Simian Substitute Site For June 2018: Monkeyshrine


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.

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Simian Substitute Site For May 2018: Monkeyglasses


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


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.

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Simian Substitute Site For January 2018: Monkey 2018 Wall Calendar


Comedy: Most years, we have a fairly standard routine for New Year's Eve. We head towards whichever venue Ivor Dembina has managed to book for his roving Hampstead Comedy Club, and spend a relatively cheap evening being entertained by a series of stand-up comedians. This year, however, Ivor wasn't able to get a venue in time. So we went for our plan B: head towards whichever venue Martin Besserman has managed to book for his roving Monkey Business Comedy Club, and spend a slightly more expensive evening being entertained by a series of stand-up comedians. We last did this on New Year's Eve 2014, where a surprise post-midnight appearance by Lee Nelson topped off the celebrations nicely. No big shocks like that at this year's show, though we were treated to some sort of New Year's miracle: the show somehow managed to recover from an opening act (no names mentioned) who was so toxically bad that he semi-permanently destroyed any chance of anyone in the room finding anything funny again. I found myself tweeting SOS messages to other comedy clubs at the interval, although in retrospect that was unfair: by that point, Elliot Steel had done a terrific job in turning the gig around with his tales of Sarf Landan laddishness. The second half of the show perked up enormously, with a top set from opera-singing comic Caroline Kennedy, and Matt Price's lovely shaggy dog story about performing comedy at Broadmoor. Everything was rounded off with a splendidly cheesy disco, possibly in honour of what was happening elsewhere in London: this was the point where I discovered that when we dance to YMCA, The Belated Birthday Girl and I do the 'C' in opposite directions (I go to my left, she goes to her right). It doesn't seem to have effected our relationship, you'll be pleased to hear.

Food and Drink: It can be awkward spending time with family over the festive season, and I'm sorry if that was the case for you. For my part, our trip to Manchester the weekend before Christmas was very enjoyable, and we made one rather terrific discovery while we were up there. My sister needed us out of the way for a couple of hours while she finished sorting out the dinner, and put my cousin in charge of keeping us occupied. She thought about our growing reputation as Craft Beer Wankers, and decided to take us to Browton's Bottle Shop in Ashton-Under-Lyne. I knew we were in the right place when we walked in and the Pogues' version of The Parting Glass was playing on the stereo: The Belated Birthday Girl came to that conclusion even earlier, when she saw a cluster of bearded hipsters vaping outside the door and recognised them as Her People. Interestingly, they weren't entirely representative of the people inside, as there was a terrific mix of beer lovers of all ages there. As the name implies, Browton's sells bottles and cans of craft and imported beers, but most people seem to be drinking them on the premises rather than taking them away, and the brilliantly cosy atmosphere of the place makes it very easy to do that. If you're ever in that part of the world, definitely seek them out.

Internet: As I haven't got around to saying it yet, Happy New Year to you all. Consider this a present to you - find 15 spare minutes in your day, sit down somewhere quiet and listen to a short story called Malaga, written and read by Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubberbandits. It's actually a special Christmas episode of The Blindboy Podcast, which has been coming out every Wednesday for the past couple of months now. It started life as a promotional tool for the man's short story book, The Gospel According To Blindboy, but over the weeks has evolved into something rather unique: a surreal series of rambles taking in art and music history (inevitably leading to some sort of connection with his home town of Limerick), philosophical musings, and discussions around mental health issues (Blindboy has become Ireland's unofficial Minister for Mental Health over the last couple of years), all performed over a quiet loop of ambient piano chords. And, as is the case here, we also get the odd sample of his written work. Mindful of the season, he says at the start that Malaga is one of his more family-friendly stories: be advised, though, that Blindboy's definition of 'family-friendly' may be very different from yours, particularly if you stop listening after the first couple of minutes. Stick with it, trust me.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For January 2018: Monkey 2018 Wall Calendar" »

Simian Substitute Site For December 2017: Jane


Books: “Well the first thing I wanna say is, mandate my ass.” In 1982 the NME gave away a cassette called Jive Wire, which among other things introduced me to Gil Scott-Heron via his ferocious anti-Reagan song B-Movie. Since then, I've seen him live in 1988, cheered his comeback in 2010, and mourned his passing in 2011. Cut to a month or two ago, when I was leaving the recent Tate exhibition Soul Of A Nation and discovered that the accompanying shop was selling Scott-Heron's autobiography, a book which I didn't even know existed up until that point. It turns out that The Last Holiday was assembled after Scott-Heron's death from about twenty years worth of attempts at a memoir, which explains its rather lumpy structure. It's a roughly chronological canter through his life, with special attention paid to the period in the early 80s when he was touring with Stevie Wonder (at the time when Wonder was heading up the campaign to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday). After that, the narrative thrust drops off, and we don't get to hear much about the troubles of his later years: it's hard to tell if this is a conscious omission by Scott-Heron, or just material he never got around to writing. Either way, what we have is beautifully written, and very much in the voice we've come to know and love from his recorded work. And afterwards, you'll want to drag out the records all over again.

