Simian Substitute Site For May 2020: Primates

PrimatesMONTH END PROCESSING FOR APRIL 2020

Books: The Belated Birthday Girl and I have started reading before bedtime, on the assumption that it's probably more conducive to a good night's sleep than our previous regime of drinking tea and staring at screens. To make it a more sociable activity, we're reading out loud to each other, taking alternate chapters in the book of our choice. This month's choice has been What Does This Button Do?, the autobiography of Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson. The BBG can actually claim to know Dickinson a little bit - back when she used to fence, he regularly turned up at her club to practice. He's famous for dabbling in a wide range of fields, and this book is largely a list of things he's tried that he's turned out to be successful at: singing, fencing, flying planes, brewing beer, beating cancer and so on. When it comes to things that haven't been so successful, such as writing screenplays, the stories tend to quietly fizzle out. Still, that's the nature of autobiography these days, and Dickinson's entertaining way with an anecdote stops it getting too much into 'needless to say I had the last laugh' territory. By the end I'd become rather fond of his inquisitive nature, which explains why he feels the need to dabble in almost everything - hence the title.

Comedy: Online comedy's going through a curious phase. Podcasts are carrying on much as before, and several of them have pivoted to video without breaking a sweat, such as RHLSTP, The Bugle and Vitriola. But what I currently find really interesting are the various attempts out there to recreate stand-up comedy shows in a world where no more than two people can be in a room at the same time. For a while, Saturday Night Live At The Stand (Saturdays at 8.30pm) was the one to beat, with live compere Mark Nelson doing a terrific job holding together various pre-recorded routines sent in by comics, and even encouraging online heckles along the way. It may still be the one to beat, but they're relaunching this weekend (May 2nd) with some format tweaks, so we'll have to see how that goes. In the meantime, a couple of other comedy clubs have been pushing the idea a bit further and having the acts perform live as well, Zooming in from their own homes. XS Malarkey in Manchester (Tuesdays at 8.00pm) runs a weekly two-hour show held together by the chatty charm of host Toby Hadoke, who spends as much time nattering to the guests as they do performing. But it's also worth keeping an eye on Good Ship Comedy's HMS Unprecedented (Mondays at 8.00pm), which after a month of false starts has finally hit a winning formula - book five acts, leave their microphones on throughout, and use the unparalleled banter skills of Ben van der Velde to get them all sparking off each other.

Food and Drink: As mentioned previously, we were meant to be spending the Easter weekend in Aberdeen for the BrewDog AGM, and that didn't happen. But what happened a couple of weeks after that was the Intergalactic BrewDog AGM, an attempt to migrate the whole event (or at least selected bits of it) to an online environment, because that's how everything works now. Surprisingly, it all worked pretty well, and you may even still be able to watch the whole thing here until they take it all down again. In the space of 105 minutes we got an abbreviated business update from James Watt and Martin Dickie (the section on 'things to look forward to in the next twelve months' was a lot more tentative than usual), live music performances by Yonaka and Blaine Harrison, a delightfully chaotic pub quiz pitting James and Martin against fourteen thousand or so punters in the YouTube live chat box, and - best of all - an online tasting session featuring four beers you could order in advance from their online shop. No queuing to get the beers, and the toilets were in decent nick throughout, so I'd say in some areas that counts as an improvement on previous years.

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Easter Parade 2: In Situ Boogaloo

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns. It seems like a risky economic strategy in the current climate, but there you go.Covid-19 has no respect for tradition, as we've learned. Since 2012, The Belated Birthday Girl and I have made an annual pilgrimage to Aberdeen for the BrewDog AGM, with its fifty minutes of business presentation in the middle of ten hours of drinking. We were all booked in for the 2020 AGM on Saturday April 11th, i.e. yesterday. You won't be surprised to hear that it didn't happen. (Watch this space, though.)

Other traditions, however, have turned out to be more resilient. Since 2002, with a couple of minor exceptions, The BBG and I have tried to ensure that wherever we find ourselves on Easter Sunday, we'll watch a film that was shot in that area of the world. 2020 would have been the first year that Easter Sunday coincided with our annual Aberdeen visit: we'd got as far as having a candidate film ready, in which ABZ doubled for Somalia (insert your own punchline here, Ricky) in a jolly little tale of the oil industry. In the gap between the cancellation of the AGM and the cancellation of our flights, we even had a sneaky backup plan which involved an Easter Sunday day trip out to BrewDog St Andrews.

All that fell through, of course, and now we're spending Easter Sunday 2020 in London. Which London film should we watch this year? Well, the last time I did a year-by-year roundup of our Easter films was in 2011, so let's build up to the answer slowly by seeing what we've watched since then.

