Simian Substitute Site for May 2024: Maypole Monkey Gnome Ceramic Ornament

Maypole Monkey Gnome Ceramic OrnamentMONTH END PROCESSING FOR APRIL 2024

Books: Evelyn Waugh penned these words: ‘Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography.’ It is daunting to consider the sudden wave of disillusionment that must have swept over such a brilliant man and caused him to write such balls. Sorry, Jane Austen, but the award for Best Opening Lines Of Any Book Ever has to be passed on to David Niven, for the beginning of his 1971 memoir The Moon’s A Balloon. I'm a bit late to this one, I admit, but I was on a train looking for something to read and it was on offer for a quid on Google Play. It feels like the template for what we expect from celebrity autobiographies these days, a combination of gossipy chattiness and surprising frankness. There's no denying that Niven is great at anecdotes, and it feels churlish to complain that they're all about people - I was hoping for a bit more about the films he was in. I ploughed through the lengthy section on his wartime experiences, looking forward to a discussion of his first post-war job, the magnificent A Matter Of Life And Death: a film he literally dismisses in a single paragraph. It's possible his followup, Bring On The Empty Horses, may have more about the movies: let's see if Google Play knock that one down to a quid as well.

Food and Drink: Obviously you should never kick a gift horse in the bollocks, but I'm going to grumble about Virgin Experience Days in general and one in particular. Having been given a couple of these over the past year, I've started to feel sorry for the people who buy them as gifts, who are given limited information about what they're buying - it's only when the recipient has to redeem the vouchers that the catches become apparent. Let's take a look at, say, Countryside Break with Vineyard Tour and Wine Tasting at Chapel Down for Two: a voucher covering a combination of a night in a country hotel, followed by a morning's worth of fun stuff at one of Britain's best vineyards. And then you try to book the bugger. How busy is the hotel? It's frequently booked out for fancy weddings, so there are only limited weekends when they can take you. Is the hotel near the vineyard? No, it's about four miles away. Can you get a bus? They're massively infrequent and slow. Can you get a taxi? The number of cabs in the village appears to be in single figures, and you need to book them a week or more in advance. Can you drive there? Even if we could, let me point you at the words Wine Tasting in the event title. Quite a few of Virgin's offerings seem to involve getting two unconnected things, packaging them together, and leaving it to the recipient to sort out the nearly impossible logistics of co-ordinating the pair. Having said that, the Chapel Down tour is absolutely delightful and worth doing on its own, but maybe make your own arrangements for getting there.

Music: Probably time for another one of these. YouTube links included for the non-Spotifiers among you.
1. Whenever Ringo Shiina has a new album on the way, you can always count on its first single to be something that stops you dead in your tracks. No denying that she's done that again.
2. I'm liking Lucy Rose's singles when they turn up on the radio, but find a whole album of what she does a bit too much. Those singles, though...
3. It’d be unfair to describe Norman Pain's contribution to the Sindhu Sesh series as a suicide note you can dance to, because you can’t really dance to it.
4. Not really familiar with Anna Erhard before now, but her satirical takedown of Arseholes On TripAdvisor has a jolly Wet Leggish energy to it. Hey, remember them?
5. "Hi, I'm Shabaka Hutchings, and I've decided to give up the saxophone I'm world famous for and just play Japanese flutes now." That's a hell of a career move.
6. Tom Cardy's track is the only one on this playlist that wasn't released this year, but I've always been a sucker for a song that tells a story.
7. For Caroline Polachek, see Lucy Rose above.
8. I've only really known Chilly Gonzales before for his piano work, so I'm very much enjoying his Shabaka-like pivot to classical music criticism.
9. This Ed Harcourt song's been knocking around for years: a live version of it ended up on Pick Of The Year 2018. Now he's finally got around to recording it in a studio (and naming his new album after it).
10. And finally, Yard Act with the song that was my inevitable earworm during our visit to Chapel Down.


Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for May 2024: Maypole Monkey Gnome Ceramic Ornament" »


Simian Substitute Site for April 2024: Makake

MakakeMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MARCH 2024

Books: Back in the day I used to enjoy the Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley podcast Rule Of Three, in which they talked to guests about their favourite funny things and why they were funny. Morris’ new book, Be Funny Or Die: How Comedy Works And Why It Matters, scratches a similar itch – and doubly so if you listen to him reading the audiobook version. It’s a comprehensive study of the science, psychology and ethics of humour, and is smart enough to know how dangerous a task that is. In an early highlight, Morris takes Ken Dodd’s famous line about the futility of analysing comedy – the one about how Freud never had to play Glasgow Empire on a Friday night – and analyses how Dodd himself tweaked its wording over a couple of decades to suit his audience. I’m only a short way into the book so far, but enjoying it a lot.

