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?

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Simian Substitute Site for March 2022: Red Monkey Ramen Shop

Red Monkey Ramen ShopMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2022

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

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

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

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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" »


Simian Substitute Site for October 2021: Hit-Monkey

Hit-MonkeyMONTH END PROCESSING FOR SEPTEMBER 2021

Art: If you're like me, and someone told you that there was a Noel Coward exhibition in town, you'd probably assume that it would just be a series of rooms full of fancy dressing gowns. And I suspect the curators of Noel Coward: Art And Style are trolling us a little bit by making sure that the first thing you see when you walk into the gallery is an actual dressing gown. Thankfully, there's a lot more to the exhibition than that. Coward had a huge collection of collaborators to ensure that his productions had a visual wit that matched his verbal and musical one, and we get to see plenty of examples of their work, from Cecil Beaton and Norman Hartwell to a woman who insisted on only being addressed as Gluck. (I'd never appreciated before today that every photo you see of a 1920s theatre production is in black and white, which makes the colour design sketches on display rather special.) The exhibition covers the whole of his life, from his suburban upbringing to his years of tax exile in Jamaica (which may have done us out of some revenue, but at least inspired some rather charming paintings). It's a delightful way to spend an afternoon - you can catch it at the Guildhall Art Gallery in London until Christmas.

Books: After giving Once Upon A Time In Hollywood much more attention than it deserved - and to be fair, Quentin Tarantino deserves some sort of credit for his decision to novelise a movie by removing the plot from it - we're having a much nicer time in the company of Bob Mortimer, in the second audiobook of his we've listened to this year. And Away... is his autobiography, although he admits up front that at least part of it is lies (to satisfy the people who've enjoyed his tall stories on Would I Lie To You?). It's nice to hear Bob reading his own words, although he's been miked up in some peculiar way that seems to emphasise his breathing when you least expect it. As we've listened to a few autobiographical audiobooks this year, maybe I'm more sensitive to the cliches than usual, but it seems to me that Bob's story has been crudely beaten into shape by an editor who's decided that as his triple bypass operation is the key moment of his life, the early part of the book should be largely taken up with that, intercut with the flashbacks to his early life that we're really here for. But the stories, when they come, are as hilarious and surreal as you'd hope, with little bursts of Mortimerian verbal genius every minute or two.  

Music: it's about time for another one of these, I reckon (with the usual YouTube links for the Spotify haters). 

  1. Everyone keeps talking about the film Annette as being the Sparks musical: to be honest, it's more of a Sparks opera, given how much of the music is repetitive recitative, and how little of it is properly structured songs. With the notable exception of this opener, of course. (To be honest, the biggest problem with Annette is that it's directed by Leos Carax, meaning it's a collection of interesting images that fail to gel into a coherent whole.)
  2. Not sure what we're to make of the video for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's latest single. Is the giant bow she's trying to outrun symbolic of her kawaii past, and suggesting that after a decade of making cutesy pop she's keen to move into something more grown-up? There's a new album coming in October, so I guess we'll find out then.
  3. When the film Jazz On A Summer's Day - it's lovely, check it out on Curzon Home Cinema - got its one-day theatrical release over the August Bank Holiday, it was accompanied by a short film featuring present-day British jazzers looking back at their 1958 American counterparts. Emma-Jean Thackray was one of them, and this ultimately led me to her rather fine album, along with this particular blend of tricksy time signature and goofy backing vocals.
  4. Presenting the most Jim Bob-esque title for a Jim Bob song released this century: Song For The Unsung (You're So Modest You'll Never Think This Song Is About You).
  5. Somehow, it's been 25 years since JJ Jeczalik left Art Of Noise for his own cheekily-named project Art Of Silence, and their only album has just been re-released off the back of that anniversary (along with a second collection of sweepings off the studio floor). Anyone familiar with the division of labour in AoN won't be surprised to hear that this record's light on tunes and heavy on grooves, but this particular groove kicks off like a bastard halfway through.
  6. Hip-hop with overly bombastic orchestral accompaniment? Yes please, Little Simz.
  7. I'm always up for a bit of Max Richter: on his latest album, he's collaborating with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, conducted by Kristjan Järvi. Which presumably explains a Spotify recommendation I had hurled at me a couple of months after Richter's album was released (see 10 below).
  8. I mentioned last time that bands seem to be doing a lot of cover versions at the moment, and bang on cue The Specials have released a covers album of their own, the Ronseally titled Protest Songs 1924-2012. I like how for this song, a simple lyric change ('give or take a night or two') takes one of Laughing Len's dodgier insults and makes it more gender-inclusive in its offensiveness.
  9. I guess tribute albums count as cover versions too, and The Wanderer: A Tribute To Jackie Leven has a fine all-star cast. Nevertheless, the main thing it did for me was send me back to the originals: in particular, a 2004 live set (released posthumously in 2013) which confirms that nobody could sing these songs the way that Leven did.
  10. It's the Baltic Sea Philharmonic again, this time playing one of conductor Kristjan Järvi's own compositions (with the assistance of Mari Meentalo on Estonian bagpipes, which are genuinely a thing). This feels like it should be the soundtrack to something enormous, and probably at some point in the future it will be.


