Simian Substitute Site for November 2023: Spunky Monkey


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


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.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for October 2023: Brazen Monkey Karaoke" »

Simian Substitute Site for September 2023: Funky Monkeys


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.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for September 2023: Funky Monkeys" »

Simian Substitute Site for August 2023: Junk Monkey


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" »

Simian Substitute Site for July 2023: Monkey Pub


Books: For a change, here’s a book with actual visible words in it rather than an audiobook, picked up at the start of a long train journey for work. Although how you’d make an audiobook of Succession Season 1: The Complete Scripts beats me. Would you just replay the audio from the show, or would you get Matthew Macfadyen to read the whole thing out line by line? Script books are always interesting if you’re curious about how the sausage of television gets made, and Succession is after all one of the most consciously written shows on telly. What’s surprising is that despite the high quality of the lines written by Jesse Armstrong et al, they don’t really fly off the page when you read them. Get to the end of this book (there are three more covering the rest of the series) and you’ll have a new respect for the cast who take this dialogue to the next level. It’s still an enjoyable read, but don’t expect any major revelations in the introduction or the notes, at least if the first volume is anything to go by.

Movies: Ah, this is going to be tricky. For reasons which will become more apparent as this post goes on, I really don’t have much I can report on here this month. I did have a plan to fill one of the three slots on this page: I was seeing Wes Anderson’s new film Asteroid City on June 30th, so I should be able to throw together an off-the-cuff review of it in time for July 1st, surely? Turns out it’s harder than you think. All the usual Anderson trademarks are there – industrial grade whimsy interwoven with brief flashes of melancholy, all wrapped visually in ultra-symmetrical framing, 90 degree whip pans and dayglo colours. The problem here is, the basic story – a science camp for teenagers in the 1950s where something of major scientific interest suddenly happens – is wrapped in so many layers of ironic distance that the usual affection you feel for his characters is harder to get. If Anderson isn’t careful, his obsession with form over narrative is going to go so far that he’ll become Christopher Nolan, and nobody wants that. (Although thanks to an accident of trailer scheduling, I did find myself imagining that Asteroid City and Oppenheimer were happening next door to each other.) The under-the-surface pleasures are buried well under the surface, but they’re still quite obviously there, which makes me think that a second viewing is required soon so I can decide whether I really like it or not. Sorry.

Telly: So, those reasons why this first-of-the-month post is a bit thin. Inevitably, the first half of June was taken up with the run-up to the whole civil partnership thing: and the second half of June was our honeymoon, two weeks in Italy which will be fully documented here soon enough. As part of the preparation for going to Italy, we dug through the backwaters of Netflix looking for some Italian - if possible, Sicilian – telly to watch to get our eyes and ears tuned in. Which is how we ended up watching Incastrati!, also known internationally as Framed! A Sicilian Murder Mystery. Told over twelve half hour episodes, it’s the work of comedy double act Salvatore Ficarra and Valentino Piccone, who star, direct and write 40% of the script. Ficarra and Piccone play a pair of appliance repair men who accidentally find themselves at the scene of a Mafia hit: the more they try to cover up their presence, the more they start looking like prime suspects. The balance of comedy and drama is surprisingly well handled, with some splendid running gags involving Italian news reporting and American cop dramas: the only flaw in the script is that it’s built around an ingenious mid-series cliffhanger, and the second half feels a little padded out in parts to balance out the structure. But it sticks the landing successfully, with a wholly satisfying ending, which is rare for a Netflix series. We even learned some interesting stuff about Sicily along the way, like the relationship between monks and biscuits. (We’ve been there. It’s all true.)

