Simian Substitute Site For November 2018: Cheeki Monkeys

Cheeki MonkeysMONTH END PROCESSING FOR OCTOBER 2018

Movies: It's always a bit tricky writing one of these posts in a London Film Festival month - after all, you already know about 27 of the films I saw in October (28 if you count Weeks In The West End as a kind of pre-season friendly). But before the festival started, we made a point of catching yet another film on the first day of its limited cinema release. Kusama: Infinity is Heather Lenz's documentary on the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama - regular readers will remember that we stumbled across her work in 2010 in her home town of Matsumoto, assumed she was just some sort of local eccentric, and then watched as her pictures went hyperviral both at home and abroad. This film doesn't tell you much about the artist that you can't find out from other sources (such as her autobiography Infinity Net), but it does give you an insight into the cunning way she's managed her mental health problems and turned them into a self-promotion strategy. And if you're not already aware of her story, then you've got that to look forward to as well. The film is still popping up in one-day engagements across the UK, but it might be easier for you to watch it at home over one of its multiple streaming platforms.

Music: It's never a good sign when you find out one week before a concert takes place that it's been moved to a smaller venue. Or is it? The concert in question was an intriguing double-header, pairing up jazz saxophonist David Murray (who I have to admit I wasn't aware of before now) and poet Saul Williams (a firm favourite round these parts ever since I first saw him in the film Slam two decades ago). The two artists collaborated on an album called Blues For Memo earlier this year, and the plan was that they were going to perform selections from it at the Islington Assembly Hall. And then, at the last minute, the show was moved from the 800 capacity IAH to the approximately 75% smaller MOTH Club in Hackney. An ex-servicemen's club that's been colonised by hipsters (the name's short for Memorable Order of Tin Hats), it turned out to be a much better fit for the gig than the rather unatmospheric Assembly Hall. The recorded version of Blues For Memo was a little too restrained for my liking, but in a live context Murray and his band take the brakes off and go for it, with Williams' poetic contributions used as another element in the mix rather than hogging the limelight completely. Here's their version of Burundi from the Manchester leg of the tour.

Theatre: If Martin McDonagh was a Talking Heads tribute band, you could perhaps argue that his new play should be called More Songs About Racism And Dwarves. They've been the central motifs of much of his work in both theatre and film since the beginning, and A Very Very Very Dark Matter (at London's Bridge Theatre until January 6th) combines them in a way that verges on self-parodic. It's the story of Hans Christian Andersen (Jim Broadbent), which answers the question that artists have always dreaded being asked: "where do you get your ideas from?" Every review I've read of the play tells you exactly where he gets them from, but I went into the preview performance not knowing where it was headed. It'd probably be more fun for you if you didn't know either, other than to say that Broadbent's co-star Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles is easily his equal in terms of holding the stage. It's enjoyable enough as long as you treat it more or less as pantomime, as it's largely made up of McDonagh rehashing his usual shock tactics, with lots of gratuitous violence and swearing (Phil Daniels doing some career-best work on the latter score). It's knockabout stuff with no real attempt at trying to say anything deep about the human condition: given the fuss that broke out when he tried to do that in Three Billboards, maybe it's just as well.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For November 2018: Cheeki Monkeys" »


Simian Substitute Site For October 2018: Remembering Great Apes

Remembering Great ApesMONTH END PROCESSING FOR SEPTEMBER 2018

Music: It's been a pretty good month for live music, especially if you stretch the definition of 'September' to cover the last couple of hours of August 31st, when we were at Youssou N'Dour's late-night Prom (still watchable on the iPlayer until October 6th). Less than 24 hours after that, we'd moved from the grandeur of the Royal Albert Hall to the grunge of the Underworld in Camden, to see Andrew O'Neill perform his History of Heavy Metal show for the final time. Yes, we saw him do it in Edinburgh four years ago, but this time his examples were played by a full live band rather than by him on solo guitar, and there was the added thrill of the show being filmed for DVD release (out in time for Christmas, I'm guessing). Good as it was, the gig highlight of the month - possibly the year - was Janelle Monae at the Roundhouse, which was everything I'd ever hoped it would be. The last time I saw this amount of visual and emotional energy hurled around a concert stage, with a huge sense of fun underpinning it all, it was Prince who was responsible for it. She's on the verge of being up there with him. And in a nice coincidence, a few days later one of Monae's songs was covered by Youngblood Brass Band - if you're wondering, it was this one - in a stonking show at the Brixton Electric. Fine support from Lazy Habits too, playing a suitably complementary set of rapped vocals, funky brass and multiple-handed drumming. Finally, I suppose our last gig of the month was at the annual Japan Matsuri in Trafalgar Square, watching The Fairlady ZZZZZ tear through an entertaining half hour of Japanese-British hybrid pub rock.

