acts are on there – and how many cover versions, too. Plus there’s all the jazz, the modern classical, whatever the thing is with Estonian bagpipes on it...

...and, of course, the way that the list is limited by the capacity of a physical medium that very few people care about any more. (Trying to get hold of old-style jewel cases and CD labels this year has turned out to be an absolute bugger to do.) Still, if you’re one of those people, you’ll be delighted to learn that once again the bottom of this page contains a competition to win a CD copy of Hashtag #BurnItAll: Pick Of The Year 2021 for yourself. I still haven’t gone down the obvious route of making the competition question ‘Is your name Dave?’, so maybe we’ll save that one for the fiftieth compilation. But for now, here’s the fortieth.

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