Arthur Jeffes, sin Simona Jeffesa, osnivača ovog predivnog projekta iz '70-ih, ponovo je pokrenuo Pingvine - nije riječ samo o tribute bendu, nego sviraju i nove stvari. No izvorni Penguin Café Orchestra jedan od najotkačenijih, najdivnijih i najnježnijih bendova ikada. Hibridi "klasičnih" i "world" zvukova umotani u šareno perje harmonija, s aranžmanima koje mogu progutati i najzagriženiji alergičari. Duhovito, veselo i nadrealno. World music nekog paralelnog, eksperimentalnog svijeta, ne našega.
Sve je sastavljeno isključivo od zvukova za koje ti se čini da si ih već čuo.
Still life at the Penguin Cafe (muzika za balet; koreograf David Bintley):
The Penguin Cafe Orchestra (PCO) was founded by British composer Simon Jeffes (born February 19, 1949; died December 10, 1997). Born in Sussex, England, and raised in Canada and around Europe, Jeffes began playing the guitar at the age of 13 while attending boarding school in England and then studied classical guitar, piano, and music theory at Chiswick Polytechnic, but dropped out before graduating. He worked with Gilbert Biberian's Omega Players for a time and accompanied producer Rupert Hine on Hine's solo albums Pick Up a Bone (1970) and Unfinished Picture (1971). While living in Japan in 1972, he developed an interest in ethnic music, particularly African styles, and decided to try to merge those styles with more traditional Western sounds. He launched the PCO as an outlet for his compositions with this eclectic hybrid approach. He always said that the "Penguin Cafe" concept was one that came to him in a dream while he was suffering from food poisoning in the south of France in the summer of 1972, after which he wrote a poem that began, "I am the proprietor of the Penguin Cafe, I will tell you things at random." He described the music of the group as "modern semi-acoustic chamber music."
PCO was organized as a fluctuating unit in which Jeffes and cellist Helen Liebmann were the only permanent members. At first, when it began playing in London, England, in 1973, it was called the Penguin Cafe Quartet. The members of the group, not yet performing publicly, were Jeffes (on electric guitar), Liebmann, violinist Gavyn Wright, and Steve Nye on electric piano. In 1974, they made their first recordings, "Penguin Cafe Single," "The Sound of Someone You Love Who's Going Away," and "It Doesn't Matter." In 1975, Nye, who knew producer Brian Eno, introduced Jeffes to him, and Eno invited the group to record for his Obscure Records, an imprint of Editions E.G.. They did, adding university lecturer Neil Rennie (ukulele) and Emily Young (vocals), a painter who gave the group a visual style with her cover painting for the album, Music from the Penguin Cafe (1976). The first concert by the ensemble was an opening slot for Kraftwerk at the Roundhouse in London in 1977, and the group expanded further to include Geoffrey Richardson (viola), Peter Veitch (accordion), Giles Leaman (woodwinds), Braco (drums), and Julio Segovia (cymbals). Now boasting far more than four members, the band was too big to be called a quartet, and it was christened the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.
Jeffes converted a garage in North Kensington into a recording studio and in 1980 began working on the PCO's second album, released as Penguin Cafe Orchestra in 1981. Afterwards, composer Marcus Beale joined the group on violin in time for the first European tour. A Japanese tour followed in early 1982. Popular acclaim in Japan led to another tour there and the recording of Mini Album, a live EP, mostly in Tokyo. As the PCO prepared its third full-length LP, Broadcasting from Home (1984), personnel came and went, the additions including Annie Whitehead (trombone), Dave Defries (trumpet), and drummers Fami, Trevor Morais, and Mike Giles. After the album was released, the group raised its profile by touring extensively and appearing on television, and the fourth album, Signs of Life actually reached the British charts in April 1987. (The album featured new members Danny Cummings on percussion and Bob Loveday on violin.)