Theatre: Actually, this one also dates back to August, but I didn't really have time to say much about it then: just after the Bank Holiday, The Belated Birthday Girl and I finally got around to seeing Hamilton. I know it's notoriously the hardest show in London to book for, but in practice it's not so bad, providing you can commit to a date six or seven months in advance. Watch the website or Twitter for the announcement of when a new batch of tickets goes on sale, and as long as you book on the first day you should be fine - the show's paperless ticketing arrangements may be a bit of a pain in the arse, but they seem to have stopped touts hogging the good seats. On that topic, I'd like to announce that the £37.50 tickets in the Grand Circle are perfectly acceptable, and there's no real reason to fork out more than that if you don't want to. As for the show itself, well, believe the hype. I'd come to it without knowing any of the songs in advance apart from the opening number, and although I was expecting the verbal dexterity I wasn't expecting so many glorious tunes. The first half is a constant succession of absolute showstoppers: if the second half felt like a slight disappointment by comparison, it was only because it had dropped to the mere level of a very very very good musical. The soundtrack album is now a fixture in my collection, as is Weird Al's magnificent five minute polka mix.

Travel: Five notes on things that Londoners never really notice about their city until they have to show some Japanese visitors around it (waves to Miki, Tae and Yuko). 1: Apparently if you're a big enough Hollywood movie, you can shut down the pavement directly outside St Paul's Cathedral on a Saturday night and have helicopters taking off and landing there. I'm quite pleased that with a little bit of detective work - i.e. seeing the production company name on the film trucks' parking permits and Googling it - I think that they were shooting Hobbs & Shaw, the spin-off from the Fast & The Furious series. Come back in summer 2019 and we'll see if I was right. 2: It appears that Sherlock's very popular in Japan, to the extent that part of our guests' holiday involved tracking down several of the filming locations. Did you realise that New Scotland Yard moved to the Victoria Embankment a few years ago? We didn't, to our embarrassment: the location where it was when they filmed there in 2012 is now a huge hole in the ground. 3: Obviously any fan of Sherlock wants to visit the real 221B Baker Street, as well as the fake one from the show. The Baker Street location is now the Sherlock Holmes Museum, where The BBG grumbled a bit about having to pay £15 to enter a building full of tatty old artefacts with only a tenuous connection to a fictional character. Later on that day she found out it costs £18 to get into St Paul's now, and the punchline basically writes itself. 4: Afternoon tea at Whittard's is fun, as long as you avoid any of the set options that include their tiny cakes, which cost around three pounds each. Stick with tea, sandwiches and scones and you'll be fine. 5: Foreign visitors may not appreciate just how radical it is going to Frank's Cafe for the late night views over the city, but it's worth it just for the look on the faces of your friends and colleagues when you reveal to them that you took some tourists on a night out in Peckham.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For October 2018: Remembering Great Apes" »


Simian Substitute Site For September 2018: Beer Monkey Brew Co

Beer Monkey Brew CoMONTH END PROCESSING FOR AUGUST 2018

Food and Drink: It's always a pleasure to visit London's annual Great British Beer Festival and see how CAMRA are slowly moving with the times. The gender-fluid poster art seemed like 2018's biggest innovation, at least until I saw the t-shirts being worn by the volunteer staff. They were done in that oh-so-trendy style of a list of related items displayed in Helvetica text, where the list was this one: 'Cask & Keg & Bottle & Can'. If you'd told a CAMRA member five years ago that one of their t-shirts would contain the word 'keg', they'd have choked on their beard trimmings. Despite numerous clashes between the real ale twats and the craft beer wankers (most recently involving Newport brewery Tiny Rebel), it has to be said that craft is making its presence felt at the festival: after all, the Champion Beer of Great Britain this year came from Siren Craft Brew, whose brewery tap we visited just a few months ago. Their Broken Dream Breakfast Stout was a deservedly massive hit, selling out in minutes every time it was put on, and it took precise co-ordination via Twitter for The Belated Birthday Girl and myself to score a half of it each. As for the rest of the session, I drank Tempest's Armadillo, Thornbridge's Jesamine, Bristol Beer Factory's Pale Blue Dot and Bank Top's Port O Call, while The BBG had Redwillow's Effortless, Thornbridge's Florida Weisse, Great Western's Alpha Centauri and Brockley's Red Ale. Coincidentally, both of us found our first beer a bit thin, but the rest of them were great.

