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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Simian Substitute Site for July 2022: Brass Monkey Graphic Design

Brass Monkey Graphic DesignMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JUNE 2022

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

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

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

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


Simian Substitute Site for June 2022: Monkeys

MonkeysMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MAY 2022

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

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


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

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


Simian Substitute Site for May 2022: Chiki Monkey

Chiki MonkeyMONTH END PROCESSING FOR APRIL 2022

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

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

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


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

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for May 2022: Chiki Monkey" »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Simian Substitute Site for March 2022: Red Monkey Ramen Shop

Red Monkey Ramen ShopMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2022

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

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

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

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for March 2022: Red Monkey Ramen Shop" »


Simian Substitute Site for February 2022: Monkey Love Experiments

Monkey Love ExperimentsMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JANUARY 2022

Books: After seeing Jeanette Winterson being interviewed during our one live Edinburgh International Book Festival event of 2021, anyone normal would have queued up to buy a copy of her new book from the signing tent. Instead, we went online and bought the audiobook version of 12 Bytes while sitting in a cafe a few hundred yards down the road. It's a collection of twelve essays on the overall theme of where technology is taking us, specifically in the transition from AI to AGI - artificial general intelligence, what you might like to think of as the equivalent of Skynet becoming self-aware. From a pair of neatly-linked starting points - Ada Lovelace's early work in computation, and Mary Shelley's fable of the creation of life through electricity - Winterson pulls together all manner of ideas into clusters that are always entertaining, even if sometimes they're a bit of a stretch. (Occasionally I'm reminded of Blindboy's hot takes in his podcast, and think that she should consider starting some of the essays with "I may be talking out of me hole here, lads, but...") Of the dozen or so audiobook readers we encountered in 2021, she's easily my favourite: she's got a delightful reading style that gets deliberately conversational when she's trying to get across footnotes and quotes. And considering this isn't even her field, her enthusiasm for the subject is palpable, while never getting in the way of clarity. If Russell T Davies is prepared to accept that maybe the Fourteenth Doctor doesn't have to be a major departure from the Thirteenth, I might have a casting suggestion for him.

Music (1 of 2): We had a bit of drama in the latest Pick Of The Year CD competition, thanks to an unexpected entry from regular correspondent The Cineaste. You'll remember that the task was to identify which was the first POTY to feature The Belated Birthday Girl on the cover, given that 2021 was the second. Writing in on December 27th (two days after the competition went online), The Cineaste admitted that he was just stabbing in the dark, "but based on the tenuous (if plausible) rationale that you were big on Japan in 2014, I'll go for that year. NB I'm not expecting to win, cos after all my name's not Dave." He's being a bit harsh on himself there: don't forget, if I hadn't received a correct entry by the closing date of January 31st, he would have won. Which I guess makes it all the more galling that Dave entered at 6.24pm ON CHRISTMAS DAY and nailed it. Moreover, he showed his working: "Difficult one. 2001 is the start year. One of the faces in that year's? fairly sure not. [No, see mouseover text on the cover image on that page.] 2002? I'm really hoping not. [And she thanks you for saying that.] 2003? Possibly an early pic. [No idea who it is, it's just a random picture that I found, hence the redaction.] 2004 - very possibly the person in the foreground. 2006 - also possible that's her holding the Beano. Never seen Spank in a hat, could be the one. [Um, let me introduce you to the most carefully concealed catchphrase on this site.] 2010 - is she in that pic? Can't see her. [Neither of us have ever been to Gordano Services.] 2013 - in a BrewDog? Certainly a possibility. but can't see her for sure. [She took the photo.] Torn between 2004 and 2006. I'm going for 2004." And 2004 is indeed the right answer, as noted within the actual competition question for that year (and before you ask, Dave didn't enter that one).

Music (2 of 2): So, congratulations to Dave, commiserations to The Cineaste. As for the rest of you, now that we've got all the admin for POTY 2021 out of the way, it's time to start looking at potential entries for POTY 2022. No time this month for a full track-by-track breakdown, I'm afraid, other than to tell you to expect tunes from Elvis Costello, Simon Love, The Art Of Noise, Kojey Radical, Wet Leg, Telefis, David Bowie, Yard Act and Black Country, New Road (with an implied nod of sympathy to the last band in general and Isaac Wood in particular). The usual slot number ten in the Spotify playlist has been left blank for you to go out, buy a Neil Young CD and listen to that. Harvest Moon's a nice one.


Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for February 2022: Monkey Love Experiments" »


Simian Substitute Site for January 2022: Crafty Apes

Crafty ApesMONTH END PROCESSING FOR DECEMBER 2021

Comedy: Happy New Year, everyone. Most years, as regular readers will know, we tend to spend the evening of December 31st in one of London’s finer comedy clubs. This time, for the second year running, we compromised with an online comedy night courtesy of Siôn James and his Collywobblers Comedy Club. Apparently James has been running Zoom gigs throughout the pandemic, and it shows in the sharp organisation of this show with a remote audience of over 60 attending: four fine acts (Patrick Monahan, Fiona Allen, Miss Mo' Real and the tireless Marcel Lucont, the latter doing his fourth gig of the night), a bit of musical silliness from Tony Ukulele to take us up to midnight, and then a rather lovely kitchen disco to follow, made all the more fun by the punters who left their cameras running (us included). And unlike Hampstead Comedy in 2018-19 and Good Ship Comedy in 2019-20, Collywobblers' DJ actually played some Janelle Monae when we asked, giving them a massive head start as our Best Comedy Club Of 2022 So Far. Ivor: Ben: the bar has been set.

Telly: Our Christmas was a mixture of being out and about for part of it, and locking ourselves in at home for the rest. For the second year running, we took out a one-month subscription to Disney+, the plan being to binge watch all the interesting stuff that’s been released there over the last twelve months and then cancel before they can take any more of our money. We had several Marvel series in there, inevitably. WandaVision plays wonderfully with your expectations, starting from the basic premise of two Avengers characters living in a 1950s sitcom and taking some ingenious detours along the way: it’s a shame that in the end, it all builds to the usual zappy explodey bollocks. Hawkeye does the same to some degree, but the charm of the leads and the relatively small scale of the explodey bollocks help it go down nicely. Meanwhile, M.O.D.O.K. (created with the help of the Robot Chicken people) rudely sends up the whole genre while obviously still being totally in love with it. In non-Marvel programming, the big new release is Get Back, in which Peter Jackson reedits the footage from the Let It Be sessions to make the Beatles look less like arseholes (though he doesn’t quite succeed with Lennon). There’s definitely enough terrific material in here to justify Jackson tearing up his original plan to make a two hour film, but not really enough to justify an eight hour series: at this length, it’s more for Beatles obsessives than a general audience. Finally, Steve Martin’s Only Murders In The Building is a delight for anyone who found that Knives Out left them with a particular itch that needed scratching. Yes, I know that The Book Of Boba Fett has just launched as well, but that’ll have to wait till next year’s one month sub now.

Travel: As for the out and about bits of Christmas, for the second year running we booked ourselves into a central London hotel for a few days. Last year, thanks to the late announcement of lockdown, we had to postpone our stay at the Resident Soho: this year, I’m pleased to report that our stay at its relative in Covent Garden went as planned. We’ve had several London Christmases before, but this was my first one in the centre of town, and it’s fascinating to see what stayed open on the day. Short answer: all the tourist eateries – steak houses, Cafes Concerto and the like – plus lots in Chinatown and virtually nothing in Soho. Oh, and all those money laundering joints that pretend to sell American sweets apparently never close, ever. The biggest surprise was finding the Cineworld Leicester Square open on Christmas Day, possibly the only cinema in London doing so. So we ended up spending three hours of the day being disappointed by The Matrix Resurrections, though to be fair that’s what we were expecting to happen. We got in a couple of bits of Christmas live entertainment too, despite everything. The more traditional one was Carols By Candlelight at Cadogan Hall, with a full orchestra in Mozart wigs and Peter Davison reading from Dickens: the less traditional was Two Turtle Doves at the Crazy Coqs, a cabaret of Christmas songs performed by Barb Jungr (who has a lovely festive song in her back catalogue already) and Dillie Keane (who doesn’t). Add in three very nice dinners (at J Sheekey, Kutir and 28-50), one decent brunch (at Madera), a fun exhibition about the Beano and some fancy cocktails adjacent to the Crazy Coqs at Bar Americain, and that seems like a pretty good three days for a city that’s largely shut on Christmas Day.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for January 2022: Crafty Apes" »


