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

Monkeywood TheatreMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JUNE 2019

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 bermondsey-beer-mile.co.uk, 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.

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Simian Substitute Site For June 2019: Monkey Menace

Monkey MenaceMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MAY 2019

Movies: It's a personal prejudice, I admit it. When Curzon Home Cinema releases a film on video-on-demand the same day as it comes out in cinemas, I think of it as a smart way of giving challenging movies as wide a release as possible. But when Sky Store does it, I tend to think "well, that's probably a shit film, then." That may be the case for, say, something like Final Score, the thriller that was literally marketed as Die Hard In Upton Park: but it's not true for Arctic. The tagline Sky are using to market this one is The Martian On Ice, which for some of us evokes the image of Matt Damon skating at the Empire Pool Wembley for a Christmas run. In fact, a more obvious comparison point would be All Is Lost, which had sailor Robert Redford battling with above-freezing-temperature water, rather than the below-freezing-temperature water Mads Mikkelsen has to deal with here after his plane crashes in the middle of the Arctic. It's a credit to co-writer/director Joe Penna that the storytelling is so clear, given how much of it has to be told in either pure images or Mikkelsen's semi-audible mumbling. Having Denmark's finest as your lead actor doesn't hurt, either, as his quiet determination keeps you with him every step of his journey. Obviously this would have been great to see on its microscopic cinema release - I mean, just look at this poster - but watching it at home works just fine. (Except that it looks like the film was removed from Sky Store today, which is why that link above doesn't work. It's available for download and on physical media from June 24th, so treat this as a heads-up.)

Music: Summarising Q2 2019 in ten tunes...
1. Have you ever noticed that the opening title sequences of all HBO's drama shows are exactly 100 seconds long? This is Nicholas Britell's music for the titles of Succession: it aired here last year on Sky Atlantic, which is ironic given that it's a thinly-disguised satire on the Murdoch family, and opens with their equivalent of Rupert pissing on the floor of his wardrobe thanks to Altzheimer's. I bingewatched season one in two chunks on recent flights to and from Asia, and I'm now officially on board for when season two turns up later this year.
2. How many times have Lamb split up and reformed so far? It seems have been happening at intervals of around five years since 2004. Even the title of their latest album, The Secret Of Letting Go, was apparently written while they were considering breaking up again. Well, as long as we get records this good as a result, I'm not too fussed about the emotional turmoil they're going through.
3. Yeah, I know I said the Simian pages would be free of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend references from now on, but that was before I saw the cast's live-concert special, now available on Netflix. It's also available as an album, hence Skylar Astin's appearance here, channelling his best Broooooce.
4. Ringo Shiina is back, and she's even more unclassifiable than ever: her new album Sandokushi was preceded by three digital singles, none of which appeared to have anything in common with each other stylistically. This track - the title translates as God, Nor Buddha, FYI - was actually the b-side of a 2015 single that passed me by altogether, which is why the rather fancy video is four years old.
5. Speaking of singles, I was whining in the last one of these playlists about how The Chemical Brothers seemed to be releasing single after single without any sign of an album. Well, No Geography is finally out, but let's feature one of the singles anyway - mainly because the breakdown in the middle is one of their most outrageous demonstrations of tension and release, in a career that's been built entirely on that sort of thing.
6. I really wasn't sure about The Divine Comedy's first single release from their upcoming Office Politics album: Queuejumper sounded just a little too quirk-by-numbers for me, a bit of fluff written solely to get into the charts, assuming such things exist any more. But this followup is lovely, balancing the warmth of its first two verses against the unexpected turn it takes in its third.
7. I've told you already, you guys, Kojey Radical is going to be bloody huge, and this single is just the start of the next phase of his world domination plan.
8. Coming soon: a new bit of Monoglot Movie Club, based around a magnificently incomprehensible film I saw in Japan. This track by Hanawa plays over the end titles: I'll tell you that its basic theme is 'Saitama prefecture is a shithole but we like it,' and let you work out the rest. After all, the chorus is virtually in English already.
9. If you'd told me thirty years ago that in the future I'd be looking forward to a live album by New Order, the band responsible for some of my most disappointing concert experiences of the 1980s, I wouldn't have believed you. But their MIF 2017 shows pulled in an orchestra of a dozen student keyboard players to beef up the sound, and the results I've heard so far are damn impressive.
10. Wreckless Eric turned 65 this month. I know this because I was at a gig he did at the 100 Club on his final day of being 64. If you're only familiar with him from the early hits like Whole Wide World, you've got 40 years of unexpected musical detours to explore - the new album Transience is probably as good a place as any to start. The live version of this track is notable for a keyboard-driven psychedelic freakout in the middle, although Eric himself notes that audiences outside the big cities tend to want him to 'cut out the Pink Floyd shit'.