Music: This quarter's selection is, as ever, available as both a bundle of YouTube links and a Spotify playlist. Taking them in order:

  1. It's easy to forget how unprolific Youngblood Brass Band are: their last two albums were released in 2006 and 2013, and their new comeback record is an EP of cover versions. When they're as good as this one, though, you can't complain too much.
  2. I'm not entirely convinced that the combination of Underworld and Iggy Pop actually works, but it's fun listening to the two of them grinding against each other.
  3. Later this month I'll probably write a bit more about Adilan Ferreira, because he's Portuguese and we saw him play live in July. This single should give you a good idea of what he's like.
  4. Yes, it's that Matt Berry, and this is the lead single from his band's forthcoming album of old TV theme tunes. Just that little bit funkier than the original, isn't it?
  5. It appears that Simon Love is still incapable of writing a pretty love song without effing and jeffing all over it. Hooray!
  6. The stars of my Pick Of The Year 2016 compilation, Enkel, have released their second album. I don't have any other Finnish folk acts to compare them against, so I'll have to assume they're the best one.
  7. Oddest concept of the quarter year - Anne Dudley has re-arranged a number of Art Of Noise classics for solo piano. It's an interesting way of highlighting her melodies, which were sometimes buried under all the banging and crashing.
  8. Orbital still like to make squelchy noises that encourage you to dance, so all is well with the world. (Apart from all the other stuff happening in the world, of course.)
  9. Irritatingly, Josh Groban's record deal means that his cameo appearance on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend will never get an audio release (though you can still watch it on YouTube). Adam Schlesinger's demo makes for a perfectly acceptable Spotify substitute.
  10. To finish off, ten minutes of Kamasi Washington's reworking of an old favourite movie theme.


Travel: If you read the recent BrewDogging piece on Edinburgh Lothian Road, you'll remember that our main reason for visiting the city was a helicopter ride that was subsequently called off due to bad weather. I said at the time we had an alternative location and date in mind: and one weekend in the middle of August, we took the train to Newcastle to see if their weather was any better. I won't keep you in suspense - no, it wasn't, and we've got to reschedule again. This doesn't mean our trip was wasted, though, as we found plenty of other things to keep us occupied, including a newly-opened brewpub called By The River, and a lovely documentary about local legend Keith Crombie, Geordie Jazz Man. But the main thing occupying Newcastle right now is the Great Exhibition Of The North, a three-month long city-wide artistic blowout. We caught a few bits of it almost by chance: an hourly water sculpture that would be more effective if you didn't have to sync it up to streaming audio, and a terrific exhibition of documentary photography at Side Gallery. But the bulk of what we saw was in the Baltic Centre. Idea Of North, a gloriously chaotic mini-festival of photography, cartoons and mixed media work squished into a single room: Ceremony, an hour-long film in which Phil Collins (not that one) overambitiously attempts to document every aspect of his performance piece for last year's MIF: and Joanne Tatham and Tom O'Sullivan's jolly set of facial sculptures that turn out to be a cheeky autocritique of some of the iffier aspects of the Exhibition. There's so much more going on that the website can barely give you a flavour: best to pick up the hard copy programme and dive straight in. It's running till September ‎9th.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For September 2018: Beer Monkey Brew Co" »


Simian Substitute Site For August 2018: Funky Monkey Pub Crawl

Funky Monkey Pub CrawlMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JULY 2018

Movies: This is an awkward month to be talking about. As you've probably noticed, there were only two posts here in July, but those two posts took a ridonkulous amount of work to complete. And there's another issue: as you'll hopefully find out soon, July has turned out to be one of those months where there's plenty of activity to write about in detail in the future, but not very much that I can throw away in a quick paragraph here. So, this is going to be even more of a mishmash than usual, starting with a quick run through the films I saw at the pictures during the month. Ocean's 8: it doesn't have the effortless quality of Soderbergh's variations on the theme, but it's entertaining enough, and the cast are all having fun without making you feel left out of it. Yellow Submarine: fascinating to realise that all the avant-garde animation I've been watching in festivals for the last thirty years has borrowed from this movie somewhere along the line. First time seeing this in a cinema for me, and the setting emphasises the weird dichotomy between the speedfreak overload of the fantasy sequences and the mogadon pacing of any scene with the Beatles in it. Vertigo: last time I saw it in a cinema it was 40 years old. Now it's 60, and still more perverted than any other picture from the period you can name. Hereditary: nah. For all the hype, there's a British horror movie from the last decade (no names mentioned) which takes a similar narrative trajectory to this one, but works because it knows exactly how to slowly crank up the story to a point of no return. Hereditary moves in ludicrous fits and starts, so the only sensible reaction is to laugh at how daft it gets.

Theatre: For some reason, the leading male role in The King And I is never given to an actor from Thailand. I don't know about you, but that's a Tony Jaa movie I would kill to see. In the meantime, at least these days they tend to cast actors of Asian extraction: last time I saw it in London the King was played by Korean Daniel Dae Kim from Angel and Lost, and the current production at the London Palladium (running till September 29th) stars Japanese Ken Watanabe from various Christopher Nolan films. To be honest, giving the role to someone whose first language isn't English may have been a mistake: Watanabe has the presence that the role demands, but his diction leaves a lot to be desired, as he's frequently quite hard to understand. He's the main weak link in Bartlett Shears' production, hot from New York and bearing awards by the ton. Kelli O'Hara is quite obviously Broadway royalty and is spectacular as Anna, and the look of the show is always sumptuous thanks to Michael Yeargan's sets and Donald Holder's rich lighting. But it doesn't quite take off the way it should - you want Shall We Dance? to be a moment of total ecstasy, but it never reaches the heights you want it to. It's still an entertaining night out, but it could have been even more so.