PCO recorded a full-length live album at Festival Hall on July 9, 1987; it was released in 1988 under the title When in Rome .... New members included Ian Maidman (bass, percussion) and Paul Street (guitar). Jeffes next accepted an invitation from choreographer David Bintley of the Royal Ballet to adapt some of the PCO's music for a dance piece, resulting in the ballet Still Life at the Penguin Cafe, which was performed at Covent Garden and elsewhere in the U.K., as well as in Germany and Australia. The PCO also toured, primarily in Europe, during the late '80s and early '90s. For their next and final studio album of new material, Union Café (1993; released on Jeffes' own Zopf label), the group consisted of Jeffes, Liebmann, Maidman, Rennie, Richardson, Segovia, and Whitehead, although many guest musicians also contributed. Their 1994 tour was commemorated with another live album, Concert Program (1995), recorded July 23, 1994, at Wool Hall in Somerset, England. (New age label Windham Hill distributed the disc in the U.S.) The PCO continued into the mid-'90s, although Jeffes gradually became less active, moving to Somerset in 1996 and concentrating on solo piano. The band's formal dissolution was confirmed by his death from a brain tumor. While the PCO's music was featured in many television commercials and films, it formed the soundtrack for the 1998 movie Oskar und Leni, resulting in a soundtrack album released by Peregrina in 1999. Members of the group reunited ten years after Jeffes' death for concerts on December 11, 12, and 13, 2007, at the Union Chapel in Islington, North London. This commemorative edition of the PCO included Helen Liebmann (cello), Neil Rennie (ukulele), Geoffrey Richardson (viola/clarinet), Peter McGowan (violin), Steve Fletcher (piano), Barbara Bolte (oboe), Annie Whitehead (trombone), and Jennifer Maidman (bass/percussion), with guest appearances by Steve Nye and Jeffes' son Arthur Jeffes. Although the shows were well attended and well received, the group announced immediately afterward that it had no further plans for concerts. In October 2008, a note on the PCO's official website mysteriously said, "There are some very tentative plans afoot to start a new enterprise in the PCO saga... more later."- allmusic.com
Music from the Penguin Cafe (streaming ovdje)
Pegging Penguin Cafe Orchestra's sound has always proved problematic; imagine Cluster's toy melodies channeled through the Bonzo Dog Band with a hint of the Art Bears' high-mindedness, and you've at least got a point of reference. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Simon Jeffes, Penguin Cafe's debut was released under the imprimatur of executive producer Brian Eno, who had taken the onus of bringing like-minded minimalists (Harold Budd, Cluster, Jon Hassell) to light. But where the work of those artists demanded to be taken seriously, Jeffes and company almost defy you to take their music seriously. "Penguin Cafe Single" and "In a Sydney Motel" are playful pieces constructed to sound nonmusical, aided by Jeffes' eclectic instrumentation (e.g., the ukelele), which effectively undermines the serious sounds of cello and violin. It's not all light fare; "Surface Tension" sounds like Eno at his most morose and "Coronation" could have come from the ice queen herself, Nico. If there's a knock on Music From the Penguin Cafe (and from the vantage point of their second album, there is), it's that Jeffes merely teases listeners with his charm. On the second side (for CD owners, that's the last three songs), the Penguin Cafe Orchestra traverse artier terrain, with little of their original humor (although "Chartered Flight" does reuse themes from the first side in an effort to come across warmly). As a result, Music From the Penguin Cafe tugs from two very different directions: the avant-garde and the innocent. Listeners are trained to save room for the sweet stuff at the end; by placing it at the beginning, most listeners won't have the appetite for the heavy courses that follow. Mind you, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra are no laughing matter, but heavy artists abound, and musicians with a sense of humor about their art are cherished oddities. Music From the Penguin Cafe shows restraint, their eponymous second album is pure indulgence; reward yourself with their second album first and purchase their first album second. Note that, like Harold Budd's debut, this material was recorded in part in 1974 (with roughly half of the material dating from 1976), but the span in time has little bearing on the sound of the music. - allmusic.com
Penguin Cafe Orchestra (streaming ovdje)
The sophomore album from Simon Jeffes' homegrown band took over three years to record, but the signs are here that it was a labor of love. While drawing compositional and textural inspiration from both English folk and chamber music, it manages to sound like neither and a wondrous hybrid of both. "Walk Don't Run," a cover of the Ventures' classic, turns from a surf tune into a merry jig of sorts, with the violins and cellos playing the melody backed by drums, bongos, and shakers. "Telephone and Rubber Band" turns a busy signal into something full of beauty and joy. Unfailingly romantic, sunny music and an album that set the tone of all further PCO releases.- allmusic.com
Broadcasting from Home (streaming ovdje)
Bandleader Simon Jeffes composed the leadoff track "Music for a Found Harmonium" on a harmonium he found abandoned on a Tokyo street, which offers an inkling of the musical inspiration that sprang from this remarkable Englishman. As usual, he gathers a loose aggregation of musicians who create stunning, free-flowing acoustic sounds that defy categorization. Jeffes includes brass here for the first time on a Penguin Café Orchestra recording. Recorded over three years, the band's third album is worth the painstaking studio overdubbing by its leader, who died of a brain tumor in 1997.-
Concert Program (streaming ovdje)
This two-disc live program of music spanning the history of the group from the early 1970s to the early 1990s is remarkable not only for the quality of the music, but for the absolute hush of the audience; there's not a cough or a clap out of them. We are thus left free from distraction to enjoy PCO's unique combination of old-time parlor stylings, park bandstand music, folk, and classical. Emotionally, the mélange adds up to a wistful yet hopeful nostalgia. Intellectually, it's fascinating to watch the kaleidoscopic interplay of elements, such as the minimalist factor that enters the mix in "Numbers 1-4" with its Glass-like repeated gallop.
The music is all instrumental (it really is all small orchestra), but the possible sameness of the sound is broken up by clever arrangements and a little variation in the instruments, as with the occasional harmonium and the ukulele featured on the all-out hoe-down "Beanfields" (not to mention the telephonesounds on "Telephone and Rubber Band"). The instruments are unfortunately pushed too far back in the sound-space, as an effect rather like a soft-focus in a movie flashback. This may have been composer/producer Simon Jeffes' intent, but it doesn't serve the music well.