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Simian Substitute Site For April 2020: Monkey Wellbeing

Monkey WellbeingMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MARCH 2020

Art: So, everything's still fucked, then. Which makes March 2020 a very awkward month about which to write a list of artistic highlights. Still, I'll have a go, even though I've barely been out of the house since the 14th. It all started off so well on the 1st, when a bunch of Spank's Pals accompanied me to Dulwich Picture Gallery to see an exhibition of British Surrealism. It's a pleasingly broad selection of works, mainly focussed on the early years of the movement, but prepared to suggest names like Lewis Carroll as their forebears. The inevitable biggies are represented, along with plenty of people you haven't heard of: I'm particularly taken by the artist - I think it was Conroy Maddox, but couldn't swear to it - who took a pile of his 1960s paintings and redated them as 1930s purely as a prank on art historians. The DPG are hoping that the exhibition will continue once (if) normal service has been resumed: in the meantime, the British Surrealism webpage obligingly contains a stream of the audio guide to whet your appetite.

Movies: Technically, the last film I saw before the UK went into lockdown was The Invisible Man, which benefitted from a properly up-for-it Saturday night audience, all the way up to the young woman who yelled 'oh my days' whenever something surprising happened, which was often. But a few days earlier I caught another film on a one-night-only engagement: a concert movie snappily entitled Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets: Live At The Roundhouse. Saucerful Of Secrets is a Pink Floyd tribute band with a twist - well, two twists. The first is that they only cover the band's music from 1967 to 1972, stopping just before the point where The Dark Side Of The Moon made them superstars: the second is that Pink Floyd's actual drummer is in the band. Visually, they're an odd bunch, dressed like five fund managers jamming on a Saturday afternoon: but musically is where it counts. The freak-out sections of the Floyd's psychedelic era are here a little too calculated for my liking, missing the buzz of genuine insanity that Syd Barrett brought to the band during his time there. But the songs are beautifully played, and it's nice to hear them again. Best of all, Mason doesn't look like a man who's going out on the road again in his seventies to top up his pension: he's having a tremendous amount of fun, and it shows. You won't see the film in cinemas again, while the home video and live album releases the screening was meant to promote appear to have slipped from April to September. Have a clip to make up for the disappointment.


Music: On the subject of live music, the last time I was in a room with loads of people watching a band getting loud and sweaty was Kodo: Legacy at the Royal Festival Hall. They've been bringing their traditional Japanese drums to London since the early eighties, and I've been seeing them here since the late eighties: by now, I know what to expect. Legacy is a little more retrospective than usual, taking some of Kodo's classic pieces - the lopsided swing of Miyake, or the whisper-to-a-scream onslaught of Monochrome - and letting a new generation of drummers loose on them. John Peel always used to describe The Fall as "always different, always the same," and that's how I'm happy to think about Kodo. Their European tour is over now, but while they're in lockdown they're amusing themselves with weekly live streams from their rehearsal studio, albeit ones which fail to maintain social distancing between the band members.

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Life As We Know It v2.0

Cartoon by Giles Pilbrow from the current Private EyeThe last time I posted on here was three weeks ago. Buried towards the end of a paragraph about Norwegian Slow TV is the humorous suggestion that real-time footage of a nine-day Arctic expedition will give you something to watch if you've got to stay in the house for a couple of weeks. LOL!

And now everybody's staying in the house for a couple of weeks.

Welcome to Life As We Know It v2.0. I think we all preferred the old version, didn't we?

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Simian Substitute Site For March 2020: Monkey Business

Monkey BusinessMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2020

Movies: Hooray for the Japan Foundation, and the splendid work they do in making Japanese cinema (as well as other culture from the country) available to us in the UK. At the moment they're taking their Touring Film Programme around Britain again, and one of the massively overdue posts you can expect to see here eventually is a review of half a dozen or so of the films in that package. But they also do the odd free screening, like one that took place in London last month of Ten Years Japan. It's part of a franchise that started in Hong Kong in 2015 with Ten Years, in which five young HK filmmakers joined forces for a portmanteau film speculating on what the territory would look like in 2025. Their conclusions ended up very much on the dystopian side, and if anything ten years seems to have been a bit of an underestimate. It's interesting to compare and contrast the HK and Japanese approaches to futurism. The Hong Kong version, for reasons of budget or otherwise, looks like contemporary HK but with the existing social issues allowed to run unchecked for a decade. The Japanese version is more like science fiction, with several of the stories driven by new technology: for example, a chip implanted in kids to make them behave, or a no-fuss euthanasia patch for the elderly. The comparisons being made in some quarters with Black Mirror are a bit of a stretch, partly because the stories don't spiral off into ridiculousness at any point, partly because they're frequently happy to meander off into an open ending. Anyway, that trailer link up there will take you to a rental copy on YouTube if you'd like to explore further.

Music: We're two months into the new year, so it's probably time for another one of those roundups of recent records that have grabbed my attention.

