Simian Substitute Site for December 2022: Exotic Monkey Christmas Tree Decoration

Exotic Monkey Christmas Tree DecorationMONTH END PROCESSING FOR NOVEMBER 2022

Books: Probably the biggest artistic thing I did this month was serve my first ever term of jury service. Not because of any drama in the courtroom itself – although there was definitely some of that – but because jury service involves a lot of sitting around waiting for things to happen, and the official advice you’re given is to bring a good book with you. I ended up getting through two and a half books in the various bits of downtime spread across the fortnight, so for once this section is a review of some ebooks rather than audiobooks. How To Be Perfect, a guide to moral philosophy by Michael Schur, takes all of the research he did into the subject for The Good Place and converts it into an enjoyable history of the approaches we’ve taken as a species to differentiate right from wrong. (It seemed appropriate at the time.) Meantime is Frankie Boyle’s attempt at jumping on the Famous People Writing Crime Novels bandwagon, but fails in two key aspects: all the characters speak in his voice, and they’re all prone to long rants about the state of things that have Author’s Message stamped all over them. Still, you’re at least guaranteed the odd bracing line, like his description of nepotism as ‘incest for cowards'. Currently I’m halfway through Alan Moore’s short story collection Illuminations, and absolutely bloody loving it: if anything, it reminds me of a more literary version of the short Future Shocks tales Moore used to tell in 2000AD, because of their devotion to messing with time and your narrative expectations. And you can tell Moore is designed for writing short stories, because his last lines are always fucking perfect.

Internet: Even if you’re not seeing any of the newly enabled Nazis being pumped directly into your timeline, there’s no denying that Twitter has become a lot less fun than it used to be. So what do you do? The general consensus appears to be, you go to Mastadon. There are plenty of blogposts out there to walk you through the process, but here’s a short personal summary (partly assisted by this one). The first complication is that you can't just join Mastodon, you have to join one of its instances: part of what sets it apart from Apartheid Clyde's domain is that it's decentralised and not just managed from a single location. The trick is to avoid the large ones - obvious instances like mastodon.social have become massively overloaded over the last couple of weeks and grind like a bastard - but watch out for small ones with limited support and a high risk of future collapse. For better or worse, I've thrown in my lot with newish Mancunian instance mcr.wtf, which has a good name and appears to be run by nice people who like beer. Then you need to work out which program you use to access Mastodon, bearing in mind that their own client is by all accounts bobbins. Like many Android users, I've gone with Tusky, and it seems to work just fine. Finally, once you're in there you'll need to recreate your list of people you follow from scratch, and I think this is the biggest aspect of migrating from Twitter - everyone's conscious of what mistakes they made when they built their Twitter following list, and is keen not to make them again. With all that in mind, you'll find me there at https://mcr.wtf/@SpankTM - it'd be lovely to see you there, so I could post stuff that's a little more ambitious than this.

Telly: Because I'm posting this late while still a bit drunk (my first Christmas party of 2022 happened today), by now you've just missed the grand finale of season 14 of Taskmaster. Hopefully this means that the verbal NDA I agreed to several months ago no longer applies, and so I can talk about how The BBG and I went to the taping of an episode of this series last April. Getting tickets isn’t particularly hard – visit SRO Audiences, go to the Taskmaster page, sign up and wait for them to announce a new series. Obviously demand is quite high, so you’ll need to leap into action as soon as they’re announced. A block of ten shows gets recorded over five consecutive weekdays, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, and generally the afternoon ones are easier to get into. Of course, this is assuming you can travel to the taping site at Pinewood Studios, which is impossible to get to by public transport and takes a ten minute taxi ride from Slough station. To make things even more complicated, they ask you to arrive early because they overallocate the (free) tickets, so even if you've got one in hand they can't guarantee you'll get in. We turned up an hour and a half before the scheduled time, which may have been overkill, but we weren't the first there. Once you're inside, it takes about three hours to record a forty minute episode, even though a good half of it is pre-taped tasks: there's a very baggy feel to the banter in the studio, and it's fascinating to observe how that gets hacked down for TV broadcast. The episode we saw being filmed was S14E03, and the spectacular reveal that takes place just before the first ad break was even more fun experienced live as it was on telly. But if you're curious about what you missed by not being there, this package of outtakes may help (from about 16 minutes in, and yes, that improv section was as excruciating in person as it is on YouTube).

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for December 2022: Exotic Monkey Christmas Tree Decoration" »


Simian Substitute Site for November 2022: Timkey The Monkey And His Magic Flute

Timkey The Monkey And His Magic FluteMONTH END PROCESSING FOR OCTOBER 2022

Books: I think that The Belated Birthday Girl has changed the way I think about the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and I kinda like it. In the past, I'd go specifically to see authors: these days, we tend to book for talks on subjects that attract our interest. Maybe it's a general move from fiction to non-fiction that's triggered this? Anyway, one of the highlights of the festival this year was a talk by two paleontologists, and one of their books is currently our audiobook at bedtime. Otherlands by Thomas Halliday is a speculative history of our planet told in a beautiful way: each chapter is a detailed pen portrait of what Earth would look and feel like at various points over the last 500 million years or so. Halliday's masterstroke is to tell the story backwards - chapter 1 is 50,000 years ago, chapter 2 is 2 million years, and so on - which stops human development becoming the main focus of the narrative: by the start of chapter 3 we're out of the picture as a species, so we can concentrate on all the other fascinating stuff going on. As an audiobook (read by Adetomiwa Edun), it's more of a meditative experience than a compendium of hard science fact, but Halliday's rich imagery gives you plenty of lovely ideas to stuff into your head before bedtime.