Theatre: Even though I've been going to the theatre for the best part of forty years, I've somehow managed to avoid seeing Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman until this month, when I caught Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell's new production at London's Young Vic. As it's the first time I've seen it, I can't comment on the impact of their main casting decision - making the Lomans an African-American family - although it's obvious that it adds another layer to Willy's conflicts with his boss and his neighbours. The main reason we were there was for Wendell Pierce - Bunk from The Wire! - and his Willy Loman is utterly mesmerising. You gradually realise that Pierce's TV work is largely based around confident characters who know exactly what they're doing, and it's astonishing to watch him gradually reveal how much of that is a front in Willy's case. But the rest of his family - Sharon D. Clarke as Linda, Arinzé Kene as Biff and Martins Imhangbe as Happy - are equally great, backed up by an excellent supporting cast. The last time a piece of theatre hit me this hard emotionally, it was the Young Vic's production of A View From The Bridge, which suggests that this is a theatre that knows exactly what it's doing when it comes to Miller. Death Of A Salesman runs till July 13th: attention must finally be paid.

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Simian Substitute Site For May 2019: Gorilla Brewing

Gorilla BrewingMONTH END PROCESSING FOR APRIL 2019

Books: One hundred and one years after the birth of Spike Milligan, it's fascinating to see the rise of a new generation of comedians who are equally open about their struggles with mental health. The Blindboy Podcast frequently takes time out to provide a layperson's guide to cognitive psychology, and even closed one recent episode with a guided meditation, which is all a very long way indeed from Horse Outside. And then there's Limmy, whose new book, Surprisingly Down To Earth, And Very Funny, recently came out in hardback. The back cover blurb tells the story of how his publisher originally asked him for a book about his mental health, while Limmy himself suggested that an autobiography would allow that topic to emerge naturally along the way. And it does: we get to hear about his experiments with booze and drugs, his bouts of depression, and his troubles with women (the latter coming under the splendidly-titled category of 'fanny fright'). But it's all told in Limmy's distinctive voice, which keeps the tone sardonic and light even as it gets into some very dark areas. Few autobiographies would have a chapter as full of unironic joy as the one here called My First Wank, for example. The book's title may have entirely different connotations to those of us who follow him on Twitter, but it turns out to be a perfectly accurate description of its contents.

Music: If you're reading this on May 1st when it goes up, you may be aware that this is a momentous week for Japan. After thirty years in office, Emperor Akihito has retired, the first one in several centuries to leave of his own volition rather than be carried out in a box. As such, he's been joyously milking his last few months in office: his final appearance at the sumo in January was particularly lovely. As control passes from Akihito to his son Naruhito, the Japanese calendar reaches the end of the old emperor's Heisei era and starts a brand new one for the new kid. The new era name was kept a big secret until April 1st, when it was officially announced as Reiwa, giving Japan's computer programmers a mere month to code around their own version of the Y2K problem. Here's what gives me confidence that they'll cope: just two hours after the era name was announced, a J-pop band called Golden Bomber had released a single called Reiwa on all digital platforms, and a video for it on YouTube. In the weeks leading up to April 1st, they'd recorded the song with a two to three syllable gap in the chorus: on the day, as soon as the announcement was made, they ran into the studio, recorded the one word that was missing, dropped it into the right places and sent it out into the world. Is the song any good? To be honest, I'm too dazzled by the perfect combination of opportunism and technology to be sure. See what you think.


