Simian Substitute Site for November 2020: The Long Island Rhesus Monkey Escape

The Long Island Rhesus Monkey EscapeMONTH END PROCESSING FOR OCTOBER 2020

Movies: We were late in joining the Train To Busan train, and I'm not quite sure why. I knew that it was out there in 2016, and even namechecked it at the start of a piece I wrote for MostlyFilm about the London Korean Film Festival - but as that article required me to watch 10 Korean films back to back, maybe I just didn't have time to watch another one. Anyway, thanks to a Blu-ray present from The BBG, we eventually got to see it, and even rode the train ourselves, albeit in the wrong direction. And now there's a follow-up with the slightly unwieldy title Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula, which (like its predecessor) got a quick preview run in UK cinemas for Halloween. Four years after the zombpocalypse depicted in the first film, most of the surviving inhabitants of Korea have fled to other countries like Hong Kong. This film focusses on a group of refugees who've decided to go back to Incheon, as part of a triad operation to recover a van full of cash. As such, it's not a direct sequel at all, more of a standalone story set in the same universe: tonally, it's like going from Alien to Aliens, where the first one is a no-frills horror movie and the second is more of an action thriller. We've got used to the cartoony depiction of massive swarms of zombies in these movies, where they become more of an exercise in fluid dynamics than anything else, as they cascade off high buildings or surge in waves over the ground. If there's a problem with Peninsula, it's that its car stunts - of which there are many - are rendered in CGI with the same lack of realism, with the vehicles bouncing along like they used to in 1920s animated films. But somehow, the breakneck pacing and the story get you over these niggles, and the result is ridiculously entertaining. Peninsula should have been getting a short release in cinemas from November 6th, but I guess that won't be happening now: expect to see it on home video from November 30th.

Music: One thing that I didn't do this month was buy a 24-disc CD box set. In my defence, I already owned 11 of them. Venus, Folly, Cupid And Time: Thirty Years Of The Divine Comedy is, as its name suggests, Neil Hannon's attempt to gather his entire musical career inside six sides of cardboard. The eleven Divine Comedy albums have been remastered and each paired up with a second disc of demos, outtakes, b-sides and other detritus: and then there's a final double disc called Juveneilia with even older and rarer material, including the real first Divine Comedy album Fanfare For The Comic Muse which Hannon subsequently withdrew out of shame. To be honest, there doesn't seem to be enough good material here to justify the cost of the full box set. There are highlights, sure: some lovely instrumental mixes of the band's prettiest backing tracks, a collection of Eurovision classics, and the b-side version of Europe By Train that ended up on a film soundtrack. But the demos and sketches leading up to finished songs just show how much you miss the decorative touches that make a Divine Comedy record what it is. Still, thanks to Spotify, you can fillet out those nine and a half hours of bonus material for your own purposes without paying a fortune for it. Well, I have, anyway.


Telly: If you thought I was late getting onto the Train To Busan train, wait till you hear about me and Taskmaster. Again, I was aware of it: I'd stumbled across the odd episode on Dave while channel-hopping, and I'd actively tracked down a couple of clips from the Norwegian version when I found out that Ylvis had been contestants on it. But I'm old-fashioned enough that it took a move of the show from Dave to Channel 4 before I'd considered actually watching a whole series from beginning to end. Three episodes in, it's become a regular injection of joy into the week, and dammit we all need that right now. It helps that for this tenth season, there's a careful balance of contestants: relative newcomers Daisy May Cooper and Mawaan Rizwan, regular TV favourites Johnny Vegas and Katherine Parkinson, and oldtimer Richard Herring who's utterly transparent in his desire to win the thing. That's the sort of detail that justifies watching a whole series, as you start imposing your own character arcs on the five series regulars and seeing them develop from week to week. I'm in for the duration, anyway.

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Simian Substitute Site for October 2020: The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center

The Flying Monkey Movie House And Performance CenterMONTH END PROCESSING FOR SEPTEMBER 2020

Food and Drink: The last six months have seen lots of real world events pivoting to video, but the staunchly traditional Great British Beer Festival has to be the most unexpected one yet. CAMRA came up with a similar idea to the one BrewDog used for their virtual AGM a few months ago - send them £46, and they'd mail you eleven bottles of beer (a standard set of five British favourites from Drone Valley, Grey Trees, Eyam, XT and Oakham, plus another set of six in a style of your choosing) to be drunk in front of your computer during a weekend of guided Zoom tastings. We decided to subvert the Britishness of the event and went for a secondary set of foreign muck from St Bernardus, Duvel Moortgat, de Molen, Schlenkerla, Hitachino Nest and Früh. Cheryl Cade's international tasting session was a jolly and informative affair, while Roger Protz's British tasting was notable for him getting through all five beers in 35 minutes, alarming the people who'd assumed that you had to drink each bottle dry before starting the next one. In addition we had Q&A sessions with hop and malt suppliers, and an entertaining (but hard) informal pub quiz at the end of the weekend. The event was refreshingly clear of beardy beer bores (we had just one, who inevitably wouldn't turn his mic off during a Zoom session), and the whole event was surprisingly educational - when the main focus isn't just banging ales down your neck, as it tends to be in real-life beer festivals, there's a lot of knowledge being passed around. I'm not sure I'd want the GBBF to be like this every year, but it worked incredibly well in the circumstances.