Food & Drink: As Twitter enters what everyone assumes is going to be its death spiral, let’s take a moment or two to think about another social media platform that really should be considered dead by now. Moblog was incredibly fashionable when I joined back in 2004: a website where you could share pictures you’d taken on your phone, with text attached? Who else is doing that? Eventually, the answer to that question became ‘loads of people, especially Twitter and Twitpic’, and Moblog dwindled into irrelevance. But when Twitpic crashed and burned several years ago because of an earlier bout of Twitter’s arseholism, and I needed a mobile miniblogging platform that I could easily post to while drunk, Moblog started looking enticing all over again. So since 2014 I’ve been using it specifically for posting live reports on the beers in BrewDog’s annual Collabfest. It’s quite possible that nobody else is using Moblog these days - when you look through the last thirty days of posts, it's hard to find anything that hasn't been posted by some sort of bot - so I'm nervous that one of these days I'll go there and find it gone, and have to move over to bleedin' Instagram or some such nonsense. Until then, here's my on-the-spot report from Collabfest 2022, pages 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 and a coda to finish off.

Music: Two songs into ABBA Voyage, and Bjorn is running towards the front of the stage and clapping in time. Inevitably, all of us start clapping along with him. It’s about four seconds before I say “wait a minute, why am I clapping along with you? You’re not here, you’re a computer generated hologram being projected onto the stage. Actually, you’re not even that, you’re just a high resolution animation on a massive telly. Come to think of it, why am I even talking to you?” The most astonishing thing about ABBA's much hyped virtual show is that you don't spend every minute of it thinking something like this. A huge amount of technical effort has been put into combining real and virtual elements in such a way that the boundary between the two is invisible. The physical lights in the arena have been synced up to match the lighting of the fake ABBA members 'on stage': the live ten-piece backing band keeps precisely in time with the pre-recorded vocals, in a rare example of arse-backwards karaoke: there are video interludes covering the pauses for costume changes that aren't actually happening. Everything is done with the aim of convincing you that you're at a real gig, and they've nailed it (apart from the lack of queues for the bars and cloakroom being totally unrealistic). If this was an event put together to showcase a bunch of average songs, it would be pretty special already. Except it's showcasing a bunch of ABBA songs, which lift the whole thing to stratospheric levels. No, we don't get a hairy Viking on drums like I was hoping for, but it's still one hell of a night out.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for November 2022: Timkey The Monkey And His Magic Flute" »


Simian Substitute Site for October 2022: Missing Pictures Episode 3: The Monkey Wrench Gang

Missing Pictures Episode 3: The Monkey Wrench GangMONTH END PROCESSING FOR SEPTEMBER 2022

Comedy:Nearly done now.” Imagine what it must have been like for the Greenwich Comedy Festival, organising a five-day binge of big laffs and then having the Queen die before it, resulting in a ten-day period of national mourning which overlaps it perfectly. Imagine their delight when they realised the final show of their festival would take place the day before the funeral, and that it would have to preceded by a one-minute silence. How do you start off a show in those circumstances? It turns out that the approach of compere Daniel Kitson – sighing deeply and saying in a reassuring fashion “nearly done now” – was the right one. For all the insistence that there was to be No Laughing during those ten days, the audience in the grounds of the National Maritime Museum seemed to be enjoying things just fine. And the big news of the week wasn’t considered off limits, with Tim Key having a couple of royal funeral poems all ready to go. Lower down the bill, Sarah Keyworth and Tadiwa Mahlunge both acquit themselves just fine: it’s headliner Dylan Moran who’s the more awkward proposition. He comes on stage drunk, divorced and bearing a keyboard that he admits he doesn’t know how to play, but spends most of the next half hour trying to anyway. The sheer tension in the room (well, courtyard) as he lets whole minutes roll by without a joke – and deliberately, too – is fascinating, and one of those things I hadn't realised I'd missed in two and a half years of limited access to live comedy. Unfortunately, he's too unfocussed to find a way to release that tension at the end, leaving the audience nursing the comedy equivalent of blue balls, and Kitson on stage yelling at us to run for the exits because Moran’s rambling has blown out the curfew by a good ten minutes. I hope he sorts out what he’s doing soon, one way or another.

Telly: For reasons that’ll become more apparent as this paragraph progresses, I’ve just been combing through the comics section of this site to track down an old review of The Sandman, only to find that it’s spent the last 14 years in Books rather than Comics. As far back as 2003, there was active speculation as to how it could be translated to moving images: two decades later, instead of the film we thought we were going to get, The Sandman is now a TV show on Netflix. It makes sense: after all, Neil Gaiman wrote it for comics in serialised form, with each issue having a wildly different feel from the previous one. That was especially the case for the early issues which make up what everyone is hoping is just the first season. If anything, it’s a little too keen to stick to the comics as a blueprint, though not as much as Gaiman's adaptation of Good Omens, which seemed terrified to drop a single word of his and Terry Pratchett’s writing. At least Sandman isn't afraid to chop and reshuffle things occasionally to keep it flowing as a series. There are a few individual episodes that stand out by a country mile from the rest – inevitably, they're the ones based around the issues that stood out in the comics run (24 Hours and The Sound Of Her Wings in particular). Tom Sturridge gets just the right amount of underplayed weirdness into his portrayal of the title character, and there are plenty of fun surprises in the casting overall (including at least three Taskmaster contestants). On the whole, they've done the comics justice, and I’d be happy to see more of this.

