No longer an orchestra
Handfuls of Night by Penguin Cafe
I first encountered the sounds of Penguin Cafe Orchestra on The South Bank Show in 1987. It was a mix of "new age", classical, avant-garde, and just plain fun.
There are long tables and everyone sits together, and it’s very cheerfully chaotic. In the back there is always a band playing music that you are sure you’ve heard somewhere but you have no idea where – and that is the Penguin Cafe Orchestra – they play this music.
I remember hunting down the 'Music from the Penguin Cafe' record and feeling equal parts joy & confusion as I listened. The same for the other albums I bought by them over the years.
Simon Jeffes, the founder, died in 1997 and the cafe lost its orchestra. But his son, Arthur, later took up the baton and puts out albums under The Penguin Cafe.
'Handfuls of Night' is the latest album, and first of the new ones I've bought. It's very atmospheric, based on Arthurs journey to the Antarctic. You get a sense of the openness and stark landscapes, mixed with the beauty of the place. The swirling winds, utter cold, and different animals which call this place home.
You can hear the connection to the previous orchestra. The strings and some arrangements have that familiar feel. Some little flourishes, like the dial tone on 'Pythagoras On The Line Again', harken back his fathers sound. But there is no confusion here. No real musical surprises, which left me feel wanting a little.
I enjoyed this to seek out the other albums, but it also made me appreciate what's special about those early Orchestra albums.