Music: Max Richter’s managed to get a lot of mileage out of his eight hour composition Sleep. We’ve had an edited version that fits on a single CD, numerous remixes (both dancey and ambient), and an arrangement for solo piano. In March we also got 90 Minutes Of Sleep, the premiere of an audio-visual presentation designed for IMAX cinemas. The audio part is a 90 minute edit of the piece, lovingly remixed for a 12.2 IMAX sound system - the subtle subsonic pulse running throughout several sections is something I'd never really noticed before. As for the visuals, it's topped and tailed with fairly straightforward performance footage. But the bulk of the film is a lovely piece of large-scale animation, a series of night sky views that subtly change with the ebbs and flows of the music, making it a completely immersive experience. Curiously, the animator is only named in a throwaway credit right at the end, and I've not been able to find out their name from anywhere else, which is massively frustrating. Hopefully it'll get more screenings where credit will be given where it's due.

Telly: Continuing our project of investigating Taskmasters Of Many Lands, here’s one you can all play at home if you live in the UK. Channel 4’s streaming service, as well as the OG British version, can also give you access to Taskmaster New Zealand and Taskmaster Sweden – or Bäst i Test, to give the latter its proper title. And for someone who's comparing one version of the show with another, the Swedes appear to have gone completely off track. On the surface, there's the novelty value of our first female Taskmaster, Babben Larsson, assisted by David Sundin. But there's a completely different set! There are only four regular contestants, with a series of rotating guests in the fifth slot! The team tasks only use two teams of two! The prize task prizes are presented on video like it's Sale Of The Frickin' Century or something! It's not even apparent until the final episode of the series that there's going to be a big prize for the overall winner! Nevertheless, the basic structure is stlll there, and there's a fun mix of classic tasks and brand new ones. Series 1 is only four episodes long if you just want to dip your toe in - based on that, I'm happy to give series 2 a go.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for April 2024: Makake" »


Simian Substitute Site for March 2024: Monkey Man

Monkey ManMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2024

Books: What with taking breaks over the Christmas holiday and so on, it's taken us the best part of two months to get through the audiobook of Wilding. So how about something a bit fluffier to follow up, I said? Maybe a stand-up comedian's autobiography? It turns out I'm a bad judge of fluffiness. Strong Female Character - which we're listening to on our Spotify account because the audiobook is hellaciously expensive - is Fern Brady's retelling of her life, from her unhappy childhood through her unhappy time at university to the point where she found out it was autism that was making her unhappy. It's an extraordinary first-person account of what autism is like, viewed from a detached perspective that she obviously didn't have at the time she was growing up - a constant feeling that everyone else is working from a rule book that you don't have access to. If you're expecting lots of big laughs, you're going to be disappointed: there's plenty of humour in the book, but it's there primarily to stop her story becoming relentlessly depressing. The audiobook gains quite a bit, I suspect, from Brady's own narration: if nothing else, it's the best way to experience her impersonation of a boyfriend who liked singing along to the film Koyaanisqatsi. But maybe something a bit fluffier next time?

Music: After complaining last month about the lack of new music to start off 2024, I'm happy to report that things got better in February. YouTube links below, Spotify playlist below that.

  1. Six years after we first encountered him on his home turf of Estonia, we finally got to see Noep live for a second time when he came to London for a one-off show. He’s a lot dancier these days, as this new single shows. Fun video, too.
  2. Ed Harcourt will always be greeted warmly around these parts, as regular readers will know.
  3. As will Ruth Theodore, who appears to be over her health scare from a couple of years ago and settling in nicely on Ani DiFranco's record label Righteous Babe.
  4. For some reason, I've never been that impressed by Super Furry Animals, but the solo work of their singer Gruff Rhys has always worked better for me.
  5. Conversely, I'm not entirely sure about The Smile, to be honest: the few things I’ve liked of theirs have been the ones that are basically Radiohead songs, like this version of Pyramid Song with a couple of the notes swapped around.
  6. Yes, of course the new Pet Shop Boys single is here.
  7. I lost track of Little Simz around the end of 2022, when she released an album in the last week of the year after I'd already made my choices for the Pick Of The Year CD. Yes, I'm afraid that my listening habits are that rigidly arranged around the calendar. Release something in February like she's done here, and you have my full attention.
  8. Still not quite worked out yet what Yard Act are up to in their current incarnation. The album's out today, so maybe I'll find out.
  9. Good to see Joe Gideon out and about again: the last time I saw him was in January 2020 at the launch gig for his Armagideon album, shortly after which the entire world was shut down. I’m sure it wasn’t his fault.
  10. The original version of the Ash album Race The Night had its most rifftastic track and that track’s instrumental coda separated by five other songs. It seems a bit cheeky that for the extended version of the album, they’ve just glued those two parts together and treated it as a bonus track. Rocks like a bastard, though.