Telly: It's been mentioned several times already in these pages, but let's hear it once more for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, whose final episode will be quoted in dictionaries of the future as a definition of 'sticking the landing'. Its ending turned out to be hiding in plain sight from the very beginning, and managed to wrap everything up beautifully, leaving us with 62 episodes of fine telly and over 150 songs. Here's a playlist of 40 of my favourites, ten from each season. It's 41 videos long, because one of them appears twice: I like how you can reverse-engineer current US TV standards and practices from the differences between the broadcast and unbroadcastable versions of My Sperm Is Healthy. Those boys (but mainly girls) just aced the quiz.


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Simian Substitute Site For April 2019: Why Can Monkey・Pheasant・Dog Beat The Demons?!

A little of knowledge about Momotaro: Why can monkey・pheasant・dog beat the demons?!MONTH END PROCESSING FOR MARCH 2019

Books: So, a friend of mine has just published his first novel. Let's just pause for a second and quietly acknowledge what an awkward position that puts us both in, shall we? With that out of the way, let me introduce you to Tickle Me White by Michael Doust. It tells the parallel stories of an unlikely pair of people, a London bus driver and a professional dominatrix - I can only assume that the title Fifty Shades Of Grey-Green was already taken by someone else. It's one of those novels that's very keen to teach you stuff you don't know, whether it's the bus equivalent of four-dimensional chess that drivers play with each other to maximise their rest periods, or the exact construction of various pieces of bondage equipment. How much of this is down to research and how much to experience, I wouldn't dare to say: but some of the early part of the book gets a little too bogged down in those sorts of details for my liking. Then about halfway through the plot kicks in with a vengeance, and the book becomes the morality tale that Doust promises you on its cover. (Right this second, I'm really enjoying getting to call him by his surname in a review context.) It's obviously not flawless - like any self-published book (including my own), it needs a vicious copy edit by someone unconnected to the author - but the second half builds nicely into an enjoyably grim farce. I'd say it was like Tom Sharpe with fewer jokes, except I have to admit that the final punchline had me hooting. So, when's the next one?

Radio: Well, sort of radio, in the way that Netflix is sort of television. It's interesting to watch Audible travel down a similar business strategy to Netflix - starting off as a supplier of other people's work (in this case, audio books), but gradually moving into producing their own original content. Earlier this month, I attended a recording session for a pretty special bit of content: The Goodies: Live In Your Ear, a one-off reunion of Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie for a new audio adventure, over three decades after they were last on telly. Obviously age has taken its toll on them, to the extent that Garden had to cry off at the last minute with a back injury (gamely replaced on the night by producer Barnaby Eaton-Jones, who we're assured will be revoiced by Graeme in post-production). Myself, I was a little concerned that the script was credited to Gareth Gwynne and John-Luke Roberts, with Garden and Oddie relegated to a 'with' credit. But I needn't have worried. The sound-only nature of the silliness makes it more reminiscent of an extended sketch from I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again than authentic Goodies, but there are worse things to sound like, and there are plenty of callbacks to their classic TV moments. Best of all, Oddie, Brooke-Taylor and their hard-working supporting cast are visibly - and, I hope, audibly - having huge amounts of infectious fun: there's never a sense of them going through the motions. There's talk of this becoming a regular series if it's a success, but I'd be happy enough for the Goodies to call it a day with this delightful hour in the can. Expect to hear it on Audible at some point in the near future, assuming you've got a subscription.

Telly: Well, sort of telly, and so on. If there's one Netflix series that everyone's banging on about at the moment, it's Russian Doll, and with good reason. It's the story of Nadia (Natasha Lyonne), a woman whose 36th birthday takes a spectacular turn for the worse. It then keeps on taking a turn for the worse, though not in any way you might expect. The obvious comparison point is, of course, obvious, but there's a lot more going on here than a simple homage: the show burns through scenarios, theories and pitch-black gags at a rate of knots, barely giving you time to consider one possibility before it rushes on to the next. It's a show that's driven by its narrative surprises, so the colder you go into it, the more fun you'll have - the trailer on the page I've linked to blows at least one of the best of those surprises, so proceed with caution. Best of all, Russian Doll is one of the few Netflix shows that considers brevity to be a virtue: eight episodes, none of them longer than thirty minutes, culminating in an actual ending rather than an extended tease for a theoretical season two. Everyone involved is at the top of their game, but co-creator/co-writer/co-director/star Natasha Lyonne is sensational: whoever it was on Twitter who suggested she could be the lead in a Columbo reboot definitely has something there.