Theatre: You know me, I’m a sucker for a one-sentence pitch that makes you want to drop everything and see a show immediately. Here’s one: “a Japanese kabuki adaptation of Romeo And Juliet with music by Queen.” This is a genuinely accurate description of A Night At The Kabuki, Hideki Noda’s reworking of Shakespeare into something with a surface resemblance to traditional Japanese theatre. To be honest, the one element that doesn’t quite work is the use of songs from A Night At The Opera throughout - or more accurately, short snatches of those songs used mostly as underscore or to cover scene transitions, with no relevance attached to their lyrics. On the few occasions that a scene's allowed to play out across the bulk of a track, it works really well: you don't want to push that idea too far or you get Mamma Mia, but a bit more of that would be welcome. Maybe the main reason for the Queen connection is to act as a hook to lure you into a wild postmodern take on the play, in which the star-crossed lovers have stayed alive but forcibly separated for thirty years after their initial tryst. The main narrative thrust involves old Romeo and Juliet going back to the start of the story to try and persuade young Romeo and Juliet to make better life choices. Tonally, it's all over the place - several scenes in the first half are virtually pitched as panto - but it's a splendid ride from beginning to end. You've missed its London run by now, but hopefully it'll come back some day.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for October 2022: Missing Pictures Episode 3: The Monkey Wrench Gang" »


Simian Substitute Site for September 2022: Rocket Monkey Roastery

Rocket Monkey RoasteryMONTH END PROCESSING FOR AUGUST 2022

Books: I was about five minutes into the audiobook of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy Of Dunces when I remembered exactly when and where I first read it. I was on a trip to New Orleans for work back in 2000, and given that it's widely accepted as one of the best novels set in the Big Easy, it seemed appropriate for reading on the plane. Walking the streets and seeing locations I'd just read about was rather terrific. 22 years later, I'm finally getting to revisit it courtesy of Reginald D Hunter's audiobook reading. The BBG isn't enjoying it so much because every character in it is terrible: and the worst of them all is our hero Ignatius J Reilly, who thinks he's superior to everyone he encounters when he's really the Dunning-Kruger effect in a fatsuit. I don't have as much of an issue with a story where the protagonist is being held up to deserved ridicule, though I'll admit some aspects of Dunces haven't aged well, notably its handling of race. (Really not sure it needs the po-faced 'attitudes of the time' warning that this audiobook opens with, though.) Still, Hunter's a pretty good fit for the text, and he gets the tone of Reilly exactly the way it's sounded in my head since I read it.

Food And Drink: We're currently running through a cycle of Things That We Did Regularly Up Until The End Of 2019 And Are Just Beginning To Start Doing Again. The biggest one for August was, of course, Edinburgh: the second biggest was probably the Great British Beer Festival, back at its Olympia home after the occasional experimental attempt at going online. A couple of things have changed in the last three years, some of them presumably because of the pandemic (all transactions are now cashless, with a quaintly archaic token system for people who don't believe in plastic), some of them less obviously so (the door price ramped up to £20, but throwing in a beer glass, a programme and two halves of beer as part of the deal). Still, being in a big room full of happy drinking people is a nice thing to be doing again. For the record, our final tally (all in shared halves, and not a duff one in the set) was Mad Squirrel's Sumo, Runaway's Summer Saison, Bowland's Bumble, Castle Rock's Preservation, Gorilla's Vanilla Gorilla, Nightjar's Kaleidoscope World, Twisted Wheel's Speed Wobble, XT's XT8, and finishing with Puhaste's Muda from the Dangerous Foreign Muck stall. Bonus points for the entertainment on the night: we were all set to take the piss out of Swallow for advertising themselves as Reading's Best Classic Rock Covers Band, but they were exactly right for the occasion.

Music: Public Service Broadcasting is a band that specialises in building music around samples of archive speech recordings. The BBC is an organisation that's 100 years old this year, has lots of archive speech recordings from that period, and runs a major music festival called the Proms. It's pretty obvious how this was going to pan out. PSB's very own Prom concert featured an hour-long commission called This New Noise, a suite of numbers built around audio from the early years of British broadcasting. As a piece, it's got a very similar structure to their earlier album The Race For Space - both of them focus intensely on the early pioneering years, either of the BBC or of space travel, and end with a downbeat coda asking 'so, what now?' If I have one qualm about This New Noise, it's that it sometimes forgets that PSB are at their best when they're being a rock band: this piece sometimes lacks the intensity of their best work, coasting on the easy grandeur you have to hand when the BBC Symphony Orchestra are on stage with you. But there's still plenty of beauty, power and wit in there. You can listen to it on BBC Sounds if you like, but if you're reading this early enough you can catch it on telly on BBC Four at 8pm on Friday September 2nd, and then on the iPlayer for a month after that. It's worth seeing: PSB have always had a knack for arresting visuals, and the projections used throughout are excellent, along with some surprisingly moving bits of stagecraft.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for September 2022: Rocket Monkey Roastery" »