Theatre: I saw Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker in Plaza Suite in the West End recently, and as a serious theatregoer I made sure to tut loudly when both stars got a round of applause for merely walking onto the stage. They may well do that sort of nonsense on Broadway, but we don't do it here, I thought. And then literally two nights later, I saw a new play that had been deliberately constructed so that all seven of its principal characters each got their own big entrance with blatant cues for applause. That play was Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening!, bringing the cast of the TV show back together again after a quarter of a century, so I guess we'll let them off this time. Original writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin are also on board, and they've brought the Globelink News crew up to date in an efficient manner, as they each discover that they've been hired to work on a new startup news service that's a little too careless with its use of algorithmically generated content. All the regular cast settle into their roles like they've never been away, and the result is so much more than a simple cash-in on a known telly show - it's a raucously funny night out in its own right. It's touring the UK for several months now, having started back in February at London's Richmond Theatre, and heading back there at the end of the tour in June.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for March 2024: Monkey Man" »


Simian Substitute Site for February 2024: Happy Valentine's Day, (Curious) George!

Happy Valentine's Day, George!MONTH END PROCESSING FOR JANUARY 2024

Food and Drink: In all the fuss - such as it was - about this site having its quarter-century birthday last year, we never really thought about its little sister that turned five at the same time. Which is silly, really, because The Bermondsey Beer Mile is easily racking up thirty times as many hits as this place, and close on one hundred times as many on Saturdays. In case you weren't aware of it, back in 2018 The Belated Birthday Girl and I put together an unofficial fan site for London's trendiest trail of small breweries, describing the bars you'd find along the way and what to expect from each one. There were plenty of web pages that described what the Mile was like at the time the page was written: but we were the only site that promised to update details when new bars opened or old ones closed down, and we were also the only site to map out the route to take. Since then, whenever we've visited the Mile ourselves, we've been amused to see people literally using our work on their phones to navigate. After a year or so where we haven't done much to update the site - we had an excuse, you know - we've just brought it up to date with the latest collection of openings and closings, noting along the way that 2023 was a volatile year for small breweries. On that topic, late last year we were interviewed by news site The London Spy for an article on the current state of the Mile. We're happy with the quotes they used, but amused by one bit where the initials of the Bermondsey Beer Mile and The Belated Birthday Girl get a little confused...

Music: Some years, January becomes the time when record companies suddenly put out tons of new music that they've been saving up, and you think 'yeah, this could be an interesting twelve months'. Other years, there's no new stuff out there worth mentioning, and you find yourself idly picking though your old CDs for things you haven't played for yonks. 2024 seems to be one of the latter. That's why this month's Audio Lair playlist is full of deep cuts from the likes of Mott The Hoople, Hurrah!, Richard Hawley, Jim Bob, GoGo Penguin, Simon Love, C.W. Stoneking, Jarvis Cocker, Judy & Mary and Magazine. None of these are songs I'd thought about much for years, and in some cases decades. There were a few surprises in store - for example, finding that racial slur in the second verse of All The Way From Memphis a lot more problematic than I did back in 1973 - but it's nice to hear them all again. See if you feel the same way.


Music bonus: It's February 1st, so it must be time to announce that Dave's won another competition. On Christmas Day last year, the no-longer-a-surprise drop of Kiss Me While The World Decays: Pick Of The Year 2o23 was accompanied by the inevitable contest to win a copy of the CD. The question concerned the ancient rapping duo Pete & Bas, and required you to tell me the title of Bas' solo album. What's the catch? All you need to do is find out Bas' full name and you're just a Google search away. Unfortunately, most official sources - from the BBC up to Wikipedia - will tell you he's called Basil Bellgrave, and that's a fib. A man with Bas' past needs to use a fake name so people can't tell what he's been up to, and that's what's happened here. As uncovered by some internet detectives on Reddit, his real name is Basil Preuveneers (although he's the director of a company called 81 Belgrave Road Management, which may explain his choice of pseudonym). Bas is a semi-retired notary public who's stepping back from his business to pursue 'a love of music,' according to their website. He certainly had a history of musical achievement before his retirement, and now he's progressed to being one of the best-dressed rappers in the UK. But that's not all: in 2022 he recorded a solo piano album under his real name, allowing him to use the title... Preuven Classics Vol. 1. If you'd clicked on the right link in the Peter Gabriel paragraph on the competition page, you'd have found yourself in Bas' notary website, from which you could have got his real name and traced it all along from there. Dave possibly took a more scenic route to the answer, but nevertheless had it all wrapped up by 2.54pm on Christmas Day. So well done to him yet again, and apologies to his family for keeping him away from another Christmas dinner. As for the rest of you losers, you could probably do with some nice music to console yourselves...


Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for February 2024: Happy Valentine's Day, (Curious) George!" »


Simian Substitute Site for January 2024: Monkey Run

Monkey RunMONTH END PROCESSING FOR DECEMBER 2023

Books: One of my favourite gags by the comedian Andrew O’Neill is based around the social media pastime of sharing deliberately unpopular opinions. Whereas most other people’s opinions are weak sauce like ‘The Matrix Reloaded is just as good as the first one,’ Andrew goes in hard with ‘AGRICULTURE WAS A MISTAKE.’ It’s the gargantuan leap of scale that makes it such a fabulous joke, along with the slight twinge you get when you wonder: what if it's true? What has our insistence on generating as much food as possible done to the rest of the planet’s ecosystem? It’s a question that’s come to mind as we’ve been listening to the audiobook of Wilding by Isabella Tree. As owner of the Knepp estate in West Sussex with her husband Charlie Burrell, they tried and failed to make it work as profitable farmland. So they decided to go in the other direction – letting the land grow wild, and adding free-roaming animals into the mix. Wilding is Tree’s retelling of the story of how this experiment progressed over the space of a couple of decades – and if the bare bones of the story sound familiar to you, it may be because The Belated Birthday Girl saw a documentary based on the book at the LFF a couple of months ago. She’s enjoying the book because it fills in the detail that a 75 minute film has to leave out. For me, it’s a terrific piece of storytelling: Tree (who narrates the audiobook herself) lays out the details of how they managed their project in an admirably clear fashion, making it more of a story and less of an agricultural stocktaking exercise.

Music: We’ve already celebrated the triumph of The BBG’s 2023 Undiscovered Gigs project, where the plan was to see twelve live shows by people we knew nothing about beforehand. But it’s worth spending a little more time talking about the 13th show on that list, where we didn’t know where the venue was until the day before, and didn’t even know the names of the people on the bill until we were in the building. Welcome to the slightly unnerving world of Sofar Sounds. Since 2009, they’ve been building a community of performers and gig-goers, bringing the two together in a series of secret-ish shows where the audience has to trust completely in the curation process. All you’re told at the time you buy the ticket is the approximate location and the type of venue you’ll be in – it could be anything from an already established performance space to sitting on the floor in someone’s living room. All other information on the show is subsequently dripfed to you on a need-to-know basis. For our first one, we played it safe and went for a venue-type venue in the Barbican area, which turned out to be Piano Smithfield. All three of the acts we saw that night - Jeanie White, Okiem and Jackson Rouse - were excellent: it’s possible that if we’d encountered Jackson Rouse before I’d locked down the track listing for POTY 2023, his single Wash My Hands might have ended up on there. We may have to do this again, possibly somewhere where we’re expected to bring our own cushion to sit on.

Theatre: Christmas is very much a time for certain types of theatrical experiences, and though we didn’t get around to seeing a panto this year, we did at least manage a family show with puppets and a performance of The Nutcracker. To be honest, we really should have caught up with My Neighbour Totoro during its first run at the Barbican last year, but were too slow off the mark: we were better prepared for the show's return visit, now running till March 23rd. It seems like an impossible task to take the wild fantasy of Hayao Miyazaki's animated classic and reproduce it theatrically, but director Phelim McDermott has form in making the improbable happen on stage, and his team rise to the challenge spectacularly. Crucially, this adaptation maintains your attention even during the long stretch in act two that doesn't involve puppets. As for Nutcracker, it's safe to say that this isn’t anything like the Russian State Ballet of Siberia’s traditional version we saw in Cardiff five Chrismasses ago: the cheeky tone's set very early on when a TV set can be heard playing the old Frank Muir Fruit & Nut advert. They've converted the former Spiritland bar on the ground floor of the Southbank Centre into a lovely popup venue called The Tuff Nut Jazz Club, where a cast of six dancers (choreographed by Drew McOnie) kinda sorta retell the story of the Nutcracker, to a jazz rearrangement of Tchaikovsky’s music by Cassie Kinoshi. It's all compressed into a ridiculously entertaining hour that's incredibly camp but somehow never cheesy with it. And after some performances you get the bonus of Nutcracker Nights, where guest artists convert the room into a proper jazz club. It's running till January 6th, so you've still got a few days if you missed it.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for January 2024: Monkey Run" »


Simian Substitute Site for December 2023: Sea Monkey Christmas

Sea Monkey ChristmasMONTH END PROCESSING FOR NOVEMBER 2023

Books: Let’s make this clear up front: there are two books out there called Topographia Hibernica, and the one you want is the new one. The old one was written by Gerald of Wales in the 12th century as anti-Irish propaganda, describing the people as savage ignorant brutes and thus ripe for colonisation by the Brits. It's the sort of Irish lore that Blindboy Boatclub often raves about in his podcast, which is why he's reappropriated its title for his third collection of short stories. This particular Topographia Hibernica is a huge step forward from Blindboy's earlier books, although the stories still fall into two broad categories: dark character studies with a surreal twist, and slabs of dystopian grimness. The grim ones are still grim, but now they feel less like an author being a bastard to his characters, and more like organically formed tragedies: podcast listeners will work out fairly soon that one of the saddest ones, The Cat Piss Astronaut, is taken from an incident in Blindboy's own life that he's talked about before. But when he throws his surreal humour into the mix, the results are like nothing else out there - whether it's the visual image at the heart of The Donkey distracting you from what the story's really about, or the way the macho posturing in I'll Give You Barcelona ultimately resolves itself. It's the first time he's had a book published over this side of the Irish Sea, and hopefully we're going to get more.