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Simian Substitute Site for September 2021: Monkey 47

Monkey 47MONTH END PROCESSING FOR AUGUST 2021

Books: I'm not gonna lie to you, this month's audiobook has been hard work, and I suspected it was going to be like that all along. But be honest: when Quentin Tarantino announces that he's publishing a tie-in novelisation of this film from two years ago, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, don't you feel just a little twinge of curiosity about whether he can write prose or not? Let me answer that one for you quickly: nah. Most of the time, when he's putting sentences in between lines of dialogue, they struggle to meet the level of Stewart Lee's fragment of parody Dan Brown, "the famous man looked at the red cup". To pump up what was basically a mood piece into several hundred pages, he's crammed insane amounts of detail that nobody was asking for: ludicrously, the tatty Western pilot that Rick Dalton's shooting appears to have more unspoken backstory to it than most feature films. It's not a complete writeoff, though: when he's dealing with a mostly silent action setpiece like the initiation rite to join the Manson family, he manages to sustain tension admirably. And he's having fun playing with the expectations of those of us who've already seen the film. But even the enjoyably arch narration of Jennifer Jason Leigh can't stop chunks of Hollywood being dull. We've currently put our nighttime listening on hiatus because of Edinburgh and the Paralympics - hopefully we can pick it up again when the latter is over.

Music: In the middle of all the other cultural stuff we did this month in Edinburgh - did you hear we've been to Edinburgh, by the way? - we caught a Prom featuring African cellist Abel Selaocoe. (In case you need help pronouncing the name, I've been thinking of it in terms of property speculation with London Underground stations. "Buy Tooting Bec! Sell Archway!") For the most part, the concert's a collaboration between Selaocoe and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and the programme lives up to its billing of 'Africa meets Europe', with some of the cellist's own compositions mixed in with others. But the whole thing takes flight towards the end with the addition of a trio of rockin' Moroccans, led by Simo Lagnawi on the three string lute. What makes the climax so thrilling - especially if you can see it, which you can't, sorry - is that rather than the music being led by the orchestra, it's being led by the Africans at the front of the stage. Conductor Clark Rundell is literally watching them for visual cues, and then bringing the orchestra in and demanding they keep up. Even if you can't see all that, you should be able to feel it, and at the time of writing it should be online for another month and a bit.

Travel: Here's an update you may or may not have been waiting for. We spent Christmas 2006 in Brighton, and stayed in a relatively new and gloriously fancy joint called Hotel Una. We had a very, very nice time there, and noted that "with their plans for the future - combining some of those 'OK' rooms into larger suites, opening the restaurant up for evening meals - it can only get better." And we kept an eye out to see if that restaurant ever opened. But it didn't. So fourteen and a half years later, we said fuckit and paid a return visit to Una anyway. The receptionist on the day wasn't around back in 2006, but was rather touched by the story of our first stay there. The promise to rejig the rooms was fulfilled, with our duplex from last time - the Quaile - now upgraded to a full blown presidential suite, with a home cinema room added. This time round we went for one of the smaller rooms, the Vedea, and it suited us just fine. They may not have a restaurant still, but that's not a problem, as our major restaurant discovery from that Christmas trip - the magnificent Due South - has come back to its original beachside location after a decade of not being there. On your way back to the hotel, you should pop into new craft beer joint The Hole In The Wall, but be sure to leave room for a cheeky cocktail at the hotel bar after that. The line "we danced like Englishmen and drank like Serbs" nearly came true again that night.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for September 2021: Monkey 47" »