Music: "We've managed to be a steampunk band for nearly ten years now without writing a song about Jack The Ripper. This is a song about Jack The Ripper." If there was an award for the best value gigs in London last month, then The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing would have to win hands down: they did three shows in tiny venues (Dublin Castle, Hope & Anchor, and the Sebright Arms), and only charged a fiver to get in. The catch? We were warned upfront that the bulk of the gig would involve them playing several songs they'd never performed in public before, as a warmup for the recording of their next album. And it struck me, watching this, that I used to experience this sort of thing all the time - certainly when I was at the peak of my Pogues fandom in the mid eighties, you'd come to expect that songs would appear in their live set at least a year before they made it onto record. Now I'm an old man, and the gigs I go to these days are largely by artists too big to risk trying out unfamiliar material. So, this made a nice change. We were at the second gig in the run (at Sebright Arms), and the ten or so new songs they played sounded just fine to me: their ode to Marie Curie is particularly poignant given Andy Heintz' recent cancer scare. The album should be out next March, apparently, so look out for that.

Telly: At some point in the next month, there should be a burst of activity on MostlyFilm, which has been a bit quiet for a few months now. Among other things, we'll probably address that quietness. For my part, you should expect a couple of contributions from me, including a piece celebrating the international programming that you find on Netflix nowadays: shows that they've made for a specific foreign market, and then made available worldwide in case anyone else is interested. Unlike the genre I'll be writing about in the piece, it's easy to see why Japanese shows based on manga have been deemed worthy of international exposure. Nevertheless, Blazing Transfer Students is a deranged piece of work and no mistake. A vehicle for the boy band Johnny's West, it features the seven lads as students transferred to the same mysterious school: on their first day, they're suddenly thrown into a wrestling ring and told to fight each other, even though they don't want to. By the end of the pilot episode (the only one I've watched so far), we're a little closer to understanding what's going on, but not much. Filmed in a surrealist comic-book style (complete with sound effects appearing as on-screen text), it starts out daft and gets dafter as it goes, with the trailer suggesting that a whole raft of genre spoofs are still to follow. It's possible that it may eventually get unwatchably ridiculous, but the sheer energy of the first episode is enough to persuade me to keep watching. For now, anyway.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For December 2017: Jane" »

Simian Substitute Site For November 2017: Funky Monkey


Comedy: Think back to last August, and the various people and shows we saw at the Edinburgh Festival. One of the former was comedian Ben van der Velde, and I mentioned in passing that we knew him from his regular hosting of London's best value stand-up comedy night at The Good Ship pub in Kilburn. Well, I've got some bad news for you: as of this week the Good Ship has permanently closed down, another victim of Bent council's ultra-restrictive licensing policies, which leave us in the ridiculous situation of there being no dedicated venues for live music remaining on Kilburn High Road. There's some good news, although it probably comes too late for you - their final comedy night was spectacular, with punters virtually stacked to the rafters, and terrific turns from the likes of Jonny and the Baptists, Jay Foreman and Angela Barnes. And there's even better news even if you missed that - the comedy club has relocated a bit further along the Overground line to the Colonel Fawcett in Camden, and recommences operations on Monday November 6th. Ticket prices have been hiked from the Kilburnesque £4 to the more Camdenian level of £5, but hopefully that won't put you off.

Food and Drink: Now think back to last September, when I was writing about our springtime visit to Hong Kong. (The second part of that holiday was in Japan, and an article about that should finally appear here some time this month. Really!) Anyway, you may remember that the local craft brewing scene was one of the topics of conversation in that piece, with a subtext of regret that the beers we drank there were unlikely to be obtainable outside of China. Well, you'll be delighted to learn that I was wrong about that. Bun House is a new restaurant that's just opened on Greek Street in London's Soho, and as the name implies it specialises in stuffed Chinese buns, both savoury and sweet. But they also have a variety of drinks accompanying those buns, whether it's traditional Chinese tea, fancy cocktails in their downstairs bar, or - oh yes - a selection of specially imported Hong Kong craft beers, with the current list including our recent discoveries from Young Master and Moonzen. If you're in the area, give them a look, even if you have to queue for a bit to get in.

