Simian Substitute Site For April 2020: Monkey Wellbeing


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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Simian Substitute Site For March 2020: Monkey Business


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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Simian Substitute Site For February 2020: Monkey Business


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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Simian Substitute Site For January 2020: Monkey Monk Brewing


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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Simian Substitute Site For December 2019: Monkeys Music Club


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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Simian Substitute Site For November 2019: Fire Monkey Pyro


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: ", 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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Simian Substitute Site For October 2019: Dumpling Monkey


Food and Drink: The Bermondsey Beer Mile - the other website I co-run, the one that's so popular that a confused local councillor has asked us to stop - includes a page about Hiver, the bar that's owned by a brewery which specialises in beer made with honey. The most recent update on that page notes that they're no longer co-habiting with Bermondsey Street Bees, leading me to wonder where Hiver get their honey from now. Thanks to a delightful birthday present from The Belated Birthday Girl, I know part of the answer to that one: it's Bee Urban, a community apiary situated in the middle of Kennington Park. Go there at the right time of year - they've just finished for their winter break, sorry - and you can go on a tour that combines seeing the bees up close with a beer and honey tasting session. The tour predictably starts with you having to sign a disclaimer that you're not aware of any bee allergies, which I suspect you can never be entirely sure of until one of them stings you and you die. Still, the beekeeping suits they make you put on seem solid enough, although it's surprising how quickly you forget you're wearing the helmet and start feeling like your face is now your biggest target. But as our helpful guide points out, bees don't want to sting you - think of it as their human allergy, if you will - and as long as you don't do anything stupid, you'll be fine. It's fascinating seeing the hives up so close, and the tasting session is a great way to wind down afterwards. Expect the season to start up again in April 2020, if you feel like trying it for yourself.

Internet: I've mentioned Rule Of Three here before: one of my favourite podcasts right now, it features comedy writers Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley (currently responsible for, amongst other things, this) talking to fellow comedy people about funny things they love. I mention it here because this month, as part of the London Podcast Festival, they recorded a live episode at King's Place, and we were there too. Their guest Tom Neenan was a total unknown to me, but their subject - the film Shaun Of The Dead, winner of VidBinge 2004 - absolutely wasn't. The finished podcast is now available to listen to, and hearing it back it's surprising how little editing there's been - the hour flowed pretty much the way you hear it, apart from a couple of film clips that've been edited in afterwards. It's interesting to observe the dynamic between the two presenters: Joel is the one prone to detailed theorising, while Jason is happy to throw one-line bombs (comedic or philosophical) into the conversation and run away to observe their impact. If there's one thing I've taken away from four series of their discussions, it's their shared love of structure, and Shaun's got plenty of that for them to talk about. It's a shame that one of Hazeley's best gags is compromised by him accidentally saying 'caterpillar' rather than 'centipede', but fair play to them for not trying to fix it in post.

Music: This is all going to be stuff I've talked about here before, isn't it? Because I first mentioned the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers back in 2007, when we were still on a high from Earth Celebration and wanted to see if Japanese drumming was a thing back in the UK. It turned out that Mugenkyo weren't just a touring outfit, they also held regular courses in Taiko drumming at their dojo in a converted farmhouse just outside Glasgow. We've been back there several times since, and seen them perform in a number of concert halls: so when they announced a weekend-long 25th anniversary celebration to be held in Glasgow, we had to be there. The main meat of Reverberations Festival was a six-hour concert held at the Old Fruitmarket: it was billed as Mugenkyo and friends, but in reality their friends were either splinter groups from the main outfit or former members coming back to say hi, so in reality it was entirely their show from start to finish. (Apart from the surprising appearance of Scottish sax legend Tommy Smith in the final minutes.) With nifty use of a side stage for smaller-scale acts while drums were moved around on the main stage, the pace barely let up for the whole day, with drum performances both traditional and experimental. They kept the hall open afterwards for an after party, primarily for the performers to chill out and natter with fans, with the added bonus of a jaw-droppingly energetic couple of numbers by Harbingers Drum Crew from Edinburgh. But that wasn't all - on the Sunday, for anyone who wasn't too hung over, a series of taiko workshops were held at the Scottish Youth Theatre for anyone who fancied joining in, so The Belated Birthday Girl and I got to whack the skins for a couple of hours under the tuition of former Mugenkyo member Liz Walters. It was an absolutely terrific weekend, and I hope we don't have to wait 25 years for the next one.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For October 2019: Dumpling Monkey" »