Simian Substitute Site for December 2021: A Monkey Christmas

MONTH END PROCESSING FOR NOVEMBER 2021

Books: Those of you who’ve been on the edge of your seats since last month, wondering which of our shortlist of five audiobooks we ultimately chose: you can relax now. At first glance (or whatever the sonic equivalent of glance is), I’d assumed that Stanley Tucci’s Taste would be a similar mashup of memoir and food writing to Grace Dent’s Hungry (which we enjoyed earlier this year), but with more of an actorly bent. That’s not quite what it is, though. Dent is using memories of meals as a literary device to connect her past with her current role as a restaurant critic. With Tucci, though, you feel like food is an inseparable component of his existence: every major event in his life is associated with something he ate or drank at the time. Frequently, we get recipes - which, to be honest, is where the audiobook format loses out over the printed page. The compensation for this is Tucci’s warm and wry reading of the text, even if he is a little too pleased with his own jokes sometimes. Still, one of those jokes looks like it’s going to be joining the lexicon at Château Belated-Monkey: his insistence that meatless meatballs should be referred to simply as ‘balls’.

Music: A new Covid variant's doing the rounds, and at the time of writing people still can't quite agree on whether we're just as doomed as before or even more doomed. The perfect time for us to see three crowded gigs in the space of a fortnight, then. Jarvis Cocker started us off at the Albert Hall in Manchester, for reasons to be clarified later this month. Technically it was a long delayed promotional show for last year’s Jarv Is... album, but he covered all the other bases of his career too: some Pulp deep cuts, a few solo favourites (people do enjoy singing along to Running The World for some reason), and even a couple of French classics from his current oddity Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top. The following week saw a similarly delayed show finally happen after two postponements and a change of venue – Mary Coughlan at Islington Assembly Hall, also mixing up her new-at-the-time-the-gig-was-originally-scheduled record with plenty of older material, including a hefty chunk of her 35-year-old debut. Finally, the gig where we took the biggest chance was a show at the London Jazz Festival featuring percussionist Sarathy Korwar, who we only went to see because one of his many collaborators on the night was cellist Abel Selaocoe, star of our favourite/only Prom this year. Korwar turned out to be a terrific bandleader, as well as our gateway into a few of his other bandmates, such as poet Zia Ahmed and Melt Yourself Down vocalist Kushal Gaya, who brought the house down at the end by coming on stage carrying his sleeping toddler, compete with massive ear protectors.

Theatre: Mind you, that delay of over a year to see Mary C pales against the two years plus we’ve been waiting for The Shark Is Broken. First mentioned on these pages in August 2019, it was one of the hits of that year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and as such had pretty much sold out by the time we got there. A London transfer was always on the cards, but that pesky pandemic has delayed it until now. It’s set in 1974, as three actors – Robert Shaw (Ian Shaw), Roy Scheider (Demetri Goritsas) and Richard Dreyfuss (Liam Murray Scott) – sit in a boat while the film they’re working on together hits yet another delay, because Bruce the mechanical shark has malfunctioned again. Guy Masterson's production has acquired a few production curlicues since its run in Edinburgh - I'm pretty sure Nina Dunn's astonishing video backdrop wouldn't fit into Assembly George Square Studio 3 - but it's still basically a showcase for a study of three personalities clashing under pressure, all of them blurring the line between the stars themselves and the roles they played in Jaws. You could argue that the play's a little too keen to shoehorn in old movie set anecdotes (a flaw it shares with the novelisation of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), and some of its ironic foreshadowing is aggressively on the nose. But it's all carried off by the wit of the script, co-written by Joseph Nixon and Ian Shaw, with the added gawp value of the latter playing his dad on stage. On the night we saw it, though, Shaw was replaced by his understudy Will Harrison-Wallace, who did a spectacular job in the circumstances: particularly when it gradually dawns on you what the final scene's going to be, and how difficult it must be to perform even with Shaw's genetic advantage, never mind without it.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for December 2021: A Monkey Christmas" »