Half the fun of listening to PCO is trying to pin down the allusions and influences, the funniest being the riff from "La Bamba" played on the cuatro by Jeffes in "Giles Farnaby's Dream." However, the eclecticism makes it hard to define the market who will appreciate this music. If you like Cafe Noir, 81/2 Souvenirs, or Squirrel Nut Zippers, there's a pretty good chance you'll like this, too. But remember that Penguin Cafe Orchestra was there first. - allmusic.com
Oskar Und Leni (streaming ovdje)
Simon Jeffes' music always lent itself to the visual medium of film, and his compositions have been featured in many movies. While many of the tunes here have been featured on earlier albums, they are given new performances, rendered with more relaxed grace and aural breadth than heard before. It's a lovely, playful, sometimes melancholy record. - allmusic.com
Signs of Life (streaming ovdje)
The PCO's last proper studio album of all new tunes also wound up being their last for EG Records, but the group shows no sign of slowing down or of boredom (the album title is certainly not ironic). In fact, the jokiness of some of the earlier albums (particularly in song titles) is totally absent here as well, suggesting Jeffes and company worked at considerable length to make this a mature effort. It is. Works like "Southern Jukebox Music" and "Swing the Cat" are an Englishman's imagined version of Appalachia, or Michael Nyman trapped in a bluegrass band. The centerpiece of the album is the brilliant "Perpetuum Mobile" -- which unfortunately went on to be used in several television ads for telecommunication companies, brokerage houses, and other yuppie pursuits -- a simple repetitive melody put through several tonal and textural changes, building grandeur as it goes. The album has a general bittersweet air, more sunset than sunrise, and balances its foot-tappers with its moments of quiet repose ("The Snake and the Lotus (The Pond)," the lengthy closing number "Wildlife"). An excellent place to start if interested in the band, and one of their finest hours. - allmusic.com
When in Rome... (streaming ovdje)
Preludes Airs and Yodels
BT River of Music: Penguin Cafe interview for London 2012
Arthur Jeffes tells Adam Sweeting about his new-look Penguin Cafe band's exotic hybrid of classical and global styles, ahead of their performance at BT River of Music.
“Cheerfully beautiful chaos,” is how Arthur Jeffes describes the music he makes with Penguin Cafe. The group is carrying on the legacy of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, created by Arthur’s father Simon Jeffes 40 years ago. The original outfit was sawn off in its prime by Simon’s death in 1997, but it wasn’t until Arthur played some concerts with the original band to mark the tenth anniversary of his father’s death that he realised how much he missed its music.
“We played some shows at the Union Chapel, and it was like meeting an old friend that I thought I’d never see again,” he remembers. “I’d grown up with my dad’s music and the albums are brilliant, but when it’s played live it becomes a different creature.”
Still, it wasn’t until a year later that the new-look Penguin Cafe band took wing. Arthur was invited to play at a festival at Potentino Castle in Italy, and he brought along a handful of friends. “We had this amazing weekend of playing my dad’s music with lots of wine and general messing around,” says Arthur. “It was the perfect example of how a troubadour’s travelling life might be.”
The event proved to be the catalyst for the Penguins’ rebirth. They were invited to play more gigs and Jeffes brought in some extra musicians. Mixing original Penguin Cafe Orchestra music with new compositions, the unit blossomed into an exotic hybrid, mixing global styles with classical disciplines and eccentric instrumentation.At Somerset House, in addition to playing such Penguin classics as Music for a Found Harmonium and Telephone and Rubber Band, they’ll be joined for a couple of songs by Fyfe Dangerfield, from the equally adventurous Guillemots.
“It’ll be a seabird-themed event,” chortles Jeffes. “We don’t normally work with singers, but Fyfe is quite special.” If you want more, Jeffes plays in Greenwich the following day with his duo Sundog. “It’s still under the Penguin Cafe umbrella, but it’s more cinematic and a little more electro,” he promises.
Musical chip off the old Penguin
by Jane Cornwell
AS a boy, Arthur Jeffes could get out of doing almost anything - chores, homework, after-school sports - simply by playing the family piano. His liberal, musically minded parents loved nothing more than to hear arpeggios and glissandos summoned by the hands of their only child; even when he took a hammer to the instrument, bashing its underbelly and whacking its lid to explore new sounds, they sighed and smiled indulgently.What could they say? Arthur's dad, Simon Jeffes, a cellist and composer, was renowned for his creative experiments. Jeffes Sr found music everywhere: in dripping taps; engaged telephone signals; a rubber band attached to a chair. But while the older man pursued such tangents with the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, a fabled neo-classical ensemble that drew on everything from pop and rock to minimalism and world folk traditions, Arthur grew up with academic dreams. He studied archeology at Oxford, and dug in the Sahara outside Timbuktu.
"We never discovered anything very ancient, only a lot of 60-year-old clay pots," says the bearded Jeffes, 33, tucked into an alcove in a wine bar in west London's Holland Park, not far from the auto garage his father turned into a music studio in the 1970s. "The interesting stuff was buried way underneath. Archeology is a bit like music." A grin. "You do it for the love, not the money."
In 2009 he founded Penguin Cafe, a 10-member collective of young musicians -- including former members of indie acts Gorillaz and Suede -- bent on reinterpreting the original PCO repertoire and adding fresh material of their own.