Movies: Five years ago today, one of the items I reviewed in this bit was the world premiere performance of Max Richter's Sleep, his notorious eight-hour piece of music designed to be listened to literally while you were sleeping. So it only seems fair that today, I throw in a quick review of Max Richter's Sleep, a film by Natalie Johns that's effectively a making-of documentary about the piece. Starting from the basic idea - actually the connection of two independent ideas from Richter and his partner Yulia Mahr, who proves herself to be the conceptual thinker behind a lot of his work - we follow its evolution up to an extraordinary open-air all-night performance in a Los Angeles park, with the audience lying in multiple rows of camp beds. Possibly the least interesting thread in the film is the series of interviews with LA audience members, pretentiously set up as if they're dreaming the interview in the middle of the show. But the most unexpected one is the focus on Max and Yulia's home life, and particularly how they were struggling financially for a large part of it. They come across as a lovely couple, throwing around some big ideas while always staying firmly grounded in the real world. If you're okay with watching a film that takes the rhythm of its editing from a piece of music that's intended to make you doze off, then there's a lot to enjoy here. You've missed Sleep's tiny theatrical run: on the night we saw it, there was one other person in the audience, which counts as a success in social distancing terms. But it's currently available on demand from the likes of Curzon Home Cinema, and you'll be able to get it on physical media from October 12th.

Travel: I never really know which category to use for my writeup of the Japan Matsuri each year. I tend to assume Travel is the safest bet because a) people travel to London to see it, and b) it's a festival that's largely about persuading people that they'd like to travel to Japan sometime. Of course, both of those points are less true in 2020. Still, the transfer of this year's Matsuri to the online Japan Matsuri Presents is certainly a lot less surprising than the GBBF's similar journey. Stretched out from the usual one day to a full weekend, we got the same cavalcade of Japanese culture that we would have got live in Trafalgar Square, but with the added bonus that guests didn't have to be flown in from Japan in order to take part. Certainly some of the quieter elements - for example, the Kakehashi Koto Ensemble's hour-long history of the instrument, complete with several full performances - simply wouldn't have worked in the open air. We didn't have to queue for ages for food, because we got to make our own, with a series of Zoom cookalongs to make our own okonomiyaki and sweet pancakes. For me, the highlight was Ura Ura Lockdown, effectively an hour-long fringe matsuri in the middle of the main one: driven by the anarchic spirit we associate with Frank Chickens (whose founder Kazuko Hohki is one of the organisers), we got everything from Hibiki Ichikawa and D.J. Takaki's mashup of traditional shamisen and modern turntablism, to No Cars and their delightfully daft indie stylings. It's all finished now, of course, but there's still some content lying around in the Matsuri site's Discovery Area: maybe it's time you discovered the joy of Radio Taiso.

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Simian Substitute Site for September 2020: A Young Man Dressed As A Gorilla Dressed As An Old Man Sits Rocking In A Rocking Chair For Fifty-Six Minutes And Then Leaves 12

MONTH END PROCESSING FOR AUGUST 2020 [Adventures in the Real World special]

Art [postponed]: At 5.08pm on Wednesday March 4th, I received an email from the Odeon Leicester Square telling me that I'd successfully booked tickets to see No Time To Die. At 5.38pm the same day, The Guardian reported that the film's release had been delayed by eight months, for reasons which seemed a little overblown at the time. Over the next couple of weeks, every future artistic event I'd arranged in my diary vanished in a puff of Covid. So let's start this roundup of August by celebrating the first of those events to get rescheduled after a hiatus of several months. Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers is an exhibition at London's Design Museum (now running till February 2021) celebrating the history of electronic music from its earliest beginnings. Gratifyingly, the Design Museum have done their safety homework - they've limited the numbers, asked you to bring your own headphones for the audio displays, and have put 2 metre dividers along the exhibition route to help you achieve what they call 'social dist-dancing' (groan). As with most exhibitions, the biggest scrum is in the opening section: a glorious collection of historical noisemaking equipment, which fizzles out when you get to the late 20th century and musicians are just pushing blocks of rearranged bits along a timeline on a computer screen. In mathematical terms, the rest of the exhibition moves from pure to applied, looking at the dance music scenes in various cities around the world and the subcultures they spawned, climaxing in a bold attempt to cram the Chemical Brothers festival experience into a single tiny room. Your main takeaway from Electronic may be a gnawing nostalgia for the days when you could jump up and down to a filthy racket in the company of strangers, but there's much more to it than that.