Simian Substitute Site for November 2021: MONKEYSEXPLOSION

MONKEYSEXPLOSIONMONTH END PROCESSING FOR OCTOBER 2021

Books: We’re in between books in our current Audiobook At Bedtime experiment: so rather than a review of a full one this month, here are five whose free previews we’ve listened to while working out what to buy next. Animal by Sara Pascoe: an interesting mix of tones, alternating between standup act and serious study of gender politics, and from the sample it’s hard to tell which will ultimately predominate. Taste by Stanley Tucci: a kind of Hollywood variation on that Grace Dent book we listened to a few months ago, with Tucci charmingly telling the story of his life in terms of food. Sidesplitter by Phil Wang: another comedian’s book with an agenda – looking at the impact being mixed race has had on his life – but this one feels more like a standup act on paper. Rememberings by Sinead O’Connor: she’s quite open from the beginning about the areas of her life this book is going to cover, but she does it with sufficient reassurance that it won’t be a humourlessly grim retelling. Windswept And Interesting by Billy Connolly: the voice is a bit croakier than it used to be, but he’s lived the life and kept the stories, and on this evidence seems to be trying to tell them all as quickly as possible. Which one will we choose? I’ll let you know. The main lesson we’ve learned from this exercise is that comedians are happy to have free previews for their books that can last the best part of an hour, but actors and musicians are a bit stingier.

Food and Drink: I was given a lovely present for Christmas 2019, and this month I finally got to open it, in a manner of speaking. When I first received my voucher for a one-day beer-making workshop at London Beer Lab, I assumed that I’d be using it not too long after the post-Christmas Dry Veganuary that we’d already planned for the start of 2020. Three lockdowns and one actual case of Covid later, The BBG and I got to visit Brixton and get our voucher’s worth. The setup’s simple: upstairs from the LBL taproom is a brewing area with half a dozen small kits, each capable of brewing around forty pints. You pick a recipe from a selection offered to you, and over the next five hours or so you're helped through the process of making a beer using it. To be honest, when we did all those brewery tours back in 2016 and got to the bit where they explained to you how brewing worked, I always tended to glaze over a little bit. It turns out that getting hands-on experience in the process makes it a doddle to understand: who knew? There are quite a few points during the five hours where not much is happening, and LBL craftily fill these gaps with some beer tastings and an extended opportunity to taste and smell some of the basic ingredients, so it all makes for a gloriously enjoyable afternoon. When it's all over, your beer is left to ferment for a couple of weeks, and if it turns out to be non-poisonous they'll put it on sale in their taproom. So keep an eye on London Beer Lab's Untappd listing from around the middle of November, and see if a black double IPA turns up on the taps. Hopefully it should be obvious if it's ours.

Movies: October was all about the London Film Festival here, and if you weren’t already aware of that you’ve got some catching up to do. On our final day, one of the highlights was Train Again, an experimental short film by Peter Tscherkassky, which I described at the time as  “a whole archive’s worth of footage of trains from the Lumiere brothers onwards, layered on top of each other and intercut at stroboscopic rates, accompanied by an industrial soundtrack of railway noise and climaxing in a montage of crashes.” So naturally, afterwards we were keen to find out if there was any more of this stuff available: and just one week later we found ourselves in Dalston's fashionable Cafe Oto watching a whole programme of Tscherkassky's films. The nice thing about Cafe Oto is, it's a performance space that isn't in the least bit designed for film screenings: which meant that the audience had a huge 35mm projector in the room with them, giving a weird illicit feel to the whole evening, like you were watching stag films or spy footage of a villain's secret lair. Having the films on 35mm turns out to be important. You could watch shorts like Outer Space and Instructions For A Sound And Light Machine on YouTube blown up onto a big screen, but when you're dealing with movies constructed out of single-frame edits, they have to be on celluloid or they look like a huge glitchy mess. For my money, Tscherkassky's latest (the aforementioned Train Again) is his best work, but the four earlier films in this programme show you how he built up his process over the space of two decades. Your chances of seeing these films again in a cinema are vanishingly small, but you can always compensate by purchasing the just-released album of Dirk Schaefer's pulverising soundtracks.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for November 2021: MONKEYSEXPLOSION" »