Sunday, 28 February 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee with the Penguin Cafe Orchestra

Another Sunday, another show and this week we move forward about 60 years from Bessie Smith to the 1980s and 1990s and a “group” whose music I “was into” for a few years only.   Having listened to lots of their music for today I recognise my mistake now.

Let’s have some music and I can fill you in on some details later.

Southern Jukebox Music

I don’t know if one tune can really tell what Penguin Cafe Orchestra (PCO) music is about but this is a nice place to start.


Last FM’s biography states,

“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.”

I agree with the first clause but, as for the rest ….   The biography goes on,

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

Do the words give you any meaning?  No, they don’t for me and so let’s just go with the music.

Air á Danser

Simon Jeffes is the guitarist wearing glasses.

The more I listen the more I appreciate their music.  I’m wondering if, when I heard PCO initially, I didn’t listen properly and simply enjoyed whereas now I AM listening and am loving the music.  Who knows?


PCO was never a fixed size group but rather using the players needed for any piece.  For example, I don’t think we see or hear again the trombonist from the previous song.


I find this a much more serious composition: a comment left on YouTube said, “This song makes me cry, I don't know why.”.  I can understand that.


Before we move away from the serious the sadness of the PCO is that Simon Jeffes died in 1997 from a brain tumour at the ridiculously young age of 49.  Effectively the PCO died with him.

Silver Star of Bologna

Here is, for me, the most obviously classical piece.  I’ll say no more.



I find it hard to believe that half the show is past and I’ve still got so many pieces I want to play. How to choose? I know I’ll dream about it.

Giles Farnaby’s Dream


Ah, now I know and I must leave out some pieces that I would have regarded as certainties.  That’s strange: tunes I had considered as archetypal PCO being omitted but I must go with those which appeal today.  I hope you are enjoying the show.

I forgot until now!  Have you got your coffee?  Should be well down by now.

Paul’s Dance

Here Simon and Geoffrey Richardson (the mad-looking one!) play a gorgeous duet.



Prelude and Yodel

There is no yodel but there is a strange dancer!

Such rich cello tones and did you notice the moustachioed man with the easiest musical role ever.


My final selection and I had no idea when I started what would be in this slot but, as it turned out, there was no competition.

Oscar Tango 

The cello well to the fore again but simply a magical composition.



I hope you have enjoyed the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. 

Well, that’s it for another week.  Tune in again next week and thanks for listening.


  1. Excellent stuff. I feel a purchase coming on!

  2. Do the words give you any meaning? No, they don’t for me and so let’s just go with the music.

    They express it better through their music.

    Spotify it, eh?

  3. James Do you not listen to music on Spotify - FREE! ?

  4. This is wonderful stuff - amazing

  5. Thanks Matt for viewing.

    How's your new CD doing?