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Simian Substitute Site For March 2019: Chaos Monkey

Chaos MonkeyMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2019

Books: First happy consequence of the new job: having a regular commute into work for the first time since 2005, which means I can start reading books again. Paradoxically, the first book I took with me to work was one which boasted in its actual title about how it was aimed at people who didn't have the time to read. Astrophysics For People In A Hurry (a Christmas present from The Belated Birthday Girl, so thanks for that) is a collection of essays written by Neil deGrasse Tyson, America's answer to our own Brian Cox. Originally published in Natural History magazine, they've been rearranged here into a primer for the general public on the basic principles of astrophysics. The obvious comparison point (and the original inspiration for The BBG's purchase) is the remake of the TV series Cosmos from a few years ago, which Tyson hosted. There are overlaps between the two, but it's important to note that the TV series wasn't written by him, but by Carl Sagan's collaborators on the original Cosmos, Ann Druyan and Steven Soter. The approach taken here by Tyson is more detailed than that of the TV show, as you'd expect, but it also manages to be less po-faced about it: he takes great amusement in the gigantic scale that the universe operates on, and it comes across in the wit of his writing. With at least one brain-expanding new concept introduced in every chapter, it's just the thing to give you a bit of perspective on the way into the office. (But at the same time, we have to acknowledge the existence of this.)

Movies: Second happy consequence of the new job: meeting new people and gradually learning where your interests coincide. So I was quite pleased to find myself chatting to my boss the other day about Bollywood cinema, with particular reference to the odd things that happen when India tries remaking popular films from other countries. There's a good example playing in cinemas right now: Zoya Akhtar's Gully Boy, which is a remake of 8 Mile in all but name. You may not have been aware that India had a hip-hop scene, but let's face it, why shouldn't it have one? Everywhere else does. Inspired by a couple of real-life Mumbai rappers, Naezy and Divine, the film tells the story of a Muslim student Murad (Ranveer Singh), who turns his frustration at living in the slums into some wicked rhymes. The Muslim angle is an interesting one for an Indian film, and gives an extra bite to the inevitable pushback that Murad encounters from his parents. The requirement for a commercial Bollywood flick to stretch to at least two and a half hours plus intermission means that the story is spread a little thin in parts, and you can probably predict most of the main beats of the plot well in advance. But the characters keep you hooked, the visual style is impressive without being ridiculously flashy, and the music is cool as hell: mind you, I've always had a soft spot for rapping in languages other than English. The end credits number - featuring Naezy and Divine collaborating with Nas - gives you a feel for what to expect.