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for July 2023: Monkey Pub" »

Simian Substitute Site for June 2023: The Infinite Monkey Theorem

The Infinite Monkey TheoremMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MAY 2023

Books: How would you like Werner Herzog to read a bedtime story to you? And it's a story you're probably already familiar with - that of Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who was discovered on an island in the Philippines in the mid-1970s, still fighting World War 2 and unaware that it had finished three decades ago. You'd imagine somebody could make a film about that, and somebody did - coincidentally, it's available to watch for free on the Channel 4 site until June 23rd or thereabouts. But rather than filming it, Herzog has made it the basis of his first novel. The Twilight World does a pretty good job of getting inside the head of Onoda, and imagining the mental leaps he had to make to convince himself that the war was still on. Episodically constructed from lots of short chapters, it feels ideal as a bedtime audiobook. The problem, surprisingly, is Herzog's own reading. The weary monotone we've come to love in short bursts of documentary voiceovers, interviews and unexpected acting jobs doesn't really work at this extended length - Herzog is determined not to do any voices, so character dialogue and description all merge confusingly into one. Even his idiosyncratic pronunciations lose their appeal after a while: each chapter is titled by its location, and the whole point of the book is that Onoda is in the same location for thirty years, so eventually you get tired of hearing Herzog saying 'Lubaaaaaang'. I didn't think I'd be saying this when I bought the audiobook, but it might be better with someone other than the author reading it.

Music: Ten more turnips from the tip, as Ian Dury said once. Links to videos for those of you who don't do Spotify, as usual.

  1. I'm a little disappointed that I missed ABC's big gigs last year, marking the 40th anniversary of the release of The Lexicon Of Love. The just-released live record of their homecoming Sheffield date shows that you shouldn't forget they were more than just a one-album band.
  2. I first stumbled across Superfly in 2008, hearing bits of her debut album in a Tokyo record shop and liking what I heard. I haven't really been paying attention for the last 15 years, but she's still got an ear for a classic pop pastiche almost as good as Martin Fry's.
  3. It's been a rough couple of years for Ruth Theodore, but after some health issues it looks like she's making a slow comeback. Nothing too strenuous so far: a greatest hits album with a couple of lovely new songs on it, this being one of them.
  4. Apparently the Japan Foundation brought Otoboke Beaver over to the UK a month or two ago, and I found out far too late that they're a band who make records that sound like this.
  5. Max Richter's Sleep reworked by Alva Noto to remove all that troubling aggression from the music? It's not a record I thought I needed, but I'm becoming rather fond of it.
  6. My tai chi teacher cheekily used the old Sparks song Balls to accompany one of our classes, and commented "you couldn't get a band like that these days, could you?" I had to point out that we didn't need to, because we still have Sparks.
  7. I'm still down a bit of a Pete & Bas rabbithole at the moment. This track's inspired a hundred or so reaction videos, which is odd because the official clip's a reaction video in its own right, with producer Fumez wigging out over what these ancient geezers are doing to his beats.
  8. I was looking at the current state of Italian pop music for reasons, and discovered that there's a band called Pinguini Tattici Nucleari, who've literally named themselves after the BrewDog beer Tactical Nuclear Penguin. So why not have them play at an AGM sometime?
  9. There's lots of fun for music fans in Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 3. For me, it's hard to top the line "Adrian Belew, both solo and his work with King Crimson." But EHAMIC's violent abuse of The Minute Waltz as an example of what music would sound like on an alternative Earth comes pretty close.
  10. One of my favourite pieces by Philip Glass is the final aria from his opera Satyagraha: this arrangement for three pianos by Arturo Stalteri brings out the countermelodies in a way the orchestral version simply can't manage.

Telly: On the day this post is going up, they're going to announce the cast of the next series of Taskmaster. The BBG and I went to a taping a month ago so we know who it's going to be, but we're not telling. But it's going to be a good five months until series 16 is aired: what do we do in the meantime? Thankfully, we've just discovered this wiki on Reddit which gives us the opportunity to explore Taskmasters Of Foreign Lands (with subtitles, too). First stop, Norway, where Kongen Befaler has been running for seven series now. The literal translation of the title is The King Commands, and the king in this case is Atle Antonsen (who it turns out I saw at LFF back in 2011), assisted by Olli Wermskog doing all the traditional admin. Series 1 is an interesting case, because three of the five comics in competition are people I know: the Ylvis brothers Bård and Vegard Ylvisåker, and their regular sidekick Calle Hellevang-Larsen. (Maria Stavang and Siri Kristiansen are the other two contestants.) It's a slow starter - in episode 1, it seemed as if every tiny nuance of the show needed to be spelled out for the audience - but by episode 2, competitiveness has kicked in, and some wildly imaginative responses to the tasks make it good fun to watch. As with the Australian version, the weak links are the presenters. Wermskog is too normal to be a Taskmaster assistant, missing the weird edge of the likes of Alex Horne and Paul Williams. (Back home, they've just announced a kids' version of the show with Mike Wozniak as assistant, which is perfect casting.) As for Antonsen, he's a little too traditional a grumpy comic for the leading role, and it turns out that grumpiness has worked against him - he was shitcanned from series 7 for being a bit of a racist. Curiously, though, his replacement as Taskmaster was Bård Ylvisåker, so I'll have to see how that works.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for June 2023: The Infinite Monkey Theorem" »