Music: Here's a question: has anyone ever noticed that the categories in Month End Processing are always in alphabetical order, or have I just been wasting my time for the last eight and a bit years? Don't answer that. I only mention that rule here because I'm about to break it, as there's a bit of Music that refers back to the Theatre production mentioned above. In the programme for The King And I, they mention that Ken Watanabe has had a musical career prior to appearing in the show, and has released a couple of albums. This seems like the sort of research task that a monthly subscription to Spotify was made for. Which made it all the more bizarre to discover that Ken Watanabe, when he isn't acting in movies or Broadway shows, has apparently made a couple of records of glitchy electronica. A furious evening of research revealed what you've probably already guessed: there's another Ken Watanabe. This one has studied music production at UAL, Middlesex and Goldsmiths (according to his LinkedIn profile), and has cheekily managed to bagsy the domain kenwatanabe.com for himself. From there, you're currently able to stream or purchase his current track My Wetland Dream: I suggest you do that, if only to confuse him about why there's a sudden surge of interest in his music.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For August 2018: Funky Monkey Pub Crawl" »


Simian Substitute Site For July 2018: Ten More Years Of Simians

Really not worth clicking on the picture this month, trust meMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JUNE 2018

Books: Six months after I first mentioned it here, I've finally got around to reading The Gospel According To Blindboy, the book of short stories by Blindboy Boatclub of The Rubberbandits. When I first heard he was working on it, I assumed they would be something like Limmy's stories, tales of surreal goings-on that would quickly spiral into something dark and distressing. And sure, some of Blindboy's stories do that (although they escalate much faster than Limmy's ever did: Arse Children, in particular, will be a jaw-dropper for anyone with any Irish in them whatsoever). But just as many of them take a swerve into somewhere that's still surreal, but utterly delightful, which works just as well for me. Apparently there's an audiobook on the way too, which is great because Blindboy's a terrific reader - he's roadtested half a dozen of these stories already on his podcast. To give you a flavour, you can find those stories linked to here, bearing in mind all timings are approximate because of the way adverts get randomly inserted into podcasts after their initial release: Did You Read About Erskine Fogarty? (starts 13:23), The Bourneville Chorus (starts 33:00), Scaphism (starts 36:43), Shovel Duds (starts 55:58), Malaga (starts 3:32) and Hugged Up Studded Blood Puppet (starts 19:55).

Movies: Bollocks to Secret Cinema, obviously. Mainly because it strikes me that in all the site-specific shenanegans that they build into their events, watching the actual film itself is very low down their list of priorities. It's possible to show a film properly and have fun with its presentation, as demonstrated by London's Prince Charles Cinema with their recent screening of Bonnie And Clyde. The starting point was, of all things, a University College London research project conducted between 2013 and 2015, Cultural Memory And British Cinemagoing, in which a thousand or so people were questioned about their memories of going to the pictures in the 1960s. Magnificently, all the raw data from that research can be read here: but they've also used it to recreate a typical 1967 night out at the movies, with Bonnie And Clyde as its centrepiece and UCL drama students helping out in supporting roles. The attention to detail was high throughout - hippies outside the cinema handing out invites to future attractions: personal greetings from usherettes and staff in period costumes: salt 'n' shake crisps and bags of boiled sweets handed out for refreshments. And that's before we got to the on-screen supporting programme: a batch of adverts for the concession stand, a Pathe newsreel about current crazes, and a Yogi Bear cartoon that was just mediocre enough for you not to feel cheated when it turned out to be the starting point for some theatrical silliness. All this and the Queen to finish off. As a nostalgia event, it was a little outside my timeframe (I think my first film at the pictures was Disney's Cinderella about a year later): but it was a brilliantly entertaining way to spend an evening, and I hope they do more of them.

Telly: Whenever The Belated Birthday Girl and I are in the kitchen these days, our cooking sessions tend to start with a joint yell of "ALLEZ CUISINE!", which can only mean one thing: Iron Chef America is back. It's been four years since the show was last on American TV, and close on double that length of time in the UK: as yet there's no sign of this season making it onto Food Network UK, so you'll have to use the combination of a VPN routing through Montreal and the website for Food Network Canada, which hosts the five most recent episodes of this ongoing run. There have been a couple of changes: Alton Brown's chatty introduction has gone, the number of judges has been reduced from three to two, and the basic challenge of the show - cook a five course meal from scratch in an hour - now has the additional requirement that the first course must be ready to serve in twenty minutes. All these factors ramp up the pace and urgency of the show even beyond the ludicrousness of its previous seasons. Happily, the gladiatorial aspect of the chef-on-chef battle is as hilariously tongue-in-cheek as ever, largely down to Mark Dacascos' role as the Chairman - the one remaining hangover of a series backstory that nobody even remembers any more, intended to link the show to its Japanese predecessor. If nothing else, watch the first four minutes of this slightly dodgy copy of the season premiere, and make it your goal for the month to have as much fun in your job as Dacascos does in his.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For July 2018: Ten More Years Of Simians" »