Comedy: Blindboy’s got a successful podcast, sure, but he’s got a long way to go before he can pull down the numbers of Off Menu. The simplicity of its premise probably helps – Ed Gamble and James Acaster interview a celebrity about their dream meal – but the sheer variety of the responses they get to that question is what keeps fans coming back week after week. And, I guess, also has them packing out theatres during their just completed run of touring live shows. We caught them during a weekend in Brighton, and given that the live show guests have been locals, I was hoping that at some point we’d be treated to a shout of “POPPADOMS OR BREAD? POPPADOMS OR BREAD, NICK CAVE? POPPADOMS OR BREAD?” Not to be, sadly, but Joe Wilkinson proved a fine alternative, and was a perfect illustration of what makes this work as a live format: the audience, cheering on his basic bitch dinner of chicken Kievs, chips and peas, but turning on him when he announced that cheap Kievs were just as good as expensive ones if you overcooked them enough. All the live shows have been recorded, so if you follow Off Menu's podcast feed you should get to hear it eventually. (In the meantime, our own food recommendations from our Brighton weekend would have to include the fabulous Asian vegan nosh at Bonsai Plant Kitchen, and the combination of bao buns and brilliant beer on offer at The Pond. We didn't have the pizza at Dead Wax Social, but it's a fabulously unpretentious place for drinking and dancing, so we'll recommend it anyway.)

Music: Max Champion wrote and performed dozens of lightly comical songs on the London stage at the start of the 20th century, but until the recent release of the album What A Racket! you couldn’t have heard any of them. There’s a good reason for that: Max Champion never existed, and neither did his songs. What we have here is Joe Jackson – yeah, that Joe Jackson – writing and recording eleven pastiche music hall songs from scratch, and putting together a short film full of tremendously subtle horseshit to persuade the gullible that they’re the real thing. Given all the genres of music Jackson has experimented with since his debut in 1979, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that he’s found another one. What is a surprise is how much fun it all is. Despite Jackson's hints that Max is somehow ‘speaking from his London of the early 20th century, directly to us in the early 21st’, that angle’s never pushed too hard. Everything just feels right for the period – the cheeky humour, the laments for the lot of the working man, and the odd bit of sentimentality where you least expect it. And thankfully Jackson still has an ear for a solid tune and a quirky arrangement, so it all works musically as well. Observe:


Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for December 2023: Sea Monkey Christmas" »


Simian Substitute Site for November 2023: Spunky Monkey

Spunky MonkeyMONTH END PROCESSING FOR OCTOBER 2023

Comedy: Yes, there's a lot of stuff that's late on this site at the moment. Look on the bright side, at least it's being updated more regularly than our Bermondsey Beer Mile site. It's been a year of turbulent change on the Mile, but The BBG and I can never quite find the time to document all the bar closures and openings: more often than not, we're relying on the people who leave comments on the site to update us with the latest happenings. One of our recent commenters was Ben Clover, who runs a monthly Bermondsey Beer Mile Comedy night at the London City Runners clubhouse on Druid Street, on the first major stretch of the Mile. It's an enjoyable night out: on our visit we saw decent sets by Dan Fardell, Sam Golin, Ed Mulvey and headliner Maria Shehata, with Ben himself doing excellent work as the compere. We really should be bigging this up on the Beer Mile site, but the problem is that it's let down by, ironically, its beer: with only Camden, Beavertown and Brooklyn available on tap, it's by far the least interesting collection of brews on Druid Street. Presumably running and nice beer are considered incompatible, which is a shame for Ben and his clubnight. But if you're not so much of a Craft Beer Wanker as we are, maybe give it a visit.