"It happened almost by accident," says Jeffes of an ensemble that has variously released an album (last year's A Matter of Life), played the British festival circuit and the BBC Proms and is about to embark on its first Australian tour.
"After the reunion concerts I had numerous requests to play my dad's music at parties and festivals, and it snowballed from there. We were borne along by the sense that people were happy to hear it played," he says. "I'm always finding new aspects of familiar pieces."
So what was it that made the Penguin Cafe Orchestra (1972-97) so special? What got it signed to Brian Eno's Obscure label, had it supporting the likes of electronica gods Kraftwerk, led to Simon Jeffes being compared with Pierre Boulez and Erik Satie? What made their music so soundtrack-friendly? Telephone and Rubber Band was used in Oliver Stone's 1988 film Talk Radio.
The looping Perpetuum Mobile is the radio theme tune for ABC Radio National's The Music Show (if you hummed it, you'd know it), and has featured in films including the 2009 Australian animation Mary and Max and last year's documentary, Project Nim.
The Penguin Cafe Orchestra toured Australia in the early 1990s ("Dad told me about audiences jumping up and down and the band playing as rowdily as possible"). They are still probably the most famous band most people have never heard of: "Given his non-allegiance to any particular musical category, Simon Jeffes could be marginalised as an English eccentric and thus sort of overlooked," Eno has said of a man who was variously Malcolm McLaren's world music adviser, Adam Ant's African drumming teacher and arranger of the cloying strings on Sid Vicious's version of My Way. "The truth is he discovered a huge musical territory."
Eno remains a close friend of Jeffes's mother, renowned sculptor Emily Young -- a woman for whom Syd Barrett wrote Pink Floyd's second single, See Emily Play, and who separated from Arthur's father when their son was 10 years old. Jeffes Sr eventually moved to rural Somerset with his new partner, cellist and PCO co-founder Helen Liebmann, and his armoury of instruments (many of which Arthur Jeffes plays today) and a framed thankyou telegram from avant-garde American composer John Cage (who he'd once helped on a performance).
"I remember my dad's musical intrepidness: it was worth trying things even if they didn't work. He loved Venezuelan joropo (folk) music as much as he did, say, elegant Renaissance pieces. He had a great reputation; people like Alex Paterson from (early 1990s ambient house pioneer) the Orb used to come around for dinner." He pauses. "I never went through a phase of thinking my dad's music wasn't cool."
The Penguin Cafe offers a timely reminder of how delicate and clever, warm and accessible -- and how resolutely unclassifiable -- the Penguin Cafe Orchestra was. It also offers more than slavish imitation: dressed in waistcoats, fezzes, top hats and a couple of giant penguin heads, Penguin Cafe breathes new life into tried and tested PCO pieces such as Music for a Found Harmonium, which Simon Jeffes composed after stumbling over an abandoned harmonium on a street in Kyoto, Japan (where he spent four months studying Zen Buddhism). Its big "hit", Telephone and Rubber Band, composed originally to an engaged tone, is updated using an iPhone.
"My father wanted his music to move you, make you think and want to dance," says Jeffes, who tells the story behind each piece as part of his onstage chat. "There's something in the process of repeating a sound and adding tiny changes that jump out like in a (Steve) Reich piece, that makes it beautiful, meditative and playful."
Jeffes has begun exploring romanticist-minimalist ideas on solo piano, performing compositions that nod to the gently surreal musings of the PCO while being strong enough to stand alone.
In Coriolis, the final track on A Matter of Life, Jeffes explores this new soundscape with violinist Oli Langford. The concept worked so well the two musicians decided to extend it to a side project they've called Sundog, in which guise they'll be performing in Perth and at WOMADelaide.
"Sundog gives us the freedom to do stuff we couldn't do with Penguin Cafe," Jeffes says. "The rules are that we're only to use keyboard and violin. We're after a cool electro sound using just chamber instruments; we're building textures by layering wood and strings. I experimented with the piano, for example: I put a brick on the pedal and then went underneath and hit the bottom. It all went through a feedback loop".
He sits back, pleased. "It's the punk sense of do-it-yourself, but done in a subtle and unusual way."
It's the sort of thing he did as a kid, and that his dad did his entire life.
Does the younger Jeffes grow weary of being compared with his fantastically inventive father? Isn't he inviting such parallels by assiduously mining Penguin Cafe Orchestra's back catalogue?
Jeffes strokes his beard and smiles. "Nope," he says. "I've heard each piece a thousand times, in a thousand contexts, and I still love them all. I still think it's the best thing ever."
|by Steven Johnson|
A Dream Interpretation: The Music Of The Penguin Cafe
by John Doran
When we need a civilising boost at Quietus Towers, we always turn to the music of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. John Doran talks to Arthur Jeffes about carrying on his father's legacy with a new album.
The Penguin Cafe Orchestra formed nearly 40-years ago after Simon Jeffes had a vision of an Orwellian Britain brought on by food poisoning. In his feverish dystopian vision, the only respite from this grey loveless life of surveillance was a place called The Penguin Cafe, where a band played joyful music constantly. Together with Helen Liebmann, he decided to form a band of musicians, which would create this music and did so until his untimely death in 1997.