Comedy [relocated]: Throughout the unpleasantness, comedy is one of the main artforms that's been desperately trying to keep things going, and I wrote about some of my favourite online shows back in May. But audiences and comics both know that, much like with dance music, comedy thrives best in the live communal experience. So hooray for The New Normal, a just-finished festival of performing arts held in the ravishingly spaced-out open courtyard of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building in Wandsworth. A quick skim of the programme confirmed your suspicions - it's a festival of acts that would have been at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, but aren't. The festival had theatre, music, magic, lots and lots of improvised sketch troupes, and - courtesy of our mates at Good Ship Comedy, who normally operate out of a pub in Camden - two nights of standup, hosted by regular compere Ben van der Velde. The night we caught attended had a ridiculously strong bill of Sara Pascoe, Nathan Caton and Jessica Fostekew, all of whom looked as delighted to be performing in front of a real audience as we were to hear them. (Fostekew described her recent experience of performing at one of those newly-fashionable drive-in shows, where the only way people can express their amusement is by honking their horns, a sound that in every other circumstance we interpret as meaning 'LOOK OUT YOU'RE GOING TO DIE'. Laughter just works better.) Good Ship Comedy are looking to restart actual gigs in an actual room from September 7th, and it'll be interesting to see how that pans out.

Theatre [new]: Indoor shows are going to be a whole other kettle of worms, though. Lots of people crammed into a very small space with Victorian-era air conditioning, all facing towards some actors on an elevated platform projecting noise, air and spit directly at them: it's no wonder that most of London's theatres are still shut. But in August (and now extended through to September 5th), the Donmar Warehouse got around many of those problems by reducing the audience size to a few dozen, having them all face in different directions, and then getting rid of the elevated platform. And the actors. Blindness, adapted by Simon Stephens (from the previously-filmed novel by José Saramago) and directed by Walter Meierjohann, is a creepily topical story about the chaos caused by a worldwide contagion, in this case one which causes people to lose their sight. It's effectively a radio play narrated over headphones by Juliet Stevenson - if you remember what she was like in Truly Madly Deeply, be warned that she's in full tears 'n' snot mode again - and played back to an audience sitting inside an art installation, which focusses your attention on the audio through its use of light and, inevitably, darkness. It's an intense piece of work that gets some of its power from parallels with current events, sure: and if it feels a little over-apocalyptic in parts, there's a weird catharsis to be found in experiencing what our worst case scenario might feel like. But for me, it's most fascinating as an experiment in alternative ways of producing theatre. That's what interests me now about this cliche of 'the new normal': the new bit.

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Simian Substitute Site for August 2020: Brass Monkey Leith

Brass Monkey LeithMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JULY 2020

Movies: Most of the people that The Belated Birthday Girl and I know fall into one of two categories. Category A are the people who go to the cinema no more than a couple of times a year: Category B are the sort who could happily make a couple of visits in a single day. And I'm here to warn the Category B people that the first time you go to the pictures after nineteen weeks of being locked in your house, it will do your bloody head in. I suspect that the actual film you see won't make much difference: when you've spent that length of time thinking you've been watching films on your telly, and then go into a big room and have your attention forcibly grabbed by one, Trolls World Tour could feel like a life-changing experience. As it happens, our first visit to the pictures since The Invisible Man back in March turned out to be Parasite: Black And White Edition, so I honestly can't tell how much of the impact was down to it being an unambiguously great film, and how much was down to having forgotten what the theatrical experience was like. Thanks to Curzon Mayfair for looking after us: their distancing strategies had the twenty or so people in the audience carefully spaced in the 300+ seater room. It should be noted that pretty much everyone took their facemasks off once they were in their seats, which I suspect was fine on this occasion, but won't be for much longer: it was always likely to become more of an issue if/when Tenet started packing in the crowds. (On that topic, here's what I consider to be my most underrated tweet of the month/year.)

Music: It's been five months since I last did one of these, so I guess that the latest Spank's Audio Lair can double as a Lockdown Playlist. It could easily have been double the length, but I decided to stick with the usual arbitrary limit of ten tracks. YouTube links are supplied below for Spotify deniers.

  1. The Waterboys. Mike Scott seems to be doing a lot of spoken word material in his old age, and I think I like it.
  2. Daði Freyr (Daði & Gagnamagnið). Ah, Iceland, maybe next year, he said ambiguously.
  3. John Foxx & The Maths. I love that Foxx is still making records that are perfect examples of eighties electronic pop, something he's somehow been doing consistently since 1977.
  4. Sparks. The unofficial anthem of the six weeks of furlough I spent writing my next three books. First one on sale next week!
  5. Sufjan Stevens. Suf's gone back to writing over-complicated epics, though this one probably has one section too many for its own good.
  6. Black Bra. I came for the keyboard work of podcaster Jesse Case, but I'm staying for the pollyharveyesque stylings of frontwoman Elizabeth Grace Cameron.
  7. Jarv Is... ...telling more slightly pervy stories about slightly pervy people. Hoorah!
  8. Fiona Apple. More her thing than mine [points in general direction of The BBG], but I'm liking this a lot.
  9. Bob Dylan. It feels tasteless to label a veteran artist's new album as A Good One To Go Out On, but...
  10. Francoise Hardy‎. Presented as a tribute to the late Ennio Morricone, who wrote this tune and its ridiculous number of key changes.