Simian Substitute Site For June 2018: Monkeyshrine

MonkeyshrineMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MAY 2018

Internet: Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris are the perfect example of modern jobbing comedy writers. Starting off about two decades ago with their spoof local paper The Framley Examiner, followed by a few years of writing the text bits in Viz, they've now become ubiquitous: creating modern Ladybird books, becoming Charlie Brooker's go-to writing partners, and transferring the tropes of Scandi noir to a Radio 4 sitcom. If you follow Hazeley and Morris on Twitter, it becomes apparent that they're fascinated by the mechanics of comedy itself, dropping behind-the-scenes stories of script-doctoring on Paddington 2 or how Philomena Cunk's interviews work. All of this comes together in their new podcast Rule Of Three, in which the pair interview different people every week about one specific piece of work they find funny, and pull it apart to analyse why it is. As E.B. White once famously noted, there's a very real risk of the frog dying, but so far they've managed to get the balance between analysis and laughs just right. Their chat with Jon Holmes about Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album is a good place to start.

Music: Time for another quarterly round-up of things I've been listening to. Justifications follow (along with YouTube links for the non-Spotified):
1. This one's still in my head after seeing Miyavi live in April. The World Mix loses the original's RAWK bombast, but adds some verses from Afghan refugee rapper Sonita.
2. One of the songs on Half Man Half Biscuit's new album contains a perfect six-word gag - "Hadron Collider / Who's there / Knock knock" - just in case you thought Nigel Blackwell's muse had run dry after thirty-odd years. This particular song is mostly here for the refrain, but it's a great refrain.
3. Kojey Radical was one of my big discoveries of 2016: I was convinced he would be huge by now, but the rest of the world seems to be taking its time catching up with him. In the meantime, there's this lovely single collaboration with Mahalia and Swindle.
4. Daniel Kitson ran the breakfast show on Resonance FM for three weeks in May. It was precisely the mixture of whimsy, cheekiness and unexpected music that you'd imagine. I think we can all agree, though, that this track by Awkwafina really shouldn't be played at breakfast time anywhere.
5. Time for one of those things that Spotify thought I might like: instrumental outfit Echo Collective covering Radiohead's album Amnesiac. Lots of it just sounds like the originals with the rough edges sanded off, unfortunately. But somehow, the Lytteltonesque swagger of the final track translates rather beautifully.
6. People seem to be very uncertain about the new Arctic Monkeys stuff. I actually like the fact that it's an album that I'm still not sure about after a couple of listens.
7. The singles suggested that Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer was going to be a highlight of the year: the album itself goes way beyond those expectations. You've all seen the emotion picture by now, hopefully?
8. As mentioned in the recent discussion of our Tallinn trip, Noëp puts on a pretty good live show. The records don't have quite the same oomph, but this is still a nice song anyway.
9. Still waiting for Ylvis' Stories From Norway series to get some sort of international release. In the meantime, at least we have the songs. This one (from The Andøya Rocket Incident) had a personal relevance for me a couple of months ago, because... well, we'll get to that.
10. Fifteen years after its initial release, Max Richter's The Blue Notebooks has been repackaged with assorted remixes and variations. This mashup of its most familiar melody (you may remember it from the film Arrival) and a Dinah Washington classic has been knocking around for some time, but it's nice to have it now available alongside the original.


Theatre: If the title of their recent show at Wilton's Music Hall is anything to go by, the next Tiger Lillies album will be called Devil's Fairground. It could just as easily be called More Songs About Fucking And Smack, except then you wouldn't be able to distinguish it from all their previous albums. To be honest, it must be well over a decade since I last saw the Lillies, having slowly drifted away from them since their career peak as the musical force behind Shockheaded Peter. They still look much the same now, apart from having changed drummers - the facepaint means that singer Martin Jacques and multi-instrumentalist Adrian Stout appear ageless. The night we saw them at Wilton's the audience was a little bit odd, breaking into shocked giggles at any swearing and seeming to be totally unfamiliar with the one cover version of the night, Is That All There Is? But the mixture of melancholy, pitch-black humour and pretty tunes still works for the band, so there appears to be no reason why they should change now.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For June 2018: Monkeyshrine" »