They made a gently surreal and playful form of neo-classical music that drew on various world folk traditions, minimalism, pop and avant garde.
More recently his son, Arthur Jeffes, has founded his own orchestra called simply Penguin Cafe to carry on playing his music. After a recent tour of the UK, we caught up with him to find out about an album of new material A Matter Of Life... and what it means to carry on his father's legacy.
I’ve noticed in the past that this project has been referred to as Penguin Cafe Orchestra but you’re actually doing something different. Can you explain what the difference is please?
Arthur Jeffes: Penguin Cafe Orchestra was my dad’s band which went from the late 70s all the way through to when he died in 1997. It was based on this dream he had when he was in the South of France. He had terrible food poisoning and had this waking dream brought about by his fever. It was a dystopian vision of the near future where there were these blocks of flats where everyone lived and it was a very bleak and grey place. You could look into these different rooms and see all these different examples of a dehumanized existence. So in one room there was a couple making love, soundlessly and lovelessly. In another room there was a musician with an array of musical equipment but he had headphones on and there was no music in the room. And in another room there was just someone looking at a screen, immobile and inactive. In the top corner of all these rooms there was a big malevolent camera, fundamentally a big eye spying on all of them.
It sounds quite a lot like Warrington.
AJ: Well, fundamentally you could reject all this and look down the road, where there was this shambolic building with all the doors open in the night with lots of lights and noise and chaotic music coming out and this was the Penguin Cafe. And it was fundamentally a place that you’d want to be. And at the back there was always a band playing music and there were long tables where everyone sat together with sawdust on the floor. Somewhere that it was spiritually rewarding to go. And this band were the cafe orchestra. So he decided to play music for that band for the rest of his career. And he did that with a series of brilliant musicians for the next thirty years.
Photograph by Steve Gullick
How have you come to be working under a similar name?
AJ: Well, he died in 1997 and the people who had been playing in the line up at the end, we played a memorial concert at the Union Chapel in 2007 to mark the ten years since his death. It was amazing to have the music played out live again. It was such a treat for me because I had grown up with the music. About a year later I was getting ready to play a festival that my friends were putting on in Italy and I got three musicians that I had been working with and we just played a bunch of my dad’s music. Again it was such a positive and energetic experience that when we got back we thought we’d play at someone else’s Christmas party and we added some more members and it just started to snowball from there. We started booking actual gigs and did a bunch of festivals in 2009. We were borne along by the sense that everyone was so happy to hear it get played. The press did get confused about whether we were the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and we’d try and clarify that we were just playing the Penguin Cafe music. We were in some ways carrying on a different chapter. And it’s not something that’s been done before.
Well, the music has a warmth and vitality that I find is a useful antidote to modern urban life. And the name also suggests a gentle, British surrealism which perfectly matches the odd mix of genres that goes into the music.
It’s fast approaching the 40th anniversary of your dad founding the PCO [in 1972 with Helen Liebmann]. How do you approach keeping the music fresh sounding?
AJ: Well the way we’ve done it so far is we’ve gone through all the versions that have been recording and we’ve made sure that everyone knows the history of the piece. But because we’ve got different players coming in who come from different fields, different things emerge from the music. For example we’ve got a double bass and a robust percussion section. We let the pieces go where they want to go without becoming a museum for pieces from the past. We make sure that we know our stuff, then we let them go where they will.
To a layman such as myself, what would you say are the main difference between the new and old compositions?
AJ: Well, the new compositions are by me and they’re placed within the philosophy of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra as I’ve understood it from my father. It’s a very fertile place to work to take an idea and explore it in quite a playful way until you find something that feels right and go from there without turning it into something... It’s a bit like the Jackie Collins idea that if you look at yourself in the mirror you should take off the first thing that you notice that you’re wearing. So when I listen back to the pieces, the first thing I notice standing out, I remove and it’s just a way of making sure that it doesn’t become one particular thing too quickly.
Obviously you’ve been playing your dad’s material for some time now but have there been any of the songs where you’ve thought, ‘I’m just going to leave that be. I’m not going to touch that one.’
AJ: There are some pieces which lend themselves better to our line up and some that don’t. There is quite a lot of studio stuff which is amazing but is impossible to recreate live. So we don’t do Wildlife or some of the early things off the first Zopf mini-album that gets very experimental way. I guess we focus more on the chamber and guitars and percussion based stuff.
When I was younger and used to look for PCO albums in record shops I’d often find them in really odd sections such as Krautrock or Avant Garde, and despite having vague strands of that in some songs, those descriptors are inappropriate. For someone who hasn’t heard the music, how do you actually describe it?
AJ: First of all it’s notoriously difficult to describe... I think it’s a product of how the music is written, so it doesn’t go in any pigeon hole very easily. In the past it’s been put in everything; rock, pop, avant garde, jazz, world, dance... Cafe Del Mar had a bunch of PCO tunes [on a compilation]. At the moment I jokingly call it minimalist chamber folk but that doesn’t allow for all the country and Cajun influences it has. It’s a happy mish mash of all sorts of things.
Given this wealth of music that permeates the records, what had been your dad’s background before forming PCO?
