Breakfast In Bed

Monday, February 21, 2011

Penguin Cafe at Brighton Dome

In 1997, so the story goes, Ant had tickets to see The Penguin Cafe Orchestra in Manchester, but his hopes of seeing them live were dashed when founder Simon Jeffes died suddenly of a brain tumour. A couple of years later, when Ant and I started dating in Brighton, Penguin Cafe Orchestra's Concert Program was one of only a handful of CDs he owned and I quickly became a fan. Their unique folk/classical fusion has brought comfort and inspiration throughout the last decade or so of our life together and remains an oft chosen soundtrack to many an activity in our house.

The loss of Simon Jeffes and the demise of his wonderful orchestra was clearly more upsetting than any personal disgruntlement over the unusable concert tickets, but Ant has always expressed regret at never having seen Penguin Cafe Orchestra perform during their many touring years. Last weekend we were able to assuage that regret a little by going to see a new lineup assembled by Jeffes' son Arthur, now touring under the name Penguin Cafe. Continuing his father's musical legacy into the 21st Century with fresh arrangements and new compositions, Jeffes Jnr's output is very much in the spirit of the original and clearly a heartfelt tribute.

Supporting Penguin Cafe at Brighton Dome on Friday night were Portico Quartet, a modern jazz ensemble that lived up to its promise of modern jazz with admirable immoderation. But by the time Penguin Cafe had started their set in the second half, I was so swept up that I had all but forgotten the noodling jazz. Playing a mixture of crowd-pleasing old favourites and his own material, interspersed with touching anecdotes about his father, Jeffes had the audience (including me) in raptures.

Folding classical structures around folk, bluegrass and other World Music influences, the Penguin Cafe's music has always had the ability to unravel me and was the perfect Friday night tonic after a busy week. Essentially an augmented string quartet (violin, viola, cello, double bass) accompanied by ukeleles, guitars, piano, harmonium and percussion, the new pared down lineup nevertheless managed to capture the essence of the original (which featured oboe, trombone, fluegelhorn and accordion among other instruments). The difference was only really tangible on a couple of pieces that felt rather flat without brass. Other than that, it was a thoroughly enjoyable gig and we both came away feeling soothed and restored.

The current Penguin Cafe tour is now over, but you can catch them live at various festivals in the UK this summer. And I strongly recommend that you do.