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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BrewDogging #75: DogHouse Manchester

'Hello, reception? The six o'clock alarm never rang.'So, here we are at bar number 75. I don’t mind telling you, these things are getting harder and harder to write. Back when we started in 2013, and made our way around the dozen or so BrewDog bars in existence during our first year, there were interesting little quirks to every one we visited. But as the chain’s got bigger and bigger, individuality has predictably been sidelined in favour of a standardised corporate image. The regular sized bars (like, say, Chancery Lane) have become much of a muchness: you’re left hoping for the occasional deviation from the norm.

Well, we should be getting one of those in London next year, thanks to the recent announcement of the new megabar set to open in the former Eurostar terminal at Waterloo station. From the initial press release, it seems like every idea BrewDog has ever had – both good and not-so-good – is going to be mashed up into a single location, topped off with the health and safety nightmare of a slide connecting its two stories.

Maybe this is the future for BrewDog (and, perhaps, BrewDogging): small bars opening without much fanfare, interspersed with high-profile showstoppers. And if DogHouse Manchester isn’t a showstopper, then I don’t know what is.

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Simian Substitute Site for December 2021: A Monkey Christmas

MONTH END PROCESSING FOR NOVEMBER 2021

Books: Those of you who’ve been on the edge of your seats since last month, wondering which of our shortlist of five audiobooks we ultimately chose: you can relax now. At first glance (or whatever the sonic equivalent of glance is), I’d assumed that Stanley Tucci’s Taste would be a similar mashup of memoir and food writing to Grace Dent’s Hungry (which we enjoyed earlier this year), but with more of an actorly bent. That’s not quite what it is, though. Dent is using memories of meals as a literary device to connect her past with her current role as a restaurant critic. With Tucci, though, you feel like food is an inseparable component of his existence: every major event in his life is associated with something he ate or drank at the time. Frequently, we get recipes - which, to be honest, is where the audiobook format loses out over the printed page. The compensation for this is Tucci’s warm and wry reading of the text, even if he is a little too pleased with his own jokes sometimes. Still, one of those jokes looks like it’s going to be joining the lexicon at Château Belated-Monkey: his insistence that meatless meatballs should be referred to simply as ‘balls’.

Music: A new Covid variant's doing the rounds, and at the time of writing people still can't quite agree on whether we're just as doomed as before or even more doomed. The perfect time for us to see three crowded gigs in the space of a fortnight, then. Jarvis Cocker started us off at the Albert Hall in Manchester, for reasons to be clarified later this month. Technically it was a long delayed promotional show for last year’s Jarv Is... album, but he covered all the other bases of his career too: some Pulp deep cuts, a few solo favourites (people do enjoy singing along to Running The World for some reason), and even a couple of French classics from his current oddity Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top. The following week saw a similarly delayed show finally happen after two postponements and a change of venue – Mary Coughlan at Islington Assembly Hall, also mixing up her new-at-the-time-the-gig-was-originally-scheduled record with plenty of older material, including a hefty chunk of her 35-year-old debut. Finally, the gig where we took the biggest chance was a show at the London Jazz Festival featuring percussionist Sarathy Korwar, who we only went to see because one of his many collaborators on the night was cellist Abel Selaocoe, star of our favourite/only Prom this year. Korwar turned out to be a terrific bandleader, as well as our gateway into a few of his other bandmates, such as poet Zia Ahmed and Melt Yourself Down vocalist Kushal Gaya, who brought the house down at the end by coming on stage carrying his sleeping toddler, compete with massive ear protectors.

Theatre: Mind you, that delay of over a year to see Mary C pales against the two years plus we’ve been waiting for The Shark Is Broken. First mentioned on these pages in August 2019, it was one of the hits of that year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and as such had pretty much sold out by the time we got there. A London transfer was always on the cards, but that pesky pandemic has delayed it until now. It’s set in 1974, as three actors – Robert Shaw (Ian Shaw), Roy Scheider (Demetri Goritsas) and Richard Dreyfuss (Liam Murray Scott) – sit in a boat while the film they’re working on together hits yet another delay, because Bruce the mechanical shark has malfunctioned again. Guy Masterson's production has acquired a few production curlicues since its run in Edinburgh - I'm pretty sure Nina Dunn's astonishing video backdrop wouldn't fit into Assembly George Square Studio 3 - but it's still basically a showcase for a study of three personalities clashing under pressure, all of them blurring the line between the stars themselves and the roles they played in Jaws. You could argue that the play's a little too keen to shoehorn in old movie set anecdotes (a flaw it shares with the novelisation of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), and some of its ironic foreshadowing is aggressively on the nose. But it's all carried off by the wit of the script, co-written by Joseph Nixon and Ian Shaw, with the added gawp value of the latter playing his dad on stage. On the night we saw it, though, Shaw was replaced by his understudy Will Harrison-Wallace, who did a spectacular job in the circumstances: particularly when it gradually dawns on you what the final scene's going to be, and how difficult it must be to perform even with Shaw's genetic advantage, never mind without it.