Simian Substitute Site For May 2018: Monkeyglasses

MonkeyglassesMONTH END PROCESSING FOR APRIL 2018

Books: Flashback to two years ago, when I mentioned that I'd just attended a book reading by veteran funnyman John Dowie. The book he was reading from was still a work in progress, and the gig was primarily promoting the crowdfunding campaign for its publication. Well, good news: The Freewheeling John Dowie is now written, published and available for you to buy. Dowie has fallen in and out of love with performing over the years, but his love of cycling has stayed constant throughout. So this is a memoir which uses his long-haul bike journeys as a framework on which to hang stories from his life as a performer. It's a structure that allows him to ramble, make unexpected detours and double back on himself, so it takes you a while to discover that the book divides roughly into two halves. In the early part, most of Dowie's stories are based around his sense of adventure and his delight with the people he meets: but from the death of his father onwards he becomes much more cynical and embittered, and frankly less interesting. (Memo to all men over 50 in the media: just complaining about stuff isn't automatically funny.) Thankfully, the chronology is juggled so that the book ends with his happier mid-career switch into playwriting, which leads me to suspect that Dowie's got a healthy degree of self-awareness. After all, he admits that mining material from personal tragedy has become one of those stages that all modern stand-ups go through, and he does so with the book's characteristic combination of brutal honesty and flawless comic timing. "There are, I would imagine, further Stages of Stand-Up that the current generation of comedians has so far failed to reach. But if one day you're leafing through the programme for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and come across a show with a title such as My Colostomy Bag and Me, you'll know that one of them has got there. My money's on Stewart Lee."

Music: Flashback to one year ago, when The Belated Birthday Girl and I were in Japan, and saw a Takashi Miike film there as we usually do. (Now available from wherever you usually buy DVDs.) The end title theme by Japanese guitarist Miyavi intrigued me, and I ended up buying his greatest hits album off the back of that. There were enough decent tunes on that compilation to make me sufficiently curious to check him out when he announced a live show at the University of London Union. But at £35 a ticket for a student gig featuring an artist almost entirely unknown outside Japan, who else was going to be there? And the answer was, several hundred incredibly noisy and up-for-it fans who'd obviously been following Miyavi for a lot longer than I had. As a guitarist, he's got a couple of basic tricks he falls back on: riffs using a slap style more commonly associated with Seinfeld-era bass guitar, and solos which eschew any note lower than the twelfth fret. For a show that's largely pre-recorded (apart from a live drummer, two backing vocalists and Miyavi's own contributions), it's a surprisingly great live experience, and that's all down to Miyavi himself: working every inch of the tiny stage like he's playing a football stadium, and pulling off all the rock god poses with just the right amount of tongue in cheek. The mixture of industrial noise and catchy tunes works brilliantly on songs like Long Nights, and apologies if that hook stays in your head for the next five years once you've heard it.

Theatre: Flashback to four years ago, when I wrote briefly about Max Richter's 'recomposition' of The Four Seasons, which took Vivaldi's original and produced a series of minimalist variations on its main themes. Just to confuse matters even further, that recomposition recently underwent a reimagining of its own at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. The Four Seasons: A Reimagining strips Richter's orchestral piece down to an ensemble of six, and uses it as the jumping-off point for Gyre & Gimble's bunraku-inspired puppetry. You couldn't really say there was a story in there, more of a series of vignettes vaguely covering the whole circle of life (it's not giving too much away to say that in this version, there's a thirteenth movement to The Four Seasons that's very similar to the first). It's probably closer to ballet than anything else, leaving a lot of narrative interpretation to the viewer. The intimate candlelit space of the Wanamaker has certain disadvantages, mainly that every seat apart from the most expensive ones has a restricted view to some degree or other. But there's enough of the gloriously fluid puppetry visible to make it worth your while, and if all else fails you can always watch the musicians up in the balcony.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For May 2018: Monkeyglasses" »


Simian Substitute Site For April 2018: Average Monkey

Average MonkeyMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MARCH 2018

Internet: Last month in this slot I mentioned Stories From Norway, the terrific new musical comedy documentary series by Ylvis. Statistically, it's likely that the vast majority of you reading this don't live in Norway, so there's very little chance of you seeing the show. Or is there? Here's the thing: my wacky globe-trotting lifestyle (and there's plenty of that to talk about very soon, see below) means I spend a reasonable amount of time in hotels, trusting in the non-existent security associated with most hotel wi-fi systems. In these situations, a decent Virtual Private Network is necessary to keep your personal browsing habits away from the eyes of nasty people. My VPN of choice is Avast Secureline, mainly because I already use their anti-virus software and it seemed like the logical next step. VPNs anonymise your browsing session by routing it through a server in another location, and SecureLine has a wide range of servers arranged around the planet so that there's always one near you. In Oslo, for example. So, with my VPN set to route through Norway, I can go to TV Norge's Dplay site: and because it thinks I'm based in Oslo it'll let me stream full episodes of Stories From Norway, complete with adverts for local products I can't buy. If you end up doing the same, try the episode The Andøya Rocket Incident, which has just enough English to be easily comprehensible, and will make you feel surprisingly nostalgic for Boris Yeltsin.