AJ: He trained as a classical guitarist and moved away from that world because it was a bit too constrained. He moved into playing avant garde stuff with the Omega Players. Then he moved on to Musicians In Green Clothes which would also feature some long term members of Penguin Cafe Orchestra. He moved slightly towards pop. He moved around looking for a place to be creative in and not finding one he became that place himself.
I guess an early influential figure in the history of PCO was Brian Eno.
AJ: The first Penguin Cafe Orchestra album was I think number seven on the Obscure label. He produced various people on it as well. Music For Airports was always something that Dad really, really loved. And then also the idea of music being... not a fifth wall exactly... but something to go in a space rather than just a narrative form. That lack of directness in his music was something that informed their music. Someone once described Penguin Cafe as electronica done with real instruments and I think there’s a bit of that in it.
I can hear that in tracks like ‘Surface Tension’.
AJ: Yeah, exactly.
The titles of some of the tracks tell the story of their own creation in a very direct way. ‘Telephone And Rubber Band’, for example.
AJ: Yeah. My dad made a phone call from the studio in the late 70s and he got a crossed line between a ring tone and an engaged tone. And if the engaged tone in G, gives you 4/4, then the ring tone in A gives you a slightly off set motif. This gives you this rather nice rhythmic passage. So rather than hanging up he unscrewed the bakelite receiver and the speaker on the phone hand set and then attached the cables with some pliers to a tape machine. He then made a loop out of it. Then he started playing violin with it. Apparently there was a white chair which had a rubber band attached to it with a pick up to make the bass line. The early versions of ‘Telephone And Rubber Band’ are pretty much that. My dad wasn’t even a violin player but he just kept it as it was.
It’s a very DIY punk or post punk way of doing things.
AJ: Well it is. The punk sense of you can do it yourself, just done in such a delicate and unusual way.
Talking of punk, is it true that your Dad arranged the strings to the Sid Vicious version of ‘My Way’?
AJ: Absolutely true yeah. He used to do these strange things. He taught Burundi drumming to Adam And The Ants.
And not wanting you to totally state the obvious but how about ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’?
AJ: I think ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’ has had the broadest travels around the world out of any of the songs. It started off in Kyoto, Japan where my Dad was staying with some friends writing. One day walking home he noticed that there was a harmonium just out there on the pavement. He left a note on it saying, ‘Who does this belong to? Because if you don’t want it we’ll have it. We’ll come back tomorrow.’ He came back the next day and it was still there with the note still on it so he took it. I think he wrote ‘...Harmonium’ quite quickly. Now it does get played by all sorts of people. In fact if you look it up on iTunes, you can see it attributed to Anon as a traditional Irish tune. It was on Napoleon Dynamite recently and on Malcolm a few years back.
Something that blows me away is the fact that when Penguin Cafe bumped up to the full orchestra in 1978, the first gig they did was supporting Kraftwerk at the Roundhouse on The Man Machine tour. That sounds like the greatest gig ever. Did your dad ever talk about it?
AJ: He didn’t but he did keep on buying me Kraftwerk albums when I was young. I have a very fundamental familiarity with the band. He just loved them.
How did your Dad’s death change your relationship with his music?
AJ: I think certainly a lot of the enjoyment I get from playing his music now certainly is a way for me to stay in touch. You get such a sense of my dad as a person from the music. It’s a true expression of who he was and how he thought.
How has the name been squared with the other people who used to be in PCO, some of whom have become The Anteaters?
AJ: Well certainly some of them got grumpy when it first came out that we were doing some PCO music. I think it was our first London gig and Time Out accidentally billed us as The Penguin Cafe Orchestra instead of playing music by The Penguin Cafe Orchestra and it was just such a nightmare with a lot of people very upset. Understandably so. Now we’ve changed it to just Penguin Cafe to keep things simple. The thing that drives me forward is that it’s such a joyful experience every time we play. And I think that in future I don’t want to upset anything and I’d just like to concentrate on the good things and to keep moving forward.
The Quietus are all massive fans of Suede and we think that it’s awesome that you’ve got Neil Coddling in Penguin Cafe. How do you know him and how did he come to join?
AJ: He joined early on. I’d known him from doing other bits and bobs with various musicians in West London. Neil’s got exactly the right sensibility and he’s such a talented musician.
You’ve also got a member of Gorillaz which means you’re only one step removed from having a guest appearance by Mark E Smith.
AJ: [laughs] We don’t have any lyrics.
So you’re friends with the Guillemots. Are you only allowed to be friends with ornithologically monikered bands? Are you friends with the Eagles or Swans?
AJ: Not yet. Maybe we could start a bird themed festival that we can all play.
Portico Quartet/Penguin Cafe, Warwick Arts Centre, 11/02/2011
by Ian Mann
Arthur Jeffes likes to describe himself as the new proprietor of the much loved Penguin Café. On tonight's evidence the franchise is in good hands and is set to run for a good while yet.
There are certainly similarities between the two bands, a love of exotic instrumentation (Portico’s hang drums, Penguin Café’s cuatros and ukeleles) and world music styles somehow combining with a quintessential Englishness.