Music: It's been a while since I did one of these, so here's the first Audio Lair playlist of the year, in Spotify form with bonus YouTube links for people who don't believe in that stuff. It's the new shit for 2019!
1. Except, of course, this isn't new for 2019: it's I Trawl The Megahertz, the 2003 orchestral album by Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout, which has now been remastered and repackaged as a Sprout record. It didn't get the love it deserved sixteen years ago, and it's nice to see the rerelease is finally picking up interest, even if it is reducing the resale value of my long-deleted original copy in the process.
2. With five episodes to go before it finishes forever, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend appears to be on track to wrap satisfyingly: visibly moving all its characters towards an endgame, but realising that now is as good a time as any to push the envelope a little further. A song and dance number in praise of antidepressants, done as a thinly-veiled pastiche of the opening of La La Land? Sure, why not?
3. I have no idea who's representing us at the Eurovision Song Contest this year, and don't really feel the need to find out. But the Australian entry is being performed by Kate Miller-Heidke, veteran of three of my Pick Of The Year compilations, and the only person ever to perform at Eurovision who I've previously seen in the back room of an Islington pub. So I'm rooting for her. (Yes, Australia has been technically part of Europe since 2014. Try to keep up.)
4. Joe Jackson has come and gone out of my consciousness repeatedly over the last (swallows hard) forty years or so: it strikes me that roughly once a decade, he strikes gold. Amusingly, he seems to have come to the same conclusion, and his upcoming tour is focused around one album each from the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s. The most recent decade is represented by his 2019 album Fool, whose eight songs are solidly up there with his best, even if they do all tend to meander into extended outros.
5. Coming later this year from Pet Shop Boys, we have a live recording and video of Inner Sanctum, the spiffy live show they did at the Royal Opera House a few years ago. Their new four-track studio EP, Agenda, is presumably going to have to stand as their quota of new material for 2019. The satire's a little heavy-handed in parts - and my God, those rhymes - but the music keeps it all bubbling along nicely.
6. At this stage, I can say that two of the albums released this far in 2019 are solidly great pieces of work, and they're both from artists who've been going for forty years or so: Joe Jackson, and The Specials. In the latter's case, the world doesn't appear to have got much better since the release of Ghost Town, so it's not like they don't have anything to sing about. Hooray for all the fiftysomething blokes like me who got their comeback record to number one in the album charts, simply by being probably the only people in the country who bought anything on a physical CD that week.
7. The Chemical Brothers have become one of those acts - Massive Attack and Roisin Murphy are two more that spring to mind - who appear to have given up on albums for now, and just bash out great singles that they release as soon as they're ready. Like MAH, which has a suitably uplifting message for our troubled times.
8. The last time Cinematic Orchestra and Roots Manuva collaborated on anything, it was the delicious 2002 track All Things To All Men. (Look it up yourselves, I'm limiting myself to one link per paragraph here.) This isn't quite as good, but it does make you think that their respective sounds complement each other perfectly.
9. Similarly, The Lego Movie 2 isn't as good as The Lego Movie, but it's still got a lot going for it. The end credits song by Beck and Robyn gets an added boost from The Lonely Island's rap about how much fun it is to sit through the end credits of a movie.
10. The final track isn't new at all, as this is from Kamasi Washington's 2015 debut album The Epic. But we're seeing him live next week, and found this while doing some pre-gig research. I hope it's not significant that I prefer his cover versions to his original work.


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Simian Substitute Site For February 2019: Valentine The Spider Monkey

Valentine The Spider MonkeyMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JANUARY 2019

Comedy: "It's not shit, despite what you might have read" is, let's face it, an entirely typical way for Daniel Kitson to introduce one of his odd spoken word shows. And Keep (which has just finished its run at the beautifully refurbished Battersea Arts Centre) is odder than most, presenting Kitson in a more experimental mode. He makes his plan perfectly clear up front: he's made a complete inventory of every item in his house on several hundred index cards, and for the next two hours he's going to read them all out for us. Now that it's all over, I think I can reveal that it's not too long before he starts deviating from the plan, leading to the wild digressions and delightful turns of phrase we've come to expect from him: though as The BBG noted, part of what makes the conceit work is the suspicion that Kitson is actually capable of a stunt like this. My one concern is that that opening line about 'what you might have read' doesn't come out of nowhere: the reviews for Keep were bewilderingly poor, almost as if Kitson had just read out the entire contents of his house. Did he do a wildly different performance on press night? Or were the reviewers in on the gag themselves? It's a mystery and no mistake.

Movies: It's a challenge to write about the Japanese film One Cut Of The Dead, which has just about finished a short UK theatrical run and is now available on home video. We can talk about the start, I guess. A director is shooting a low-budget zombie movie in a creepy location that has a history: the sort of history that makes it not entirely surprising when the set is invaded by a horde of actual zombies. Which leaves the director with a dilemma - should he get his crew out to safety, or should he grab the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shoot gore scenes that are way outside his budget? Beyond that, it's best for you to find out for yourselves, but the trick is not to write this off as a simple zombie movie: there are layers that only come to light gradually. You could even, at a pinch, see it as a satirical take on the lengths film people will go to to get that one, perfect shot. After years of Adam from Third Window Films getting screwed over in various ways, his distribution company now has a proper hit on its hands, so give him - and the film - your much-deserved support.