Telly: I had the perfect crime planned. I'd sign up for Disney+ on their seven day free trial offer. I'd do it just before they released Hamilton on the streaming service. I'd watch that and The Mandalorian in rapid succession, and then cancel my subscription before they made me pay anything. Except, of course, Disney cancelled their free trial offer just a week or two before Hamilton dropped. I suppose I should expect nothing less from a multinational whose corporate logo is literal vermin. Still, I paid out my six quid for one month anyway. I raved about Hamilton here before when I saw it in London two years ago, but was slightly sceptical that the filmed version would be more like a regular live stream of a theatre show, only with a four year time delay (it was filmed during its 2016 Broadway performances). In fact, cunning use of inserts filmed during an audienceless performance mean that we get some useful closeup views that a simple live stream couldn't have offered. The cast are all stellar, with the surprising exception of Lin-Manuel Miranda in the title role: his gulpy I'm-so-sad singing voice is the weakest link in the whole thing. Still, one benefit of a visual record of the show now being available is that Weird Al finally has his video. Meanwhile, The Mandalorian is extraordinarily good fun in a way that some of the more recent Star Wars films have forgotten about: a heady mixture of tones from the darkness of its jailbreak episode to the cutesiness of ***y ***a, and somehow staying coherent throughout. Nice theme tune, too: if ever a piece of music had 'space Western' written all over it, it's this one.

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Simian Substitute Site For July 2020: SCP-983

SCP-983MONTH END PROCESSING FOR JUNE 2020

Internet: Well, let's be honest, everything we're doing at the moment comes under the category of Internet one way or another, doesn't it? And it's been interesting to see how people and organisations have coped with the requirement to move all their activities online. Take, for example, the Japan Foundation, the body set up to promote Japanese culture around the world. They're mentioned on this site annually because of their Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme, and also got a namecheck earlier in the year for a combined movie and lecture event. But now their lecture series has moved onto Zoom, with two fine examples this month. Ninja: Their Philosophies And Duties saw Professor Yuji Yamada entertainingly demolish most of the myths we've picked up from tatty martial arts movies, most notably that ninjas spent most of their time dressed like ninjas. (They're primarily spies: having a recognisable uniform is a bad idea.) Meanwhile, How Do They Read? Voices And Practices of Japanese Language Translators was a panel discussion about the art of translation. Polly Barton (who was at that live event we attended a few months ago) talked about the space between English and Japanese as a physical thing she felt she navigated as she worked, while Ginny Tapley Takemori went into the nitty gritty of how some of the subtleties of the Japanese language (like gendered first person pronouns) can be a nightmare to reproduce in English. I can't help you with the first talk, sadly, but if you think literary translators are more interesting than ninjas, you can watch How Do They Read? on YouTube.

Music: We haven't seen any live music since the New Routes showcase night in Cambridge back in March. Correction: we haven't been in the same room as any live music since then, but we've seen plenty of it, thanks to a wide array of streaming events. Some of them have been charity events to raise money for struggling venues: for example, the Green Note in Camden has run a terrific series of live shows every Wednesday and Friday on their YouTube channel, each featuring a trio of acts performing in a round robin format. There have also been various one-off shows for a similar cause, like Ed Harcourt's fundraiser for Bush Hall. Some acts, however, are just trying to raise money for themselves: from the self-explanatory Andrew O'Neill Sings! broadcast from the comedian's living room at 11am UK time for his Australian fans, to the mighty Soil & "Pimp" Sessions streaming a full-on Death Jazz gig from the empty Blue Note club in Tokyo. Nevertheless, for all of this live wonderfulness, I have to admit that we've spent an awful lot of Saturday nights watching - and dancing to - United We Stream, a series of webcast DJ sets raising money for all the people who lost their livelihood when Manchester's nightlife was shut down. They're currently on hiatus after raising close on half a million quid, but their last two Saturday night shows were a fine finale, featuring firstly Mr Scruff live from the Cloudwater brewery (3 hours 38 minutes into here) and then a full-on DJ battle between the mayors of Manchester and Liverpool. Meanwhile, in recorded music news, the best album to come out of the pandemic so far was recorded in a car last Sunday night.