During my prog rock youth composer Simon Jeffes and his Penguin Café Orchestra were somewhat marginal figures with their folk and classical influences and world music instrumentation. I don’t remember them selling particularly well in the 70’s but throughout the 80’s and 90’s a cult began to grow with the PCO becoming a much loved institution. The death of Simon Jeffes from a brain tumour in 1997 seemed to mark the end but the affection with which Jeffes and the PCO had come to be regarded led to a number of 21st century tributes and revivals by the massed ranks of former PCO members.
This current revival of Jeffes’ unique and visionary ideas is something else again. It’s headed by Jeffes’ son Arthur who grew up surrounded by the music of the Penguin Café Orchestra and is clearly his father’s biggest fan. However Jeffes Jr. has distanced himself from his father’s legacy by recruiting an entirely new band of his own choosing rather than selecting from the ranks of former PCO personnel. More radically this band, under the truncated name Penguin Café have also recorded “A Matter of Life”, an album of completely new music written by Arthur. It marks the first genuinely new material to be released under the Penguin Café name for many years and although very much in the spirit of his father’s group Arthur Jeffes manages to bring something of himself to the music. “A Matter of Life” is a pretty decent offering, better than many people had expected I’m sure.
The large and loyal PCO fan base certainly seemed more than ready to give Arthur the benefit of the doubt. A hugely successful sell out concert at The Barbican was followed by another capacity crowd at Warwick with the faithful more than satisfied with the evening’s events.
It’s been a while since I last attended a concert in the main (Butterworth) hall at Warwick. I’d forgotten what an excellent auditorium it is with both groups benefiting from the superb acoustics. The stage looked like a musical instrument shop when I first entered with the Penguins’ panoply of exotic instruments already set out behind just the Portico’s rather leaner set up.
The then ridiculously young Portico Quartet seemed to emerge pretty much fully formed in 2007 with their extraordinary début recording “Knee- Deep In The North Sea” , which went on to be nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. For many people it was a first introduction to the sound of the hang, a Swiss designed 21st century percussion instrument that resembles two woks glued together and which produces a mellifluous sound somewhere between that of a West Indian steel pan and an Indonesian gamelan. The distinctive sound of the hang, an instrument that manages to combine both melodic and rhythmic qualities, helped to give the young group a strong individual identity from the start. Of course the fact that the first album was packed with strong hooks and melodies also helped as did the group’s highly personable live appearances, their skills honed from years of busking outside the South Bank Centre and beyond.
“Knee-Deep” appeared on Oliver Weindling’s Babel label but in the wake of the group’s success they upped sticks and moved to Peter Gabriel’s Real World imprint. I felt a bit sorry for Ollie, who had done a lot for them, but this young band are clearly highly ambitious. The move to Real World saw them working with the great rock producer John Leckie, best known perhaps for his extraordinary production work on the first Stone Roses album. Under Leckie the PQ’s follow up album “Isla” saw the group adopt a darker, more improvisatory direction as they simultaneously began to experiment with elements of electronica. “Isla” is certainly a more challenging record than “Knee-Deep but ultimately a more rewarding one. Most listeners seemed to agree as PQ not only held on to their fan base but also began to win over those critics who had dismissed “Knee-Deep” as being rather lightweight.
The growing fascination with loops and electronica began to manifest itself in the group’s live appearances. At first only saxophonist Jack Wyllie used electronics on stage but double bassist Milo Fitzpatrick and drummer Duncan Bellamy have now equipped themselves with pedal boards, consoles and looping devices. Only hang specialist Nick Mulvey remains aloof, seated behind a flight of three differently tuned hanged drums.
It’s the group’s growing fascination with loops and interlocking rhythms and melody lines that has spawned the recent comparisons with the music of composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
Tonight’s set which incorporated more electronics than I’ve ever seen the band deploy before certainly endorsed those comparisons with most of the material being drawn from the “Isla” album despite the fact that the band have recently released a “deluxe” edition of “Knee-Deep” with some judicious sonic tweaking by Leckie plus some previously unreleased live material. I hope to take a look at this on the site in due course.
A packed Warwick Arts Centre may be a far cry from East Quantoxhead Village Hall but there was no compromise in Portico’s approach. Wyllie, on curved soprano immediately set up a looped phrase, improvising above it to the accompaniment of Bellamy’s brushes and Mulvey’s hang drums, played variously by hand or with soft head mallets. Bellamy also played phrases on a glockenspiel, subsequently treating the sound to produce a forest of twinkling electronics.
Some of their music was trance like, straight out of the Reich/Glass school, but “Clipper”, though based round a highly melodic motif mutated into an angry squall of almost free playing as Wyllie’s saxophone battled with Bellamy’s barrage of drums and electronics. The pair offered an even more dramatic example of this on the closing “Dawn Patrol” which drew a great reception from the crowd despite the uncompromising nature of much of the playing.
Mulvey’s hang drums are still an integral part of the group sound and as the announcer of the tunes he still appears to be the unofficial leader but these days PQ seem more than ever to be a band of equals with an increasingly restless improvisatory spirit. Wyllie’s playing on tenor, and particularly soprano, has taken on a harder edge, often showing the influence of Middle Eastern music. Fitzpatrick remains a monster bass player, both with or without the bow, and Bellamy is a flexible intelligent drummer who seems to be becoming increasingly interested in sound treatment. He used to double on hang alongside Mulvey but as the hang becomes less and less of a novelty and the group sound less reliant upon it so Portico Quartet seem to be even more of a band.