Simian Substitute Site For September 2019: Brass Monkey Ice Cream


Food and Drink: The Belated Birthday Girl and I were assigned as Real Ale Twats at birth, but these days we choose to identify as Craft Beer Wankers. This makes us ideally positioned to watch as the Great British Beer Festival struggles to attract the new tribe without totally alienating the old. This year, having a small craft corner - or Pioneer Pavilion, as they chose to call it - literally fenced off with a wall made out of key kegs shows how much CAMRA are trying to reach across the aisle. It's part of a more general policy of inclusion, I guess: the high-profile sponsorship by Stonewall was the most visible manifestation of that, even if it did give beery lads the chance to wear badges saying 'some people are lesbians, get over it'. As far as the beers go, The BBG's sesh consisted of Brewsters' Hophead, Weird Beard's Fire, Powderkeg's 6ixes & 7evens, Black Hole's Supernova and Lacons' Audit. Myself, I ended up drinking New River's Isle Of Rye, Runaway's Kaffir Lime & Thai Chilli Wit, Ulverston's Laughing Gravy, Bragdy Twt Lol's Horny Goat and Nene Valley's Release The Chimps. We finished off together by splitting a bottle of La Pirata and Laugar's Tovarisch Block, a 13% that was our joint favourite of the night, if that doesn't sound too obvious a choice.

1. A 39 year old filler track from a Monty Python album might not seem like the obvious place to start a Spotify roundup of the past quarter's music, but it's here because...
2. ...I heard this bit of Strauss at a recent Prom, and finally realised where Terry Jones had nicked his tune from. This particular section of the Alpine Symphony is forever linked for me with the opening of the 1991 Pet Shop Boys tour Performance, which uses it to hilariously pretentious effect.
3. It seems a bit much crediting this single to Ocean Wisdom ft. Dizzee Rascal, when Dizzee does virtually all the work and Ocean (if that is his real name) just turns up for the second verse. Mind you, it's an impressive verse, to the extent that he's apparently offering a £500 cash prize to anyone who can match it.
4. Junior Brother is a recommendation from The Blindboy Podcast, but if I hadn't said that you probably could have worked it out anyway from the accent. Music that sounds on the brink of chaos until you listen to it carefully, and realise how meticulously constructed it is.
5. In my recent Edinburgh reviews, I expressed my disappointment at Baba Brinkman's new show for having too much lecturing and not enough rapping. His new album, See From Space - a collection of offcut tracks from the past few years with no overriding theme - turns out to be the perfect antidote to that complaint.
6. Yes, I know I said that I wasn't going to be including any more tracks from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but that was before the delayed release of the final season's soundtrack album, which reminded me of this song about re-introducing yourself to an ex after a messy breakup, and how it has one of the most attention-grabbing opening lines of the year.
7. I've had a think about it, and I've decided that Kate Tempest records work best when she's not attempting to match the beat with her words.
8. Still having a fine time with the new Lamb album, and although Lou Rhodes has a nice voice and all that, you do forget sometimes how wild their instrumentals can be.
9. You know how it happens: you stick on Lloyd Cole's 1988 album Mainstream and find yourself wondering what he's doing now. It turns out he's doing this. I'm amused by how, under the electropop trappings, it's still very much a Lloyd Cole song in its structure and style.
10. 'They say the gods are just a myth / Well, guess who I've been dancing with?' Somewhere in the 40 year span of The Waterboys' back catalogue, there's a song called The Pan Within. Mike Scott's chosen to follow that up belatedly on their latest record with this rather lovely thing, which is literally just a repeated four bar phrase overlaid with his reading of The Unexpected Bit from The Wind In The Willows.

Theatre: A Japanese language adaptation of Othello playing in a tiny theatre in August? That's so much on brand for us, it's almost a shock to learn that it wasn't happening in Edinburgh. ‎It turns out that The Shakespeare Company Japan were doing this at the Fringe as far back as 2000 - one of my years off, that's my excuse - so this summer they chose to bring it to London's Tara Theatre for a short run, which is now over. The twist in Ainu Othello, possibly spoiled by the title, is that here Othello is an Ainu: one of Japan's few remaining indigenous peoples, and traditionally the victims of Japanese racism for centuries. For Japanese audiences, this gives an extra local frisson to the feud between Iago and Othello: but for the rest of us, it has the odd side effect of removing the racial angle from the story, turning into a tale of pure gaslighting and revenge. The other imaginative touch is the use of Pirikap, a four-woman ensemble who provide a number of Ainu language song and dance interludes. If past form is anything to go by, The Shakespeare Company Japan should be bringing this production back to the UK in 2038, so look out for it then.