Simian Substitute Site for August 2022: Spanking The Monkey: The Etymology of Onanistic Euphemisms

Spanking The Monkey: The Etymology of Onanistic EuphemismsMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JULY 2022

Books: We finally wrapped up the audiobook of Janelle Monae’s The Memory Librarian – the last story is basically an Afrofuturist remix of A Christmas Carol, if that sort of thing’s your bag – and moved straight on to another book by a pop star. Good Pop, Bad Pop is a sort of memoir by Jarvis Cocker, inspired by a clearout of his attic: he goes through its contents item by item, talks a bit about how they featured in his life, and decides whether they’re worth keeping or binning. Sure, it’s an arch literary device, and the multimedia curlicues added for the audiobook edition make it feel even more so – there’s a full Foley track so we hear each of the objects as they’re being handled or chucked in the bin, and an accompanying PDF of pictures. You know Cocker, so you can imagine what an enjoyable experience this is: the easy conversational tone of his reading, the self-deprecating wit, the expert handling of a good anecdote. At the same time, he’s happy to reveal just enough of what’s going on under that ironic surface: in particular, it’s astonishing to hear about the school exercise books in which he documented his plan to become a pop star and change the course of music. The book ends a bit before Pulp really started to enter the public consciousness, so perhaps there’s a second attic he’ll write about in a few years.

Food & Drink: Think back to about seven years ago, when I posted this piece to announce that I was moving out of Walthamstow after living there for some three decades. Irritatingly, since I left they’ve opened half a dozen breweries within walking distance of the former Spank Towers. They’ve called them the Blackhorse Beer Mile, with an obvious nod to its Bermondsey equivalent. However, the breweries have been careful enough to create an official Blackhorse Beer Mile website, and not made Bermondsey's mistake of letting some chancers set up an unofficial one. Anyway, like the old days of Bermondsey, we currently have just six venues situated within a one-mile stretch of industrial estate, so it’s possible to have one beer in each without causing yourself permanent damage. They’re all very different, too. Truman’s don’t brew on site, so have tons of room for you to explore and drink in: Signature Brew use their connections with the music biz to run formal and informal live events: Exale is the most delightful thanks to its courtyard: Beerblefish is the closest to an old-fashioned pub (cask ales and a piano with the Tom Lehrer songbook on top of it): Wild Card are quietly cementing their position as the OGs of Walthamstow craft beer: and Hackney has the most interesting range of things to drink. The first three have decent food made on site, while the last three have a delivery arrangement with Yard Sale Pizza down the road - so purely on the level of being able to eat while you're crawling, Blackhorse has the edge over Bermondsey.

Music: Time for another one of these ten-track thingummies, I guess. Use the Spotify playlist below or try the individual YouTube (with one exception) links.

  1. Aside from the oddness of KAF x MIYAVI being the collaboration of a virtual computer-generated vocalist and a real-life guitar legend, the most bizarre thing about their song Beyond META is that if you search for it in Google, it assumes you’re a dyslexic looking for vegetarian burgers.
  2. Not really enjoying Kendrick Lamar's new album all that much, which is a surprise because this non-album single that preceded it is an absolute corker. This may be in part to the string line constantly reminding me of the theme from Department S.
  3. Hey, Regina Spektor’s back! And, um, she’s gone a bit weird, which is fine by me.
  4. I’m still trying to get my head around the filthy racket that black midi are currently making: once people started making comparisons with The Cardiacs, it made a bit more sense.
  5. There's no YouTube video for Evan Ziporyn’s lovely performance of Philip Glass’ clarinet trio, but you can stream it on Bandcamp from that link back there, and even buy the EP if you enjoy it enough. (Its second track is literally the first one played one-third slower.)
  6. Hey, Young Fathers are back! And, um, they’re much the same as they were before, which is fine by me.
  7. Not quite sure about GoGo Penguin, to be honest: I loved the first album I heard of theirs, but everything I've listened to since (whether made before or after that) appears to be just more of the same. Still, I’ll keep on listening just in case.
  8. The recent passing of Cathal Coughlan has made it apparent why in the last couple of years he was putting out new music like there was, um, no tomorrow. We’re now getting the last few recordings from his Telefís project with Jacknife Lee, and it’s sad to realise there won’t be any more after this.
  9. It’s been a common dodge during the pandemic for bands to remix old stuff and put it out again with the current year added to the title. At this stage in history there’s no real reason for Underworld to give us Juanita 2022, other than the fact that it still sounds great.
  10. In the weeks leading up to our Iceland trip, The BBG and I stayed away from public gatherings to reduce the risk of our holiday getting trashed by a Covid infection. My main regret from this was missing the London gig by xPropaganda, in which the two ladies from Propaganda came back after a 37 year absence and did all the old songs along with some new ones like this.


Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for August 2022: Spanking The Monkey: The Etymology of Onanistic Euphemisms" »


Simian Substitute Site for July 2022: Brass Monkey Graphic Design

Brass Monkey Graphic DesignMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JUNE 2022

Books: I know, we really should have finished listening to Janelle Monae's The Memory Librarian by now. You'll recall that this time last month, we'd made it through two of the five stories in the audiobook, and were feeling a little dissatisfied with it all. We drifted away from the night-time audiobook routine for about two weeks, and if you've been paying attention you'll probably have worked out why that is. But we've now heard the third and fourth stories, and they're a big improvement on the first two. For a start, they're shorter, and much more story-driven: for another, they both add an interesting wrinkle to Monae's dystopia by considering how memory - the major theme of the book - is all a matter of perception, and how time can alter that perception in unexpected ways. In Timebox (co-written with Eve L. Ewing), a couple discovers an unusual feature of their new apartment, and it threatens to tear them apart: in Save Changes (co-written with Yohanca Delgado), two sisters trapped in their flat with their renegade mother experiment with ways of escaping their situation. With all the backstory out of the way, these two tales can relax and present some smart science fiction ideas along with characters you seriously care about. I'm slightly disappointed by the bait-and-switch of having Monae herself only read the first story, though: Bahni Turpin's reading style for the rest of them is a downgrade by comparison, though she calms down a bit as the book progresses. I may report on the final story next month, or I may have moved on to something else by then.

Radio: Oooh, now there's a category that rarely gets used around these parts. Although a couple of months ago, we listened to an audiobook that was just a repackaged old Radio 4 comedy series, Hordes Of The Things. I haven't experienced much radio comedy in the last couple of decades, which is surprising given how much of it I used to consume as a teenager. (Mind you, you could say the same thing about Birds Eye Steaklets.) So for me, there's a nostalgic tinge to settling down in front of the wireless to listen to Damned Andrew, a four-part sitcom co-written by and starring comedian Andrew O'Neill. It's safe to say that nobody else could have created a show like this: the story of a non-binary vegan metalhead who accidentally opens up a portal to the underworld while drunk and has to somehow close it again. It sticks closely to the Hitch-Hiker/Hordes fantasy comedy template, with complex sound design and a narrator tying the scenes together (although you feel that Alan Moore - yes, that one - could have been given a bit more to do in the role). We're halfway through the series at the time of writing, and I'm finding the pacing a bit off-putting - sequences where there's too much happening crash into other sequences where there's not much going on at all. You feel that the story (surreal diversions and all) is taking priority over the jokes: there are jokes, with at least a couple of great big laughs per episode, but the show could use a few more. Still, it's a series with a voice all of its own, and I'm keen to see how it develops over the rest of the run.

Video: Actually, the idea of 'video' as a category for a review feels almost as obsolete as 'radio' these days. But I can't be bothered setting up a new category for Things You Watch At Home On Streaming, so it stays. Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes is a Japanese film released in the UK by the good people at Third Window, whose last big hit was One Cut Of The Dead - a low-budget bit of silliness built around a huge sequence shot in a single take. So you can see why they snapped up Two Minutes, an even lower budget bit of silliness that's entirely shot in a single take (or so it looks, anyway). The premise of Junta Yamaguchi's film is simplicity itself: the owner of a cafe discovers one day that the monitor in his upstairs room is showing events happening in the downstairs cafe - not live, but what will happen two minutes into the future. You could imagine a decent little sketch being whipped up from that idea, but Makoto Ueda's script gets a full 70 minutes of inventive joy out of it, adding more and more complications as characters try to work out how this glitch can be exploited. You can enjoy it as a story, and simultaneously marvel at the feats of split-second timing required by cast and crew to make it all work. Coincidentally (or not), Third Window are releasing an older film this Monday with another Makoto Ueda script, entitled Summer Time Machine Blues. I think we can see a theme developing here.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for July 2022: Brass Monkey Graphic Design" »


Simian Substitute Site for June 2022: Monkeys

MonkeysMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MAY 2022

Books: You've heard the album, you've seen the "emotion picture," now read the book. Or, in our case, listen to it. The Memory Librarian, And Other Stories Of Dirty Computer is Janelle Monae's latest excursion into her own personal sci-fi universe: a dystopia in which people's memories are erased to remove all traces of deviation, where deviating from the traditional gender binary is possibly the worst crime of all. For the book version, Monae's collaborated with five other authors to produce five stories set in her world. We're two stories into the audiobook so far, and neither of them has quite worked. The Memory Librarian itself (co-written with Alaya Dawn Johnson) opens the book, and is so crammed full of worldbuilding that it doesn't leave enough room for anything much to happen. Monae reads it nicely, though, something you don't appreciate until Nevermind (co-written with Danny Lore). Set on a retreat where a group of renegade women are hiding out, there's plenty of incident and character to go around. But it's read by Bahni Turpin in a curiously over-emphatic style, which makes you feel like you're being read this gender-progressive Afrofuturist fable because it's good for you. "Did you see, children? Neer is using non-binary pronouns." Still, the multi-author, multi-narrator anthology format means that anything could happen in the remaining three stories, so hopefully I can report back next month on how the rest of the book plays out.