Simian Substitute Site for May 2023: Monkey, May I?


Books: This is a first for our audiobook-of-the-month slot, I think – while we've been making our way through the latest one, it's been announced that its TV rights have just been sold to Working Title. So at some time over the next couple of years you may get to see a telly series entitled People Hacker, based on the memoirs of Jenny Radcliffe. Subtitled Confessions Of A Burglar For Hire, it's Radcliffe's story of how she became the physical equivalent of an ethical hacker: someone who uses social engineering techniques to blag her way into organisations, in order to test out their security for them. She describes her childhood in Liverpool, and the sense of mischief that led her into pushing at the boundaries of where you were allowed to go: but rather than taking those instincts over to the dark side, she began to develop her skills into a business where she could make legit money. The book is a series of case studies, told in a cheerfully anecdotal style, but always finishing off with a 'but seriously...' section pointing out the lessons learned by her clients on how to avoid security breaches - the implication being that these are lessons we should be learning, too. If they can get that balance right in the TV adaptation, and not just turn it into some sort of generic Hot Chick Breaks Into Buildings thriller, it could be quite the thing.

Food & Drink: A quick recap. In the years 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, The BBG and I made an annual pilgrimage to Aberdeen to attend BrewDog's Annual General Meeting, held in the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre. We always knew that 2019 was going to be the last AGM at that venue, as it was closing down: however, the decision on where to hold it next got delayed by other factors, with the 2020 and 2021 AGMs being held online, to varying degrees of success. In 2022 they experimented with making it an outdoor event, which had a whole new set of problems of its own. But they couldn't go back to an indoor event: the AGM has always cost BrewDog a shedload of money even in the good times, and the AECC's replacement was now demanding extortionate hire fees. So what to do for 2023? James Watt gave us a heads-up at the launch of the Wandsworth bar: this year, the AGM would effectively be distributed across the bars instead of being held in one place, with guest musicians in each location and a company update broadcast from the brewery in Aberdeen. When he announced this, I speculated whether BrewDog's tech was up to the task, assuming that they'd have video feeds from the bars checking in on each other, like they did for the 2020 online meeting. But that's not what happened. Each bar effectively just did its own thing, with no reference to any of the others: the one common element was the business talk, which we only found out quite late in the day was pre-recorded (the clue was when James Watt turned up at the Waterloo bar an hour before he was due to speak from Aberdeen). It didn't help that at Waterloo, the sound for this one thing the whole day was technically built around was atrocious - given that it was pre-recorded, maybe they should have considered subtitles. The resulting event was as fun as a typical bar launch, but no more than that - there was no sense of being part of a bigger community, which is what the AGM was always really about. Still, they've admitted it was an experiment - let's hope they come up with a better plan next year.

Music: Well, I promised you another Audio Lair last month, didn’t I? YouTube links are, as ever, provided for the Spotify sceptics.