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Simian Substitute Site For August 2019: Arctic Monkeys' Midlife Crisis

Arctic Monkeys' Midlife CrisisMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JULY 2019

Edinburgh: Yes, you've got all that to look forward to this month. But in London, in July, we also get to see lots of stand-up comics holding preview shows in a desperate attempt to bash out an hour's worth of material before the Fringe starts. Given the nature of work-in-progress shows, it would be incredibly rude to use them to jump to solid conclusions about what the finished product will be like, so I'll limit myself to a few vague observations. Paul Putner's Embarrassment is a rather charming piece of work, structuring the story of his early life around his love of the band Madness and their own rise and fall, to coin a phrase. It's blatantly pushing a lot of nostalgia buttons, but curiously an audience largely made up of people too young to remember the 80s seemed to enjoy it just fine. Andrew O'Neill's snappily-titled We Are Not in the Least Afraid of Ruins; We Carry a New World in Our Hearts has the potential to be terrific, and bits of it (particularly the ending) already are: but when I saw it it was overrunning by 30 minutes, and he'll have to take care in the edit to maintain the delicate balance of ecological preaching and daft gags. The most uncomplicated fun I've had at a preview this year has been Elliot Steel's Merked, seeing how his style has developed since a memorable New Year's Eve gig a year and a half ago, where he took a collapsing show and steered it like the Titanic around the iceberg. He's in total control of his material: his routines start off baggy and improvisational, but quietly build in focus until he hits a series of laser-calibrated punchlines. And he's still only 22, the little sod. See him now before he's too big to play the Free Fringe any more.

Music: The moon landings have been a frequent topic of conversation this month, what with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and everything. And I've come to the conclusion that for those of us born in the sixties, it was absolutely catastrophic to our development. As kids, we watched this huge leap in human evolution happening in real time on telly, and assumed that this was the sort of thing that our species just did every few years: I'd have plenty of similar experiences to look forward to over the rest of my life, and this was just the first one. Well, that didn't work out. Still, both The BBG and I felt that the anniversary should be marked somehow, so on the night of July 20th we went to the Barbican to see Icebreaker perform Apollo, Brian Eno's ambient suite that originally accompanied the first great Apollo 11 documentary film, For All Mankind. Some of this music has gone on to soundtrack the likes of Trainspotting as well as everything else, but here it's given the twist of being played live on instruments rather than magicked out of synths and delay units. The result keeps the drifty eerieness of Eno's atmospherics, whilst adding a distinctly human touch. It's a lovely combination, and having footage from For All Mankind playing alongside it is the perfect finishing touch. I should also mention Icebreaker's excellent opening set of newer works, including my first ever encounter with Michael Gordon's Trance 4, which kicks ridiculous quantities of ass.

Telly: Part of what made the Apollo 11 landing stand out for me is a childhood memory of being dragged out of bed at four o'clock in the morning on July 21st 1969, so that we as a family could watch Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. Fifty years later, it struck me that rewatching the British TV coverage of the landing - which is, after all, how any Brits who were alive at the time experienced it - would be the perfect way to commemorate the event. Except, um, you can't. It's kind of shocking that a major bit of British telly has been almost entirely lost, but a couple of programmes (still around on catchup services for at least the next couple of weeks) have attempted to patch up the holes. The Sky At Night did a rather nice job of assembling clips of BBC coverage of the space race up to just before 1969, with lots of unexpected appearances from childhood favourite presenters, and a lovely interview with James Burke in the present day. Over on Channel 4, Moon Landing Live kind of did what I originally wanted, but using clips of news coverage from all over the world (largely Walter Cronkite in the US, but plenty of others too). There are some fun overlaps between the two programmes: James Burke suggests that the BBC got premium access to NASA facilities because he asked more probing questions, while the Channel 4 show starts with a clip of Burke asking Neil Armstrong if he's considered the possibility that he might die in space. And if you need a fun chaser after all that drama, there's always Public Service Broadcasting performing The Race For Space at their very own Prom. Retro! GO! Fido! GO! Etc!