Food and Drink: Meanwhile, over on my Moblog - which is somehow still going, even though I suspect the site owners abandoned it many years ago - we've still been keeping up the once-a-year traditional of literal real-time updates for BrewDog's Collabfest. In previous years, these have been four-day epics in which we've run frantically between a dozen or so of BrewDog's bars in London, trying to sample as many of the 70-80 beers their bars worldwide have made in collaboration with local breweries. Times are hard, though, and this year the event's been cut way back: only 31 beers, and only 4 of the London bars serving them. As such, the Moblog entries - written in the bars as we were drinking - don't deteriorate over time as much as they have done in previous years. But not as many people are getting to read the Collabfest reviews since I stopped promoting them on Twitter, so here they are for your entertainment. Over nine bar visits, we drank the beers from Shepherds Bush, Hull, Brighton and Edinburgh Cowgate: Dundee, Goteborg, Dublin and Aberdeen Castlegate: Reading, Newcastle, Oxford and Stockholm: Rotterdam, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester: Tallin, Frankfurt, Canary Wharf and Grunnerloka: Norwich, Bristol and Nottingham: Camden and Glasgow: Shoreditch: and finally Exeter and Bournemouth. This means we got to try at least 1/6 pint of 28 of the 31 beers, which is an acceptable strike rate. There should be another page on Moblog where we say which were the best of those beers, but I'm afraid that's late too...

Travel: "No. No no. No no no no no no." Not my words, but the words of a young woman in front of us who'd just discovered that the almost naked Japanese man standing in the middle of Trafalgar Square was about to be joined by thirty schoolchildren. After a few years off the scene for inevitable reasons, it was a warm welcome back to Japan Matsuri, central London's annual festival of Japanese culture, looking like it had never been away. Too much like it had never been away, to be honest. In the past, you could be reliably surprised by the acts on offer - for me, the absolute peak was the year when the festival was invaded by mascot characters, including the legendary Kumamon. But in the years leading up to the pandemic hiatus, it started getting into a bit of a rut, with the same people appearing time after time. And it's still the same people in 2023. Yes, Joji Hirota and his taiko drummers are great, but they've been the headliners for several years in a row now. We also get the usual martial arts schools, Radio Taiso demonstrations, traditional tunes from the SOAS Min'yo Group, more traditional tunes from Okinawa, and an artist I refuse to name who pops up several times throughout the day and really, really shouldn't. There's one act here who couldn't have appeared before this year, and it's the aforementioned Tonikaku Akarui ‘Tony’ Yasumura of Britain's Got Talent infamy, posing for a solid twelve minutes in his undercrackers while pretending to be naked. The poor kids didn't know what hit them. Anyway, Matsuri is still a fine afternoon out, but a few more food stalls without massive queues wouldn't hurt, and neither would a few new faces on the stage.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for November 2023: Spunky Monkey " »


Simian Substitute Site for October 2023: Brazen Monkey Karaoke

Brazen Monkey KaraokeMONTH END PROCESSING FOR SEPTEMBER 2023

Books: One of the unspoken ideas behind our ongoing Audiobook At Bedtime project is that it’s there to help us wind down at the end of the day. As such, you don’t want to be listening to anything too disturbing or downbeat – for example, even before the events of this year, we thought that Sinead O’Connor’s autobiography would be a little too heavy for the timeslot. Yet here we are with David Milch’s autobiography, Life’s Work, which opens with a prologue in which he admits that he’s trying to get the story of his life down on paper before the Alzheimer’s makes it impossible. Milch is a TV writer who’s created at least two stone-cold classic shows (NYPD Blue and Deadwood) and several near misses that were still interesting regardless (Luck was a mess narratively, but I always enjoyed hanging out with its characters). The audiobook pulls off a little stroke of genius early on, by having the audibly ageing Milch himself read out his prologue, but then passing the baton to Michael Harney for the rest of the book. Harney gets Milch’s tone down perfectly from the off: confident enough to pull off the more hard-boiled bits of prose (“He never played pool with my father again. He never walked again.”) while showing a more sensitive side as he picks his way through Milch’s troubled childhood. Once we get into the author’s career (starting out on Hill Street Blues), the book turns into a solid primer on the art of TV writing – building characters, interweaving stories, pushing at the boundaries of what’s acceptable. If you’ve ever marvelled at a turn of phrase in a Milch show, you’ve got several hundred of them to look forward to in here.

Telly: Another one of our ongoing projects – Taskmasters Of Many Lands – has just hit Quebec. With thanks once again to the good but simultaneously naughty people at Reddit, we’re most of the way through season one of Le Maître du Jeu, the Canadian version featuring Louis Morissette as the eponymous maître and Antoine Vézina as his assistant. You can pick the odd hole in their relationship – for example, Morissette is that rare example of a Taskmaster who’s less physically imposing than their assistant – but they’ve quickly established their own spin on the roles, as they should. Morissette is utterly charming but capable of surprising everyone with the occasional arbitrarily cruel judgement: while Vézina has eschewed the usual deadpan approach and is having just the right amount of fun. As for the series 1 contestants, they establish themselves pretty quickly, from Jo Cormier’s overheated attempts to create a catchphrase (‘tout le monde gagne!’) to Christine Morency’s maniacal laughter, which makes her sound like an idiot but carefully distracts you from how cunning her approach to tasks can be. For an English language viewer, the fan-generated subtitles - take a bow, the_little_kicks – are massively helpful, providing detailed notes for any gags that require a knowledge of Canadian culture or geography. Unless it turns out that they’ve spunked away the country‘s five best comics in the first series, I think we’ll be coming back for the second - hopefully by then they'll have stopped nicking all their tasks from the UK version...