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BrewDogging #74: Chancery Lane

See what I mean? If it wasn't for the inevitable neon red glow at the back of the room, that'd be a PUB.Regular readers will know how Collabfest works. Every year, in the autumn, each of the BrewDog bars goes into collaboration with a local brewery, and they make a beer together. And then over a single four-day weekend - this year it was October 21st to 24th - all those beers go on sale in BrewDog bars simultaneously. Some years it clashes with the London Film Festival, some years it doesn't, but either way The Belated Birthday Girl and I have been to every Collabfest since 2013. (Even last year's, which was undertaken at home with cans because of the you-know-what.)

As always, the problem is that no single bar is capable of selling every single Collabfest beer simultaneously - this year there were 66 on offer in the UK - so a schedule has to be drawn up saying which beers will be on offer in which bars over the four days. Because The BBG is privy to Secret Knowledge, she had a spreadsheet with precisely that information on it, which we used to plot out which of the bars in London we'd need to visit on particular days to maximise our beer intake. And it was while poring over this spreadsheet that I found myself asking the following question:

"Wait, there's a bar in Chancery Lane now?"

This is how far it's gone now - BrewDog are opening bars and we're not noticing.

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Simian Substitute Site for November 2021: MONKEYSEXPLOSION

MONKEYSEXPLOSIONMONTH END PROCESSING FOR OCTOBER 2021

Books: We’re in between books in our current Audiobook At Bedtime experiment: so rather than a review of a full one this month, here are five whose free previews we’ve listened to while working out what to buy next. Animal by Sara Pascoe: an interesting mix of tones, alternating between standup act and serious study of gender politics, and from the sample it’s hard to tell which will ultimately predominate. Taste by Stanley Tucci: a kind of Hollywood variation on that Grace Dent book we listened to a few months ago, with Tucci charmingly telling the story of his life in terms of food. Sidesplitter by Phil Wang: another comedian’s book with an agenda – looking at the impact being mixed race has had on his life – but this one feels more like a standup act on paper. Rememberings by Sinead O’Connor: she’s quite open from the beginning about the areas of her life this book is going to cover, but she does it with sufficient reassurance that it won’t be a humourlessly grim retelling. Windswept And Interesting by Billy Connolly: the voice is a bit croakier than it used to be, but he’s lived the life and kept the stories, and on this evidence seems to be trying to tell them all as quickly as possible. Which one will we choose? I’ll let you know. The main lesson we’ve learned from this exercise is that comedians are happy to have free previews for their books that can last the best part of an hour, but actors and musicians are a bit stingier.

Food and Drink: I was given a lovely present for Christmas 2019, and this month I finally got to open it, in a manner of speaking. When I first received my voucher for a one-day beer-making workshop at London Beer Lab, I assumed that I’d be using it not too long after the post-Christmas Dry Veganuary that we’d already planned for the start of 2020. Three lockdowns and one actual case of Covid later, The BBG and I got to visit Brixton and get our voucher’s worth. The setup’s simple: upstairs from the LBL taproom is a brewing area with half a dozen small kits, each capable of brewing around forty pints. You pick a recipe from a selection offered to you, and over the next five hours or so you're helped through the process of making a beer using it. To be honest, when we did all those brewery tours back in 2016 and got to the bit where they explained to you how brewing worked, I always tended to glaze over a little bit. It turns out that getting hands-on experience in the process makes it a doddle to understand: who knew? There are quite a few points during the five hours where not much is happening, and LBL craftily fill these gaps with some beer tastings and an extended opportunity to taste and smell some of the basic ingredients, so it all makes for a gloriously enjoyable afternoon. When it's all over, your beer is left to ferment for a couple of weeks, and if it turns out to be non-poisonous they'll put it on sale in their taproom. So keep an eye on London Beer Lab's Untappd listing from around the middle of November, and see if a black double IPA turns up on the taps. Hopefully it should be obvious if it's ours.

Movies: October was all about the London Film Festival here, and if you weren’t already aware of that you’ve got some catching up to do. On our final day, one of the highlights was Train Again, an experimental short film by Peter Tscherkassky, which I described at the time as  “a whole archive’s worth of footage of trains from the Lumiere brothers onwards, layered on top of each other and intercut at stroboscopic rates, accompanied by an industrial soundtrack of railway noise and climaxing in a montage of crashes.” So naturally, afterwards we were keen to find out if there was any more of this stuff available: and just one week later we found ourselves in Dalston's fashionable Cafe Oto watching a whole programme of Tscherkassky's films. The nice thing about Cafe Oto is, it's a performance space that isn't in the least bit designed for film screenings: which meant that the audience had a huge 35mm projector in the room with them, giving a weird illicit feel to the whole evening, like you were watching stag films or spy footage of a villain's secret lair. Having the films on 35mm turns out to be important. You could watch shorts like Outer Space and Instructions For A Sound And Light Machine on YouTube blown up onto a big screen, but when you're dealing with movies constructed out of single-frame edits, they have to be on celluloid or they look like a huge glitchy mess. For my money, Tscherkassky's latest (the aforementioned Train Again) is his best work, but the four earlier films in this programme show you how he built up his process over the space of two decades. Your chances of seeing these films again in a cinema are vanishingly small, but you can always compensate by purchasing the just-released album of Dirk Schaefer's pulverising soundtracks.

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London Film Festival 1989-2021: 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 28/10/2021 to include 2021 reviews]

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