  1. I also promised you additional misery from Lankum, who are currently responsible for my favourite album of 2023 so far. Sadly, they went for the title False Lankum, and not Songs For Swinging Lovers
  2. If you’re looking to write off an entire afternoon in an internet rabbit hole, try investigating Sindhu World, a corner shop-based record label whose entire roster is made up of drill rappers aged 70 and over. Before too long, you’ll be intimately acquainted with Pete & Bas, The Northern Boys and all their mates, a Wu-Tang style collective known as The Snooker Team. Sorry, Spotifiers, but this one really needs the video to do it justice. And while you're there, you can check out all the reaction videos and the conspiracy theories too...
  3. Interesting times for Black Country, New Road, as they try to reinvent themselves in the wake of vocalist Isaac Wood’s departure. Sneakily, their first release since then is a live album featuring what will presumably be the only recorded versions of their first post-Isaac songs. As such, you can hear them trying out a few different directions in which the band could go: this is one of them.
  4. I always get worried when Spotify’s algorithm recommends stuff to me that turns out to be really good. See Lankum above, and also multi-instrumentalist Pascal Bideau, known to his friends as Akusmi. I’ve no idea what genre you could say this fits into, I just know that the point where the contrapuntal noodling transforms itself into a dance groove is ridiculously satisfying.
  5. The stars of our recent trip to Hull, Trueman And The Indoor League, whose gig turns out to have been the main promotional push for what is only their second single. The Pulp influence is particularly strong on this one: if Jarvis was still a young man, he’d kill for a song title like Boomers In The Area.
  6. It’s easiest to just quote from Jah Wobble’s Bandcamp page for his new album The Bus Routes Of South London. “I travelled around South London (mainly south west London), recording on my iPad pro. I would always try to secure a seat on the top deck at the very front of the bus. I would then ‘fill in‘ these musical sketches later on. I also would take lots of photos as I travelled around. On one occasion a bloke asked me if I ‘was Jah Wobble'. I confirmed that I was. He asked me if I was working on anything new. I said 'yes, right this minute now you mention it', and then played a top line in, on the iPad. I asked him what he thought. He said he liked it and promised to buy it.”
  7. It was only a couple of years ago that I learned that when The Housemartins comically described themselves as “the fourth best band in Hull,” they knew exactly who the other three were: the slightly obscure Red Guitars, the really obscure Gargoyles and the bleedin’ obvious Everything But The Girl. It's good to have the latter back after all those years away.
  8. Chris Hawkins' pre-breakfast show on 6 Music is still one of the ways I stumble across new music, particularly in that 6.45-7.00am slot where I'm still waking up and obviously vulnerable. Hence the presence here of Audiobooks, whose new single appears to be made up almost entirely of hooks, or at least sounds that way when you're half asleep. 
  9. Foreshadowing: I should have a bit more to say about the work of composer Anna Meredith in a couple of months time. Meanwhile, here's The Ligeti Quartet tackling one of her more challenging electronic pieces on olde-worlde instruments (with, possibly, some modern jiggery-pokery in the background). I think this version actually works better than the original - the absolutely brutal cross-rhythms that evolve as it goes on sound more impressive when played by people rather than machines.
  10. I'm reluctant to think of a film made in 1981 as being an old movie that requires restoration. Nevertheless, that's what they've done with the 2 Tone concert movie Dance Craze, and the spectacular results - having had a brief run in cinemas in March - are now available to watch on Blu-ray and DVD. They've also produced a tie-in special edition of the soundtrack album, featuring takes that haven't been released on record before, like the end titles version of this song by The Specials. It's a moderately shambolic rendition, but if you watch the (aggressively un-restored) video you'll see why the band is on the verge of collapse throughout.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for May 2023: Monkey, May I?" »

Simian Substitute Site for April 2023: Prank Monkey Records


Movies: Ever since Charles Gant took his weekly box office reports out of the Guardian and put them behind a paywall at the Telegraph for more money, I’ve lost touch with how well movies are performing in the cinemas. Probably just as well, because whenever I find out specifics about UK box office performance it just gets me cross. Take, for example, Rye Lane, an utterly delightful romcom that struggled in its opening weekend to make as much money as Cocaine friggin' Bear did in its fourth. It deserves to be more widely seen: it’s a perfect depiction of those times early in a relationship where you’re just hanging out together, and the world seems like an utterly surreal place (aided by the use of some of the most ridiculously wide lenses you can imagine, as if the whole universe is bending itself around the couple). Granted, it probably plays better with a London audience, and a South London one in particular. If you get the chance, go for the wholly immersive experience of watching the film in Rye Lane’s own real-life cinema the Peckhamplex, and then follow it up with the none-more-Peckham experience of dinner at a terrific spaghetti restaurant with only three tables where the owner live-streams himself cooking every night.

