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penguin cafe (nee cafe orchestra)

“Eccentric, charming, accommodating, surprising, seductive, warm, reliable, modest and unforgettable”

Brian Eno

That’s what Brian thinks about Penguin Cafe, according to their publicity material and I certainly wouldn’t disagree. They performed a rare concert last night in the impressive new concert hall at Saffron Hall, and played live on Radio 3 in the run up to the concert.

Arthur Jeffes (son of Simon Jeffes, founder of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra) is in a difficult position. The group, now called Penguin Cafe, opened their concert in Saffron Walden last night with ‘Telephone and Rubber Band’, which never fails to make me smile, and closed their encore with the joyous ‘Music for a Found Harmonium’.

Between these two numbers, they performed a mixture of old (‘Southern Jukebox’, ‘Perpetuum Mobile’, Bean Fields’, ‘In the Back of a Taxi’) and new pieces mainly from ‘The Red Book’ (‘1420’, ‘Black Hibiscus’, ‘Bluejay’, ‘Odeon’). Arthur introduced them all, often with fond reference to his father’s work, and sometimes mentioning his childhood memories of them. The older pieces, usually involved a wider range of instruments, such as a melodica, are still quirky, lively and eccentric, and obviously pleased the crowd.

His enthusiasm for ‘1420’ was obvious, but he appeared slightly nervous when introducing two pieces as ‘world premieres’. He described a new piece called ‘Birdwatching’ as a reworking of a favourite tune by Cornelius, who is, apparently, a “Japanese Brian Eno”, which for me is a good introduction that made me warm to it in advance, and it rewarded my openness with the lively passion and quirkiness I expect of PCO.

For the first encore piece, Arthur played solo piano for Harry Piers (sp?), a piece he wrote for his father’s memorial.  It, too, had emotion, presumably from the memories it evoked, despite its repetitive minimalist style, and was played with passion.

In contrast, the newer work generally lacked the energy and eccentricity of the older pieces, which is why I described Arthur as being in a difficult position. The choice of encore was clearly justified as they finished to an almost unanimous standing ovation. Can Penguin Cafe create new work that meets the expectations of fans of the older music, and continue to perform the older pieces with the required freshness and vitality? On the basis of last night’s concert, they most definitely can, providing they don’t let it slide into bland niceness.

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Sunday, February 8th, 2015 music

1 Comment to penguin cafe (nee cafe orchestra)

  • […] This morning, being on good time for my train south, I called into The City Art Centre near Waverley Station but the current exhibition was temporarily closed so I had a coffee in the gallery’s cafe where they were playing my personal favourite ‘Telephone and Rubber Band’ by Penguin Cafe over the sound system. That piece always makes me smile. […]

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