Music: It's the textbook definition of a superspreader event: two and a quarter thousand people in the London Palladium, and The Divine Comedy are about to launch into the chorus of National Express. I'm afraid that by now you've missed their 2022 European tour shows, ruthlessly built around the recent Charmed Life compilation: as Neil Hannon described it, "no weird stuff, just the... [long pause, dramatic air quotes] ...'hits'." So rather than bang on about how predictably brilliant a show it was (other than to show you a cheeky video of Perfect Lovesong, featuring the best sight gag of the night), let's talk about Super Extra Bonus Album, which I tangentially referred to here two months ago. It's a traditional dodge that when a band releases a greatest hits album, they add at least one new song to it, to force the long-term fans who already have all the records to buy it anyway. Charmed Life takes this even further, adding an entire limited edition ten-track CD, made up of discarded sweepings from the cutting room floor. Which makes it all the more galling that it's the most consistent set of songs Hannon has released in years, with the first (I'll Take What I Can Get) and last (Those Pesky Kids) being particular highlights. It's an all-killer-no-filler set constructed from actual filler, and if you've got Spotify you can listen to it right here.


Telly: It's always struck me that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is underrated as sitcoms go. Its sit may have been a bit standard - a New York police precinct has wacky adventures - but the rock-solid ensemble cast was always its secret weapon. They came together as a perfectly well-oiled machine from episode one, and stayed that way for seven years. But just after the end of season seven, George Floyd got murdered, and all of a sudden an American police force became a tricky subject to make fluffy jokes about. Two years later, the eighth - and final - season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine has made it on to E4 over here, and we can now see how the writers had to rip up their original business-as-usual plans and come up with a new approach. To be honest, I wasn't sure they could pull it off, and even had the hashtag #DeFunThePolice all ready to go on Twitter. But after a tonally awkward opening episode, where the squad is hit by Covid, Black Lives Matter and a resignation in rapid succession, it quickly settles into an elegant two-pronged approach. One is to directly address the unease with current American policing, with the introduction of John C McGinley as a police union boss representing the morally compromised side of the force: the other is to have entire episodes set completely away from the precinct, sending the characters off on road trips and odd side projects. Somehow, it all still works, and there are a good few laugh-out-loud moments per episode. If they can sustain it for the series finale in a couple of weeks, it'll be quite an achievement.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for June 2022: Monkeys" »


Simian Substitute Site for May 2022: Chiki Monkey

Chiki MonkeyMONTH END PROCESSING FOR APRIL 2022

Books: Well, maybe not. The audiobook project took a slightly odd turn this month, as we listened to two things that advertised themselves as audiobooks, but were actually both Radio 4 programmes originally broadcast over 40 years ago. And Patrick Magee (who would have been 100 years old on March 31st this year if he wasn't dead) was the star of both! I have fond memories of the comedy show Hordes Of The Things from its original 1980 broadcast, although even at the time it seemed like a blatant attempt at taking the formula of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy and applying it to Tolkienesque fantasy. It's still got its moments (after all, Andrew Marshall and John Lloyd both have decent form as comedy writers), but these days it feels a lot more like a series of sketches linked together by Patrick Magee's fruity narration, and what seemed to me in 1980 like an incredibly bleak ending has all sorts of back doors sewn into it for a second series (which never happened). One year earlier in 1979, Magee read Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman for A Book At Bedtime, and his version has obtained a new lease of life thanks to my internet pal Paul Duane bunging it up on Soundcloud. It's massively abridged - the commercially available audiobook, read by no less an authority than Bishop Len Brennan, is three times as long as this one. As a result, you can't tell how many of the lurches in the plotting are down to O'Brien's wickedly surreal wit, and how many are down to shoddy editing. But there's enough brilliance here to lure me into reading the whole thing, which I suspect was always the point of A Book At Bedtime. I won't be able to do all the voices as well as Magee does here, though.

Music: I know I did one of these last month, but I've already got another batch of ten tunes going through my head. Some are new releases: some are older ones that have come onto my radar because of things that have happened over the past month. As ever, YouTube links in the text, Spotify playlist below it.

  1. Thanks to my self-imposed one-link-per-playlist-entry limitation, you'll have to search this site for yourself to find where I reviewed the 2000 comeback gig by The Art Of Noise. This was the opening number of their set, It hadn't been released on record at the time. It finally came out this month.
  2. A less dramatic delay here: I saw Simon Love play a short acoustic set back in 2019, where he premiered this new song and promised it'd be on his next album. That album finally came out this month too. 
  3. I've already linked to the video of this old Mondo Grosso tune as part of this year's Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme reviews, as it shares a director (Takeshi Maruyama) with the film Spaghetti Code Love. Worth watching if you haven't seen it yet, anyway. Or even if you have.
  4. It appears to have taken the prospect of World War 3 to bring Pink Floyd out of retirement and make a record with their Ukrainian chum Andriy Khlyvnyuk of the band Boombox.
  5. I saw my first Pitchblack Playback event this month, in which the classic David Byrne and Brian Eno album My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts was played over a cinema sound system with all the lights turned off and the audience wearing eyemasks. This is one of the bonus tracks from the special edition, which has been in my collection for well over a decade but hadn't really registered with me till I heard it blind, as it were.
  6. It's generally accepted that Ukraine will get a sympathy win at Eurovision this year, which is a shame because Norway's entry from Subwoolfer - a masked duo who may or may not be Ylvis in disguise - deserve a shout. We'll see how they get on on May 14th.
  7. What's that American candy that advertises itself as 'two great tastes that taste great together'? Well, it's Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, obviously, because asking rhetorical questions on the internet that have factual answers doesn't work. But you can see why it came to mind with this benefit record by Jah Wobble and The Ukrainians.
  8. Coming in a couple of weeks - a report on what we did during our Easter holidays. Part of it involves the discovery of Manchester outfit Riot Jazz Brass Band, whose live show is a thing of beauty and includes this excellently daft thing.
  9. Is it a bad idea for Roxy Music to be going back on tour after all this time? I have a horrible feeling it might be, though I'd be happy to be proven wrong. Still, it reminds me of how shocked teenage me was to discover they'd written a song about blow-up dolls.
  10. Finishing up with another video that I've already linked to here, in the context of my review of Alex Winter's film about Frank Zappa. Lovely, though, innit?