Travel: As an excellent birthday present from my sister, The BBG and I recently spent a Saturday afternoon on a London Craft Beer Cruise. It’s a simple idea – you spend two and a half hours on a boat going up and down the Thames, during which time you can guzzle six 175ml measures of some of London’s finest craft beers. Is there a catch? Well, just a small one – they only run these cruises between June and August, a detail that wasn’t apparent to either my sister or us until we tried to redeem the Virgin gift voucher for the experience in... early September. However, when we enquired about booking for next year we found they were sneaking in one last cruise day in 2023, as an Oktoberfest special. We leapt at the chance, and then worried about whether we’d just be drinking bog standard German lager all day. Happily, it turned out that the cruise stuck to the craft beer brief - serving beers from old favourites like Anspach & Hobday, Orbit and Lost & Grounded, but showcasing their work in German styles like Berliner Weisse and Rauchbier. And to keep it hipster, instead of an oompah band accompaniment we got a playlist of tunes from the current generation of New Orleans inspired brass bands (though sadly not our two favourites). It’s a terrific afternoon out in London, and you won’t be able to do it yourself now until at least June, but if you can you should.

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Simian Substitute Site for September 2023: Funky Monkeys

Funky MonkeysMONTH END PROCESSING FOR AUGUST 2023

Books: It's been three months since we last reviewed an audiobook here - what's the deal with that? We've actually had a single book on the boil for that whole period, but had to put it on pause on several occasions during that time because, well, we've been busy. Also, it's a pretty great book and we're kind of savouring it. Fancy Bear Goes Phishing by Scott Shapiro is a study of the history of cybercrime, built around a detailed analysis of five landmark incidents. It starts in the mid-1980s with the story of the student who crashed the internet before any of us knew what the internet was, and goes up to the Russian groups who've been meddling with US elections (including the Fancy Bear of the title, because Russian hacking groups tend to be codenamed as '[something] Bear'). Shapiro isn't afraid to dive into the weeds of how data breaches happen - you do feel sorry for audiobook reader Jonathan Todd Ross, who on a few occasions has to read out several lines of program code verbatim. But the clarity of the descriptions makes them work even for the most general reader. Besides, Shapiro's real interest is in the people who poke around in systems where they shouldn't be poking, and what makes them want to do that. Some of their reasons may make you want to hurl your audiobook device across the room because of their sheer pettiness, but that's people for you.

Food and Drink: As it's an August Month End Processing, this is usually the time of year where a simple list of beers can count as a valid post. At this year's Great British Beer Festival, we racked up the following between us: Blackjack's Early-Days Northern Porter, Lord's Sunshine State West Coast Pale, Thornbridge's Coltrane, Geipel's Hefeweizen, New River's Blind Poet, Dorking's Five Claw, Thornbridge's Tiramisu Lucaria, Beer Ink's On The Saison (getting our award for the best/worst pun of the night), and finishing up with Urbanaut's Tropical Imperial Stout. It should be noted that the above list was pulled from the GBBF app, which we used for the first time this year - no paper programme required, and the ability to log what you've been drinking at the touch of a button definitely helped. Apart from that technological breakthrough, not much has changed this year - the same layout, the same food and merch stalls. On reflection, maybe this year there was a slightly better integration of the craft beer scene into the proceedings, as opposed to the ghetto area marked off with key kegs that they've used previously. This year's guest band was Eddie And The Hot Rods, who improved quite a bit after some initially terrible sound, although you can't quite get over the fact that they've gone full Sugababes - there wasn't a single person on that stage that night who'd played on Do Anything You Wanna Do back in 1977. We all jumped around like nutters when they played it, regardless.

Music: Time for another Audio Lair playlist of newish stuff, available in both collected Spotify form and a bunch of YouTube links padded out with words.