Simian Substitute Site for August 2021: Giant Golden Monkey

Giant Golden MonkeyMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JULY 2021

Art: To quote myself from two months ago: "So it looks like for the foreseeable future, these monthly roundups will regularly start off with whichever audiobook has been soundtracking our bedtime hot drinks. (Until we manage to get out and see some Art, I suppose.)" And here we are: some art, though you'll have to go to Manchester to see it (it's at the Science and Industry Museum until January 3rd 2022). Use Hearing Protection tells the story of the early years of Factory Records, from 1978 to 1982. It begins with an overview of the people and events that led up to the formation of the label, where the key tenets of its philosophy quickly become apparent. Produce the best-looking products possible: use local talent and industry at all stages of production: and never worry too much about the financial side of things. (That last one would come back to haunt them, of course.) The main part of the exhibition showcases the first fifty items in the Factory catalogue along with the stories behind them: the label gave numbers not just to records, but to posters, events, videos, company notepaper and a menstrual egg timer by the artist Linder. To justify this being in a science museum, there are a couple of interactive displays where you can play with a synthesizer and a mixing desk (bring your own headphones, and wipe all surfaces clean afterwards). It all finishes off with a lovely 40 minute loop of videos of Factory acts in performance, where the highlight for me was some vintage Durutti Column footage. If you're a fan of the music, you'll have a terrific time: even if you're not, it's a fascinating portrait of Manchester life in the late seventies.

Books: To quote myself from one month ago: "We started one book, and after a couple of days The BBG announced that she couldn't quite cope with listening to that particular author night after night. So, as a compromise, we're alternating evenings of that book (which I'll tell you about next month) with evenings of another, unrelated book." So you've probably been wondering for the past month, which audiobook did The BBG find so alarming that we had to alternate chapters of it with chapters of Bill Bryson? The answer is I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan, the 2011 autobiography of Alan Partridge (written, it says here, "with" Rob and Neil Gibbons, Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci). My listening companion assumed that spending too much time cringeing before bed would be bad for her sleep: myself, I think it's a much more complicated book than that. For a start, there's the sheer technical achievement of taking all the various strands of Partridge lore from On The Hour, The Day Today, Knowing Me Knowing You, I'm Alan Partridge and Mid-Morning Matters and knotting them into a single coherent life story. Then there's the various levels of reality to negotiate with: Partridge is the mother of all unreliable narrators, presenting everything entirely from his point of view, in some cases directly contradicting the 'facts' that we've already seen in the TV shows. But for me, it's also that Partridge has become less of a cringey character over the last dozen or so years, which I suspect is a direct consequence of the Gibbons brothers showrunning his life: they're not afraid to show some sympathy for him, and even let him occasionally win a confrontation in somewhere other than his own head. Finally, we have to acknowledge that this is our first audiobook that's an actual performance, and Coogan - who, by this time, had inhabited the character for close on two decades - gives it everything. Back of the net!

Movies: To quote myself from around April 1974: "Did you see that band on Top Of The Pops last night? That man with the high voice and the other one that looked like Hitler? No, I couldn't work out that bit of the maths homework, either." It's possible that the band Sparks were tied to a specific generation: if you were capable of listening to music in 1974 and heard those early singles, you were hooked. If Edgar Wright's film The Sparks Brothers is to be believed, if you weren't there in the seventies or you're not a musician now, you'll have no idea who Ron and Russell Mael are: his documentary is his attempt to convert the rest of the world. In the course of their half century in the biz, Sparks have had many ups and downs, and Wright's approach is to allocate screen time to every period equally, whether they're filling concert halls across the UK or waiting several years for a film project to come out of development hell. It helps the Mael brothers are fabulously entertaining as interviewees, but the several million other people Wright interviews all have interesting things to say as well. The film's in cinemas now: it may be a little too niche to be in there for long, so hurry.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for August 2021: Giant Golden Monkey" »