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Simian Substitute Site For July 2019: Monkeywood Theatre


Books: I may not buy as many books as I used to, but I can recognise a good deal when I see one. And I saw one in Fopp a few weeks ago - two paperbacks, both written by culty eighties popstars who've subsequently moved on to other things, on sale for a fiver for the pair. Yes, I know this is precisely the sort of price-gouging deal that's killing the printed word, but whatever. 2023: A Trilogy marks the long-awaited return of the Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu to the public eye, after noisily quitting the music biz in 1992 and dabbling in a series of performance art projects (suggesting along the way that the JAMs was merely the first of them). If you tried to imagine what a book by them would be like, your first guess would probably be a Happy Shopper version of the Illuminatus trilogy, and that's more or less what we get. There are some nice ideas in here, notably a whole plot strand taking place in another dimension involving a band made up of dead animals and the late John Lennon (not that one). But unlike Bill Drummond's more autobiographical books - 17, for example - this one gets swamped in a morass of stoner braindribble. It's the second book I've read this year where I've felt "it needs a vicious copy edit by someone unconnected to the author," except that the first one wasn't being published by an imprint of Faber, and therefore has an excuse. By comparison, Thomas Dolby's memoir The Speed Of Sound is a much easier read, though it has its own frustrations. He can drop names with the best of them - the book opens with him in 1984 trying to transmit a computer file to Michael Jackson over a gas station payphone - but his music career only takes up a small part of the book. Which I suppose is fair enough, given that he went on to develop a ringtone synthesiser that was in most of the mobile phones sold in the early noughties. Nevertheless, the second half of the book largely documents a series of boardroom meetings interspersed with tech conferences, and you find yourself wishing he'd write more about what it was like going to public school with Shane MacGowan. Still, for £2.50 a book, you can't really complain too much.

Internet: In a couple of weeks, we're going to hit Bastille Day. As some of you may be aware, that'll be the 21st birthday of this site: nobody really pushes the boat out for a 21st since they lowered the homosexual age of consent, so I wouldn't expect to see too much of a fuss here. It will also, however, be the first birthday of, which The Belated Birthday Girl and I set up last year: and given that that site's achieving roughly ten times the hit count of this one, maybe we should buy it some sweets or something. We seem to be settling into a pattern of revisiting the Mile every six months or so to gather material for site updates, and we've just done another one of those. It's been a busy six months for the Mile, with The Bottle Shop closing down, uBrew teetering but just about staying afloat, Bianca Road opening, and Hawkes Cider getting a couple of arches wider. If you're in London and it's a nice Saturday afternoon, why not use the site to navigate your way along the best stretch of boozers in the capital? As you can see from the regular peaks in our usage stats, you won't be alone.

BbmstatsTelly: Remember when Russell T Davies ran Doctor Who for a few years, and we were all worried how much time he spent on soppy things like characters and relationships? It's fun to reflect on those days in the wake of Steven Moffat's time in charge, which spent so much time trying to do clever things with plotting that you stopped caring about the people the plots were happening to. (The jury's still out on Chris Chibnall's showrunning skills, but I'd suggest that if he had the nerve to ditch the two kids and just make it about Jodie and Bradley, it'd be a step forward.) Anyhoo: Rusty's blend of sci-fi plotting and soap opera dynamics has hit some sort of glorious peak with Years And Years, just finished on BBC One but still around on the iPlayer for the next couple of months. (It's also just started on Monday nights on HBO if you're in the States.) Sure, it can be as uneven as his run on Who was, with the tone of the first episode lurching all over the place in an attempt to cover as many hot button issues in an hour as possible. But once That Thing happens towards the end of the first episode, it settles down into doing what Davies seems to do best: juggling big ideas and big emotions, but through the prism of an ordinary family. The central cast are all terrific, their characters evolving gradually over the fifteen-year span of the story, all in the service of a distinctive author's voice with something to say. It's vaguely criminal that its viewing figures were so low: despite the occasional misstep, Years And Years had an ambition and scope way beyond anything else being attempted by British TV right now. Still, the iPlayer link's up there for you.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For July 2019: Monkeywood Theatre" »