Theatre: I've been waiting 13 years to see Jerusalem, ever since its debut at the Royal Court back in 2009 and all those reviews saying it was the best play of modern times. Nothing could quite live up to that level of hype, really. Sure, the performance of Mark Rylance as Johnny Byron - caravan dweller, bullshit artist, and unofficial leader of an entire community of misfits - is as glorious as everyone has always said it is, and all the more notable for Rylance (for the most part) eschewing his usual ultra-naturalism for a huge larger-than-life swagger. It also helps that even though it's the sort of massive lead performance that has the potential to reduce the rest of the cast to mere background scenery, Rylance uses his star power generously to elevate the contributions of everyone else involved, from second-billed Mackenzie Crook to the lowest urinating tortoise. But Jez Butterworth's script - like the one for Jerusalem's follow-up, The Ferryman - tries that bit too hard to do absolutely everything in a three-hour timeslot, and its pacing falls apart in the third act. I spent far too long admiring the ambition of what Butterworth was doing, and not enough getting emotionally involved with it. Still, if you can find some way of getting hold of a ticket before the run ends on August 7th, your opinion may differ. 

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Simian Substitute Site for April 2022: A Boy Lighting A Candle In Company Of A Monkey And A Fool

A Boy Lighting A Candle In Company Of A Monkey And A FoolMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MARCH 2022

Books: We barely knew who James Acaster was before our year-long Taskmaster bingewatch: now he’s a fixed part of our aural landscape. We’re regular listeners to Off Menu, his foodie podcast with Ed Gamble, and this month we also caught up with the audio version of his book Classic Scrapes. The introduction explains how this book has effectively gone full circle. It started as a feature on Josh Widdecombe’s radio show, where Acaster told stories about the scrapes he'd got into throughout his life: those stories were adapted into book form: and then Acaster was recorded reading them out loud again. It works perfectly for the pre-bedtime slot we use for audiobooks - the chapters are short and punchy, and Acaster balances his conversational delivery style carefully so it's not too stand-uppy and not too much of a dry reading. The first chapter in particular is a perfectly constructed short story rather than a routine: some deep thoughts on what it's like to get into trouble for the first time in your life, mixed in with several amusing digressions from the point, and capped off with a terrifically concise punchline. Not all of the stories match up to that early peak, but enough of them do. I suppose the next thing to do at some point is see what his stand-up's like.

Movies: Eight years ago in this very slot here, I wrote about Otway: The Movie, a film about John Otway that was unique for being released as a series of one-night-only screenings, with the film's subject personally in attendance for every one. In March 2022, it suddenly felt less unique, as we saw two new(ish) films in very similar circumstances. Rebel Dread is more or less an authorised biography of Don Letts: the guy who was at all the early punk gigs with a movie camera, and moved on to playing with Big Audio Dynamite, DJing and all manner of other roles. It's an entertaining romp through his life, but you can't help feeling some bits of it are being glossed over, apart from a few references to his regular habit of keeping a couple of girlfriends on the go at the same time. Still, his charm is front and centre throughout the film, and it's also there in the Q&A we got on the day. Letts' presence at cinema screenings is really just a neat way of drumming up interest in a film that's already available to view on demand: by contrast, Michael Cummings has to personally accompany his film Oxide Ghosts: The Brass Eye Tapes because large chunks of it are possibly actionable. As director of the 1997 TV satire Brass Eye, Cumming was responsible for getting the ideas of Chris Morris onto screen in as intact a form as possible. If anyone could be bothered reissuing the show for its 25th anniversary, Oxide Ghosts would be the bonus feature, an hour-long compilation of sketches and scenes deleted from the show for reasons of time, decency or libellousness. If I've made it sound like a collection of cutting-room floor scraps, think again: because this is all top-grade Morris material, and reminds you that the loopholes he used to get unspeakable concepts onto terrestrial TV have all been subsequently closed off. As a result, this film can only ever be shown in screenings like this one: but Cumming insists that he's prepared to keep touring the film as long as people want to see it, so keep an eye out for those 30th anniversary shows.

Music: A batch of ten (or is it eleven?) new things for you to listen to, either via the YouTube links in the text or the Spotify playlist underneath.

