Music from the Penguin Café Orchestra

Another example of strange timing…  I had been listening to a lot of Penguin Café Orchestra lately.  I had purchased an album in 2008 through Rough Trade’s Album Club and also had a copy of another PCO track that appeared on a compilation – Perpetuum Mobile, which to me conjures images of running in the autumn, past trees and their leaves of gold and red.  The opening piano solo is like the runner putting on her shoes, lacing them up, getting ready to go.  The run is steady and determined, but not without noticing the beauty of nature that the runner passes by.  As the strings enter, the pace urges the runner up a hill and returns to steadier terrain.  Such is the beauty of music from the Penguin Café Orchestra.  I had wondered if the orchestra was still together and if it performed live.  Last Tuesday I did a quick internet search and found that Arthur Jeffes had reformed the orchestra and was touring this year.  Their last concert of 2009 would be on 29 November at Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, London.  Just in time!

The concert last night, in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust, was amazing.  Nine musicians gathered on the small stage at the end of the glorious music hall – full string quartet, two musicians on ukelele, percussionist, harmonium player, and Arthur on piano.  The orchestra’s friends and family were in the audience and it felt like we had been invited to a very special and intimate gig.  The audience was warm and receiving, although the hum of people chatting at the back of the hall could be heard.  A very loud “shhh” could be heard (how ironic!) to try to quiet them down, but in my opinion it didn’t detract from the jovial, musical atmosphere.  PCO played with enthusiasm in the faces and bodies – they looked like they really enjoyed themselves, it mattered less about the ambient noise in the room.  The spirited rounds of applause after Penguin Café Single, Music for a Found Harmonium, and Perpetuum Mobile seemed to simply be a bonus.  The softer Finland featuring Arthur on piano and Rebecca Waterworth on cello was respectfully acknowledged by a quieted crowd.  New pieces, composed by Arthur, such as Ghost in the Pond were cheered, signalling an acceptance by the audience of a new generation of PCO.  The evening closed with Harry Piers, a piano solo written for his dad and PCO founder Simon Jeffes, who passed away in 1997.

Bush Hall is an amazing little venue in West London, if you haven’t been already.  It was built as a dance hall in 1905 and had been re-incarnated as a bingo hall in the 1940s then a snooker hall in the 1980s and 90s.  In 2001, the hall was purchased by Emma Hutchinson and Charlie Raworth, who refurbished it into the beautiful music hall and events venue it is today.  Bush Hall has hosted an amazing array of new talent as well as established artists.  Check out their website, especially their photos.

The evening, whilst filled with exciting, emotional music, was quite moving on many levels.  It demonstrates to me that good things live on.  They must evolve with changing times, but when there is something core and good, it doesn’t disappear forever, as long as there is someone to notice and nuture it back to life.  There’s a good article on the Arts Desk about the second incarnation of the Penguin Café Orchestra – have a read here for more information.


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