Music: It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? Limiting myself to tunes that have been released since the beginning of the year, I could easily have assembled a playlist of twenty songs or more. Still, a format is a format, so here’s what was left when I hammered it down to ten. That just means you’ll probably get another ten next month, though. As ever, YouTube links are provided for the benefit of non-Spotifiers.

  1. Riot Jazz Brass Band were one of our big live discoveries last year, and it’s a pleasure to learn they’ve got lots of new music on the way, starting with this blast of a lead single.
  2. Robert Ellis, meanwhile, is a live discovery from this year, as part of The BBG’s 2023 project to go to gigs by people we’ve never heard of. We can talk more about how that's going later in the year.
  3. Typically, when an old song is recycled for a TV show or film, it’s fed through the John Lewis filter and made mushier and blander. Interestingly, when Kate Miller-Heidke and Marcus Bridge reworked Kate’s old song for TV show Last King Of The Cross, they went in the opposite direction. Australians, eh?
  4. After a long period of their most interesting tunes being their most melancholic, it’s nice to see Kae Tempest (with Future Utopia) on something that feels like a proper banger.
  5. It’s cool to see an old geezer like Peter Gabriel exploiting the benefits of streaming with his current run of singles. Each one is being released in two distinct versions: a Bright Side mix by Mark ‘Spike’ Stent (generally more detailed and subtle), and a Dark Side mix by Tchad Blake (generally more up-front and dynamic). You wouldn’t buy all these versions, but you’re happy enough listening to them and picking out the differences.
  6. Young Fathers continue to go from strength to strength, and it’s frustrating that all their recent London shows have clashed with other plans of mine. Really must get to see them again at some point soon.
  7. The Go! Team continue their run of alternating meh albums with great ones. Although I don’t understand how their previous record Get Up Sequences Part 1 was so-so, and yet their new one Get Up Sequences Part 2 is so great - shouldn't the titles suggest that they're roughly the same?
  8. Massive Attack’s original version of this track was always a favourite of mine, long before I realised it was also a TV show theme tune. Well, now Netflix has The Loofah Movie, a slightly overblown reworking of the show, and inevitably it comes with a slightly overblown reworking of that theme. Luckily, POST and Ghostpoet are just the people to pull it off without embarrassing themselves.
  9. I was pointed in the direction of Lankum by the Spotify algorithm, which seems to think that massively downbeat folk music with added slabs of atonal noise might appeal to me. Dammit, they’re right. Although it was a tough call whether I included the one about the ship that was sunk by God as punishment for the evil of its captain, or the one about the teenage girl who hanged herself for love. (I guess you’ll hear the other one next month.)
  10. We finish off with a collaboration between Because Of Art and Antony Szmierek. I’m totally unaware of the former, but the latter’s been appearing repeatedly on my radar with his Streets-like spoken word pieces. This particular track leans into that influence hugely, with a short story about a night out clubbing, albeit one with a happier ending than Mike Skinner would give you.

Theatre: There’s a rumour going round that I don’t like musicals. This seems to date back to an early post on the site, when Mamma Mia! was reviewed as follows: ‘firebomb the theatre, piss on the ashes, shoot the survivors through the head’. Hopefully it’s become clear since then that what I don’t like are bad musicals. Guys and Dolls, by pretty much any criterion you care to name, is a great musical: and the current production at London’s Bridge Theatre elevates it to the level of spectacular. The Bridge has developed a reputation over the last couple of years for immersive productions, sticking the audience in the same space as the play and making them follow the action around. Nicholas Hytner's production (with the aid of designer Bunny Christie) takes this idea to the extreme, putting the audience and cast in a pit in the centre of the theatre and using hydraulic platforms to create various impromptu elevated stages where the action takes place. You can choose to watch all this from seats surrounding the pit, or get into the play itself, watching out for the ushers dressed as New York cops herding audience members out of the way of the next bit of floor space that's about to rise by six feet. Even without the immersive component, this is one hell of a production, fixing some of the common casting problems this musical has - Marisha Wallace gives us a Miss Adelaide who's sassy rather than ditzy, and Andrew Richardson is a Sky Masterson with an genuinely good singing voice. (Yeah, I'm looking at you, Ewan McGregor back in 2005. And possibly Brando, too.) It's running till the beginning of September 2023: we've already seen it once in the seats, we're going again before the end of the run to take our chances with the cops.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for April 2023: Prank Monkey Records" »