Telly: Huffity puffity Ringstone Round, if you lose your hat it will never be found... We've all seen enough archive TV by now to realise that revisiting shows you remember fondly from childhood is usually a bad idea. But when Talking Pictures TV announced that they'd be repeating the 1979 series of Quatermass, I couldn't keep myself away. I remembered it being a thing we talked about at school the morning after it was on, but very few of the details, apart from that song and that ending. A good couple of decades after his original adventures on the BBC, Professor Bernard Quatermass is now an old man searching London for his lost granddaughter. England has gone completely dystopian hellscape at this point, enlivened by gangs of hippy punks known as the Planet People who gather at stone circles in the belief that aliens will beam them up to a better world. The truth is actually a little more complex than that, but only a little. Forty-one years after transmission, it's surprising to realise that ITV pulled off their own version of Mad Max a) on an ITV budget and b) a year before the release of Mad Max. John Mills is magnificent throughout, balancing quiet intensity with alarming moments of vulnerability. But it's hard these days to miss writer Nigel Kneale's subtext that Everything Is Terrible And It's All Young People's Fault, with the satirical angle getting a bit heavy-handed at times. Still, Kneale's grumpiness also manifests itself in his delight at killing off his characters in a series of increasingly apocalyptic cliffhangers, so on balance it all works out. Talking Pictures are sadly too old-fashioned a TV station to believe in anything as useful as an online catchup service, which makes it convenient (though unfortunate for the rights holders) that someone appears to have persuaded the Internet Archive that the series is in the public domain.

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Simian Substitute Site For June 2020: Eeb Allay Ooo

Eeb Allay OooMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MAY 2020

Art: You remember how it used to work: you'd get up earlier than usual on a Sunday morning, have breakfast, then go out to a gallery and stare at some art until the pubs were ready for you. You can't do all of that at the moment, but the National Portrait Gallery has given you an alternative way of simulating the penultimate bit of that activity. Normally at this time of year they'd be holding their annual BP Portrait Award exhibition: and they still are, but just doing it online. The interface is quite fun: it's a 3-D walkaround model of the pictures hanging as they would in the meatspace gallery, and you can click on each picture to see it bigger and read more about it. It's not perfect - there's a wall in the middle of the room that's been rendered as a white void with a few portraits hidden inside it - but it's a neat solution to the problem. As for the portraits themselves, the photorealistic ones come off worst in this arrangement: without any real sense of the texture, you end up mentally filing the image under 'photo' and moving on to the next one. But there are some lovely entries in here, and if you don't agree with the verdict of the judges you can always vote for your own favourite.

Radio: You get the feeling that at some point between 2014 and 2019, someone at the BBC listened to Serial and said "can we have one of those?" And that's why the podcast The Missing Cryptoqueen turned up on BBC Sounds in 2019, although it's taken a global pandemic and six weeks of furlough to finally give me the incentive to listen to it. Over the course of eight episodes, Jamie Bartlett tells the story of Dr Ruja Ignatova, the inventor of a wildly popular cryptocurrency system that inevitably wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Cryptoqueen takes all of the tropes we remember from Serial, and uses them in an appreciably more hamfisted fashion. There's a host whose personality intrudes all over the story they're trying to tell - Bartlett even gets Sarah Koenig's trademark '[long pause] huh! [long pause]' noise in there several times. There's massive amounts of overproduction, notably a musical score that's layered randomly over everything, but refuses to contain anything as old-fashioned as a recognisable theme tune. And there's a narrative structure that sets up an implied question - where has Ignatova disappeared to? - and then takes several hours to meander towards an anti-climax. You can see how podcasts could escalate in popularity in times like these, but better ones are available.

Theatre: We've seen a surprising amount of theatre this month, primarily because lots of theatre organisations have rapidly embraced online video as a way of keeping people entertained while generating a much-needed revenue stream. Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre has taken the most impressive approach: when their world premiere of the new Rona Munro play Donny's Brain had to be cancelled, the writer, director and cast quickly put together an unrelated series of monologues filmed in the actors' homes under lockdown conditions. Five From Inside is a little variable in quality, as you'd expect a series of monologues to be: but the sequenced YouTube playlist shows that everyone concerned realised that the first and last ones were the best, as they're less character sketches and more slow reveals of subtext. The other two plays we've watched this month have been old productions reviving a previously broadcast live stream. Hampstead Theatre brought back #aiww: The Arrest Of Ai Weiwei, in which Howard Brenton ingeniously depicts the low point of the artist's life as a piece of installation art in its own right: it's helped by a lovely performance by Benedict Wong in the lead. Finally, Complicite's The Encounter is a rebroadcast of Simon McBurney's one-man telling of the true story of a rainforest expedition, given extra psychedelic force by its use of binaural sound to immerse you in the production at the aural level, if not the visual level. Sadly, all three of these were online for a limited time only and are now offline: try visiting this Ticketmaster page every so often to find out about other similar productions that might be on the way.

