Gig review: Penguin Cafe at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Penguin Cafe

Penguin Cafe

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Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post ahead of this concert, Penguin Cafe leader Arthur Jeffes admitted there was “a nervousness” before he and his 10-piece band took to the stage to perform some of the work of his late father, Simon.

“Once you are up and running it just takes over,” he added. “We find ourselves smiling all the time. You see photos that have been taken and we had no idea we had these grins on our faces.”

Beginning this set with the old Penguin Cafe Orchestra favourite Telephone and Rubber Band proves a shrewd move – its warmth, inventiveness and vitality quickly setting the tone for an enjoyable evening.

There are other PCO numbers in here too – including Perpetuum Mobile, Air a Danser and Nothing Really Blue – that highlight the diverse range of influences on the PCO’s output, from chamber music to folk, jazz and in particular sounds from the Africa, Polynesia and South America.

But it is a break neck rendition of the reel Swing The Cat that really stands out, led by the frenetic fiddle-playing of Darren Berry. “That’s the fastest we’ve played that this year,” gasps Jeffes at the end. “We’re at his whim and mercy.”

Most of the concert, however, is devoted to Arthur Jeffes’ own compositions for the new Penguin Cafe album The Red Book. Where on CD these instrumentals for strings, harmonium, percussion, piano, guitar and melodica can sound more formal and stately than his father’s work, live they swing thanks to the band’s strong musical understanding.

The three tracks composed for a project involving Nasa space scientists stand out - in particular the gorgeous Solaris, inspired by a sunrise, and 1420, a series of motifs based on the ‘wow signal’ that was sent into space in 1977 at the resonant frequency of hydrogen. Scientists were amazed to receive a response from deep within the galaxy.

With a likeable support slot from literate singer-songwriter Tom Baxter, this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Gig date: February 20

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