Movies: I've got too much energy to switch off my mind, but not enough to get myself organised... You might be wondering what the writer of those lines, Matt Johnson of The The, has been up to for the last 15 years. If the documentary The Inertia Variations is anything to go by, he's mainly been using the time to polish up even more aphoristic excuses for doing bugger all. Crippled by a simultaneous fear of failure and fear of success, he's found inactivity to be the simplest solution to both of those problems. Fortunately, the film shows you how to drag yourself out of this sort of mid-life crisis: just get your ex-girlfriend (Johanna St Michaels) to direct a documentary about you, and let her pick holes in your life choices until you're goaded into activity. Johnson's activity of choice was to run Radio Cineola, a pop-up radio station, for twelve hours on the day of the 2015 UK General Election, where he talked about politics to a variety of guests and invited musicians to perform live covers of his old songs. But then St Michaels makes an awkward suggestion: wouldn't this be the ideal opportunity for him to write and perform a new song, for the first time in over a decade? As you'd expect from his songs, Johnson doesn't believe in filtering himself, and this film is a splendid warts-and-all portrait of a man struggling to come to terms with his past and working out if he has a future. His old school lefty tendencies are still hanging on in there thirty years after his heyday, although his two-year-old statements about how the only news media we can trust are Russian haven't aged well. The film's just completed a short theatrical run, and will presumably make its way onto home video or Friday night BBC Four eventually. In the meantime, you can console yourself with The Interia Variations' deconstructed trilogy of soundtrack albums: The End Of The Day (featuring the songs), The Inertia Variations (Johnson's narration from the film), and Midnight To Midnight (extracts from the radio broadcast).

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For November 2017: Funky Monkey" »

Simian Substitute Site For October 2017: Lots Of Kids, A Monkey And A Castle


Art: Last Sunday, while America was getting itself into some sort of ridiculous frenzy about black football players protesting police violence, a bunch of us were at Tate Modern visiting an exhibition entitled Soul Of A Nation: Art In The Age Of Black Power, and wondering how much things have changed in the last 50 years. The exhibition covers a huge emotional range, starting with the bold propaganda designs of the original Black Panthers, and ending with a joyous public event by the New York gallery Just Above Midtown. It even manages to take in some abstract pieces, which were initially criticised for not having much to do with the ongoing struggle, but could be interpreted as the visual equivalent of what was happening in jazz music at the time. You'll easily find something here that'll surprise you: for me, it was the extraordinary photographs of Roy DeCarava, who worked with a palette of black and fractionally lighter black. The exhibition runs until October 22nd: if you can't make it there, you can console yourself with the curators' playlist of relevant music from the period.

Music: When The Belated Birthday Girl and I go to a new place, we always like to do our research first. So part of the preparation for our 2015 trip to Italy involved me making her watch Pink Floyd Live At Pompeii. It's not an entirely ridiculous idea: along with the footage of the band playing in the empty amphitheatre, you got to see them exploring the ruins, which gave you a feel for the scale and grandeur of the place. We saw Pompeii for ourselves back in June 2015: one year later, the Floyd's guitarist David Gilmour returned there himself for a pair of solo gigs in the same amphitheatre, this time in front of an audience. Watching the film of those gigs, inevitably titled David Gilmour Live At Pompeii, the first thing you notice is that every bugger in the audience is trying to film the show on their phones, despite the obvious presence of a professional crew with a battery of 4K cameras. The film is less interested in showing you the areas surrounding the arena than its 45-year-old predecessor: as Gilmour himself says, Floyd At Pompeii was really an art movie, whereas Gilmour At Pompeii is a more straightforward record of a live event. Still, it's a very entertaining concert flick: seeing so many Gilmour guitar solos back to back does make you realise how they all have the same trajectory (slowly up the fretboard, and then quickly down again at the end), but the songs themselves all work just fine individually. And, predictably, a solo gig from a Pink Floyd member has a spectacularly OTT lightshow: most notably in Run Like Hell, where the strobes get so intense that the entire band has to wear sunglasses. (If the comments on that video are to be believed, Gilmour's justification for this is glorious: "we thought yeah, let's get everyone to do it, and it'll be just like Wallace & Gromit when the rocket takes off to go to the moon, and all the mice put their sunglasses on.") The concert film had a blink-and-you'll-miss-it run in cinemas a couple of weeks ago, and has now been released on DVD, Blu-ray, CD, audio download, video download, and probably even wax cylinders if you ask them nicely.