Simian Substitute Site for March 2023: Wales Ape & Monkey Sanctuary

Wales Ape & Monkey SanctuaryMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2023

Books: It was a surprise to look through the new release audiobooks this month and find that one of them was With Nails: The Film Diaries Of Richard E Grant, read by the author. It’s a surprise because I bought that book almost three decades ago, and it’s taken Grant that long to finally sit down in a studio and read it out loud. I’m assuming that his recent experience of recording the audiobook of his 2022 memoir A Pocketful Of Happiness gave him a taste for the medium. I had a memory of the book being a good fun read when it first came out in the nineties, and for large parts of it that’s true: we follow Grant from his debut in Withnail & I to Pret A Porter a decade later, as he marvels at his good fortune while still being detached enough to have a wryly cynical view of the movie business. However, I’d totally forgotten about the darker passages in his diaries: the story of the stillbirth of his first child is astonishingly intense (his emotional reading is a large part of that), and it takes a while for the book to get back to the amusing on-set anecdotes. But as a document of the first decade of a film actor’s career, it can’t be beat: although the thirty year gap between publication and recording must have given an awkward edge to him reading his tales of hanging out with Kevin Spacey.

Telly: I mentioned while we were in Edinburgh last year that The BBG and I had become fans of the New Zealand version of Taskmaster, which copies the framework and design of the UK show but has slowly developed its own distinct personality over the course of three seasons. As a result, we’ve become a lot more aware of the New Zealand comedy circuit, and the ridiculously small number of people in it. As proof of this, there’s currently a primetime show on NZ’s channel Three called Guy Montgomery’s Guy Mont Spelling Bee, whose cast appears to be made up almost entirely of Taskmaster NZ alumni (plus at least one person we saw at the Edinburgh improv show Snort). Like our own No More Jockeys, it originated as an online game that a bunch of comedians used during lockdown to amuse themselves and anyone else watching. Unlike Jockeys, though, Montgomery has managed to turn it into a working format for an entertaining TV show, even though its premise is literally ‘watching comedians trying to spell difficult words’. Elsewhere in the Antipodes, they’re a few episodes into the first ever season of Taskmaster Australia. It’s still at the bedding-in stage: Taskmaster Tom Gleeson is a little too Light Entertainment for the role, assistant Tom Cashman is enjoying himself a bit too much, and the audience laugh track has been doctored to sound positively inhuman. But some of the tasks have been absolute corkers, to the extent that – as with New Zealand – we can probably expect a few of them to be stolen for the UK version in a year or two.

Theatre: The first time I saw Richard Hawley, I wasn’t entirely impressed, but I warmed to him hugely over time. So as soon as I heard about Standing At The Sky’s Edge – a musical based around Hawley’s songs – I leapt at the chance to see it. Somehow, it wasn’t until a day or two before my visit to the National Theatre that a horrifying thought struck me: what if it turns out to be Mamma Mia! but with added references to Henderson’s Relish? Happily, this isn’t one of those jukebox shows where the plotting is jerry-built out of random lines from the songs, as long as you don’t count the scene where Open Up Your Door is sung by someone standing outside a door. Chris Bush’s book is generally a lot smarter than that, brilliantly structured around a single flat in Sheffield’s Park Hill estate, and interweaving the stories of three sets of people who’ve lived in it at different times. The young couple who moved in in the sixties, convinced that the steel industry would keep them going through thick and thin: the family of Liberian refugees who came over in the late eighties: and the newly-single woman taking advantage of the estate's 21st century gentrification. So it’s definitely not Mamma Mia!, but what we get instead is two shows battling it out for space on the same stage. An Our Friends In The North-style social history of Britain from 1960 to 2020, with some lovely echoes across its three timelines: and what amounts to a Richard Hawley ballet, with his songs proving surprisingly amenable to a Broadway-style makeover, and Lynne Page's spectacular choreography frequently involving the entire 21-strong cast. The frustrating thing is that both of these shows are great, but it just feels like we’re constantly flipping between one and the other: if the two could have fitted together better, this could have been magnificent. Still, I’m happy to settle for great. It’s running at the National until March 25th.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for March 2023: Wales Ape & Monkey Sanctuary" »