Telly: A rather unusual thing happened on the morning of Sunday March 11th: there was live sumo on the telly. We've come a long way since May 2009, when I wrote Armchair Sumo For Lazy Bastards to explain the rules to a casual viewer. Back then, the best way to watch the sport was via the live stream broadcast on the Nihon Sumo Kyokai official site. Unfortunately, they realised a few years ago just how popular that live stream was, and started charging ridiculous amounts of money to watch it. Viewers from outside Japan had to fall back on less official methods, like Jason Harris' splendidly informative YouTube channel. More recently, though, the international channel NHK World has started getting in on the act. A year or two ago, they dipped their toe in the water with a daily package of Grand Sumo Highlights: this month, they took it a little further by broadcasting the last hour of the first day of the March basho live. Sure, that meant being in front of your TV at 8am on a Sunday morning, but that was part of the thrill of it. That first day of live coverage, plus the highlights shows for all fifteen days of the tournament, are currently archived on the NHK World sumo page, but be warned they'll only be there until April 9th. How succcessful was their live experiment? Hard to say: the best way to find out may be to watch NHK World at around 9am on Sunday May 13th, and see if they give the same treatment to the next tournament in Tokyo.

Travel: The traditional links to Telly Savalas and Bono can only mean one thing: early in March, The Belated Birthday Girl and I travelled up to Birmingham for the weekend. Specifically, it was the first weekend in March, when the Beast From The East was wreaking havoc across the country. The main focus of the visit was to see Everything Everything play live, and we were rather pleased with ourselves when we managed to make it into Birmingham despite the inevitable travel chaos. Which made it all the more offpissing when the band cancelled the show just seven hours before curtain up, literally while we were celebrating our arrival with a coffee at Yorks Cafe. So, you know, screw those guys. Still, a day spent in Birmingham isn't a total writeoff, as there's plenty of other stuff to do. At the time when we should have been seeing the gig, we grabbed a rather good curry at Pushkar, followed by Black Panther at the Everyman Mailbox. We spent Sunday morning as scheduled with both breakfast and art at Ikon Gallery: they had a couple of particularly good linked exhibitions of prison art by Edmund Clark and Thomas Bock, but you've missed them now. Finally, predictably, there was beer: the inevitable BrewDog visit, of course, but also the more trad real ale delights of the Post Office Vaults, and the trendier environs of Purecraft Bar & Kitchen.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For April 2018: Average Monkey" »


Simian Substitute Site For March 2018: A Surprisingly Deep History of Celebrities Being Attacked by Primates

A Surprisingly Deep History of Celebrities Being Attacked by PrimatesMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2018

Internet: Or is this Telly? Depends where you live, I guess. Stories From Norway is currently showing every Monday night at 9.30pm on TVNorge, and if you're not Norwegian that information is of precisely zero use to you. So why should you care? Because this is the new show from Ylvis, the guys who went viral with The Fox several years ago. Stories is a series of documentaries about recent bits of Norwegian history - the two episodes broadcast so far involve a tower construction project that went out of control, and a Justin Bieber tour that went similarly pear-shaped. Ylvis have gone to the effort of interviewing the main people involved in each case: and then they've turned the results into a musical, with several ridiculous songs based on the story in question. Interestingly, all the songs are in English: and on the day after an episode's transmission, they're all available worldwide on Spotify and iTunes as a digital EP. A couple of video clips have also made it onto YouTube, and based on that evidence these songs work better when they've got a bit of visual context behind them. But Ylvis' way with a catchy tune and an unexpected lyric is still strong - a list of Bieber's hotel rider requirements has 'Norwegian shitting snack' casually buried in the middle. I have no idea if the concept of the 'investigative musical' can be sustained for a full series, but I'm willing to find out.

Movies: Or is this Video? Duncan Jones' new film Mute has gone directly to Netflix, but it's also getting the briefest of theatrical releases courtesy of Curzon cinemas, and that's how I got to see it. If you're reading this on March 1st, you still might be able to catch it in a cinema today. I wouldn't rush to do that, though, because it's a right old mess. The one possible advantage of watching it on the big screen is to get a better look at its vision of Berlin in the future, but it quickly becomes apparent just how derivative it is visually - all the steam, neon and flying cars just make it Blade Runner with a U-Bahn system. Take the visuals away, and all that leaves you with a badly-plotted story about mute bartender Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) searching the streets for his missing girlfriend, which has so many gaps in its logic that you can only assume the film used to be an hour longer. There's a totally separate problem with the queasy attitude the film has to its female characters, who are all either sex workers or young girls being threatened by paedophiles. Jones was responsible for two of the smartest sci-fi films of recent years - Moon and Source Code - but Mute is so far away from them that it's hard to believe it's by the same guy.

