Penguin Cafe Orchestra

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Penguin Cafe Orchestra
Origin England
Genres Chamber jazz, folk, new-age
Years active 1972–97, 2007
Labels Obscure Records, E.G. Records, Virgin/EMI Records
Associated acts The Anteaters, The Orchestra That Fell To Earth, Penguin Cafe
Website www.penguincafe.com

The Penguin Cafe Orchestra (PCO) was a collective of performing musicians founded by classically trained British guitarist, composer and arranger Simon Jeffes. Jeffes and cellist co-founder Helen Liebmann were core members throughout its life and a number of other musicians joined as the band grew and developed, many of whom appear on the PCO's six studio and two live albums.

The PCO toured extensively during the 1980s and 1990s, and two albums, When in Rome... (1988) and Concert Program (1995) captured the sound of the live ensemble. The Penguin's sound is not easily categorized, but has elements of exuberant folk music and a minimalist aesthetic occasionally reminiscent of composers such as Philip Glass.

The Penguin Cafe Orchestra recorded and performed for 24 years until Jeffes died of a brain tumour in 1997. Several remaining members of the original group reunited for three concerts in 2007. Since then five original members have continued to play concerts of the Penguins music, initially as 'The Anteaters' and more recently under the name 'The Orchestra That Fell to Earth'.

Simon Jeffes' son, Arthur Jeffes, subsequently founded a distinct successor band called simply Penguin Cafe in 2009, which features no original PCO members. This new ensemble does, however, feature many PCO numbers in its live repertoire, and also records and performs new music written by the younger Jeffes.

History[edit]

After becoming disillusioned with the rigid structures of classical music and the limitations of rock music, in which he also dabbled, Simon Jeffes became interested in the relative freedom in ethnic music and decided to imbue his work with the same sense of immediacy and spirit.[citation needed]

Describing how the idea of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra came to him, Jeffes said:

In 1972 I was in the south of France. I had eaten some bad fish and was in consequence rather ill. As I lay in bed I had a strange recurring vision, there, before me, was a concrete building like a hotel or council block. I could see into the rooms, each of which was continually scanned by an electronic eye. In the rooms were people, everyone of them preoccupied. In one room a person was looking into a mirror and in another a couple were making love but lovelessly, in a third a composer was listening to music through earphones. Around him there were banks of electronic equipment. But all was silence. Like everyone in his place he had been neutralized, made grey and anonymous. The scene was for me one of ordered desolation. It was as if I were looking into a place which had no heart. Next day when I felt better, I was on the beach sunbathing and suddenly a poem popped into my head. It started out 'I am the proprietor of the Penguin Cafe, I will tell you things at random' and it went on about how the quality of randomness, spontaneity, surprise, unexpectedness and irrationality in our lives is a very precious thing. And if you suppress that to have a nice orderly life, you kill off what's most important. Whereas in the Penguin Cafe your unconscious can just be. It's acceptable there, and that's how everybody is. There is an acceptance there that has to do with living the present with no fear in ourselves.[1]

The first album, Music from the Penguin Cafe, was released in 1976 on Brian Eno's experimental Obscure Records label, an offshoot of the EG label; a collection of pieces recorded in the years 1974–76, it was followed in 1981 by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, after which the band settled into a more regular release schedule.

The band played its first major concert on 10 October 1976, supporting Kraftwerk at The Roundhouse. The PCO went on to tour the world and play at a variety of music festivals as well as residencies on the South Bank in London. Between 1976 and 1996 they played in the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, and throughout Europe and the UK. In March 1987 the group was the subject of an episode of the ITV arts series The South Bank Show,[2] on which they performed "Air", "Bean Fields", "Dirt" and "Giles Farnaby's Dream".[3]

Evolution[edit]

Simon Jeffes experimented with various configurations both live and in the studio, including an occasional 'dance orchestra' and a quintet of strings, oboe, trombone and himself on piano. On the studio albums he sometimes played many of the instruments himself, and brought in the other musicians according to the needs of a particular piece.

There were a number of incarnations of the live band. Original members Gavyn Wright and Steve Nye left in 1984 and 1988 respectively. Bob Loveday replaced Gavyn Wright on violin. Gradually a regular line-up evolved around Simon Jeffes and Helen Liebman: Neil Rennie, who joined in 1975 on ukulele; Geoffrey Richardson, who had joined in 1976 and co-wrote three pieces on Broadcasting from Home (1984), played viola, cuatro, guitar, clarinet, mandolin and ukulele; Julio Segovia answered an advert in the Melody Maker and joined in 1978 on percussion; Paul Street joined in 1984 playing guitar, cuatro and ukulele, leaving in 1988; Jennifer Maidman joined in 1984 on percussion, bass, ukulele and cuatro; Steve Fletcher replaced Steve Nye in 1988 on piano and keyboards and Annie Whitehead, who had also appeared on Broadcasting from Home (1984), joined the live band in 1988 on trombone. Finally, Peter McGowan took over from Bob Loveday on violin and Barbara Bolte joined on oboe. Doug Bevridge also became a regular fixture at the live mixing desk. The album Concert Program (1995) is the definitive recording of this line-up, and includes many of the Penguin's best-known pieces.