  1. Given how much of YouTube is currently dedicated to shots of people reacting to Sindhu World videos, you get the feeling that The Northern Boys went into their video shoot thinking 'right, let's give these buggers something to react to...'
  2. Thanks to a combination of archaeology and reconstructive surgery, we now have new music from the late Vivian Stanshall. On the evidence of this lead single, it's all been done with sensitivity and love for the great man.
  3. Recorded at the Proms last year (which means I'm audible somewhere in the final seconds), Public Service Broadcasting show how it's possible to balance a rock band with a full orchestra without one of them drowning out the other.
  4. I'm not massively familiar with Killer Mike's stuff, but this single certainly grabs you by the ears when it comes on the radio, even with the awkward gaps caused by censorship.
  5. I got to know Akusmi's music last year through a Spotify algorithm recommendation, so I guess Spotify can't be too evil after all. This sort of minimalism/jazz/dance crossover stuff just presses my buttons like crazy.
  6. It's sad that it took so long for De La Soul's old material to get a digital release, but at least it's there now. I'm finding the re-emergence of non-album material like this remix just as much fun as the albums themselves.
  7. What, that Corinne Bailey Rae? Really? Girl, you can put as many records on as you like if they sound like this now.
  8. I feel I should be investigating CMAT more. I'll certainly give her forthcoming album a listen to see if she's got other choruses as stonking as this one.
  9. Not sure if Yard Act are deliberately trying to recreate the baggy feel of a 1980s-era 12" single re-edit, but it amuses me that this is exactly what it sounds like.
  10. I haven't really thought about David Bridie since we stumbled across him on our Australian trip 20 years ago. This album of spoken word pieces set to music is rather delightful, though.


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Simian Substitute Site for August 2023: Junk Monkey

Junk MonkeyMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JULY 2023

Comedy: You’ll read more about this in a few days, but for now take this as a basic heads-up that The BBG and I are treating 2023 as one of our Edinburgh gap years. We're not missing out completely, thanks to the low-price preview shows that many comics run in London during July, so that their sets will be in tip-top form by the start of the festival. How this is going to apply to Daniel Kitson’s new show, First Thing, God only knows: he admitted during his preview at the Cockpit theatre that he’d finished writing the show at around 11.30 that morning, just three days before the start of its run at Summerhall. Part of the joy of the show is finding out in its first minute exactly what it is, and I’m not going to spoil that joy for anyone who might be planning to see it in August. But my oft-quoted (by me) theory that the best things I’ve ever seen in Edinburgh have been a conspiracy between performer and audience absolutely applies here. There’s a huge sense of danger in its structure – all it would take is for a couple of people to refuse to play ball and the whole thing could collapse. But you suspect that danger is something Kitson enjoys playing with. Anyway, there’s an hour of solidly constructed fun to be had, particularly if you’re a fan of Kitson and buy into the mythology he’s constructed around himself over the years. Yes, I know the Edinburgh run sold out months ago, but I believe returns may be available on the day, and if you’re up there it’s a chance worth taking.

Music: Help settle an argument for me. As you may know, The BBG is in the middle of a year long project to see a dozen live concerts without knowing anything in advance about the music to be performed. So does it count if the artist in question is Kiefer Sutherland, seeing as we know him from movies and TV but have no previous experience of his music? I say yes, she says no, and it’s her project so that’s that. But when we went to his gig at Dingwalls, we didn’t even know what genre to expect: for all we knew, he was about to pull out a laptop and hit us with some slick dancefloor grooves. Since that show, we’ve checked out an album or two of his, and it looks like he’s self-identifying as a country artist. Having said that, on the night he cranked up the guitars and turned into nothing so much as a solid London pub rock singer from the mid 1980s – maybe playing at Dingwalls just does that to people. The BBG and I agreed afterwards that if we’d stumbled across a band like this back then, we’d have considered it a perfectly decent night out: nowadays, it gives you a warm feeling of nostalgia, specifically for the days when a gig like this didn’t cost you thirty five quid plus booking fees.

Theatre: It takes a while to work out exactly what Dear England - at the National Theatre until August 11th - is. On paper, James Graham's play seems simple enough: the story of Gareth Southgate (played by Joseph Fiennes) and his management of the England football team from 2016 to the present day, with a brief pre-credits flashback to 1990 to give us some added psychological subtext. But for the first ten or fifteen minutes, its tone is tricky to nail down: is it a serious retelling of the rebuilding of one of the foundation stones of the English character, or a casebook showing how much trouble Southgate had implementing his touchy-feely training methods, or a satirical retelling of a story most of us know? After a bit, you realise that it could actually be all of these at the same time, so you can relax and enjoy the ride. The approach is best illustrated by the portrayal of Harry Kane, whose pitch perfect impersonation (by Will Close) and limited vocabulary means every line of his gets a laugh, right up to the point where it doesn’t. The staging is ridiculously imaginative: Es Devlin’s video projections don’t do as much of the heavy lifting as you’d expect, frequently acting more as a scoreboard than anything else. This leads us to the most astonishing thing about Dear England – director Rupert Goold has found a way to dramatise penalty shootouts on stage, and do it so effectively that the young lad in front of me was covering his eyes because he was too scared of them missing. It’s a play that exploits the National’s considerable technical resources to the max, but you’d hope a play with this amount of popular appeal will have a life outside the Southbank.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for August 2023: Junk Monkey" »