  1. Anna Meredith - God bless 6Music's Chris Hawkins for continuing to fill his pre-7.30am programme with the sort of music that was quite definitely not meant to be listened to that early in the morning, such as this sustained panic attack in audio form.
  2. Joe Jackson - I was convinced that Jackson had written his own lyrics for this classic instrumental, but apparently there have been words for it going as far back as the days of Sarah Vaughan.
  3. Ringo Shiina - With a solo single and a surprise reformation of her band Tokyo Jihen in the first two months of the year, it looks like 2020's going to be a busy one for her.
  4. Stormzy - A point of view that's seldom expressed in all the press coverage: his diction's very good, isn't it?
  5. Everything Everything - It's that 'fat child in a pushchair' song again, but beefed up with a small orchestra in a live rendition recorded at Festival No 6 in 2018.
  6. Ghostpoet - One of my guilty pleasures on Twitter is watching Ghostpoet get into arguments with anyone who tries to assign a genre to him. So let's play it safe: this is a new Ghostpoet record.
  7. Gil Scott Heron - Whenever I hear the word 're-imagining' I reach for my book of misattributed Hermann Goering quotes, but Makaya McCraven's jazz reconstruction of Scott-Heron's final album sounds just lovely to me.
  8. Pet Shop Boys - As I said during last month's Simian post, there are plenty of songs on their new album that are better than Monkey Business. Today, this is the one I think is the best.
  9. Joe Gideon - With Gideon's first solo album, I felt the songs were a little weak, and didn't really appreciate them until I'd seen them performed live. This time round, I saw him live first and then bought the new album on the way out of the gig. Problem solved.
  10. Citizen Bravo et al - Wrapping up as we started, albeit with a less abrasive discovery from the Chris Hawkins show, as a collection of Scottish indiepopstars record their favourite songs by the genius that was Ivor Cutler.


Telly: Back in the days of Europe's Best Website, I was partly responsible for an article discussing Slow TV, a series of programmes made by the Norwegian state broadcaster NRK in which long slow-moving things were shown on telly in real time. At the start of February, they broadcast their longest, slowest-moving one to date. Svalbard Minute By Minute was NRK's celebration of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Svalbard Treaty: they chose to mark it with a nine-and-a-quarter-day-long as-live broadcast of an Arctic expedition around Spitsbergen, the largest of the Svalbard islands. They filmed it back last summer, to maximise the amount of daylight available: and they intercut it with everything from one-take explorations of the engine room to drone footage of the ship shot from every possible angle. It was streamed over the Internet for everyone in the world to watch, and became an utterly delightful thing to dip into for the first nine days of the month. What, you missed it? Not to worry: all 13,320 minutes of it is currently archived on the NRK website for anyone who's interested. Also available: gargantuan Spotify playlists of each day's background music, which is probably more Norwegian pop than you've heard in your lifetime to date. So if you end up isolated in the house for a couple of weeks because of COVID-19, at least now you've got something to keep you occupied.

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BrewDogging #70: AF Old Street

Getting the white balance right was always going to be tricky on this one.Somewhere in the backlog of site content that's been building up since the start of 2020 is a pair of posts relating to what happened during January. Specifically, The Belated Birthday Girl's decision to go both dry and vegan for the first month of the year, and my decision to tag along in order to see what it was like. (That decision was also influenced by my desire to avoid awkward social situations where she's forced to sip on glasses of water while I'm chugging egg nog by the bucketful.)

One of those posts is going to focus on the vegan side of things, and will note how targeted a demographic I felt in early January, as everyone from McDonald's on up suddenly announced new vegan lines on sale. The other one - this one, in fact - is just looking at how we managed to avoid booze for a month. And once again, there was a big push in various quarters to provide new products for the newly alcohol free. You've probably guessed one of them by now.

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BrewDogging #69: St Pauli

That blue and red glow near the bottom of this tower block? That's BrewDog St Pauli. You can ignore everything above that, for now.You can almost imagine the board meeting at BrewDog plc. One of their execs is doing a PowerPoint presentation, pointing out that since they took over the former Stone brewery in Berlin there’s been a notable upswing in sales in Germany. It’s probably about time they opened another bar in the country. Maybe in Hamburg, perhaps?

Offscreen, we hear a quiet rhythm being beaten on the boardroom table, gradually increasing in volume: three beats, then a pause, then repeated. And as the camera turns towards James Watt and Martin Dickie at the other end of the table, we hear the vocal chant that accompanies their banging.

“Ree-per-bahn! REE-PER-BAHN! REE-PER-BAHN!

This (wholly imagined) chain of events will ultimately lead to The Belated Birthday Girl and me spending our first ever Christmas Day in a BrewDog bar: specifically one located in the St Pauli district of Hamburg, at the top end of the naughtiest street in Europe. Coincidentally, it’s the 69th bar we’ve visited. I thought this next sentence would more or less write itself, but it’s harder than it looks.

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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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