Simian Substitute Site for February 2023: Monkey Valentine


Books: Our first new audiobook of 2023 is one that we’ve been thinking about buying for a while now – since August 25th last year, to be precise. That was when we saw Oliver Bullough being interviewed by Ian Rankin on stage at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in an event which you can still watch on a pay-what-you-like basis on their website. Watch it now, and see if it makes you as keen to read/hear Butler To The World as it did us. Bullough has a simple question he wants to answer: how did Britain go from being a dominating superpower to become the place where the rest of the world goes to launder its money? He takes a forensic approach to the history of modern British corruption, taking the Suez debacle as his starting point, and tracing from there how Britain’s USP transitioned from Owning An Empire to Fannying Around With The Monetary System. I suspect Bullough has broadcast journalism somewhere in his background, because he reads this splendidly in the audiobook edition, keeping the whole thing thoroughly engaging even as he delves into the complexities of international finance and the long-term impact of deregulation. Having said that, if you go for the just-published paperback edition instead, you’ll get a bonus chapter looking at how the Ukraine situation has changed things in the year since the book’s original publication. Your call.

Music: Here’s a set of simple instructions for you. 1: go to the page on this site for my 2022 Pick Of The Year music compilation, Take The Drums Out, and scroll down to the bottom of the page to read the competition, which was first published at around noon on Christmas Day. 2: scroll back up to the top of the page and read the mouseover text on the cover image. 3: page through the posts I wrote on this site in 2022 to see which one was the first to feature that cover image – there were only 52, it won’t take too long. 4: having located the post, read the text around the picture and work out which of the locations mentioned may have featured lots of people dancing to a Viking thrashing at a drumkit. 5: look up the location by name on Google Maps. 6: right click on the location and make a note of the first set of numbers that appear in the popup. Depending where on the marker you click, they should be something like 64.14741053278492, -21.937786882702298, the co-ordinates for the bar Lemmy in Reykjavik where that photo was taken. Oh, I’m sorry, was that too difficult a competition for you? Tell it to Dave, who sent me his answer at 7.13pm on Christmas Frickin’ Day. He wins again. Everyone else, at least try to make an effort next year.

Telly: Another Christmas tradition that seems to have sprung up in recent years is our taking out a Disney+ subscription for a month, bingewatching anything good that’s been added to their catalogue since we last subscribed, and then cancelling it before they can charge us for a second month. Putting aside the Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special (45 minutes of pure James-Gunn-in-kid-friendly-mode delight) and Star Wars: Andor (in which absolutely nothing had happened by the end of episode 2, so fuck that noise), there are two series which hooked us this time around, neither of which should come as any sort of surprise. All too often, streaming shows work for one complete season and then run out of ideas second time around. This may explain why I’ve particularly warmed to Only Murders In The Building, which had the brass-balled audacity to set up the plot for its second season in the opening minutes of its first: creators Steve Martin and John Hoffman (and their writing team) know exactly where they’re going. The balance between new characters and returning old favourites is maintained beautifully, as is the balance between a twisty murder mystery and the joy of watching some old mates mucking about. Meanwhile, if unbalanced is what you want, how about a Korean drama with Takashi Miike in the director’s chair? Based on a web series, Connect tells the story of a young musician who falls victim to an organ harvesting gang, but manages to escape with only one eye missing. Unfortunately, in certain situations he can still see stuff through his missing eye, which has now been transplanted into someone else’s head. Even more unfortunately, the recipient of his eye is a serial killer. And I still haven’t told you the most ridiculous aspect of the plot yet. It’s six episodes of overblown violent insanity, and Miike turns out to be the ideal person to bring it to the screen. In very different ways, Murders and Connect are surprisingly addictive, which is why we’re still watching them at the time of writing and have had to let our Disney+ subscription roll over into a second month. Damn you, Mouse!

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for February 2023: Monkey Valentine" »