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Simian Substitute Site For May 2020: Primates

PrimatesMONTH END PROCESSING FOR APRIL 2020

Books: The Belated Birthday Girl and I have started reading before bedtime, on the assumption that it's probably more conducive to a good night's sleep than our previous regime of drinking tea and staring at screens. To make it a more sociable activity, we're reading out loud to each other, taking alternate chapters in the book of our choice. This month's choice has been What Does This Button Do?, the autobiography of Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson. The BBG can actually claim to know Dickinson a little bit - back when she used to fence, he regularly turned up at her club to practice. He's famous for dabbling in a wide range of fields, and this book is largely a list of things he's tried that he's turned out to be successful at: singing, fencing, flying planes, brewing beer, beating cancer and so on. When it comes to things that haven't been so successful, such as writing screenplays, the stories tend to quietly fizzle out. Still, that's the nature of autobiography these days, and Dickinson's entertaining way with an anecdote stops it getting too much into 'needless to say I had the last laugh' territory. By the end I'd become rather fond of his inquisitive nature, which explains why he feels the need to dabble in almost everything - hence the title.

Comedy: Online comedy's going through a curious phase. Podcasts are carrying on much as before, and several of them have pivoted to video without breaking a sweat, such as RHLSTP, The Bugle and Vitriola. But what I currently find really interesting are the various attempts out there to recreate stand-up comedy shows in a world where no more than two people can be in a room at the same time. For a while, Saturday Night Live At The Stand (Saturdays at 8.30pm) was the one to beat, with live compere Mark Nelson doing a terrific job holding together various pre-recorded routines sent in by comics, and even encouraging online heckles along the way. It may still be the one to beat, but they're relaunching this weekend (May 2nd) with some format tweaks, so we'll have to see how that goes. In the meantime, a couple of other comedy clubs have been pushing the idea a bit further and having the acts perform live as well, Zooming in from their own homes. XS Malarkey in Manchester (Tuesdays at 8.00pm) runs a weekly two-hour show held together by the chatty charm of host Toby Hadoke, who spends as much time nattering to the guests as they do performing. But it's also worth keeping an eye on Good Ship Comedy's HMS Unprecedented (Mondays at 8.00pm), which after a month of false starts has finally hit a winning formula - book five acts, leave their microphones on throughout, and use the unparalleled banter skills of Ben van der Velde to get them all sparking off each other.

Food and Drink: As mentioned previously, we were meant to be spending the Easter weekend in Aberdeen for the BrewDog AGM, and that didn't happen. But what happened a couple of weeks after that was the Intergalactic BrewDog AGM, an attempt to migrate the whole event (or at least selected bits of it) to an online environment, because that's how everything works now. Surprisingly, it all worked pretty well, and you may even still be able to watch the whole thing here until they take it all down again. In the space of 105 minutes we got an abbreviated business update from James Watt and Martin Dickie (the section on 'things to look forward to in the next twelve months' was a lot more tentative than usual), live music performances by Yonaka and Blaine Harrison, a delightfully chaotic pub quiz pitting James and Martin against fourteen thousand or so punters in the YouTube live chat box, and - best of all - an online tasting session featuring four beers you could order in advance from their online shop. No queuing to get the beers, and the toilets were in decent nick throughout, so I'd say in some areas that counts as an improvement on previous years.

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Simian Substitute Site For April 2020: Monkey Wellbeing

Monkey WellbeingMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MARCH 2020

Art: So, everything's still fucked, then. Which makes March 2020 a very awkward month about which to write a list of artistic highlights. Still, I'll have a go, even though I've barely been out of the house since the 14th. It all started off so well on the 1st, when a bunch of Spank's Pals accompanied me to Dulwich Picture Gallery to see an exhibition of British Surrealism. It's a pleasingly broad selection of works, mainly focussed on the early years of the movement, but prepared to suggest names like Lewis Carroll as their forebears. The inevitable biggies are represented, along with plenty of people you haven't heard of: I'm particularly taken by the artist - I think it was Conroy Maddox, but couldn't swear to it - who took a pile of his 1960s paintings and redated them as 1930s purely as a prank on art historians. The DPG are hoping that the exhibition will continue once (if) normal service has been resumed: in the meantime, the British Surrealism webpage obligingly contains a stream of the audio guide to whet your appetite.

Movies: Technically, the last film I saw before the UK went into lockdown was The Invisible Man, which benefitted from a properly up-for-it Saturday night audience, all the way up to the young woman who yelled 'oh my days' whenever something surprising happened, which was often. But a few days earlier I caught another film on a one-night-only engagement: a concert movie snappily entitled Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets: Live At The Roundhouse. Saucerful Of Secrets is a Pink Floyd tribute band with a twist - well, two twists. The first is that they only cover the band's music from 1967 to 1972, stopping just before the point where The Dark Side Of The Moon made them superstars: the second is that Pink Floyd's actual drummer is in the band. Visually, they're an odd bunch, dressed like five fund managers jamming on a Saturday afternoon: but musically is where it counts. The freak-out sections of the Floyd's psychedelic era are here a little too calculated for my liking, missing the buzz of genuine insanity that Syd Barrett brought to the band during his time there. But the songs are beautifully played, and it's nice to hear them again. Best of all, Mason doesn't look like a man who's going out on the road again in his seventies to top up his pension: he's having a tremendous amount of fun, and it shows. You won't see the film in cinemas again, while the home video and live album releases the screening was meant to promote appear to have slipped from April to September. Have a clip to make up for the disappointment.