Music: Well, this is definitely Music, anyway. This month's Audio Lair playlist is made up entirely of tunes released during the first two months of 2018. A few words of explanation, plus videos where available for the non-Spotified amongst you:

  1. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend maybe lost its way two-thirds of the way through the current season, but by the end it was back on track again. Regardless, the songs have remained tip-top throughout.
  2. For some reason, I only seem to like odd-numbered Go! Team albums, the direct opposite of the accepted rule about Star Trek movies. Luckily, this is from album number five.
  3. I'm currently two months into a three month trial of paid Spotify. First advantage: nobody else apart from Spotify told me that Lykke Li had released a comeback single.
  4. David Byrne's got a new album on the way, and the lead single is as reassuringly nervy as ever.
  5. Okay, nobody else release any more singles this year, because Janelle Monae has brought out the perfect one.
  6. Nice to hear PJ Harvey reinvestigating her folkier side, in this tune from the soundtrack of Dark River.
  7. Second advantage of paid Spotify: discovering GoGo Penguin on one of their You Might Like This Based On The Shit You Normally Listen To playlists. They were right.
  8. My favourite type of They Might Be Giants song is probably the sort that contrasts their usual upbeat tunes with astonishingly downbeat lyrics. (Apologies for the YouTube version.)
  9. Until Janelle came along, I was all for giving Young Fathers an early Best Single Of 2018 award. On this evidence, we're due a few amazing albums this year.
  10. A jolly singalong from First Aid Kit to wrap things up, even if it does almost become Fairytale Of New York by the end.


Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For March 2018: A Surprisingly Deep History of Celebrities Being Attacked by Primates" »


Simian Substitute Site For February 2018: Helping Hands Monkey Helpers

Helping Hands Monkey HelpersMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JANUARY 2018

Internet: There was an interesting piece in last Saturday's Guardian about comedy double acts that split up. It got me thinking about how these days, most of the double act comedy I encounter is via podcasts. It all started, I think, with Collings and Herrin - by coincidence, today marks the tenth anniversary of the release of its first episode. There was always a comic imbalance between the two performers: Andrew Collins was the more serious one who gave the show structure, while Richard Herring provided the jokes and attempted to drive the thing off the rails at every possible opportunity. It's a formula that's been replicated several times in the last decade, from Michael Legge and James Hingley's Precious Little Podcast (so heavily influenced by C&H as to be unofficially dubbed Bollings and Nerrin) to sort-of-football podcast Athletico Mince (where the dynamic is tweaked to balance relatively funny bloke Andy Dawson against comedy god Bob Mortimer). The latest funnyman/straightishman podcast to hit the feeds is Poddin' On The Ritz, a shameless bit of promotion for the new production of Young Frankenstein that's running in London. It features West End song 'n' dance guy Hadley Fraser (who plays Frankenstein in the show) and impro comedy genius Ross Noble (who plays Igor): the two of them swap anecdotes about their respective showbiz worlds, and pull apart the plots of other musicals to highly amusing effect. Noble leaves the show in the middle of February, but they appear to have been recording these podcasts a couple of months in advance, so there should be a few more still to come. This should be the point where I give you a quick review of Young Frankenstein itself, but Music comes before Theatre in alphabetical order so you'll have to wait a little.

Music: In possibly the most predictable news you can imagine, congratulations to Dave for being the winner of the 2017 Pick Of The Year CD competition, again. You'll remember the question went as follows: When David Bowie sacked the Spiders from Mars, he needed another backing band. So who did he turn to? Where did he go? The answer, as given in the lyrics of the song David Bowie Was A Funny Man, is as follows: he ran for The Shadows. And I'm going to use that as an excuse to show you my favourite film clip of The Shadows. Shot in 1966, it defines the future grammar of the music video more than anything the Beatles ever did. Watch out for a surprise appearance from Bob Monkhouse, who'll make you laugh just with his use of the word 'junior'.


Theatre: So, as I was saying, we went to see Young Frankenstein at the Garrick Theatre last month. The background to the show is interesting: as you probably remember, Mel Brooks had a huge theatrical success on both sides of the Atlantic earlier last decade with the musical adaptation of his film The Producers. Assuming he could pull off the same trick twice, he produced a musical version of Young Frankenstein on Broadway in 2007, and it flopped badly. A decade later, he's rewritten the show, cutting some songs and adding some new ones: the adjustments seem to have worked, and it's doing rather nicely on the West End. To be honest, there are a lot of similarities with The Producers, with both shows pivoting on a show-stopping number taken straight from the film. In the case of The Producers, it's Springtime For Hitler, co-written with Brooks' regular score composer John Morris (who died this week): here, it's Puttin' On The Ritz, which of course Brooks nicked from Irving Berlin. By comparison, his own songs are fairly functional things that don't really stand out by themselves (although having Together Again as the podcast theme has helped that one stick in the memory). But it's the show overall that counts, and the mix of corny gags, old-fashioned musical craft and Broadway pizazz comes together rather delightfully.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For February 2018: Helping Hands Monkey Helpers" »