Music: You young kids wouldn't know anything about this, but back in the seventies we did most of our racism in the form of television sitcoms. In retrospect, Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width was probably one of the more benign ones: it told the story of an Irish tailor and a Jewish tailor going into business together, and managed to sustain their cultural differences for the proverbial six seasons and a movie. It starred Joe Lynch as Kelly, and John Bluthal as Cohen. Lynch managed to stay on telly for many years after as a comic actor with an occasional sideline in singing (my dad used to own a copy of this album), while Bluthal (among other things) became part of the regular repertory company of Spike Milligan. Bluthal died in November last year, around the same time as I decided to make him and Lynch the cover stars of my Pick Of The Year 2018 compilation. Which is a roundabout way of telling you that 'John Bluthal' was the correct answer to the competition to win a copy of the CD. I posted up the question at noon on Christmas Day from our festive hotel room in Cardiff, a little before we headed out for our Christmas dinner. You want to know when Dave sent in his winning answer? At eight minutes past two on the same afternoon, while you were all sat on your fat arses watching Christmas Top Of The Pops. This is why he is better than you. Try harder next year, people: and congratulations again, Dave.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For February 2019: Valentine The Spider Monkey" »


Simian Substitute Site For January 2019: Brainy Monkey Post Production

Brainy Monkey Post ProductionMONTH END PROCESSING FOR DECEMBER 2018

Comedy: Happy New Year to one and all! (Now buy a diary.) As has been our tradition over the last decade or more, we saw out the old year with a stand-up comedy show. There was plenty of competition in North London for our business this time round, with Good Ship Comedy joining in for the first time, marred only by their venue's insistence that the show wrapped up at 9.30pm to allow more time for the purchase of booze. Monkey Business could have been on our list too, but after the emotional rollercoaster of their previous NYE show we felt that might be a bit too risky. So in the end the Pals and I settled for the familiar comforts - and, let's be honest, familiar jokes - of Ivor Dembina and his Hampstead Comedy Club, this year temporarily relocated at the Albany pub, as it was three years earlier. It was a splendidly balanced quadruple bill - the verbal dexterity of Dan Evans, the eye-watering filth of Arielle Souma, the too-rude-for-Radio-4 songs of Ant Dewson and the previously-seen-in-late-2016 rants of LJ Da Funk. The twin-DJ set in the upstairs bar leading into 2019 had its moments, but they kept playing music that was recorded before either of them were born, and claimed never to have heard of Janelle Monae. Millennials, eh?

Food and Drink: One of our biggest achievements in the year just gone was the creation of www.bermondsey-beer-mile.co.uk, in which The Belated Birthday Girl and I planned to keep a regularly updated record of all the bars currently operating on Sarf Landan's most fashionable pub crawl. It's been quite the success, I have to say: it's currently getting ten times as many page visits as this bloody place does, with amusingly sharp peaks in the hit count every Saturday, suggesting that Beer Milers are actually using it for real-time navigation. It also comes first on a Google search for 'Bermondsey Beer Mile', despite us putting zero effort into search engine optimisation. The one thing we've been a little behind on is those regular updates, although even then comments from helpful readers have helped ensure that the biggest recent changes have already been documented somewhere on the site. Anyway, early in December we went on another fact-finding mission (hic), and the site's had a bit of an update as a result. The main things we've covered are the new bar from Cloudwater, and the reopening of London Beer Factory's The Barrel Project after a lengthy period of refurbishment. I've also replied to the various comments left during our first six months of operation, and only been rude about one of them.