Theatre: The legendary British cinematographer Jack Cardiff died in 2009. The BBG and I saw him in person in, I think, 2003, giving a Q&A session after a screening of A Matter Of Life And Death. He would have been 89 by then, and it was sadly starting to show: he'd never quite answer any question he was asked, and would frequently go off on odd tangents, albeit entertaining ones. When the Hampstead Theatre announced that Terry Johnson would be writing and directing a new play called Prism about the last years of Jack Cardiff's life, and its star Robert Lindsay kept drawing comparisons to King Lear in interviews, my brain steadfastly refused to make any sort of connection with that 2003 appearance. So when I finally got to see the play, it took me completely by surprise and kind of broke me a little bit. Yes, it's a play full of references and in-jokes for the movie buffs in the audience (you'll spot them quite early on, chuckling away at an extended riff about aspect ratios). But it's also a portrayal of a master craftsman in the final years of his life, very slowly discovering that his faculties are leaving him one by one. Lindsay's performance is astonishing, never going for cheap sentiment but quietly weaving devastating moments of clarity into his mixture of confusion and anger. Aided by a hard-working supporting cast (don't read the programme beforehand if you want to be surprised by just how hard-working they are), it's another one of those plays like last month's The Ferryman with every possible emotion crammed into its running time. Prism is only on at the Hampstead until October 14th, and is sold out for its entire run, but I would be very surprised if it doesn't have a life elsewhere beyond that.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For October 2017: Lots Of Kids, A Monkey And A Castle" »

Simian Substitute Site For September 2017: Monkey Trousers Theatre


Food And Drink: Another August, another Great British Beer Festival, this year celebrating 40 years of operation. Unlike Edinburgh, though, I couldn't tell you exactly how many of them I've been to. If I'm honest about it, not much has changed since last year: craft beer continues to slowly make its presence felt (including a London Beer City bar featuring some of the capital's premier hipster hopheads like Five Points and Redemption), but mostly it's the usual collection of cask ales surrounded by silly hat shops and beer nibble vendors. For the record, I drank Loch Lomond's Lost In Mosaic‎ (5.0%), Gyle 59's Caribbean Cocktail (4.5%), XT's Seventeen (4.5%), Blue Monkey's 99 Red Baboons (4.2%), Redemption's Big Chief (5.5%), Marble Brewery's Imperial Red (9.0%) and Runaway's Smoked Porter (6.0%): meanwhile, The BBG had Great Western's Hopaholic‎ (4.5%), Shiny's Pail Motueka Nelson (4.0%), XT's Four (3.8%), Salopian's Automaton (7.0%), Windsor & Eton's Conqueror Black IPA (5.0%), Smuttynose Brewing Company's Old Brown Dog (6.5%) and Stubborn Mule's Original Chocolate Stout (5.8%). Nothing massively spectacular in that lot - at least, not that I can remember a month after the event - but they were all pretty drinkable. So we did.

Music: The promotional tweet for the most recent music download I bought reads as follows: "The album no one's been waiting for has finally arrived!" They may have a point there - after all, the film Monty Python And The Holy Grail was released in 1975, and has had a perfectly good accompanying soundtrack album for all that time. It's a dialogue-heavy album, though: for various reasons, the music used throughout the movie was all sourced from the De Wolfe library, rather than being specially written. Nevertheless, 42 years later we now have De Wolfe Music presents: Music from Monty Python & The Holy Grail, in which all those library pieces are assembled into a single download. It's a ridiculous thing to do, and yet it works: people of a certain age who've watched the film far too many times will recognise these music cues instantly, and start giggling even though they're totally divorced from the visuals and words that accompanied them. It's possible that the parodic nature of the film means that generic, off-the-shelf music is the only thing they could have used. But it's surprising how well it works in context - for example, the climactic journey to Castle Aaaargh (eds please check spelling) wouldn't be as effective without the epic sweep of Stanley Black's The Promised Land behind it. No physical release is planned, I believe, so you'll have to buy the MP3s using the link at the bottom of the page, or find a stream somewhere. Oh, here's one.

Theatre: Like many people, I first came across playwright Jez Butterworth because of his play Mojo: or more accurately, from the movie he made from it. Twenty years after that, he's one of the biggest box office draws in London theatre - tickets for his latest play The Ferryman are ridiculously hard to come by, much as they were for his previous hit Jerusalem. It's set in Northern Ireland in the early 80s, and tells the story of farmer Quinn Carney (played by Paddy Considine in what I believe is his stage debut), living out a peaceful existence with his ridiculously large extended family. All that changes when Quinn's brother is found dead, the victim of an IRA execution. It's a leisurely three hours long without the intervals, but director Sam Mendes paces it beautifully, the only false step being the suddenness of the climax - you can see why Butterworth wants to accelerate the pace, but it's a little too accelerated for comfort. Considine is as great as usual, but the twenty-odd other people he shares the stage with all get to shine as well. If you want to experience something approaching every known human emotion in a single evening, then the play's run has just been extended to early 2018.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site For September 2017: Monkey Trousers Theatre" »