Subsequent line-ups: Penguin Cafe and The Orchestra That Fell To Earth/Anteaters[edit]

After Simon Jeffes' death, members of the orchestra continued to meet up occasionally to play together, but there were no new recordings or public appearances for over ten years. In 2007 the band briefly re-formed, with the line-up as featured on Concert Program (minus Julio Segovia), with Jennifer Maidman now handling Simon's guitar parts. The original members were joined on stage by Simon Jeffes's son Arthur on percussion and additional keyboards, and played three sold-out shows at the Union Chapel in London. After those concerts Arthur Jeffes wanted to form a new group without any of the original PCO members. This he initially called "Music from the Penguin Cafe", later this was shortened to simply "Penguin Cafe". This all-new ensemble, sometimes inaccurately billed as 'The Penguin Cafe Orchestra', played at a number of festivals in 2009, combining Penguin Cafe numbers with new pieces and in 2010 appeared at the BBC Proms (with Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell).

With the 'Penguin Cafe' name now being used by Arthur, the original Penguin Cafe Orchestra members who wanted to continue playing their music needed an alternative title. Four of them, the multi-instrumentalists Geoffrey Richardson and Jennifer Maidman, trombonist Annie Whitehead and pianist Steve Fletcher have since played some festivals under the name 'The Anteaters'. They have been joined by percussionist Liam Genockey. Well known as a member of Steeleye Span, Liam had also played live with the Penguins in Italy in the 1980s. The name 'Anteaters' came from an incident on the 1983 PCO tour of Japan when Simon Jeffes discovered there was a craze for penguins in the country. Simon joked that, if the fashion changed, the orchestra would have to change its name to "The Anteater Cafe Orchestra". In October 2011 the same line-up also appeared at the Canterbury Festival in Kent, UK, performing two hours of original PCO music under another name "The Orchestra That Fell To Earth" and they have subsequently continued to perform under that name.

Famous pieces[edit]

The Penguin Cafe Orchestra's most famous piece may be "Telephone and Rubber Band", which is based around a tape loop of a UK telephone ringing tone intersected with an engaged tone, accompanied by the twanging of a rubber band. The piece is featured on the soundtracks of Nadia Tass's film comedy Malcolm (1986) and Oliver Stone's film Talk Radio (1988), and in a long-running advertising campaign for the telecoms company One2One (now T-Mobile). The 1996 single "In The Meantime" by English rockers residing in New York City, Spacehog, featured a tweaked and fine-tuned sample of "Telephone and Rubber Band". It was also the trademark song of the Argentinean show dedicated to artistic animation Caloi en su tinta. The tape loop was recorded when Jeffes was making a phone call, and discovered that he was hearing a combination of a ring tone and an engaged signal at the same time, due to a fault in the system. He recorded it on an answering machine.

Another famous tune featured in Malcolm (among other films) is "Music for a Found Harmonium", which Jeffes wrote on a harmonium that he had found dumped in a back street in Kyoto, where he was staying in the summer of 1982 after the ensemble's first tour of Japan. He wrote that after installing the found harmonium "in a friend's house in one of the most beautiful parts at the edge of the city," he "frequently visited this instrument during the next few months, and I remember the time fondly as one during which I was under a form of enchantment with the place and the time."[4] "Music for a Found Harmonium" was used over the end-credits of the 1988 John Hughes movie She's Having a Baby where many film actors and celebrities of the time invent their favourite name for an imagined child, although it was not placed on the soundtrack accompanying the movie.[4] The piece gained exposure when it was released on the first Café del Mar volume in 1994. Its rhythm, tempo and simple structure made it very suitable for adaptation into a reel, and it was subsequently recorded by many Irish traditional musicians, including Patrick Street, De Dannan, Kevin Burke and Sharon Shannon. An Irish traditional version was used on the soundtrack of the film Hear My Song, made in Ireland in the early 1990s. In 2004, Patrick Street's cover of "Music For A Found Harmonium" was featured in the film Napoleon Dynamite and the following year in the film It's All Gone Pete Tong. The Scottish folk rock band Rock Salt and Nails, from Shetland, also recorded a version for their debut album Waves in 1993.

Simon Jeffes composed music for the ballet Still Life at the Penguin Cafe, largely based on earlier compositions for the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. (Geoffrey Richardson co-wrote one of the pieces.[5]) The ballet was first performed by the Royal Ballet in 1988 and released as an album under Jeffes' name.

Uses by others[edit]

Covers and sampling[edit]

Film[edit]

Penguin Cafe Orchestra music featured on the 1986 Australian cult film Malcolm, written by David Parker and directed by Nadia Tass. The film won the 1986 Australian Film Institute Award for Best Film.