Music: On the subject of live music, the last time I was in a room with loads of people watching a band getting loud and sweaty was Kodo: Legacy at the Royal Festival Hall. They've been bringing their traditional Japanese drums to London since the early eighties, and I've been seeing them here since the late eighties: by now, I know what to expect. Legacy is a little more retrospective than usual, taking some of Kodo's classic pieces - the lopsided swing of Miyake, or the whisper-to-a-scream onslaught of Monochrome - and letting a new generation of drummers loose on them. John Peel always used to describe The Fall as "always different, always the same," and that's how I'm happy to think about Kodo. Their European tour is over now, but while they're in lockdown they're amusing themselves with weekly live streams from their rehearsal studio, albeit ones which fail to maintain social distancing between the band members.

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Simian Substitute Site For March 2020: Monkey Business

Monkey BusinessMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2020

Movies: Hooray for the Japan Foundation, and the splendid work they do in making Japanese cinema (as well as other culture from the country) available to us in the UK. At the moment they're taking their Touring Film Programme around Britain again, and one of the massively overdue posts you can expect to see here eventually is a review of half a dozen or so of the films in that package. But they also do the odd free screening, like one that took place in London last month of Ten Years Japan. It's part of a franchise that started in Hong Kong in 2015 with Ten Years, in which five young HK filmmakers joined forces for a portmanteau film speculating on what the territory would look like in 2025. Their conclusions ended up very much on the dystopian side, and if anything ten years seems to have been a bit of an underestimate. It's interesting to compare and contrast the HK and Japanese approaches to futurism. The Hong Kong version, for reasons of budget or otherwise, looks like contemporary HK but with the existing social issues allowed to run unchecked for a decade. The Japanese version is more like science fiction, with several of the stories driven by new technology: for example, a chip implanted in kids to make them behave, or a no-fuss euthanasia patch for the elderly. The comparisons being made in some quarters with Black Mirror are a bit of a stretch, partly because the stories don't spiral off into ridiculousness at any point, partly because they're frequently happy to meander off into an open ending. Anyway, that trailer link up there will take you to a rental copy on YouTube if you'd like to explore further.

Music: We're two months into the new year, so it's probably time for another one of those roundups of recent records that have grabbed my attention.

  1. Anna Meredith - God bless 6Music's Chris Hawkins for continuing to fill his pre-7.30am programme with the sort of music that was quite definitely not meant to be listened to that early in the morning, such as this sustained panic attack in audio form.
  2. Joe Jackson - I was convinced that Jackson had written his own lyrics for this classic instrumental, but apparently there have been words for it going as far back as the days of Sarah Vaughan.
  3. Ringo Shiina - With a solo single and a surprise reformation of her band Tokyo Jihen in the first two months of the year, it looks like 2020's going to be a busy one for her.
  4. Stormzy - A point of view that's seldom expressed in all the press coverage: his diction's very good, isn't it?
  5. Everything Everything - It's that 'fat child in a pushchair' song again, but beefed up with a small orchestra in a live rendition recorded at Festival No 6 in 2018.
  6. Ghostpoet - One of my guilty pleasures on Twitter is watching Ghostpoet get into arguments with anyone who tries to assign a genre to him. So let's play it safe: this is a new Ghostpoet record.
  7. Gil Scott Heron - Whenever I hear the word 're-imagining' I reach for my book of misattributed Hermann Goering quotes, but Makaya McCraven's jazz reconstruction of Scott-Heron's final album sounds just lovely to me.
  8. Pet Shop Boys - As I said during last month's Simian post, there are plenty of songs on their new album that are better than Monkey Business. Today, this is the one I think is the best.
  9. Joe Gideon - With Gideon's first solo album, I felt the songs were a little weak, and didn't really appreciate them until I'd seen them performed live. This time round, I saw him live first and then bought the new album on the way out of the gig. Problem solved.
  10. Citizen Bravo et al - Wrapping up as we started, albeit with a less abrasive discovery from the Chris Hawkins show, as a collection of Scottish indiepopstars record their favourite songs by the genius that was Ivor Cutler.