This tour has been good for them, playing to packed houses that are likely to be sympathetic to their methodology must have won them many new fans. They certainly did brisk business at the CD stall during the break. The only downside was a certain tentativeness about playing in such a large hall, Mulvey was noticeably more reticent between tunes than I’ve seen him before and Wyllie has attracted some criticism for standing side on to the audience. However I’d say that was to allow him to communicate more easily with his colleagues, something I’d happily support. Every time I see them PQ are subtly different. Their next album of new material will be awaited with interest.
After a short intermission Penguin Café took to the stage. There was nothing reticent about Arthur Jeffes who proved to be an entertaining, erudite and witty guide to his and his father’s music. Eccentrically dressed in a variety of colourful clothes and hats Penguin Café proved to be a well drilled ensemble, striking a good balance between disciplined and highly able musicianship and an element of unabashed showmanship.
The opening number “Dirt” saw multi instrumentalist Neil Codling (keyboard player with the rock group Suede) playing steel guitar in a manner reminiscent of the jazz cum Americana of Bill Frisell. Later in the piece he was seen playing a pair of penny whistles simultaneously as the music took a folky turn. This juxtaposition of styles is typical of Penguin Café. Jeffes senior used to refer to his group’s output as “invented folk music”.
Penguin Café’s approach is very different to Portico Quartet’s in that there is little or no room for improvisation. Yet the innate tunefulness of both groups ensures that both are capable of appealing to the same audience. “From The Colonies” was next featuring the cello of Rebecca Waterworth and the violin of Darren Berry.
Penguin Café tunes are brief and functional and tend to do what they say on the tin. “Swing The Cat” was the first of a number of riotous hoedowns peppering the set.
Following his father’s tune “In The Back Of A Taxi” Arthur introduced a number of his own pieces, “That Not That” and the African sounding “The Fox And The Leopard”. The latter was an updating of Simon’s tune “Paul’s Dance” which was to be heard later in the set. Arthur had added rhythms from Sierra Leone to the piece, the African feel enhanced by the sound of Codling’s hi life guitar stylings.
Arthur writes in a similar style to Simon and his pieces are worthy successors to his father’s legacy. Next up was “Landau” from the “A Matter Of Life…” album. It’s a strong tune and the recorded version features the Northumbrian pipes of Kathryn Tickell, sadly not present here. However Arthur moved to the harmonium to capture something of the spirit of Tickell’s contribution. It was a move that signalled a sequence of his father’s best known tunes, among them “Air A Danser”, given a tango feel, the faux naive“Paul’s Dance” played on three ukuleles, and of course “Music For A Found Harmonium”. Naturally Arthur told the tale of how Simon had found the instrument abandoned on the street of Kyoto all those years ago and explained how the famous melody had been appropriated by Irish folk bands who now commonly passed it off as being “traditional”.
Back to Arthur’s own music for “From A Blue Temple”, a tune based on the Fibonacci number sequence and incorporating massed strings and the eerie reverberations of a large suspended piece of toughened glass.
“Perpetuum Mobile” incorporated the sounds of pizzicato strings and the Venezuelan folk instrument the cuatro before the ensemble finished with the effervescent “Beanfields”, one of Jeffes Senior’s best known pieces.
The inevitable encores began with “Harry Piers”, a solo piano piece played by Arthur Jeffes and written by him for the occasion of his father’s memorial service in 1998. This rare piece of solemnity was good palette cleanser before two more of Simon’s most famous pieces.
“Telephone And Rubber Band” is perhaps the best known PCO track of all with Arthur looping the famous ring tone/engagement tone from his mobile in a witty touch. The pattern was then picked up by Andy Waterworth on double bass before the rest of the ensemble joined in.
A rollicking “Giles Farnaby’s Dream” combined an early English melody with Venezuelan and Yoruba rhythms and led to the band being called back a second time, which I suspect was probably unscheduled. They finally closed the evening with “Salty Bean Fumble” with Arthur Jeffes playing double whistles.
Penguin Café tunes are often disarmingly simple yet simultaneously full of clever ideas. They’re easy for audiences to relate to yet notoriously tricky to play. The first rate band doing justice to the music of Simon and Arthur was Arthur Jeffes (piano, harmonium, ukulele and whistles), Neil Codling(guitars,cuatro,piano, harmonium,ukulele and whistles), Andy Waterworth (double bass), Rebecca Waterworth (cello), Darren Berry (violin), Vince Greene (viola), Kath Mann (ukulele and violin) and twin percussionists Cass Browne and Pete Radcliffe who produced an astonishing variety of sounds on percussive devices from all over the globe. Sorry if I’ve missed anyone out-there were so many of them and a lot of moving around and instrument swappage.
Arthur Jeffes likes to describe himself as the new proprietor of the much loved Penguin Café. On the evidence of the “A Matter Of Life..” album plus tonight’s highly enjoyable live performance I’d say that the franchise is in good hands and is going to be running for quite a while yet.