Telly: The ancient Christmas Day tradition of slumping in front of the telly after a massive feed took a new twist this year, as we found ourselves on Christmas night in a hotel room with a Smart TV featuring the Netflix app. I've only ever used Netflix on computers before now, and it's terrifying how addictive the TV version of the interface is by comparison: you could burn up hours just scrolling through looking for something to watch, and on one occasion we did just that. Eventually, though, we settled for a double bill of Netflix Original productions that overlapped in unexpected ways. The Christmas That Almost Wasn't started out life as a 1966 Italian movie in which Santa Claus is about to be evicted by a Scrooge-type landlord, and has to seek the aid of a lawyer: what could be more festive than that? Well, everything could, which is what makes it prime material for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 reworking. Released as a Christmas special as part of their 2017 comeback season, it has Jonah and the bots cheerfully attacking all the obvious targets - the bad dubbing, the worse songs, and the jaw-dropping horror of the special effects at the climax. To be honest, the CGI effects in Netflix's current seasonal offering The Christmas Chronicles also have a bit of a will-this-do quality to them, but that's all part of the tongue-in-cheek approach: taking a similar Christmas-in-crisis storyline to the earlier film, but gently mocking it with every directorial decision it makes, starting with the casting of Kurt Russell as Santa. It's good-natured enough to tickle the same parts of your post-food coma brain as, say, a good Doctor Who Christmas special would: and if you're prepared to cut it the same amount of slack, there's plenty of fun to be had all the way up to the cheeky cameo in the final scene.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For January 2019: Brainy Monkey Post Production" »


Simian Substitute Site For December 2018: Rang-Tan

Rang-TanMONTH END PROCESSING FOR NOVEMBER 2018

Comedy: Stand-up's changed a lot during the thirty-odd years that I've been regularly attending comedy clubs. Back when I started, people had an act, and if you saw them regularly you'd see that act evolve over time, with new jokes being added and old jokes dropping out. But gradually the standard unit of stand-up became the hour-long show, which periodically would be frozen in a video special and then ditched to make way for an entire new hour of material. This has led to the rise of the Work In Progress show, in which a comic will throw a bunch of ideas at a paying audience (hopefully paying less than usual) to see what works and what doesn't. We went to see Phil Wang do one of these at 2 Northdown this month, and it's interesting to reflect on how it worked. Other people we've seen do this sort of thing - Stewart Lee being a prime example - turn up with multiple variants on the same joke, and use the audience to decide which one is best. Wang's new show appears to be at a much earlier stage of development (assuming he's ultimately preparing for Edinburgh next August): he's got a structure and some funny lines, but every so often has to stop and say "this needs a joke round about here." Presumably the idea is that as he works through the material over the course of a week, those jokes will gradually come to him. Still, there are plenty of laughs even at this stage, certainly enough to justify the four quid entrance fee. And I'll still be interested to see what the finished show looks like.

Movies: We're currently in the perineum between Diwali and Christmas, which presumably explains the glut of star-driven, effects-heavy Bollywood movies we're seeing at the moment. Later this month, Shah Rukh Khan gets himself miniaturised to utterly appalling effect in Zero: this weekend, the man they literally call Superstar Rajinikanth belatedly follows up his viral hit of a decade ago, Enthiran (aka Robot), with a sequel going under the amusingly minimalist title of 2.0. But the blockbuster season started back in November with Thugs Of Hindostan, featuring the once-in-a-lifetime pairing of Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan, which finally answers the question: what would it look like if Alan Moore and Bob Dylan dressed up as pirates and fought each other? Unfortunately, Indian audiences didn't seem so keen to find that out, to the extent that cinema owners are now seeking compensation from the film's producers. Personally, I enjoyed the hell out of it: it's quite obviously bollocks on toast, but it finds new ways to play with the established reputations of its leads, with Khan's character in particular showing a surprising degree of moral ambiguity for what's basically a light-hearted romp. And the action scenes are handsomely mounted, as long as you don't mind them being completely divorced from reality: their epic-scale geometric precision recalls the more decadent days of Hong Kong cinema, and that's always going to work for me. (There's a disclaimer at the start saying that no offence is intended towards any racial group, but given its colonial setting the English are largely portrayed as utter bastards, and that's always going to work for me too.)