"Telephone & Rubber Band" was used during the final scene of the Oliver Stone's film Talk Radio (1988)

Penguin Cafe Orchestra music featured on the Petra Katharina Wagner film Oskar und Leni (1999). The music was also issued on a separate CD.

"Nothing Really Blue" was used during the final scene of the German film The Princess and the Warrior (2000).

"Perpetuum Mobile" was used the main theme for the documentary The Union: The Business Behind Getting High (2007), the animated Australian film Mary and Max (2009), the Swedish movie Slim Susie (2003) and the documentary Project Nim (2011).

"Music For A Found Harmonium" is featured in Michael Moore's documentary film Capitalism: A Love Story (2009), as he wraps several Wall Street banks and the New York Stock Exchange in crime scene tape; in 2004's It's All Gone Pete Tong; for the ending montage in Napoleon Dynamite (2004), but not included on the motion picture soundtrack; and in 2011's Goodbye First Love.

Radio/podcasts[edit]

Television[edit]

Advertising[edit]

The music of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra has been used in advertisements for Eurotunnel, The Independent, Hewlett Packard, MFI, Knorr, One2One, Origin Energy, Ford and Bradesco.

Personnel[edit]

Arthur Jeffes' Penguin Cafe (2009 onwards)[edit]

In 2009 a new band called Penguin Cafe was formed by Arthur Jeffes, son of Simon and Emily Young, and appeared at the BBC Proms on 8 September 2010. The line-up included Darren Barry (violin), Cass Browne (percussion/drums), Tom Chichester-Clark (piano/harmonium/cuatro/guitar/melodica), Neil Codling (piano/guitar/ukulele/harmonium/cuatro), Vincent Greene (viola), Oli Langford (violin), Des Murphy (ukulele), Pete Radcliffe (percussion/drums), Andrew Waterworth (double bass), Rebecca Waterworth (cello) and Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian smallpipes/fiddle).

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Extended play[edit]

Live albums[edit]

Collections[edit]

  • Preludes, Airs & Yodels (A Penguin Cafe Primer) (1996)
  • A Brief History (2001) CDV 2954
  • History (2001) Virgin Records LCO 3098
  • The Second Penguin Cafe Orchestra Sampler (2004)

Simon Jeffes albums[edit]

Related album[edit]

  • Arcane (1994), credited to 'Assorted Artists'

Arcane consists of recordings by diverse musicians brought together in August 1992 at the Real World studios in Wiltshire for a week of spontaneous collaborations and performances. No one musician appears on every track, but Jeffes is one of the more constant presences on this album. Amongst the many other collaborators are Billy Cobham, Andy Sheppard, Jane Siberry, Ayub Ogada, Nigel Kennedy, and Nana Vasconcelos.

Soundtracks[edit]

  • Night Shift (1982) ("Cutting Branches for a Temporary Shelter")
  • Malcolm (1986)
  • She's Having A Baby Trailer (1988) ("Music For A Found Harmonium")
  • Oskar und Leni (1999) (10 songs, all new recordings of previously released tracks from back catalogue)
  • Chuck and Buck (2000) ("Air a Danser," "Paul's Dance," "Prelude and Yodel," "Nothing Really Blue")
  • Slim Susie (2003) ("Perpetuum Mobile")
  • The Good Girl (2002) ("Air" and "Steady State")
  • The Princess and the Warrior Official Soundtrack (2000) ("Nothing Really Blue")
  • Napoleon Dynamite Official Soundtrack (2005) ("Music For A Found Harmonium")
  • It's All Gone Pete Tong Official soundtrack (2005) ("Music For A Found Harmonium")
  • Hewlett Packard - Advert (2006) ("Perpetuum Mobile")
  • 3 lbs - "Lost For Words" (2006) ("Perpetuum Mobile")
  • Year of the Dog (2007) ("Music for a Found Harmonium")
  • All the Little Animals Music written by Simon Jeffes, performed and recorded by PCO members Geoffrey Richardson, Jennifer Maidman and Steve Fletcher
  • Capitalism: A Love Story (2009) ("Music For A Found Harmonium")
  • Mary and Max (2009) ("Perpetuum Mobile")
  • Origin Energy 'Sustainability Drive' advert ("Perpetuum Mobile")

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Simon Jeffes". The Penguin Cafe Orchestra's official website. Retrieved 3 August 2008. 
  2. ^ epguides.com - The South Bank Show
  3. ^ locatetv.com - The South Bank Show
  4. ^ a b Preludes Airs and Yodels (A Penguin Cafe primer) Virgin Records Ltd 1996 
  5. ^ Roche, Henry, Still Life at the Penguin Cafe: Arranged for Piano by Henry Roche, Edition Peters, 2002
  6. ^ "Steve Mac, Paddy's Revenge". Xpressbeats.com. Retrieved 3 August 2008. 
  7. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 422. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 

External links[edit]