  1. Curse you, The Divine Comedy, for releasing a greatest hits album full of songs I already own, and then making me buy it anyway by packaging it with a bonus album of previously unreleased stuff that’s just as good. Like this one.
  2. It’s the first appearance of Kae Tempest in these pages since their big announcement last year. They never really struck me before as one of those artists who were struggling with their gender role, so it’ll be interesting to hear what the impact is on the forthcoming album.
  3. Films with live Q&A sessions after them are all well and good, but the best fun I’ve had in a cinema so far this year has been with the new Indian epic RRR, which grossed more money last weekend than any other film in the world. Yes, it's an Indian film so this is the big song and dance number, but it's also got a bit where the hero picks up a motorcycle with one hand and starts beating English soldiers round the head with it, so there's something for everyone. 
  4. Good to see the Thomas Hardy subtext that’s run through several Half Man Half Biscuit songs finally raised to the level of text in this new one. 
  5. Lykke Li’s back, and still sounding as heartbroken and miserable as she did two albums ago. Given that I never got around to buying her last album, this is apparently how I like her, which is worrying. 
  6. Surprising that it’s taken over three decades for Soft Cell & Pet Shop Boys to team up, but the results are as splendid as you’d hope. Also enjoying the video, where the two bands attempt to portray Four Normal Blokes Down The Pub, and get it 75% right. 
  7. “This can’t be Simon Love, there’s no swearing on it,” said The BBG on hearing this. True, but he does say ‘death to the West' during the middle eight, so at least we’ve got that. 
  8. Still not quite sure yet what I think about Everything Everything's current project of letting artificial intelligence take over the decision making in their lyric writing and video editing. We're seeing them play live in a couple of weeks, maybe they'll have been completely replaced with robots by then. 
  9. Here's something I'd forgotten about: Pick Of The Year veteran Kate Miller Heidke worked with her hubby Keir Nuttall a few years ago on a stage musical adaptation of the film Muriel's Wedding. Her new record - actually, it's a 2020 album that got a bit lost in the pandemic, reissued with bonus tracks - includes her performance of this number from it. Ah, that's where all Simon Love's swearing went to. 
  10. It's a bit cheeky of Arcade Fire to release a single with two distinct halves, and make digital purchasers pay for each half separately - particularly as it's the transition between the two that's the best bit. Also, is it just me or is it frequently on the verge of turning into Somewhere from West Side Story?

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Simian Substitute Site for March 2022: Red Monkey Ramen Shop

Red Monkey Ramen ShopMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2022

Books: Normally this would be where I’d tell you about this month’s bedtime audiobook, and include a link so you could get it for yourself. No link this time, though – it’s a book I obtained through a Twitter link that I thought was legit but turned out not to be. The tape hiss on the MP3s should have been a clue, frankly – what I had was all three volumes of Alan Plater’s The Beiderbecke Trilogy, read by James Bolam some time around the date of their mid-to-late eighties publication, and abridged to three hours apiece so that each book fitted on a pair of C90 cassettes. Starting out as the novelisation of a TV show, and gradually mutating into original novels that were then adapted for telly, there’s a definite sense of diminishing returns. The Beiderbecke Affair is easily the best of the three, introducing our lead characters – woodwork teacher Trevor Chaplin and English teacher Jill Swinburne, living in what was still a shocking co-habiting arrangement back in the 80s, and finding themselves embroiled in a light-hearted mystery. They’re so beautifully drawn in the book that on the rare occasion that mild peril arises, you’re genuinely concerned for them. Sequel The Beiderbecke Tapes does the old telly trick of sending the characters on a foreign jolly (although I’d forgotten that when it was made for TV, budget constraints meant Athens had to be replaced by Edinburgh). As for The Beiderbecke Connection, it’s surprising how plot-free it is, even for a show that usually got by mostly on character and jokes. But the characters and jokes are still good enough to keep you listening. So, I dunno, see if someone’s selling the tapes on eBay if you’re interested. (Although it feels like that would be exactly how a 2022 Beiderbecke reboot would start...)

Comedy: If you’re like me, you tend to find out about podcasts long after they’ve started running. So here’s a chance to get in on the ground floor of a new one, assuming it doesn’t implode after a couple of weeks. BTEC Philosophers stars Elliot Steel (let’s see if I can get through this paragraph without mentioning his dad) and Michael Odewale, theoretically discussing the big philosophical problems of our age, but in reality just chuckling about any old bollocks that comes into their heads. The resulting banter teeters on the edge of laddish but never quite goes too far, although some may think otherwise about Steel’s proposed solution to the crisis in Ukraine. They’re still working on distribution, so it might be a tricky one to track down – initially it was only available on Podbean and Apple Podcasts, but the most recent episode made it to Spotify too. If they can sustain this level of invention on a weekly basis, I’ll be there (though it’d help if they could get themselves on Google Podcasts as well).

Theatre: I thought I was a Kate Bush fan. Owned all her records at one time or another, still have a signed copy of Never For Ever, considered getting tickets for the 2014 comeback shows but never managed it. But then I went to An Evening Without Kate Bush and realised I’d barely been trying. Sarah-Louise Young – a musical comedy specialist, and one of the many women who's been The Third One In Fascinating Aida – has put together a show that at first glance looks like your common or garden tribute act, dressing up in costumes and singing the songs to backing tapes. And she’s pretty damn good at doing that, although I’m sure she’d be the first to admit that the octave drop in Wow is out of her range. But this show is about the fans as much as the songs – especially since Young’s chosen to ignore anything Bush has recorded since 1993 (which is only two albums of new material, but still). It’s about the obsession caused by her reclusiveness, the comfort she brings to her admirers worldwide, the delight of realising that you’re in a room full of people who aren’t really capable of singing Wuthering Heights but are prepared to give it a bloody good go. The show's run at London's Soho Theatre has finished now, but I know it has a little life in it yet.

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