Telly: Back in the days of Europe's Best Website, I was partly responsible for an article discussing Slow TV, a series of programmes made by the Norwegian state broadcaster NRK in which long slow-moving things were shown on telly in real time. At the start of February, they broadcast their longest, slowest-moving one to date. Svalbard Minute By Minute was NRK's celebration of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Svalbard Treaty: they chose to mark it with a nine-and-a-quarter-day-long as-live broadcast of an Arctic expedition around Spitsbergen, the largest of the Svalbard islands. They filmed it back last summer, to maximise the amount of daylight available: and they intercut it with everything from one-take explorations of the engine room to drone footage of the ship shot from every possible angle. It was streamed over the Internet for everyone in the world to watch, and became an utterly delightful thing to dip into for the first nine days of the month. What, you missed it? Not to worry: all 13,320 minutes of it is currently archived on the NRK website for anyone who's interested. Also available: gargantuan Spotify playlists of each day's background music, which is probably more Norwegian pop than you've heard in your lifetime to date. So if you end up isolated in the house for a couple of weeks because of COVID-19, at least now you've got something to keep you occupied.

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Simian Substitute Site For February 2020: Monkey Business

Monkey BusinessMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JANUARY 2020

Art: I periodically maintain a small but perfectly formed list of the world's most outrageous disclaimers. To be fair, up until recently it only consisted of the opening caption of the 3D film Tron: Legacy, which waits until your ticket money's been successfully banked before telling you that only half of it's in 3D. But I can now add the publicity material for the exhibition Tutankhamun: Treasures Of The Golden Pharoah. Buried in the small print is a note explaining that the Pharoah's death mask - the image that comes into your head when you think of King Tut - isn't actually in the exhibition at all. The thing that looks like it on the posters is in fact a small replica used to hold some of his internal organs. Get past that disappointment, and this is actually a pretty great collection of beautifully detailed artefacts, making their way around the world one last time before they take up permanent residence back home in Egypt. Tutankhamun's visit to London in the 1970s was one of the first blockbuster gallery events, and the queues for this one initially appear just as hellish. But the material is ingeniously arranged around the Saatchi Gallery in a series of display cases with descriptive notes placed above them, allowing you to read the historical background as you shuffle towards the actual case itself. They say it's a 60-90 minute route around the gallery, but allow yourself two hours and you'll get to see everything without too much hassle. It's running in London till May 3rd, and then continuing its world tour from there.

Music: Presenting a story in five parts, spanning a period of 36 years.
1983: Fun Boy Three, featuring Terry Hall on vocals, release their album Waiting. It includes the song The Farmyard Connection, which subsequently makes it onto my 1983 Pick Of The Year compilation, Post-Apollonian, Pre-Dionysian.
1994: Terry Hall releases his solo album Home. It includes the song Forever J, which subsequently makes it onto my 1994 Pick Of The Year compilation, And You Sure As Hell Can't Sing.
1996: Nearly God - an act that is basically Tricky trying to get around his record company's insistence that they can only put out one album per year under his own name - release their album Nearly God. It includes the song Poems, featuring guest vocals by Terry Hall and Martina Topley-Bird, which subsequently makes it onto my 1996 Pick Of The Year compilation, We Are The Kids And We're Out Of Our Heads.
2019: The Specials, featuring Terry Hall on vocals, release their album Encore. It includes the song The Life And Times (Of A Man Called Depression), which subsequently makes it onto my 2019 Pick Of The Year compilation, Fearless. Ruthless. Cheerless. Clueless.
Also 2019: eleven hours and fifty-one minutes after I launch the competition to win a CD of Fearless... - i.e. still on the evening of Christmas Day - Dave writes in with a perfect summary of the preceding timeline, thus claiming the prize for himself like he always does. Dave: congratulations. Everyone else: DO BETTER.

Telly: I believe BBC Three is what the young people today have instead of actual television. (Or at least that's the BBC's plan, which may not quite live up to reality.) I'm here for Blindboy Undestroys The World, a series of four documentaries (plus a pilot made a year earlier) by Blindboy Boatclub of Rubberbandits and podcast fame. They're a fascinating collection of Blindboy's patented Hot Takes on the problems of modern life - the internet, modern slavery, work, anxiety - tricked out with undercover reporting, surreal pranks at the expense of wrongdoers, and a bastard of a talking fish called The Trout Of No Craic. It's a very similar mixture to the one Blindboy and his director/co-writer James Cotter were using on RTE a few years ago with their series of Rubberbandits Guides, reaching a peak with their show marking the centenary of 1916. My main concern here is that Cotter appears to have been forced to work to the BBC Three Yoof TV template: hyper-fast editing, gratuitous on-screen text, and a tendency to blow some of an episode's best surprises in an opening 'coming up...' montage. The result is a show designed to be split into bite-size shareable content, which I guess is what those young people want, but seems to be missing the point of making a half-hour show. Nevertheless, if you can get past the style, it's a good attempt at converting Blindboy's inquisitive podcast approach into a visual medium, although this apparently requires several minutes of legal disclaimers to be inserted after some of his strongest claims. We may not have realised that we needed a Dadaist John Oliver, but it's good to know that we have one now.

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