Theatre: If you're reading this on the day of publication (December 1st), then you've got until tonight to catch the best play currently running in London. After that, you've missed it, sorry. It's surprising, because Measure For Measure has always been one of Shakespeare's more problematic efforts. A few years ago, a pair of simultaneous London productions pointed up the main problems: the Globe took its multiple climactic weddings as the usual cue for a jolly song and dance, while Complicite at the National pulled back the curtain on the cynicism behind the ending. In a time when #MeToo has become prevalent enough to work as a verb, you do wonder how it's possible to address the issues of Measure in a new way. I was aware that Josie Rourke's production at the Donmar was going to use gender-swapping, but I wasn't aware of the bold way that she'd re-edited the text to do it. By the end of this brilliantly constructed couple of hours, you'll be reassured that Measure isn't so much a misogynist play, more an even-handedly misanthropic one. Hayley Atwell and Jack Lowden's sterling work in the lead roles makes it clear how the power balance ultimately isn't in either one's favour, but the supporting cast do even more to support that reading: it's fascinating to see which of their reactions stay the same in the wake of the swap, and which ones are forced to change. If the lead-up to the interval doesn't leave the hairs on the back of your neck standing up in awe of the sheer possibilities opened up for the second half, then I'm not really sure what you're looking for in theatre.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For December 2018: Rang-Tan" »


Simian Substitute Site For November 2018: Cheeki Monkeys

Cheeki MonkeysMONTH END PROCESSING FOR OCTOBER 2018

Movies: It's always a bit tricky writing one of these posts in a London Film Festival month - after all, you already know about 27 of the films I saw in October (28 if you count Weeks In The West End as a kind of pre-season friendly). But before the festival started, we made a point of catching yet another film on the first day of its limited cinema release. Kusama: Infinity is Heather Lenz's documentary on the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama - regular readers will remember that we stumbled across her work in 2010 in her home town of Matsumoto, assumed she was just some sort of local eccentric, and then watched as her pictures went hyperviral both at home and abroad. This film doesn't tell you much about the artist that you can't find out from other sources (such as her autobiography Infinity Net), but it does give you an insight into the cunning way she's managed her mental health problems and turned them into a self-promotion strategy. And if you're not already aware of her story, then you've got that to look forward to as well. The film is still popping up in one-day engagements across the UK, but it might be easier for you to watch it at home over one of its multiple streaming platforms.

Music: It's never a good sign when you find out one week before a concert takes place that it's been moved to a smaller venue. Or is it? The concert in question was an intriguing double-header, pairing up jazz saxophonist David Murray (who I have to admit I wasn't aware of before now) and poet Saul Williams (a firm favourite round these parts ever since I first saw him in the film Slam two decades ago). The two artists collaborated on an album called Blues For Memo earlier this year, and the plan was that they were going to perform selections from it at the Islington Assembly Hall. And then, at the last minute, the show was moved from the 800 capacity IAH to the approximately 75% smaller MOTH Club in Hackney. An ex-servicemen's club that's been colonised by hipsters (the name's short for Memorable Order of Tin Hats), it turned out to be a much better fit for the gig than the rather unatmospheric Assembly Hall. The recorded version of Blues For Memo was a little too restrained for my liking, but in a live context Murray and his band take the brakes off and go for it, with Williams' poetic contributions used as another element in the mix rather than hogging the limelight completely. Here's their version of Burundi from the Manchester leg of the tour.

Theatre: If Martin McDonagh was a Talking Heads tribute band, you could perhaps argue that his new play should be called More Songs About Racism And Dwarves. They've been the central motifs of much of his work in both theatre and film since the beginning, and A Very Very Very Dark Matter (at London's Bridge Theatre until January 6th) combines them in a way that verges on self-parodic. It's the story of Hans Christian Andersen (Jim Broadbent), which answers the question that artists have always dreaded being asked: "where do you get your ideas from?" Every review I've read of the play tells you exactly where he gets them from, but I went into the preview performance not knowing where it was headed. It'd probably be more fun for you if you didn't know either, other than to say that Broadbent's co-star Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles is easily his equal in terms of holding the stage. It's enjoyable enough as long as you treat it more or less as pantomime, as it's largely made up of McDonagh rehashing his usual shock tactics, with lots of gratuitous violence and swearing (Phil Daniels doing some career-best work on the latter score). It's knockabout stuff with no real attempt at trying to say anything deep about the human condition: given the fuss that broke out when he tried to do that in Three Billboards, maybe it's just as well.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For November 2018: Cheeki Monkeys" »